A major regional power with proto-nuclear bomb capacity is in turmoil. Huge numbers of Iranians are rioting in the capitol. Police are repressing the demonstrations. People have died.
As I was going to bed last night I noticed that #iranelection was the top topic on Twitter, and I started to read some posts. Among the messages were on-scene reports from people in Tehran describing the chaos; some Tweets gave links to amateur videos of crowds and police beatings.
I wanted to consume the news more quickly than I could via iPhone, so I tuned into CNN about midnight.
This is a situation tailor-made for CNN and the news networks. You’d think.
Instead of truly “breaking news” from Iran, CNN was locked into a rebroadcast of the Larry King show with Jeff Foxworthy. So nice for a news network to be blissfully ignorant of any real world events. Stunned, I tuned to Fox. Surely, they would have on-the-street reports of trouble for a government hostile to the US. Nope. They had an in-studio gaggle of anchors smirking among themselves. They were talking about amusing slices of the events in Iran. Giggle, giggle, snort, snort. But, no news in the five minutes I watched.
This morning, mainstream US media continues a focus which is simply weird. KGO radio is on its normal local/California economy run of stories. The story on Iran was delivered by the technology reporter who talked about the use of Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, and other social media. It was 30-seconds on the new media while the old media outlet remained silent about what this new media was talking about. KCBS radio had the same focus of reporting on Iran as a technology story, and redozdachs said that the Today show handled the Iran news the same way.
Hey, old media! There’s real news out there! Stop nibbling at it as a technology story and take a bite of the meat of the issue!
The government of Iran may have banned Western media from the streets and may even be preventing their staff from filing reports from within Iran. But, here’s what the professional news networks could have/still could do:
- Analyze the Tweets, Facebook postings, and YouTube videos.
- Count the numbers of reports of each “rumor”, and track the important reports which have a high number of posts
- Correlate the posts to see what news has multiple different sources and therefore is more likely to be accurate
- Map out the locations reported in the social media posts. Create a map of activities to help us in the US understand the breadth of the protests. (Are they located in one block around the university? All over Tehran? All over Iran?
- Analyze IP addresses, usernames, and any other clues to the identity of the posters in attempt to screen for obvious manipulation. Skilled manipulators probably won’t be caught, but a detected campaign to manipulate the social media would, itself, be news. Trying to find such an attempt would both further reporting and credibility.
- Rebroadcast the most potentially reliable videos and Tweets. Put in strong disclaimers that the sources have not been vetted, but let the non-Twittering public see what is going on in cyberspace.
- Pull low-quality routine schlock shows from the “news” line-up. If you want any claim to broadcasting “news” then when a major country is seething, stop the damn fiddler from going on stage.
Finally, CNN’s website is nearly as clueless as its on-air self. “Guard denies reform school horror stories”, “Born in the Wrong Body”, and “Stay in shape on Vacation” get the big real estate on the CNN home page. There are small links to Iran as a “hot story”, but even the promise of a currently live report of Iranian TV’s coverage (see box at top right in screen shot, below) was gone when I clicked on the link. CNN had refocused the world’s attention on the hugely important issue of “Police chase suspect down drain.”
Yeah, the suspect isn’t the only thing down the drain this morning. Try journalistic standards.