Monday, May 2, 2011
An extraordinary news event broke late Sunday night (11pm eastern) on May 1st in the U.S. Nearly ten years after the terrible attacks on 9-11, a secret Naval Seals mission took place at a large walled compound in Pakistan. In just a few minutes, the mastermind of the worst terrorist attacks (and most hated man in the world since notable 20th Century despots like Hitler and Stalin) was dead.
By now nearly everyone knows the details, and has seen the pictures of Americans gathering in front of the White House, at Times Square, and at Ground Zero, to mark the historic occasion. Even at 2 in the morning on the streets of NYC, the crowds kept growing. Here's one of my favorite pictures from the NY Times. This one is sure to be a Pulitzer prize winner.
The media coverage of this event was absolutely extraordinary. Unlike any other modern news story I can recall, social media played a dominant role in getting the word out. Twitter reported an astounding 5,000+ tweets per second as the story broke and users spread the world. Facebook updates were on fire with the story as well. On BlogHer.com, a special poll asking how people first heard that Osama bin Laden was dead is showing that 35% heard from a Facebook update and 22% heard from Twitter. Only 13% said they heard first on television. This is profoundly different from how we received big news stories on September 11th, 2011, when neither of those social media services even existed.
But television also did a magnificent job covering the story late on Sunday night. Most folks might have heard first from social media but soon relied on TV or the Internet to get a deeper view of the breaking news. I immediately turned to CNN (where I watched the bulk of the 9-11 coverage, come to think of it) and stuck with it for most of the night. Their coverage was #1 in the ratings according to Entertainment Weekly. They peaked at 7.8 million viewers in the U.S. at 11pm eastern, when the President made his speech announcing the successful mission (see video above). Fox News was second with 4.8 million and MSNBC was third with 2.3 million viewers. CNN has struggled in the ratings over the past year, but they have proved time and again that they are the place to be during a big breaking news story, particularly when it has global importance.
On May 1st, 2011, the message that so many had longed to hear for too many years spread like wildfire. Through television.... and the Internet, by text message, tweet and mobile phone. Some even heard from a real live person. No matter what pipeline the news traveled through, the result was an enormous, national sigh of relief. Differences in politics, or color, or religion or gender (just like on 9-11)were forgotten. For a few joyous hours on a Sunday night, we were one people, united in our belief that justice had finally been served.
And please, please let HBO make the movie of the amazing Navy Seal mission some day!