Social media provides a forum for rumors, but mainstream media helps smart people cull out the garbage

Sadly Michael Jackson died last afternoon. Where did people go to find breaking news information?  Far and away the sources were Twitter and TMZ. Twitscoop posted this incredible video of the trending topics cloud.

But wait, wait, wait — before we all talk about the irrelevancy of mainstream media and how most people found out about Michael Jackson dying via Twitter, Facebook (likely because many people let their Twitter accounts update their Facebook status) and TMZ — lets not forget something very important: fact checking.

Fact: Mainstream media indeed is becoming irrelevant as a source for breaking news. However, despite some huge enormous blunders, mainstream media really does a decent job every day of making sure the stories they run are correct. And while early reports of Michael’s death were reported correctly with new media it also could have been a false alarm. Last night Jeff Goldblum was also reported dead (he’s not) and Harrison Ford had been lost at sea (he is not) and earlier this week that Patrick Swayze passed away (not yet). Those stories didn’t go far though. It is the mainstream media outlets that help the smart people who use social media to cull out rumors from garbage.

It seems like there are two camps, and I sit squarely in the middle. In the first camp are those like TechCrunch, who run an excellent blog, but like to self-servingly point out how mainstream media is a bitter and crabby old geezer who needs to defend themselves against their own demise. (Actually, the Chicago Tribune quickly gave themselves a largely unjustified pat-on-the-back by defending their sister paper for doing the “heavy lifting” on the Jackson story yesterday.) Both new media and old are complaining about each other without naming names.

In the second camp are those who almost have to wipe the foam from their mouths as they talk about how they hate new media, calling it at worst dangerous and at best silly.

Personally, I think there is a place for both in this world. We are all currently scrambling to define the roles of each, but the key thing I think everyone should remember is that I don’t think the dust will settle on this for a long, long time. Printed and traditional mainstream media is still extremely valuable. New media and social media serve the purpose of getting breaking news out to many people quicker than anything ever before. It’s all just media, whatever form it comes in and both will continue to evolve for years to come. Let’s all play nice together as best as possible.


  1. Sam
    June 29, 2009

    This is very interesting to see the progression of news through this form. I first saw the news of MJ on the facebook statuses of 2 friends and then I went to twitter search to check. I would have never done that 6 months ago, but now I find that twitter is the first place I go to see what everyone is saying. Knowing it is just coming from other people I take it with a grain of salt though.

  2. Justine
    June 29, 2009

    I think that you put it well when you say that both forms of media are important for different reasons. I will say that I love the trending topics on Twitter, but whenever I see something such as “Michael Jackson is dead” I have to question if people are blowing it out of proportion or if they are correct before I go re-tweeting it all over the place. So, no matter what I find out from Twitter, the information is always questionable and leads me to search out the internet and bigger news sites such as CNN and TMZ to see if the rumors are true.

    The down side to all of this is that Twitter is so fast to deliver and spread the news that when I found out that Michael Jackson had passed, the only reliable web site that had the information posted was TMZ. So I guess that’s where the ball is dropped. I found TMZ’s Twitter page, but quickly realized they never used it. If they are going to try to be the first to break the news when it comes to big events, then they should be using this tool to their advantage! I would much rather see a tweet from them in this case then a tweet from people I don’t know regarding Jackson’s death. That’s the part of this that I don’t understand. The traditional news needs to embrace Twitter and use it to their advantage, not be angry with people for using it. I’m sure they will find many followers since TMZ’s account has over 15,000 of them without even using it.