Inspired by WHYY's Radio Times: My list of media lessons learned from Bin Laden coverage
It's been so crazy around Feed Central this week that it's taken a while to process the appearance I made Tuesday on Philadelphia NPR affiliate WHYY-FM's Radio Times. Holding court with my old partner in crime Bob Thompson from Syracuse University, we dissected the media issues surrounding every thing from the Royal Wedding to the Bin Laden announcement and the dropping levels of TV ownership in the U.S.
Hear the audio by clicking here (NPR, why are you so inconsistent with embedding code?)
At any rate, the discussion prompted me to list some ideas I had about how media issues related to all this stuff. What better place to test drive them than this space? (expect to see them again in some form or fashion, in at St. Pete Times edition near you)
One reason Twitter moved ahead of television's Bin Laden coverage was because TV held back: When NBC anchor Brian Williams appeared on David Letterman's CBS show Monday night to talk about the death of Bin Laden -- leaving open the question of why Letterman didn't get have his own network's top news anchor, Katie Couric, on to speak of these issues -- the anchor said he got information from a government official about the nature of the president's speech before it was announced, but was told it was top secret and he could tell no one.
I get that the government had to dish on what the subject of the president's hastily-called address was just to ensure the TV networks would interrupt a Sunday night in the first week of a sweeps period for his address. But that also explains why cable TV news anchors such as CNN's Wolf Blitzer danced around the question of what the president would talk about for so long, desperate to disclose something at least some of them had agreed not to disclose.
Will TV outlets scooping themselves on Twitter train young audiences to desert them? A CBS News producer tweeted information on the subject of the president's Sunday address an hour before he would appear on camera, saying that Bin Laden was dead and the U.S. had his body. Beyond the fact that the broadcast networks hadn't yet broken into Sunday programming yet, this message helped create a situation where Twitter users had access to facts TV viewers did not. Before the president;s address, Hulu sent out an embeddable code allowing blogs like this one to offer a live stream of the president's address, and within minutes, YouTube had a full clip of the speech, which could also be embedded.
Which meant a savvy online surfer, could stay ahead of the news and watch the president's address in real time, or see it at their leisure, without ever turning on a television., And those users are likely to be young early technology adopters -- the future of any media consumer base. Put that together with the recent news that the number of TV sets in homes has declined for the first time in 20 years, and you have a serious warning bell for TV outlets, especially in the news departments.
Information provided on background by the government traveled far and wide in the early hours: Much of the early information about the incident, particularly regarding the state of bin Laden's hideout -- the burning of trash, the size of the walls, the timeline for how officials figured out where he was living and such -- seemed to come from a briefing for reporters held on background not long after the President's speech ended. As someone who was on the teleconference and heard the details firsthand, it was interesting to see news anchors later intone that "sources inside the government" revealed this fact or that fact, leaving the impression some serious fact finding had gone on. Perhaps it had, but many of those details seemed to come from the same briefing.
There is a sense here, in the the media's response to bin Laden's killing, that a corner has been turned in some way. We are likely too close to the change to know exactly how our news and information lives will be different going forward.
But there is little doubt all our media lives have been changed by bin Laden's death, in the same way they were changed by his biggest crime.