As the manhunt began in Watertown, MA late last night here on the West Coast, there were no cable news networks to be found covering it anywhere. Oddly enough, I had just gotten off the phone with someone who had been two hundred yards away from the first bomb in Boston on Monday. Minutes later, my Twitter timeline began flying with news about the police giving chase to the suspects. Some tweeted a link to live audio from the Boston police scanner and everyone began to listen in real time.
And there was still no TV news coverage.
A detailed account of the events began playing out on Twitter, delayed only by the typing ability of whomever was relaying what was heard on the scanner. No editorial bias, no filter, just a barrage of quotes from law enforcement personnel who were in the middle of the melee.
And we were still waiting for the “news” people to show up.
The number of people listening in quickly went from around 16,000 (when I signed in) to around 80,000. Not everyone in America, of course, but larger than your average news crew. It also seemed as if all of those 80,000 people were on Twitter and passing along details. We were hearing things like, “Definitely hand grenades, and automatic gunfire,” from the police. Had a reporter said “automatic gunfire” one would have to be skeptical, when a cop who is there says it, you tend to believe him. Shortly after all of that erupted, I received a tweet from a guy who lived in the neighborhood saying, “Loud boom outside my window, gunfire everywhere, sounds like a war zone out there.”
Still no CNN, MSNBC or FNC.
As a longtime champion of social media, I’ve said for a while that Twitter moves information faster than any other medium available at the moment. Yes, there are bound to be inaccuracies but, as we saw yesterday, that’s still a big problem with conventional media as well. Ironically, one of the big things most social media people got wrong last night happened after the MSM showed up, reported something and many of us repeated it. Lesson learned.
One person (I wish I could remember who and give credit) (UPDATED: It was @BobMcGovernJr, here is the tweet)noted that an old technology (police scanner) came together with a newer one (Twitter) and made the massively funded cable news networks seem almost obsolete. By the time they did show up it was hard not to laugh each time they said or tweeted “BREAKING”. Their sole function seemed to be providing some visual snapshots of the scene, like so many hipsters posting pictures of brunch on Instagram. CNN’s spiral into nothingness continued as they spent several minutes just showing video of one of their “reporters” on the phone. Had said reporter began communicating with smoke signals, it wouldn’t have seemed out of place.
This doesn’t mean that television news is dead. It merely means, as we have seen so many times in recent years, that it isn’t really “news” anymore. It’s function is often to give a recap of what they’re learning on social media and providing some visual accompaniment. During the Iranian election unrest a few years ago CNN finally just resorted to reading tweets.
This is a shift that should be embraced by those who have long lamented the awful bias and declining journalism skills of the MSM. Yet I still run into people are almost proud of their disdain for social media. Is it a hot mess sometimes? Most definitely. But, especially on Twitter, it’s our hot mess. Conservatives got a foothold there early and never let it go. It’s imperfect but more often than not it’s still a far cry better than what you can get from a “reporter”. I actually double check something I’ve heard on the radio or television on Twitter now before I’ll believe it.
Embrace it and enjoy watching Brian Williams and company look more like dinosaurs every day.