Steve McNair and the Failure of Breaking News Reporting

It’s a late Fourth of July afternoon here in Bethesda, Maryland and I am sitting here working on a chapter in the new book. Peacefully minding my own business while the steady stream of chips from Tweetdeck occurred, I did not realize what was happening.

Steve McNair died. Putting aside the tragedy (he was a former Raven, a hero among athletes and, by all acounts, men – NFL MVP, a warrior known to play through countless injuries, mature in his approach to life and the game), we witnessed a catastrophic failure of major media. Again.

I’m not one to crucify major media. Indeed, I may be one of the few in my industry to want to see the newspaper and other forms of traditional media succeed in a huge fashion. The problem is that, even in the days of blogs and Twitter, we still rely on major media to report the news. To do the journalism. To find the sources and produce the confirmation.

As much as we in new media claim to be journalists, major media still does the job better than most of us could hope too.

We rely on Twitter and sometimes we’re wrong. Take the example of the report that actor Jeff Goldblum had died. Highly inaccurate. Stephen Colbert even fucked around with us in new media claiming that if it happens on Twitter, it must be true.

This afternoon, Twitter was ablaze with reports that Nashville Police has found former Tennessee Titan and Baltimore Raven quarterback, Steve McNair, dead in an apparent murder suicide. WKRN, in Nashville, was the first with the news and it quickly disappeared off their page – a result of too much traffic or erroring on the side of caution, who is to really know.

NBC Affiliate WTVF, Channel 5, was the second to report it filling the gap where WKRN dropped off.

It was a long time (30 minutes or so) before national media picked it up. ESPN, the Worldwide Leader in Sports by their own slogan, didn’t have it. No one did. We were left gasping for more. Is the rumor true? Can anyone confirm? Can police confirm?

Was any of us on Twitter making calls? Maybe. A few possibly. Not many.

Major media got a little jittery in the past. After 9/11. With other reports that turned into an overcompensation. Fact is, major media can safely report on a rumor as long as it is billed as such. No one has to say that this is confirmed. But people want to know. We get our news on the internet.

We find out about things happening in Iran via Twitter. We find out about Michael Jackson dying… on Twitter. We read blogs that deal with Sarah Palin’s awkwardly bizarre resignation at Alaska governor. We’re not watchoing your TV stations. We’re not in Nashville. Welcome to the global economy.

Report the damn news and report it as a rumor to hedge your bets. But report the news.

Photo Credit: mdu2boy

Update: Most media organizations are reporting a double homicide now, not a murder sucide. WKRV, who was first with the story, had reported a possible murder-suicide.

My Remarks to Congressional Staffers Today

I’ve been invited to speak to two groups of Congressional staffers today. In about 30 mins, I’ll speak to Republican staffers at the Capitol Hill Club. Later today, at 1:30, I’ll be speaking to the Democrats in their Capitol Building office. The topic is Blogging, microblogging and social media and the event is hosted by NextGenWeb and the DCI Group.

These are my planned opening remarks:

First of all, I want to thank NextGenWeb and the DCI Group for inviting me to be with you today. I want to thank all of you for taking time out of your Friday morning to be here as well.
The U.S. Capitol at Night
We have a lot to talk about today because, frankly, the landscape of news, reporting, politics and effective organizing isn’t changing. It already has changed.

comScore, the metrics organization that measures website popularity and user engagement and leads the industry in much the same way that Nielsen has led the more traditional media rating media, reported that sites like Facebook and MySpace are owning over 100M unique visitors every month. Universal McCann, another measurement company, reports that 77% of active internet users read blogs.

Whether you agree or disagree with these numbers, and whether you like the trend or not, it is undeniable that the new media space has emerged. It is difficult to turn on your television without seeing personalities – and I do mean personalities – such as MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow or CNN’s Rick Sanchez engaging their audiences with Twitter.

Up until recently, your own rules here in Congress have prevented you from effectively engaging the citizens on your districts, states and this country. You were hampered by antiquated rules that required separation of content from endorsements in the form of ads. I led the way in helping America see this, through my blog, public radio and conversation on and off the Hill. Though I cannot take full credit for any changes that have occurs, changes have still have occurred. Your House and Senate rules now allow you to utilize Twitter, YouTube and other social media avenues.

The news cycle is there and it’s different than it was before. In another lifetime, you played the game by talking to the press and hoping that they found interest in your cause. Now, you can go directly to the American people.

However, with much power comes much responsibility. Blogs have given us as citizens an expectation for engagement. For conversation. For exchange of information, ideas and transparency. Major media for the most part has not figured this out yet, and that is why more Americans get their news on the internet. There are, of course, exceptions. If you are to use this effectively, you will need to treat the internet, not as a faceless drop box where constituent mail comes from. Not as an anonymous voicemail box. Not as a nameless email inbox that sends an automated reply to the sender.

You must engage. You must converse. More importantly, you must listen.

Today, we’re going to talk about blogs, Twitter and new media. I hope that we can all learn from one another and build a better interaction platform for constituents. Thank you, again.

The Death of Newspapers. Or Not.

Note that this is a multiple page post. If you are reading in some feed readers, you may not get the entirety of the article unless you come to the site itself.

The question posed over at Friendfeed asks, “Are blogs killing newspapers?”

The answer, quite simply, is no they are not.

I have talked about the newspaper industry quite a lot and part directions with many others in the new media space. In a world of absolute positions staked by nearly everyone, that paint issues in stark contrasts of black and white with no grey in between, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that if blogs are successful over newspapers in some area, then they must be killing the newspaper across the board.

In my old age of nearly 33, I’ve learned something in this life. That absolutes are generally far from absolute. The passion that is put forward by belief in something is enough to cause issue-oriented myopia, wherein it is impossible to consider other possible alternatives.

Thus is the case when the question is posed, “Are blogs killing newspapers?”

Let me pose both sides of the argument.