I get a lot of my breaking news from Twitter, since I’m not really around a TV much during the day. Last summer when I was traveling around Asia, Twitter was my news link to what was happening back in the US. Twitter can be incredibly useful in some situations–I found out the Bin Laden was dead before the traditional media was running the story, among other things, but it’s also useful because it shows how uncertain news gathering is in breaking news situations.
Last summer I was sitting in a coffee shop in Hanoi frantically refreshing my Twitter feed waiting to find the result of the Obamacare ruling. Oops, CNN ran that story before reading more than one page of the decision. If the network television special report is news at its most packaged, with the broadcast news teams only deciding to break in when they have all the facts verified, Twitter is the raw stream of uncertainty as news is packaged in real time. We saw that today, when first CNN said there was a suspect and he was brown, then that the suspect was arrested, then everybody else started running with it, then we find out that nobody has been arrested, then we find out that CNN fubar’d the whole thing and that it’s a white dude who isn’t in custody and they aren’t sure who it is, and well, at this point who knows.
Aside from the obvious fact that people need to take anything on Twitter with a grain of salt, the chaos of competing stories that were coming across my feed does serve a purpose. In the past, when CNN did an epic fail like the one their network did today, we wouldn’t have seen the fact checking and the chaos that goes on outside of the polished camera range. Today, while one cable network is doubling down on the misinformation, we can look at the unfiltered pipeline that is Twitter and see that despite the certainty and the air of authority presented by news anchors behind the desk, breaking news is a giant cluster eff and nobody really knows what’s going on. Just being aware of the chaotic uncertainty is, I think, a good thing for us, the public.
Also, CNN really needs to get their act together and stop trying to be FIRST! all the time. At least not until they learn to be better at it.