By: David Armon, President, Critical Mention
A few dozen people who happened to be viewing the right friends’ Twitter feeds at the right time Saturday afternoon would have seen unconfirmed reports that pop music superstar Whitney Houston was dead.
But for 99.99% of the public, this story broke in the same manner it would have in the 1960s: via an attributed source in a newswire bulletin, followed quickly by broadcast media keeping a diligent eye on the wires.
Subscribers of The Associated Press heard first, in an item quoting publicist Kristen Foster, that Houston had died. AP also tweeted the headline, at 4:57 p.m. PT.
RADIO IS FASTEST
The first major market media outlet to go with the story was WBBM-AM, the CBS all-newser in Chicago, which aired it at 6:58 CT (a minute after the AP bulletin). A minute later, sister station WCBS-AM in New York did the same thing.
Los Angeles TV station KABC also told viewers at 4:59 PT, when it and many West Coast network affiliates were airing their local 4 o’clock and 5 o’clock newscasts.
The first national TV network to go with the story was MSNBC, at 8:07 ET. Five minutes later CNN broke into its Black History Month special, The New Promised Land — Silicon Valley, with the news.
The only national broadcast network to interrupt programming with news of Houston’s death was ABC, which used World News weekend anchor David Muir for the special report at 8:13 ET.
Fox News Channel told viewers about Houston’s death at 8:28 ET.
Mashable’s Samantha Murphy posted on Sunday about how two Twitter users – one with only 14 followers – tweeted about Houston’s death well ahead of the AP story. One commenter drew the distinction between the narrowcasting of Twitter and the broader, more trusted qualities of traditional media.
“This only shows who’s first and who’s believable are distinct,” wrote Mickmedia. “For now, Tweets from unknown, unvetted sources (in both cases cited) are not credible, even if accurate. Thus why the AP tweet is what people follow and forwarded. If these same people called friends first, would there be headlines saying “The Phone Breaks News before Press”? (Twitter) is a medium, not (a) source.”
All this debate about Twitter’s influence versus traditional media’s relevance in our personal lives begs the question: How and when did you hear the news about Whitney Houston?