Twitter Is The New CNN

"Twitter is a frenemy," said Jeff Zucker, CNN's new president, as reported by MediaShift. Jeff Zucker was describing the cable news network's relationship with social media and added, “the network uses, relies on -- and is scared by -- social media.”

Twitter had a marquee moment last week, particularly late Friday afternoon and evening, that should scare most television news outlets in the business of reporting breaking news.

That’s when Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was cornered by police, trapped and almost bleeding to death inside a covered boat in a backyard in Watertown, Mass.

I was riding home on the commuter train and wanted an update on the manhunt. I tried checking the news sites, but there were no fluid updates. Moreover, the sites refreshed painstakingly slowly on a moving train.

So I checked my regular Twitter stream, and updates poured in persistently. I kept refreshing the stream every few seconds to import new updates and perspectives. This event resembled the OJ Simpson’s slow-motion car chase, and it was Twitter’s moment.

Twitter seized the moment with:

  • Immediacy. Without following any special sources, my standard Twitter connections reported and retweeted major developments seconds after they happened -- either by being on the ground, scanning police airwaves, or passing along updates from trusted sources. The discussion on Twitter typically was ahead of the major news sources.   
  • Context. News outlets will argue that they provide editing, filtering and fact-checking value. That may be true, but so does the crowd and the public as it scrutinizes developments and facts. In fact, the conventional news sources become one of many participants in the ongoing analysis, not the referee of it.  
  • Pragmatism. I underscore pragmatism because my Twitter experience was more information-based than TV, with raw, intelligent commentary from real, diverse people. Facts tended to be facts, and perspectives were to the point -- unlike the mindless banter and filler commentary that accompanies most live television coverage of unfolding news events.
  • Sophistication. Unlike television, Twitter is less susceptible to repeat playback of violent imagery. Do we need to see the explosions and blood spraying across the sidewalks over and over again? Similarly, Twitter is less susceptible to replays of b-roll and stock footage that don’t add any value when there is no news at that second. You have to actively select video you want to watch, so you can avoid being held hostage to it.    
  • Community. Television is a powerful medium because it can hold your attention and captivate your imagination, and make you feel part of a shared experience -- something we all yearn for in times of crisis. But Twitter does an equally good job of this, in my opinion.
  • Accessibility. Twitter is not always more accessible than television, but the signals are more digestible and require less bandwidth. In my case, riding home on a train last Friday evening, without a terrestrial radio, it was the only practical way to pick the news in real time. It was also more accessible once back at my home, where I wanted to keep up with the events but shield my five- and six-year-old kids from serious drama and sensationalism.

But there is one area where Twitter failed drastically: There were no citizen hecklers standing behind broadcast reporters, waving into the camera with funny faces and obnoxious signs. I really love that aspect of television news.  It cracks me up.

8 comments about "Twitter Is The New CNN".
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  1. Amanda Berkey from ExactTarget, April 23, 2013 at 2:50 p.m.

    My eyes were glued to my Twitter feed last Friday night as the whole capture was unfolding. But as you point out, I didn't want my 3-year old to be exposed to the horrific content so watching the content on TV wasn't a good idea. I love the community aspect of Twitter and people sharing information!

  2. The digital Hobo from, April 23, 2013 at 2:56 p.m.

    You could also that CNN and the news networks didn't do the one thing they claim to -- edit. They got it wrong trying to keep up with online. Calling Twitter the new CNN is an insult to Twitter.

  3. Rick Monihan from None, April 23, 2013 at 2:59 p.m.

    As 'wrong' as so many TV nets got the story, it's not like Twitter got it any more 'right'. The police discussed that while Twitter was a huge assist in helping to find the perpetrator, there was a massive amount of disinformation which had to be processed, as well. I didn't watch TV or use Twitter. I ignored these events, since they really weren't all that interesting anyway. But I was amused listening to people talk about what they were reading on Twitter or seeing on TV. It was all pretty much the same. Someone saw something on TV, tweeted it, and it took on a life of its own. Twitter was a real representation of Baudrillard's "Simulacra and Simulation" come to life, and CNN was part of the process...

  4. phil loubere from MTSU, April 23, 2013 at 3:26 p.m.

    Twitter actually contributed to the spread of false rumors and accusations of innocent people, as an NPR segment reported this morning. We can justly criticize CNN for failing in its professional duty; Twitter has no standards to cite. If we're going to be dependent on a stream of gossip for news, we're taking a huge step backwards.

  5. Mark Allin from The Above Network LLC, April 23, 2013 at 7:14 p.m.

    I would like to add that CNN, FOX NEWS and the rest all failed miserably in performing the basic task of a journalist.

    They should be named as co-defendants in every defamation suit brought by the innocents who were implicated, threatened, or actually harmed by the utter lack of vetting.

    Our huge UGC site has been inundated with crazies who have coined the phrase "Crisis Actors" because they believed the stories they saw on, et-al, and started digging through images online (many from the very news networks themselves) and tried to tie people to Newtown and Boston, claiming both tragedies were a hoax perpetrated by the evil cabal, and everyone, from the police officers to the victims photographed were actors(!).

    The stories of innocents being threatened are already surfacing, it's despicable.

    I know monetizing the news has become a brutal task, but, when getting the scoop becomes more important than getting it right free society is screwed.

    Twitter is what it is, why any "journalist" would blindly report a tweet (or even several tweets) as fact, sans vetting, is beyond me.

    Twitter isn't the "New CNN" it's exactly what it advertises to be, a fast portal to communicate with your circle of friends, family and followers.

    We do live in a society that operates at the speed of light, BUT, the publishers and broadcasters who get it right will win the years. They may lose the day to the rumor mill but they'll get the last laugh and likely stay out of the courthouse...

  6. Marla Goldstein from Around The Bend Media, April 23, 2013 at 8:07 p.m.

    Added to Mark's comment is that today, the AP's Twitter feed was hacked and a story was fed out that the White House was bombed, Obama was injured and the market dropped over 200 points. There was absolutely no truth to any of it. This is beyond irresponsible. But the mob will have its say, won't it?

  7. Serena Ehrlich from Business Wire, April 24, 2013 at 2:02 p.m.

    Please please stop calling Twitter a newsfeed. These are not reporters sharing articles that have been researched and vetted. These are consumers tweeting and retweeting the news AS THEY SEE IT. The fastest way to kill journalism is to give social media distribution tools the wrong moniker. - Serena (12 years in the newswire industry makes me a little testy to the topic, lol)

  8. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, May 8, 2013 at 8:38 p.m.

    Twits playing whispering down the lane does not journalism make. (Not that other media outlets were doing what they should have been doing.)

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