Friday, June 26, 2009

A Twitter of relief amidst the tragedy

You’re probably wondering what the death of Michael Jackson has to do with my now-chronic state of underemployment. But this has less to do with the King of Pop than with how his death came to light. And, amid the tragedy, that surprising process provides some encouraging news about my career plans.

You swells who have a job probably weren’t avidly scouting Twitter yesterday afternoon, as per the norm for the rest of us. So you missed the first news flash from one of the most followed parties on the medium, Breaking News, a Twitter-based news service: “REPORT: MICHAEL JACKSON TAKEN TO LOS ANGELES HOSPITAL IN CARDIAC ARREST.” It was posted yesterday around mid-afternoon, or around 3 o’clock E.S.T.

Eleven additional flashes from Breaking News would follow in quick succesion, including one refuting a rumor that Jackson had died of a drug overdose.

Then, an hour after the first report, came the stunner: FLASH -- LOS ANGELES -- "KING OF POP" MICHAEL JACKSON HAS DIED.

That was around the time that the New York Times reported via Twitter that Jackson had been hospitalized.

Indeed, at 5:51 I got a news alert e-mailed to me from the Times, saying the same thing.

I got a nearly identical e-mail alert at that time from CNN.

By then, Breaking News was offering the few details it could unearth about Jackson’s death. But it had definitely reported that Jackson was dead.

I didn’t know which to believe, the New York Times and CNN, two titans of the business, or this Breaking News upstart, which was relying secondhand on reports from media like But I knew that this event would either validate Twitter and its specialists as a news medium, or underscore why we need our old reliables to keep us informed.

Finally, at about 6:30, some two hours after Breaking News had reported Jackson’s death, the Times and CNN sent news alerts stating that the King of Pop had passed. The reports were secondhand, based on Associated Press reporting.

Twitter, in short, had kicked the mainstream media’s butt. Indeed, I was annoyed at the Times and CNN for taking me on a rollercoaster with their mistakes-by-omission and lateness. Was Jackson indeed dead, as I’d learned somewhere around 4, or was that a mistake, as the Big Two had indicated? I didn’t need the emotional tumult.

So what does this have to do with my state of employment?

Everyday I’m looking for the check in the mail. When it comes, I’ll crack open a bottle of Champagne and celebrate that I have officially been paid to Twitter.

It’s still freelance, and it’s not that much. But, as yesterday sadly proved, Twitter is a journalistic medium of the future. Print isn’t disappearing, but social media are rivaling it in terms of immediacy, and even accuracy, given its nature (the group-report aspect of it tends to be self-policing).

I’m glad I have a hold on it, albeit by my fingernails. It’s nice to have any sort of affiliation with a form of journalism—and, as yesterday proved, it definitely is—that’s growing in use and reputation.

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