This week, as the pension crisis, the schools closing crisis and the urban violence crisis continued along incrementally, we took a step back from the news of the week to take a longer look at the media. Have we begun to redefine the boundaries between old and new media after Boston?
Our attention turned almost immediately to Twitter. It was a major player in the information infrastructure during the Boston mayhem. For several hours overnight as the firefight was unfolding on Boston streets, Twitter was leading the way with rebroadcasts of the police scanners and eyewitness accounts. And it kept Gilmer up all night.
“This was another moment,” says Gilmer, “along with Hurricane Sandy and other previous events that have really turned the corner in the way that we view – at least smart users – view Twitter. I don’t think CNN would know it if it came up and tapped them on the shoulder, it seems. But it’s a sharing of information. And you have to view it with a grain of salt. I think smart users do.”
Iverson says that, in her classes, not one of her students used conventional television or radio for coverage of the Boston events. They relied exclusively on Twitter and Google-directed sites, often landing on newspaper feeds for a more curated, balanced perspective.
“One of the things that technology has been doing for journalism as we knew it is disintermediating it,” she explains. “So if you think about the things that journalism does, there’s the eyewitness. Feet on the ground, as we say. Then there’s distribution. And then there’s the part that used to be the verification, accuracy, seeing if it’s balanced. So now, those can all be separate. They can occur in any order, where distribution used to be the last step.”
People who’ve become accustomed to these new channels, she says, understand the difference, and when they see something, they check it out for themselves by seeking other sources or sites.
That phenomenon – people becoming their own editors – is resulting in what Gilmer calls “social media’s self-correcting course”. Incorrect information disseminated on social media, he asserts, can be detected and corrected more quickly than through conventional old-media channels.
“It’s just another example of that wall coming down between the readers and the journalists,” he says. “You’ve seen it with the emergence of blogs and Internet interaction. It’s what comment sections are. Responding to reporters on Twitter. … That wall is down, you can’t put it back up. And now the users on the other side are coming over the remains of that wall.”