Is Cable News Twittering Past the Graveyard? A Little Birdie Told Me…

Posted by Michael Pinto on Apr 17, 2009 in Tech |

The JFK assassination was the point when newspapers stopped breaking news...

On November 22, 1963 along with President Kennedy newspapers received their first fatal wound and they’ve been slowly fading ever since. Most people learned of the assassination of JFK via their TV set or radio — and ever since then newspapers have broken less-and-less news each year. Smugly watching this death march has been broadcast and later cable television news. At a certain point the money, power and glamour shifted from print to the small screen and along with that came a certain sense of hubris that we see today.

These days to be an anchor on on one of the three news networks gives you the audience of a rock star. More and more the field becomes less about breaking news and more about personality and opinion — and that’s the beginning of their end. While various tech pundits write sermons about the demise of newspapers due to the net, the real story that everyone is missing is that cable news networks are slowing having nothing to do with actual news.

Most people watched the Oswald assassination in real time on their TV sets, and most people followed the Mumbai attacks on their digital devices — in each case you are seeing the birth of a new news medium.

Of course this shouldn’t be too shocking in the world of cable — after all it’s a rare day when MTV plays a music video. But at some point last year with the tragedy of Mumbai the internet via Twitter started to become the place where news would break first. At first it was unusual, but these days I’d be surprised if I found out about a story first by watching television. And what’s interesting is that where once upon a time I’d look at CNN’s website I no longer go there — in fact ironically I find myself looking at newspaper sites much more when I want a detailed analysis of a story.

When you look at how most cable news is interacting with new media you get a quick a sense that that they’re looking down their nose at the medium in a condescending manner. I noticed this a great deal during the last election when anchors would make snobby comments about user submitted questions on YouTube. They don’t get the concept of “community” — to them it’s all about “audience” or ratings. The entire field has become a numbers game and in the process we see pretty much everything but old fashioned journalism (unless it’s on the BBC or PBS).

Twitter: This birdie is having CNN gladly give away their audienceThat’s why this Larry King vs. Ashton Kutcher Twitter race for the most Twitter followers is so morbid — what we’re watching is the start of televised news taking its place as a secondary medium. Don’t get me wrong CNN isn’t going off the air for quite a few years, but when that event does happen (most likely when Gen Y hits their peak of buying power) we’ll look back at time as a key turning point. What CNN isn’t getting in this race is that the more users they gain on Twitter — the more it helps Twitter to become the next CNN.

Once the public starts using Twitter they look for others to follow. And those other parties may break the news faster, and as that happens they’ll unfriend CNN pretty quickly. This follows my own pattern with Twitter where I first started following various Twitter rock stars, but after a while I discovered that rock stars are very shallow and uninteresting people without much to say. And more and more I find myself caring less and less what cable news anchors of any persuasion think. I was once watching a reality TV show where the main character summed it up best “opinions are like assholes, everyone’s got one!”

And that’s the thing with Twitter — suddenly Larry King, even if he has the best producers is an equal to Joe down the street, and maybe less so if Joe just stumbled across a plain crash or terrorist attack. But this isn’t just Twitter but the net as an entire medium — somewhere Larry’s replacement is tweeting away. And before you know it that person with an engaged audience will monetize their hard work, and slowly over time we’ll view cable television news the way we see newspapers today. Part of the irony of this situation is that what’s left of newspapers shifting to online might be the starting point of the next big thing.

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