Internet Proves Pivotal For Mideast and Murdoch

Sometimes, the natural ebb and flow of events is more telling than scripted reporting and production in demonstrating digital interactivity's profound impact on monetizing news and information.

There was nothing more effective during this week's rapid pace of events in the Middle East and in the United States than zippy broadband shortcuts like Twitter and Skype used by the masses to disseminate and leverage information. It was free. It was fast. It was real and gritty -- as long as the government left the Internet on. For a long time, the drama of the Egyptian revolution unfolded 140 characters at a time on the hastily devised Twitter work-around @Speak2Tweet.

For a while, they were the sole tools used by a courageous global media reporting on medieval confrontations from the front line of the Egyptian revolution during a press blackout. Moves to silence the press and weaken the West's dangerously faint understanding of the Middle East were thwarted by individuals determined to use social media for the greater good. (For a time, even pro-Mubarak forces appeared to use the Internet to spread rumors to incite violence when the government turned the Internet back on for its 80 million citizens.)



Maybe the people who are the news and need the information don't always need media's organized filter. Or maybe we need both.

Such grassroots use of interactive channels stood in sharp contrast to the early-week hoopla over News Corp.'s slick, pay-based iPad-only newspaper The Daily, which costs an estimated $30 million a month to operate and seeks $40 in annual subscription fees from a base of 14 million iPad owners.

Had it been agile and smart, it would showcase its value by providing intense, nonstop coverage of the week's extreme news rather than cling to its crusade for paid packaged content. (Watching the demo video reading a tell-all about Natalie Portman's pregnancy and watching Kathy Griffin laughing up the Super Bowl on The Daily 's YouTube Channel was hardly inspiring.)

It makes you wonder what News Corp. would unleash if it successfully secures the complete ownership of BSkyB. And why Murdoch's company didn't simply monetize the plethora of news and information already aggregated by its Wall Street Journal, New York Post, Times of London and other worldwide newspapers -- rather than assemble a new, costly news-gathering operation, complete with Google's imbedded app billing feature.

While forces clashed in Tahrir Square, Mother Nature's battleground in the U.S. and the winter storm that buried Chicago Feb. 1 gave new meaning to the phrase "we are the media."

While television delivered the snowy external scenes, the real story unfolded in real-time tweets, texts and mobile phone calls from stranded Chicago area motorists seeking help. With 911 and other official emergency lines jammed, the Chicago Red Cross took to fielding SOS messages in the blogosphere to emergency responders.

It was a stark example of a trend recently underscored by a new Pew Research Survey: The Internet is approaching television as Americans' main source of national and international news, particularly for consumers ages 30 to 49. It is already is their communications platform of choice.

Surely, the most important information flow during the Chicago blizzard had no script, advertising or commerce attached. The online advertising for towing services and pizza delivery aside, it was mostly bunched up at the humanitarian end of the Internet -- opposite the fortunes to be made from cracking new business models ala Murdoch.

(By contrast, designer Kenneth Cole demonstrated how not to engage in Twitter marketing by linking his new spring line of shoes to the Egyptian unrest and suffering. "Millions are in an uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online," read one Kenneth Cole tweet, which was taken down as quickly as it went up in the wake of angry criticism.)

The same social-media platforms will continue to provide ways for consumers to make charitable contributions (natural disaster aid) as well as mobile e-commerce purchases (Amazon to Starbucks) with the flick of their mobile smartphone.

In fact, by 2014, U.S. mobile advertising will top $2.6 billion, while global e-commerce already tops $1 trillion, according to JP Morgan, even as AOL, Yahoo and other Internet players continue to lose millions. Numbers like that are going to prompt responsible entrepreneurs, as well as money-grubbers, to tweet stupid things.

The risk-rewards tug of war will intensify in times of heightened crisis and big events. The question is: how big business and big government will handle it, and how the public will respond. After all, the Internet is the common man's turf.

Extreme news weeks are helping to redefine entire institutions, not to mention an ancient country seeking to rebirth itself in the digital age.

2 comments about "Internet Proves Pivotal For Mideast and Murdoch".
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  1. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, February 8, 2011 at 8:37 p.m.

    Please stop perpetuating the "illusion of technology" with respect to the Egyptian revolution. On January 29, Jim Clancy, a CNN International anchor said “Let’s get a reality check here..." He wisely noted that the biggest demonstrations to that date had occurred on a day when the Internet was down. “There wasn’t any Twitter. There wasn’t any Facebook,” he said.

    The social networking hype does not belong in ordinarily informative and valuable business pieces like yours, especially when they attempt to deal with profound issues such as history in the making.

    Facts must trump myths, no matter the allure or popularity, if we are to rely on journalism like yours, which comes through the Internet.

    Thank you.

  2. Nicholas Schiavone from Nicholas P. Schiavone, LLC, February 9, 2011 at 10:05 a.m.

    From Ad Age:

    Malcolm Gladwell, citing the blown-out-of-proportion so-called Twitter Revolution in Iran, has argued that the role that social media plays in social action is overrated, a line of thinking that caused Twitter's BFF's to fire up the torches and bust out the tar and feathers. Don't for a second think the goings-on in Egypt have changed his mind, as he relates in a grumpy but good post on The New Yorker blog:

    Right now there are protests in Egypt that look like they might bring down the government. There are a thousand important things that can be said about their origins and implications: as I wrote last fall in The New Yorker, "high risk" social activism requires deep roots and strong ties. But surely the least interesting fact about them is that some of the protesters may (or may not) have at one point or another employed some of the tools of the new media to communicate with one another. Please. People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the internet came along. Barely anyone in East Germany in the 1980s had a phone -- and they ended up with hundreds of thousands of people in central Leipzig and brought down a regime that we all thought would last another hundred years -- and in the French Revolution the crowd in the streets spoke to one another with that strange, today largely unknown instrument known as the human voice.

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