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Bin Laden death highlights clash between new and old journalism

Annie Wakefield
Digital Marketing Manager
6 May 2011

Unfortunately, Kate and Will’s glory did not last for too long in the news. Their popularity was ‘stolen’ by Osama bin Laden only two days after the ‘wedding of the decade’. For the online industry I am not sure what comprises breaking news. Is it that Osama was killed by the US forces after almost 10 years of manhunt or is it the fact that people were talking about Osama’s death long before it was officially announced and that Twitter saw the ‘highest sustained rate of tweets ever’?

According to the news the first mentions of the American raid against Osama were made by Sohaib Athar, an IT consulatant who lives in Abbottabad, without him even realising what was really happening. So we had an instant, thorough description of the American mission without even knowing it. The buzz about Osama being killed started approximately an hour before President Barack Obama’s official announcement and the tweets reached their peak about half an hour before the announcement with 5,106 tweets per second. Furthermore, a Facebook group named ‘Osama bin Laden is DEAD’ has been created way before last Sunday and at the moment the group has 477,083 likes. There, one can find a great variety of viewpoints and people’s reaction to terrorism. What has also amazed me is that if I type ‘Osama bin Laden is dead’ on Google maps, the map is showing me the exact point where Osama was killed.

Osama’s case is an example of how new media are gaining ground against traditional media. A reasonable question would be whether the social media are a threat for journalism. This is an increasingly discussed topic in the media and blogs, producing a variety of viewpoints that are worth examining.

I understand that many people who work in the media nowadays lose their jobs because of the rapid changes in the industry. Readers are increasingly using their computers or mobile phones (or ipads!) to read the news online. People’s lives have become extremely busy and they are not willing to spend their time reading lengthy articles. What people usually do is scan the news and read thoroughly only a selection of articles that exceptionally interests them. At the same time the 24-hour news trend is becoming more and more established. The emerging pattern at the moment is that people do not only want immediate 24-hour access to what is happening worldwide but also to be part of all the buzz around breaking news. Twitter offers them all the aforementioned benefits.

Supporters of traditional journalism state that it cannot die or be replaced by social media, such as Twitter, because traditional journalism offers much better quality of information. I personally agree with the view that an article is more authoritative especially when it is written by a well respected journalist. It can be thoughtful and offer extensive research of a subject. It can also contain images and videos as an additional source of information.

Others support that the source of information on Twitter, Facebook or other social media is questionable. Admittedly, sometimes it is quite challenging to identify whether the person behind a Twitter or Facebook profile is real or what this person’s motives and believes are. However, I do not agree with the view that journalism is more credible than social media. It might be easier to confirm the source of information but let’s not overlook that traditional media have always had the bad reputation of being manipulated or biased towards specific topics. Social media present citizens’ –contrary to politically manipulated- views and the public only need to be careful to filter them thoroughly and identify the ones that offer credible information.

Another viewpoint against social media and especially Twitter is that it is impossible to cover news in 140-words messages. I would add that by reading these 140-word messages we forget how to write and how to express our views properly and this can be a serious matter especially for young people. So does a busier way of life or a change in readers’ attitude mean that people are missing quality for quantity of news?

In my opinion, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. I do not know whether social media will last forever or whether they will finally replace journalism but I know that at the moment it seems like these two are complimentary and indispensable to each other. Online publications should take advantage of this progress and bring traffic on their websites through social media. Social media is not the enemy but it is a new way of engaging more readers. I personally enjoy when I read an article, to also read other people’s comments related to the topic. For instance, let’s think about the last time we gathered with a group of friends and discussed a ‘hot matter’. Each one of them usually has his own view and maybe sometimes we even have a fight with them trying to change their mind towards our perspective. This is how I feel when I read the comments underneath an article or when I read Tweets, Facebook posts, commets, blogs etc. According to an article in Business Week, journalism ‘evolved into another way for journalists to get resources, share news, receive feedback’. It seems like a change of business model rather than social media ‘killing’ journalism.

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