Big news stories tend to accelerate public acceptance of the new forms of media. Just as the Kennedy assassination brought millions to network TV News, the Iran Hostage Crisis gave birth to Nightline on ABC and the OJ Simpson arrest and trial gave cable TV News big jumps in viewers, the Bin Laden death story will go down as a big step for digital media of all forms from Twitter to web and IPad platforms.
It is now widely known that the very first indication that the president would be announcing the death of Bin Laden came from Twitter. At 10:25 pm last night, the former chief of staff for Bush’s Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Keith Urbahn, broke this news with a tweet: “So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.”
Television was reporting that a special announcement was forthcoming from President Obama but in a remarkable testimony to the Obama administration’s ability to keep a secret, up until five minutes before the scheduled broadcast no news outlet had any indication of what Obama was going to say.
Once the story did break, the networks still suffered through an hour delay before the president actually came on the air, and most did little or nothing to advance the story while gradually bringing on more experts and staff journalists to fill the time with only slight more informed speculation.
And, of course, after the announcement the various networks exploded with talking heads and in many cases video of “crowds gathering” at the White House and Ground Zero. It was hard to tell how much a role the live TV cameras looking at the front of the White House or in Times Square actually caused people to go there, or how spontaneously the crowd assembled. Certainly the cable nets had cameras poised live on very small gatherings at both places for some time before they grew.
This was also a good night for Internet and mobile news products to break the news to the public. I recently got an IPAD2 and I was thrilled with the altogether improved version of “The Daily” that I was able to access shortly after the story broke. The IPad2 itself was a tremendous help, allowing me quickly to hop from Twitter, to the Web, to IPad publications like The Daily, to the web and its many real-time news sources. While the web interfaces of several news operations do update the fastest, you could see last night that the context and smart use of supporting media, like photography, help the new IPad apps to demonstrate their value.
This story also revealed the price we have paid in the US for cutbacks in news coverage by our major national media. The lack of US correspondents on the ground or even nearby was made more obvious by our inability to report original reaction from the middle east and the rest of the world.
I was able, on my IPAD2, to watch Al Jazeerah English TV live and Pakistan’s GEO TV Live, which brought the first footage from the actual scene of the capture in Pakistan. Sadly, for the US Media, the Middle Eastern based networks were far better sources of world reaction than any of the US Networks and sources.
As the digital era makes the world smaller, US media will hopefully find the audience demand to justify a total reconsideration of its presence around the world.