Editor’s Pick
JUNE 16, 2009 9:32AM

CNN appreciates your Twitter submissions

Rate: 6 Flag
By King Kaufman: Sometimes in life, little things say a lot. Over the weekend, CNN gave a little hint that, at least on the TV side, it doesn't quite get this whole social media thing.

 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.

Your tags:

Recipient's email address:
Personal message (optional):

Your email address:

Comments

Type your comment below:
OK, on a more serious note the future of journalism is Andrew Sullivan. Just follow his lead.

Information will flow fast and quickly, some from official sources (i.e. White House press release, corporate hacks, etc.) some from traditional (and slow) journalism, reporters digging around, doing interviews, but most, especially for fluid events like Iran, from participants or people within a participants communication network. Smart phones and wireless connections allow everyone to contribute to the datastream.

The role of the new journalist is to edit, moderate, filter and analyze this overload of information and perhaps, if needed, comment, either objectively or subjectively on the topic. They are to take the white noise of the masses' communications and amalgamate it into something more useful and understandable.

No one is doing it better than Sullivan over at The Atlantic right now.
Maybe someone at CNN will start reading this blog... wouldn't that be great?

If so, let's hope they catch that comment by Steve Suranie, who describes as well as anyone else I've read, what the new role of journalists would/could be in a world suddenly no longer upside down.
A source inside CNN who worked on this story last week (and, yes,
reads this blog) reports that CNN has been following this story
continuously, and that it is an outright exaggeration to say that CNN "ramped up its coverage" in response to Twitter users. The editors at CNN are professionals with plenty of experience covering breaking international news and compiling reports from citizens in the field from a variety of sources.

He also notes that "currently CNN automatically tweets headlines,
but since it covers a wide range of topics even the top story can get lost, especially with the Twitter crowd, which" can tend to have a short attention span.

I have been a Twitter user for years, but I think it is important that
we all understand that it is only a raw feed and that it has a tendency to inspire groupthink and spread false rumors like few other technologies before it (see
http://trueslant.com/joshuakucera/2009/06/15/what-if-we-are-all-wrong-about-iran/).

Also, I encourage you to check Saeed Ahmed's feed (http://twitter.com/CNNSaeed), in
which you can witness him try to tease out confirmed facts from the chaos in real time.
@Scott

I don't think anyone is questioning CNN's ability to cover breaking news. They've been doing it, and doing it well for a long time. And perhaps that is the point. I can't remember exactly when my family first got cable and CNN but I am pretty sure it was back in the early eighties, I remember watching the Challenger explosion and Reagan assassination attempt on it.

Cutting edge back in 1982.

I guess the point being is that CNN seems to be slow to embrace the new cutting edge and clinging to the old means of delivering news, which is, in this day and age, a slow process, even if it is only by a measure of hours.

The point is not to take Twitter posts as a substitute for journalism, as you rightly pointed out it is unreliable at best, especially in a fluid situation like Iran and where the posters have a vested interest in a certain outcome of an event. But if you read my post above the role of the journalist today is no longer a 'we present the news, you accept it from us' relationship. It is much more symbiotic, the journalist is at once reporter, editor, moderator, analyst and statistician. It is there role to take all this raw data, amalgamate it for us and then present it back in a format that is digestible for the user. As I said no one is doing that better than Sullivan right now.
Both on fast paced stories such as Iran and on stuff that offers more time and thought such as the abortion doctor murder a few weeks back.

CNN needs to become a player on his level now. To take the vast resources they have and transform how they present the news into that symbiotic relationship with their users. As Kaufmann said, it is a conversation now, not Brokaw or Murrow telling us the news.
@Steve

"CNN needs to become a player on his level now."

But they are, certainly much more so than a single blog. CNN's embrace of social media includes iReport, Twitter feeds and discussions, and a plethora of blogs, which in combination support both raw user-generated content and discussion as well as the type of meta-analysis you describe.

My question to you, and I can assure you that there are people at CNN interested in this answer, is what more do you want, specifically? Is there any one concrete thing you would like them to do that they aren't doing already? However, note that they are unlikely to ever support Sullivan's breathless, rather uncritical embrace of raw, unverified data.
Is it just me, or is this whole blog a bit oversensitive to a CNN guy's word choice?
X - I'm with you: I don't think the word "submit" was meant to be condescending. CNN and msm in general are still trying to figure out how to deliver breaking news, which is what we all seem to want. Given the (few) accounts I read of "traditional" journalists now in Iran being unable to do their jobs under threat of death, they would need to rely on the on-the-fly tweets from a populace less encumbered by government interference.
But it's one thing to have the technology and it's quite another to make the best use of it. Journalists and broadcast reporters have editors and other mechanisms in place for the purpose of verifying information and sorting through the crap to bring us a coherent story. We can fault them for the way in which they do their jobs but we need what they do. I'm capable of applying critical thinking to deciding what's important to read but I can't always make certain what I'm reading has been checked by anyone.
We have to get off this "new versus old/us versus them" mentality and use various media elements for their different strengths. It's a pleasure to see Twitter used to report rather than to circulate inane ramblings and I'm thrilled new media gives new voices an opportunity (otherwise I'd still be sitting at my old desk in my old office) but I'm not ready to kick CNN to the curb.
@Scott

Respectively I have to disagree. I don't think I am being successful at making my point.

I've looked at iReporter before and though I think it is nice of CNN to let people post videos with their opinions and of things they have seen, so what? Isn't that the same noise and clutter lacking professional analysis and content that you downgrade Twitter for? I'd say its a step up as there must be some editorial process in which videos are presented but in the end it is little different than Open Salon or something like Daily Kos except it is in video format.

Back to what King was alluding too and the poorly made point I was trying to make. Where on cnn.com is the conversation? When I am reading Sullivan's site (or to a lesser extent Kevin Drum's at Mother Jones or Emptywheel over at FireDogLake (I think her name is Marcy) there is a sense of conversation. Sullivan surfs the blogs, news sites and now Twitter (and to be honest is thought Twitter useless prior to the Iranian elections), pulls this information together and then presents it in a digestible format, sometimes with his own comments, sometimes alone, usually with a money quote and a blurb, allowing the reader to follow through to more content if they find it interesting. And he updates frequently, maybe 50 posts a day. CNN is doing something like that on its site? If so and I've missed it please post a link.

Can or better yet, should CNN do this. Exactly like Sullivan, no. And I am speaking only in regards to online, not your cable presence, though there is probably some carry over. But as far as I can tell from the CNN site your still viewing the news as a one way street.

The FutureShock that Toffler wrote about in the eighties (I would still recommend reading today) is finally seeing its reality now. For your industry, how news is gathered and presented is changing and better to be in the front of that wave rather than be consumed by it.
@Steve

CNN separates unfiltered news (iReport, Twitter, etc.) from stories they consider verified in a way that Sullivan does not. Sullivan certainly does protest often that people are not being critical enough about tweets and media he posts. But he does not seem to understand that his presentation is what creates the confusion.

In your last post you seem to make the assumption that I work in the media. I only said that I have a well-placed source at CNN. In fact, I work in IT research and have no affiliation whatsoever with any media outlet. In the past, I have found myself on your side of the argument. I have developed systems to support social media, and I have defended them at academic conferences. I am increasingly disturbed, though, by what is happening as these technologies hit the mainstream. Sullivan's 50-posts-a-day (my goodness!) style seems to make folks more hysterical than anything. What we need, desperately, is higher quality information, not just more of it (I recommend Nunberg's and Duguid's reading list on information quality as a starting point if you are interested in the topic http://www2.sims.berkeley.edu/courses/is218/f06/classes.html).

I have to say, also, that your and King's use of the term "conversation" strikes me as a convenient rhetorical approach that allows you to steer your argument in whatever direction you want. To say that there are not conversations happening at iReporter is ridiculous, but perhaps they're not "conversations." Unless by "conversations" you really do mean just throwing a bunch of quotes and multimedia from different sources into a post. Frankly, I've mentored students who have built systems that can nearly automate that process. A much, much harder problem is how to improve the signal-to-noise ratio when everyone can be a producer.
@King

My source responds to your link about Rich Sanchez:

"Some people were upset Friday that Amanpour was not
reporting enough of the protests. She was tending more toward the
official statements from both sides. The concerns were taken to the
International Desk, which was certainly aware of the protests, as The CNN Wire had been reporting them. ... wire editors had more of a sense of urgency at that time than the International Desk seemed to. But CNN.com on Friday night was highlighting the protests."
... However, I would say that what the Lede is doing at the NYT is more promising.