Iran, Twitter and the CNN Fail

As I write this, three of the top 10 "trending topics" on Twitter are related to the protests currently rocking Iran. In fact, the most popular trend on Twitter for the last few days has been #iranelection, which updates with hundreds of new tweets every minute. Reports are coming from protesters on the ground in Tehran, journalists working in Iran, and thousands of observers around the world. They link to photos, video and text that, in the aggregate, paint an incredible picture of civil unrest unfolding before our eyes.

This used to be why we turned on the TV. Yet while the Twittering classes were bending over backward to find more information and connect to more people in Iran -- going so far as to provide proxy servers for Iranians being blocked from the Internet -- CNN and other cable news outlets were busy running evergreen documentaries and Larry King reruns. The New York Times' Brian Stelter, a dedicated tweeter himself, even reported that folks weren't only using Twitter to report about Iran, but to complain about CNN's failure to report (using, of course, the Twitter hashtag #CNNfail)

Untold thousands used the label "CNNfail" on Twitter to vent their frustrations. Steve LaBate, an Atlanta resident, said on Twitter, "Why aren’t you covering this with everything you've got?" About the same time, CNN was showing a repeat of Larry King's interview of the stars of the 'American Chopper' show. For a time, new criticisms were being added on Twitter at least once a second.

Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan, at his usual blogging post at the Atlantic, has been flooding the zone by packaging tweets, images, videos and online commentary to create a ground-level guide to the crisis. In doing so, he's gleefully (if prematurely) signaling the end of the MSM.

One of Sullivan's readers writes:

Reading your blog over the past 30 something hours makes me realize why the MSM is really finished. I mean, this point has finally hit home. You are blogging real time events, with descriptions, evaluation, analysis, and eye witness accounts. You are gathering information from a myriad of sources and putting it out there for a cohesive message. CNN, NY Times, et al are merely running an article about "thousands" of protesters. Its a canned message from just a few stale sources. The revolution is definitely on in Iran. And its on in American journalism too.

Twitter is probably the most self-referential medium we've ever had. Not only are people using it to break news about Iran, but they're also erupting in insta-analysis of the decline of the MSM and the role of social media. Take these tweets from author Steven Johnson:

Iran events should be death blow to argument that new media will lead to *less* civic engagement


Iran is also a case study in how great journalism and emergent social media can be a powerful combination. (Despite the awful cable news.)

The slow displacement of the traditional news media by social media just sped up. But CNN and its other lame-duck counterparts won't disappear tomorrow, and crowd-sourced reporting on Twitter won't replace top-down, gatekeeping news operations. Nevertheless, I think we can agree that cable news just got pwned. Score one more for the open Internet.

People + Policy

= Positive Change for the Public Good

people + policy = Positive Change for the Public Good