There’s a constant din in the media (old and new) about “who’s better?” Is it Twitter? Is it the old media? Blogs? This morning I read Robin’s post on the subject over at Techcrunch, pointing out that TMZ (blog) broke Michael Jackson’s passing and the news was all over Twitter (microblog). Only then did the mainstream media pick it up, and by Robin’s account, at times embellish its role in the reporting.
Unfortunately, the debate is often being set up with an “us v them” mentality. It also usually centers around who broke the story first. I think this is the wrong frame.
I was recently in the offices of one of the major newspapers chatting with a couple of their reporters. One of the reporters told me about the day US Air 1549 successfully landed in the Hudson River – her Managing Editor had her literally running down the side of Manhattan trying to catch the plane – but the River flows pretty fast. So the editor sent out another reporter to also look for the plane. The problem was enough folks were posting pictures to Flickr, videos to YouTube and tweets on Twitter that the newspaper reporters, just two of them, had no chance of breaking the news – or even being on top of it really. It was too temporal and too localized.
I think the classic reporter has been squeezed by new media. Think back to the transition from newspapers to television. Newspaper reporters used to distribute breaking news in the most timely fashion, but then television was able to deliver the message faster. Then, blogs happened. Blogs were able to beat newspapers and television to the punch. And then the final straw, YouTube and Twitter come along and begin to scoop blogs because they turned everyone with a cell phone and a YouTube or Twitter account into publishers – they could post that video of the jumbo jet floating in the Hudson or the video of Neda dying in the streets of Iran. All of this has seemingly squeezed mainstream journalists – they have almost no hope of scooping new media.
There is an area, however, where mainstream media can really shine. One of my heros is Dana Priest. Dana, a reporter at The Washington Post, is an example of how unbelievably powerful mainstream media can be in investigative journalism. Just read her bio, and you’ll understand. Not one, but *two* pulitzer prizes. One for her reporting on how VA hospitals treat veterans and another on the reality of the CIA’s secret prisons. This flavor of investigative reporting isn’t about being first to report on Michael Jackson’s passing. It’s about uncovering something that many try to hide and then getting out into the field and somehow, often through taking real risk, proving it, and exposing it to the light of day.
Frankly, these days any individual gazing over the Hudson can snap a photo of an airliner drifting down the River – spectacular as that may be. But the rare few can somehow get a U.S. Military Commander to disclose top secret information to her.