Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Revolution will be Twatted

Twitter. Even the name is annoying. Twit. Twee. Twat. Most people use Twitter to document the Proustian minutia of their minute lives--”Eating;” “Standing in line at Starbucks;” “Talking with Ted about the stock reports.”

“We are all tired--no sleep for 3 days--one of us is injured from baton--waiting for doctor.”


I never really liked Andrew Sullivan, the tireless, HIV+ reformed conservative blogger at the Atlantic. Sullivan shilled for Bush during the run-up to the Iraq war, and conveniently pushed George Bush as a more gay-friendly candidate than John Kerry, so there’s that. And he’s frequently given to nutcase flights of fancy, like when he fixated, long after it mattered, on the identity of Trig Palin’s mother (he remains convinced that there’s some conspiracy going on), so there’s that too. To me, that makes him a frivolous blogger rather than the serious-minded source of information he’d like himself to be.

Now, though, I’m respecting the hell out of him. For most of this weekend, and even before, Andrew Sullivan tirelessly posted link after link, tale after tale, of news coming out of Iran. When not even CNN was there, when not even FOX News, with its trademark fair and balanced coverage, mentioned the obvious revolutionary events taking place in Iran, Sullivan posted. Relentless, like a crazed chimpanzee.

The revolution is happening in Iran, but it’s happening here as well; thanks to the one-two punch of Twitter and Andrew Sullivan, the mainstream media have proven they are the dinosaurs we all knew them to be. Breaking news happens in real time, unfiltered, unprocessed, unedited, and that breaking news is coming directly from people in the center of the events to me, sitting on my ass, reading their posts.

Rick Sanchez, on CNN, recently defended his network’s coverage of the events in Iran, bragging that they were the first network, on Friday, to mention the controversy over the election, missing the larger point that “mentioning” is a wholly inadequate way to approach something this momentous. Compare CNN’s coverage of Iran to the CNN coverage of Tienenmen Square almost exactly 20 years ago, coverage that made CNN’s reputation. Using its unique position as a 24 hour news network, CNN was able to give a more comprehensive and honest picture of the Chinese student uprising, and was just as relentless in its coverage as Sullivan has been with his.

What’s changed? Presumably CNN has a computer with internet access somewhere in its offices. Certainly the tweeters and youtubers on the scene in Tehran thought to send their links to CNN before they sent them to Andrew Sullivan. But CNN barely mentioned Iran, choosing instead to concentrate on the analog/digital switchover here in the States, ironically failing to realize that that story was, itself, an allegory for its own exponentially-increasing irrelevance.

What’s changed is that CNN is, like most MSM institutions, a prisoner of its own methods and protocols. Journalists, when reporting, check and double-check, confirm and double-confirm every fact they report (or they like to say they do, but... well... hey, weapons of mass destruction and prisoner-abuse at the hands of American soldiers... meh). Old media people like to say that their careful reporting of facts keeps them credible, when in fact it just makes them sloppy and slow. Sloppy because they rush reports they should sit on; slow because they hold back on stories that need to be pushed immediately.

This weekend, on the NPR show ‘On the Media,’ Bob Garfield interviewed the editor of Tech Crunch, an online site that reports technology news. Garfield attempted to take the editor to task for repeatedly posting half-truths and rumors without verification; the editor defended himself by pointing out that he posts in an organic way--there are no static reports on any subject. Instead, the reports evolve with the story, rather than trying to shape the story into a frozen three-inch column of text a la the NYT. Basically, the editor’s point was that by posting some information, he’s able to encourage multiple sources to contact him for confirmation, elaboration, denial or correction, and to expand his posts.

Whatever. You get the point.

What Andrew Sullivan is doing is kind of momentous. And the utilization of Twitter as a way to spread eye-witness reports in a place were the MSM are forbidden to go (Iran’s kicked out most foreign press, after all) is a nice pairing with Sullivan’s relentlessness.

Rather than run down the new media, CNN and other old media outlets should try to adapt. But they won’t, because they’ve spent the past decade attempting to marginalize the Internet (“dangerous,” “full of liars,” “unreliable,”), and when they DO attempt to put new media to some vague use, it’s usually in some useless Oprah’s-using-Skype-to-talk-to-a-housewife-in-Vermont way that makes the Net seem even more frivolous than, uh, that hologram thing CNN did during the election.

Sullivan’s outflanked the MSM, and they don’t even realize it yet.

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