There Used to be Gate-Keepers: The Power to Break News

There used to be gate-keepers.

With the passing of Walter Cronkite, a lot of us younger folks were asked to relive an experience and world that we really didn’t understand or grow up in.  There was a time when families across the country would gather after dinner around their television sets and for a half-hour catch-up on information and stories that major corporative conglomorates deemed newsworthy for that day.  The next day, the cycle repeated.

Even more recently, just a decade ago, when news and information was breaking somewhere across the country we’d wait until MSNBC or CNN or even FOX News arrived at the scene and patched us into the unfolding events.

But now everything has changed. Just yesterday I fired up my tweetdeck and sorted through my network- information about the rally in Israel drawing attention to the slain teenagers in a queer community center, updates on where my friend’s were planning to spend their Saturday afternoon, it was a pretty normal Saturday afternoon- and then all of a sudden updates were flying fast about another crash into the Hudson.

According to Mediaite, one of my new favorite blogs, the first tweet on the crash happened exactly at noon.  The New York Times didn’t put out a story until over an hour later. WABC was the first local affiliate to cover the crash over an HOUR after it happened.  As Mediaite notes,

Even so, Twitter will never be able to replace the reporting and analytical skill of experts (except when those experts are on Twitter) — just as a single Tweet will never have the depth of a literary masterpiece crafted over years of work. They are two different things — but where breaking news is concerned, Twitter is proving, yet again, that it dominates.

Twitter, and the new social web, provides an amazing platform to make and break news, to which our old media instituions simply cannot compete.  Obviously, this isn’t to say that reporting and in-depth analysis isn’t necessary, it is, it’s simply that twitter as a medium for communication has certain values and oppurtunities that others simply cannot match.  How likely would it be that a major news network simply has cameras pointed at the sky waiting for something to happen at any given time?  Not likely. But how likely is it that someone jogging along the river, or someone in a tourist boat, or someone walking down the street, has a camera phone or an iPhone ready to tweet out breaking news their witnessing immediately?

Looking locally, this past March I was working on passing a bill in the Pennsylvania legislature that would prohibit employers from firing someone, or passing them up for a raise, simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.  My friend and colleague, the Legislative Director at the ACLU-PA, and I were at a State House committee meeting where they planned to vote on this important bill.  They took the vote (it passed!), and we immediately tweeted out the results of the vote. Within seconds our tweets were picked up and retweeted by other colleagues and activists and supporers across Pennsylvania.  The entire world knew the outcome of this vote before anyone even left the room.

There used to be gate-keepers– but now, with the advent of twitter, facebook, and others posting their own content and breaking news to the web– anyone has the tool, and the voice, to share with the world breaking events.


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