In the case of Twitter versus traditional news, recent conventional wisdom got us thinking that the bell had tolled for the traditional press. Whether in breaking news or marketing, social media was in and the press was out. Covering the death of Osama bin Laden, web headlines screamed that Twitter had once again trumped traditional news outlets. Remember, Sohair Athar? You don’t? He’s the computer programmer in Abbottabad who first tweeted about hearing a helicopter near the bin Laden compound. He would become world famous as the guy who “live blogged” the raid on bin laden’s compound before the press got there. Time and again in the aftermath of big news events the discussion turns to the fact that old fashioned news is dead and social networks have taken over. It would be easy to conclude that social media goes where traditional news fears to tread.
Ah, but not so fast. There is nuance in the world of tweets. Consider the death of Whitney Houston – on a Saturday evening. If you were in a restaurant, a sports bar or a hotel, you would have seen the “Breaking News,” from a traditional news outlet. In your car, you may have heard it on the radio. Away from all media, someone sitting in front of a TV screen might have called or texted you. And yes, the news was on Twitter. According to a New York Times blog, a relative of someone in the vicinity of Whitney Houston’s hotel room tweeted about her death a full 42 minutes before it was in the traditional press. But only 16 people reacted because the person was just not connected to a wide enough network. Then AP announced it on their Twitter page and within five minutes there were 3,000 tweets on the subject. Of course, the NYT has a vested interest in pointing this out to us but it is an interesting issue to consider. Meanwhile, among his latest Tweets, Sohair Athar notes that there’s nothing much to report from his little hamlet anymore. The press has moved on while he is still there.