Iran, Twitter & Media Supply/Demand

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

A couple of people have asked me what I think of the #cnnfail situation, with live Twittering from Iran exposing the conflict there, but the major news networks not starting to cover it until hours later. I haven’t really felt inclined to write anything because, well, I’m not quite sure what to make of it just yet. It’s obvious that putting the ability to report events in real time into the hands of huge swathes of people is changing what we expect of the news services. That much is clear. The fact that news organisations are falling back on the “what’s on Twitter can’t be trusted” defence proves that they know there is an issue – and don’t know how to cope either.

Clay Shirky’s thoughts, available on the TED Blog, are worth considering:

I’m sure that for the majority of the country, events in Iran are not of grave interest, even if those desperate for CNN’s Iran info couldn’t get access to it. That push model of one message for all is an incredibly crappy way of linking supply and demand.

CNN has the same problem this decade that *Time *magazine had last decade. They simultaneously want to appeal to middle America and leading influencers. Reaching multiple audiences is increasingly difficult. The people who are hungry for info on events of global significance are used to instinctively switching on CNN. But they are realizng that that reflex doesn’t serve them very well anymore, and that can’t be good for CNN.

And it’s worth checking out Richard Sambrook’s analysis, too:

Social media can be a huge benefit in news coverage – not least it was one of the few ways for people in Iran to communicate with the west. But mediation by people who understand the story and don’t have a particular agenda to advance is still needed to get a grasp of what has, and hasn’t, actually happened and a measured sense of proportion. What was evident on Twitter this weekend was the accelerating effects of a continuous news cycle and appetite. Just as 24 hour news channels must stay on air with some kind of coverage, social media is even hungrier. And noise fills the void when events or facts can’t.

So. We know that people involved in breaking news can report in real time, from the ground of a major event. They don’t need the mediation of journalists to spread their experience. And we know that people with access to those reports are reshaping their expectations of news organisations in the light of it. And we know that waiting hours before you respond to this is not going to meet audience expectations. So, what value can journalists bring to this situation? Ignoring it just isn’t an option.

Clay ShirkycnniranJournalismX (Twitter)

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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.