As I write this, it is currently 4:37 AM in Chicago, and I have not gone to sleep. Just after midnight Central Time today, a low-speed car chase began in L.A. when the police (and hoards of paparazzi and news cameras) pursued a white Bentley with Illinois license plates. As soon as the news broke online, the Twitterverse was abuzz. A live feed of coverage was up on L.A.'s ABC7 news site, and the FOX11 site shortly after. Twitter users took to the series of tubes and did their part to speculate and spread the information. Paparazzis and reporters tweeted from the scene, and their tweets were retweeted almost virally. News channels got information from Twitter, and Twitter got information from the news channels. Comments, speculation and raw information were flowing freely between the medias instantaneously.
This isn't unheard of. During the Mumbai bombings, hostages and eyewitnesses tweeted from the scene while emergency responders tweeted about how to stay safe and get out of the situation. The transfer of information about Mumbai attacks was praised by social media advocates as a shining moment for the field. In a world with Google Sync and Google Latitude, a world with smartphones and endless wifi, a world where the news tickers follow us in our cities, a world where the expectation for information is instantaneous, instantaneous journalism has found it's place in the new and old media realm with the advent of "tweetlism."
CNN's Rick Sanchez and Don Lemon regularly tweet from the prep meetings for their shows as well as while they are on air. Mr. Sanchez takes orders from twitterers about what to put in his daily show, whereas Mr. Lemon opens up his air-waves for live commentary. Because of the restrictions of Twitter, each tweet is limited to 140 characters. Tweets can be brilliantly simple and direct or engagingly vague. Unlike Facebook status updates, tweets are much more a form of microblogging in the sense that up-to-the-minute updates, thoughts, pictures and links are encouraged and gobbled up by media-hungry users.
The future of journalism--if the old media is not to blind to see--lies in this open-source journalism in the style of microblogging and, consequentially, microreporting. The life of media is profoundly cyclical; from emails was borne instant messaging and texting and from blogging comes services such as Twitter. We are dealing with a large amount of media every day, so anything new will entice us. Perhaps, with so much media flowing through our consciousness, the best thing for our attention span is to allow a few seconds to read 140-character morsels of information. Who really has the time to bother reading a newspaper or watching the news these days when one can learn all they need to know via this method, and why would a journalist invest time in making his reporting artistic and worthy when tweetlism is an equally lucrative and viable option? BNO News is a breaking news wire that operates exclusively on Twitter and breaks stories side-by-side with organizations like AP, and has even sold some of it's information to Rueters. BNO has over 24,000 followers and posts several individual news stories an hour--all in under 140 characters.
Twitter alone can not bring down the old media, but if they know what's best for them the old media will throw on a sideways hat and get with the program. Tribune Co.'s Red Eye (published in Chicago) is a free newspaper with short, syndicated stories and columns in a fast-paced and easy-to-read format aimed at the internet-savvy Millennials and GenX-ers. Red Eye also tweets all day long, capitalizing on this vast and fruitful marketing opportunity. People may want to relax over a coffee and a newspaper in the morning, but in the age of social media a news organization cannot simply rely on paper to sustain it's reader base. Many marketing opportunities lie in the twitterverse. A newspaper-by-day-Twitter-by-night mix such as the one operated by Red Eye is the perfect way to engage and maintain the the reader base's attention and keep them involved, invested and thinking about the newspaper.
Red Eye is a prime example of the overlooked opportunities that lie in the social media world that old media has so damned for so long. Newspapers and broadcast news programs can save themselves with just an easy personal touch. This is journalism 2.0, and whether the media likes it or not the future of journalism will be short, cute and 140-characters long.