To listen to Rick Sanchez on CNN, you might get the impression that Twitter, CNN and Sanchez personally, have worked together to start a revolution in Iran. Sanchez constantly sites twitter and “social media” as driving the protest movement against the outcome of the Iranian elections. Although he presents no evidence of this other then traffic to CNN. Sanchez had been hyping twitter since it came out some months ago to a point that almost his whole show consists of asking questions and reading opinions and remarks “tweeted” back, all of course less than 140 characters. Sanchez and his colleagues promote this speeding up of communications as “progress”.
According to Sanchez and others on CNN they think this is the wave of the future, citizens reporting directly through news organizations. While there is a democratization of news and media going on because of technology, (one of the bears eating the newspaper monopoly world) it spans a vast network from cell phone pictures and video, blogging, email, texting and of course old fashion direct communication and its cousin the telephone. The downside is the endless expansion of unfiltered and unchecked sources used as news reaches a point where it is impossible to sort the facts out from the fakes, flakes and fluff, if only because of sheer volume. It does however beat paying real reporters and cameramen.
The whole brevity and speed with which it happens (instantly) reinforces the very worst in evaluating a situation, communicating any subtlety or nuance, and void of context, does not allow any judgment on the accuracy of the perception. First “tweeting” is only done by a very small, young, affluent, tech savvy part of any population. In a 2nd or 3rd world country that portion is even smaller. It doesn’t tell you the wisdom, intelligence, motive or bias of the sender. The 140 character limit doesn’t really encourage thoughtful insight or deep analysis of any subject, instead it substitutes first impressions and gut level reactions, many of which may be wrong, be based in inadequate background information or even purposely misleading.
Review for authenticity can only be done remotely, CNN has already rejected video sent that was from years old demonstrations. Did they recognize them all? How much easier would it be to pass on propaganda than it has in the past? Most people were originally fooled by the toppling of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad, shown as a spontaneous reaction by the people of Baghdad to the American invasion. It was only admitted later, after exposure, that the camera shots were purposely tight to make a small group of exiles, flown back into the country by the U.S., look like part of a much bigger crowd. Meanwhile the real Iraqi’s were stocking up on guns and ammo.
Sanchez raves about the management and organization of the revolutionary behavior in Iran he attributes to Twitter and social networking. While certainly important, it ignores all other forms of communication that are probably used, and maybe to a greater extent than twitting.
Flash mobs, giving organizational instructions to groups of people through mass texting of people who sign up on a website, through email blasts and website posting are all common forms of communication and organization. What is this big deal about 140 characters and I don’t have to wait an extra three seconds? More disturbing, neither CNN nor anyone else has offered a breakdown on how communication is happening and to what extent tweeting and social networks are being used as an alternative to other forms of communication and organization.
This desperation to fill twenty four hours of news every day, a reluctance to spend the time and money required for in-depth discovery and analysis, and the need to keep sponsors happy (Oil companies hate having pictures of oil soaked birds run right after their green kumbaya commercial) causes severe distortion of priorities. News is supposed to be an examination of the facts, an exploration of the situation and those involved, unfortunately it’s becoming like one continuous “reality show” being invented as fast as we can think it up and make it a crisis.
The perfect example was on Thurs, June 19 when a pilot died of natural causes aboard a transatlantic commercial flight. In spite of the fact that there were two, (that’s right two) first officers on board completely trained, certified and capable of completing the flight and landing the plane, CNN felt it necessary to hype the danger and follow every minute of the plane’s flight until it landed. In a flashback to the old airplane movies and their spoofs’ the implication was that somehow this plane was in danger of crashing at any minute with only two totally perfectly qualified live pilots on board. It was if after the Captain died they held a lottery to see which luckless untrained passenger would try to land the plane.
Corporate news has become a shameful spectacle of entertainment masquerading as real information. The failure of professional news organizations to maintain a better standard than what happens on the wide open digital range will be their own demise. Who will continue to pay to see them if the only content they provide is already free and you can avoid hearing Rick Sanchez get orgasmic over reading it. If this continues to be CNN and Sanchez’s view of what is news, I can only say that I look forward to the day that the tweets replace the Twits at CNN.