During coverage of the events in Iran Sunday night, anchor Don Lemon went into a spiel every few minutes about how "social networking sites are playing a bigger role than ever in getting the story out." True enough. That's been a big part of the story about the Iran elections and protests, at least for journalism and social-networking nerds.
The little hint was when Lemon said, "Our Twitter account received hundreds and hundreds of submissions. Fair to say thousands and thousands."
No. They're not submissions. They're tweets. Or you can call them postings if you think tweet is a silly word. But that small flub -- made by an anchor reading from a script, not off the cuff -- spoke volumes.
It said that CNN sees itself as a center, an entity that people are trying to communicate with by "submitting" messages via Twitter for CNN to consider. Lemon occasionally read a couple of tweets, in the same way that TV anchors have been reading "letters to the editor" since the '50s. He mentioned that reading those tweets on the air is CNN's way of thanking its viewers for contributing.
But that's not what's happening. What's happening is a conversation. CNN is simply a part of it, one of the voices people are willing to listen to -- provided it has something compelling to say. The #CNNfail hashtag was a loud chorus saying that CNN wasn't holding up its end of that conversation early in the weekend, though it calmed down after Saturday when CNN ramped up its coverage.
A fundamental shift has taken place in the way media organizations have to look at themselves in relation to their audience. Talking about that audience "submitting" tweets to help the network cover a story is a clue that there's at least one organization that hasn't made that shift yet.