Sunday, June 14, 2009

How We Get Our News, or, #CNNfail

20 years ago, during a period that began at Tianamen Square, ran through the fall of the Berlin Wall, and culminated with the first Gulf War there was a great cultural shift. The dinosaurs of news gathering and dissemination - the Big Three Networks - slowly slipped into the tar pits of history, their massive bodies straining and flailing against the sticky ooze that was slowly encasing them. The young, more fluid, upstart CNN didn't even offer condolences as it raced by them, delivering news 24 hours a day to an audience that demanded it. Others followed and the big networks became a sad anachronism. Such are the vagaries of evolution.

This weekend we are seeing the next stage.

Those once young upstarts, CNN, FOX, MSNBC and a host of others are showing just how long they are in the tooth (despite a mere 30 or so years of age). Events in Iran have outpaced the news channels' abilities to keep up. They have been left in the dust by the new, swifter, more agile means of news dissemination. Hell, the old boys didn't even know there was news! While updates on the situation were twittered and blogged, facebooked and flickred, youtubed and texted across the globe, CNN was talking about an insult to the First Lady (and apparently airing hilarious video of a water-skiing squirrel... really). MSNBC was re-running their abysmal behind bars crapola. Fox was talking about Iran, but as if it was all over - "We shouldn't expect Israel to stand for this."

That there is actually a top-trending twitter hashtag, #CNNFAIL, speaks volumes. CNN, which beat the old networks down 20 years ago, is now the whipping boy for this backlash. Considering CNN didn't get a story up on its website until Saturday night, and then it was titled "Ahmadinejad plans rally after winning second presidential term," they actually deserve abuse. They missed the boat. The once swift and informative has become the dull and distracted. They bask in their own Le Brea stickiness. And they don't even know it.

They actually think they are on top of things - that this new technology is their servant rather than their deathknell. Rick Sanchez can tweet all he wants. Steve Doocy can read all the emails his heart desires. Keith Olbermann can play all the youtube videos he can get his hands on. None of it matters. They are just at that classic death stage - denial. Mainstream Media has clogged arteries and the only bypass being discussed is the one where the public bypasses them completely. They are on their way to the hospice now, loaded up with morphine (which might explain the water-skiing squirrel). Make your goodbyes.

Surprisingly one of the dinos we thought was surely dead has proven itself revitalized this weekend. The New York Times, written off without even a word of condolence, kept up with all of it this weekend. They used their formidable skills and capable writing to keep pace with the blazing speed with which information flowed. Frequently updating, they became an aggregator of all the various streams and tributaries. They finally got it. If a major news organization wants to survive they must learn to collect and edit on the fly the immense amount of info available. They must become even more agile and nimble. They must accept the fact that the consumer is now the producer. They must evolve.

Marshall Kirkpatrick pointed out this morning that the new calculus is: Tianamen + Twitter = Tehran. As clever (scores for alliteration and historical reference), pointed and altogether accurate as it is, it should be read as a last will and testament because, ironically enough, he wrote it for that old dinosaur, Time.

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