#IranElection And The Death Of News As We Knew It

#IranElection And The Death Of News As We Knew It
Arts & Culture
Piers Fawkes, PSFK
  • 16 june 2009

People are sharing briefened links to video taken and uploaded minutes before and other protesters in Tehran hold their phones up high to record and share their activity with Iran and the outside world.

The developments in the use of the web to share, access, edit and discuss information about the crisis in Iran show just how modern news organizations are failing to deliver news in the way the public want to seek it.

Iranians and observers abroad are using right this minute Twitter, blogs, Flickr and YouTube to share information about what is happening within Iran at a speed that has left mainstream media off-foot.

News organizations have had to turn to the same resources the rest of us are using to find out what’s going on in Iran. The BBC site says that they’re following the same feeds everyone else have been sharing since the demonstrations in Iran started.

Meanwhile, viewers of American news networks have grown tired of the poor reporting here. On Monday night, while hundreds of Tweets used #IranElection to describe news and opinion every minute, CNN viewers dissatisfied with the evenings stories about reality stars and medical hemp users protested the poor coverage of what was really important with their own hashtag #cnnfail. The protest against CNN continues today with Tweets every minute using the hash tag.

You could argue that established news organizations still could play an important role in editing and evaluating the news streaming over the web – what Tweets should we be listening to, which ones should we trust for example. However news organizations seem ill-equipped to deal with the role in real time. When a link to a BBC or Reuters article does appear on Twitter it’s more to substantiate news that is already known in the online community. Slow human editing is being replaced by rapid computed popularity: sites like TwitterUrly and Iran.Twazzup show what could be considered the main story of the moment by showing which tweet is the most shared:


The speed of change is leaving newspapers dead in the water. While some like the Guardian have managed to maintain active blogs on the events unfolding, most seem unable to compete with realtime speed, what use is their aged news when we can’t use it today? Newspapers have been telling us that they are important and worth protecting for ages now but an event like this makes you wonder why they should continue to exist as news distributors? We wouldn’t eat in a restaurant that served yesterday’s food so why shall we continue to read publications that offer a similar way of serving information on local and world events.

The Iran Crisis should be a pivotal moment in the history of the newspaper industry. Papers that survive will change top opinion and analysis and leave the news reporting to those who can do it better, faster.

Alongside Twitter, the Huffington Post seems to be appearing as a winner on the web. With a crisis like this, HuffPo is in its element. The editors seem to have understood the importance of this store and it’s set up allowed the web-based news publication to leverage the news feeds to offer both up-to-the-minute broad reporting (altho analysis is lagging).

huffington post.png

Meanwhile, PSFK would argue that there are some big losers on the web here too. Digg, Google, MySpace and Yahoo! failed to rise to the occasion.

Digg could have served as an editor of news from and about Iran with a simple addition of a subcategory but they slept while Tehran burned: The most Dugg articles about Iran are from 2007. Yahoo! and MySpace‘s lack of use in this new news landscape reflects what observers like PSFK have suspected for a while – that they have little reason for being.

And as for Google? Questions were already being asked about Google’s search algorithm and whether Twitter with it real-time search had leapfrogged the service. Even though the search giant has argued that its contextual search is far superior than Twitter’s simple search, the latter has become the source of news for this world event – relatively few are sharing links to Google alerts or search queries.

Surely this is a moment in time when they will say that news – and the web – changed forever.

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