MG Siegler over at TechCrunch rolls out a litany of claims about the future of news that simply cannot be reconciled with reality. It’s a target-rich environment so I almost don’t know where to begin.
So let’s just dive right in.
First, let’s summarize MG’s case.
“Earthquakes, the massive San Diego fires, the shootings in Mumbai, the situation in Iran, and even Michael Jackson’s death. The realtime web beat the mainstream media easily to each of these stories. And this disparity will only increase going forward.”
By “realtime web” he seems to be implying mostly Twitter. Or at least that’s what the headline of one post suggests: “In The Age Of Realtime, Twitter Is Walter Cronkite.”
He proffers additional proof in the form of the Tiger Woods story appearing on Twitter from BNO News some 45 minutes before CNN went to air with its first report on the accident.
From here he circles back to his original point – that coverage of the JFK assassination would have changed dramatically in the age of Twitter:
“The difference is that had the Kennedy assassination happened today, it would not have taken 38 minutes from the time of President Kennedy being declared dead to the time Cronkite broke the news on the air. Actually, it may have. But it would have been reported on services like Twitter much sooner. Had it played out that way, where do you think people would turn the next time there was an event unfolding in realtime?”
Of course, this all circles back (in a separate post from MG) to the tired old mantra that “Information wants to be free, and the web, with services like Twitter, provides the easiest way for that to happen.”
Now, let’s have a reality check.
I should note at the outset that I get a real kick out of a professional journalist touting the “information wants to be free” line. Just to be clear, TechCrunch is designed to make money by selling information (in exchange for eyeballs that drive advertising dollars – among other revenue sources). MG and others are paid by TechCrunch to discover news – preferably by doing something other than surfing Twitter and regurgitating what others are saying and instead developing their own original reporting.
But for now let’s set that aside and move on to some of the specific examples here.
Let’s start with the recent past. Tiger Woods was in a car accident at 2:30 in the morning near his Florida home. BNO News was right on top of it, by announcing it on Twitter a half day or so later. This despite the number of people in Florida (and elsewhere) who likely already knew what had happened. MG intends to demonstrate that the “real-time web” in the form of Twitter scooped traditional media.
That’s simply wrong. At least one major Florida news outlet (WESH TV) beat BNO News by about a half hour, according to time stamps on their web site. Specifically, WESH shows a story on Tiger Woods appearing on their web site at 1:57 PM on November 27, while Twitter shows the BNO News report being posted at 2:24 PM.
To be clear: the mainstream, professional media beat the “real-time web” to the Tiger Woods news.
But we shouldn’t let the facts get in the way here. If we dial back the clock to the JFK assassination, we can watch the Walter Cronkite video that MG shared that clearly demonstrates the local media in Texas getting the first, unconfirmed report of the President’s death. It is not at all clear that the “real-time web” would have scooped the local media. Unless some doctor in the hospital whipped out his iPhone to tweet the death notice, chances are some local news outlet with local connections would be first with the news still today.
But let’s assume that what MG really meant to argue was not that the “real-time web” would actually report anything, but will instead serve as a megaphone for local or niche news sources. That may be a fair point, but does anyone truly believe that the Twitter megaphone is bigger than the one that CNN or other major professional media outlets possess?
If a national poll was conducted to find out where people first learned about the Tiger Woods accident, I have little doubt that Twitter would not be at the top of the list.
Perhaps we can dial back the rhetoric a bit and recognize that Twitter has value, but so do traditional news outlets. One does not replace the other. They serve different functions, each of which has merit.