It’s 2 am and I’m lying awake in bed for the third time this week. And not because of the Redbull I had tonight. For the third time this week I am glued to police scanner feed, this time from Watertown, MA.
I am also consistently refreshing twitter and have CNN on with closed captioning in the background.
But tonight rings significant not only because of the events in Massachusetts (though they are again, horrifying), but because it shows the rise in dominance of new media (Twitter & Reddit) over the older of television. As a former TV producer, turned community manger this both saddens and excites me, but here’s why I think it’s happening:
People want instant gratification and they want to know everything.
Producing television is an art. It requires hours of preparation, on a bad day, simply minutes on an epic day, but putting something on television requires many senses to be engaged, quickly and continuously. People expect to see, hear and learn things of interest- and one station, even of brilliant reporters, cannot report that fast. As much as they’d want to, traditional news outlets cannot overload you with information and provide you with the instant gratification that a simpler medium can. They also don’t have the dynamic ability of a digital property.
Traditional media is trying TOO HARD to keep up and in the process they are slipping and following all over themselves trying to keep us updated. I can’t tell you the number of times I have been driven nuts this week by media outlets misreporting —
— or for showing unnecessary and unhelpful interviews by victims —
(asking a victim of the West Texas Factory Explosion, “What was in her heart” after a near-death-experience via falling sheetrock in West, Texas).
All because they are trying to get viewers new, relevant, content quickly. They’re also not working fast enough to bring us what we want, everything. It’s not entirely news station’s fault, though, they just aren’t built to handle the news that way.
This tripping and falling wouldn’t have been so bad, had people not discovered quicker alternatives.
Enter new media like Twitter and Reddit.
Twitter is a has become a popular media because:
- It can be instantly updated
- It can be updated by by multiple people (citizen journalism, croudsourcing info, many reporters – one medium)
- Updates are only 140 characters of text
Mediums like Twitter and Reddit are inherently more satisfying for breaking news, because they don’t have to spend so much time research and funneling. Tweeters don’t have to wait for multiple sources to confirm, or for b-roll to appear, they just post.
Twitter is full of multiple people providing updates to the same place, and those updates are first person sources, which is exactly what news stations are trying to do when they interview people. It’s also a lot more effective than one person delivering the news. And its a lot quicker. Twitter also allows people to get that instant gratification they lose when they let news stations be the aggregator or the gate keeper to information.
Traditional news, in this case, can do a great job of providing well-rounded coverage, and streaming from the scene, but they can’t break details as quickly as Twitter can.
Note: the police scanner has also proved a very trusty tool. While older than television, it follows similar guidelines, to a reddit or twitter: it provides instant gratification and first hand accounts, it’s also only auditory. When I first opened it 36,000 people were listening, and now it’s over 79,000!
So, are traditional news sources going to go away completely? Of course not. Not nearly half of the American public uses twitter and Reddit, or wants to put in the effort. Plus it’s extremely nice to have someone do the work of aggregation, fact-checking and analysis for you, and people love watching the news. On a personal note, there’s nothing like the pure adrenaline high or producing a breaking live newscast and doing it well.
I believe, however, the way people consume news, the way outlets report news, and the accuracy we should demand from news, will be changed forever.
***One more thought of note, and something of which we are reminded this week, the importance of local news outlets, and reporters. In each of the last few nights, the people who have been able to get us any information are not reporters in the big, highly-rated, highly-coveted, metro area spots. This week, the people getting us the news, on the ground, whether it’s on Twitter, television or otherwise. Local reporters, who risk their lives and lose nights’ sleep getting the details are hugely important to the news ecosystem. To my friends in Idaho, Northern Michigan and the rest of middle-of-nowhere, keep up all that great work you’re doing! **
UPDATE: This article was written to show the progression of News journalism, but not to suggest that Twitter or Reddit is, in fact, a better way to follow the news, simply more satisfying. For a great article on why “Breaking News is Broken” there is a great article on Slate.com that deserves a read.