Bin Laden: real time fragments or the whole story?

Very interesting reflections today by John Gapper in the FT arising from the coverage of the killing of Osama Bin Laden. Gapper watched as Wolf Blitzer of CNN struggled to cope on air as rumours swirled about Bin Laden’s death but the fact wasn’t confirmed solidly enough for the channel to broadcast it.

As Gapper predicts, rolling news broadcasters will not get caught like that again. They will feel increasingly obliged to start broadcasting rumours, correcting them as they go, sifting and iterating versions of the the truth as best they can. But as Gapper says, this doesn’t suit every consumer of news, particularly not people short of time or patience. “For the average consumer, the effect can be akin to going to a dealer to buy a car and being presented with a bunch of parts to assemble yourself. It suits hobbyists but has serious frictions for those wanting the full service.”

I wonder if this change in way news comes at us is going to divide news consumers into active and passive. Perhaps a single person will switch between active and passive depending on what they want to know. I’m content to get my news about media in fragments on Twitter because I have the background knowledge and motive to interpret it and integrate it with what else I know. But I don’t necessarily want to follow in detail the unfolding of the Japanese tsunami or the operation to kill Bin Laden in real time. I’m prepared to wait for an integrated, confirmed synopsis.

With fragments of information flying at us in huge numbers, it’s natural that skills and software for aggregation and curation are being developed. Those tools suit the active, time-rich news consumer who wants to assemble the car from the parts. But there will always also be demand for a more integrated picture of the whole. Even if it is a littler slower to arrive.


Tags: , , , ,


  1. Agree with this, though the link between active and passive may be closer than we think.

    A huge amount of activity on Twitter is link-sharing, with those links generally taking the user to more full and comprehensive source of information. This is combined with fragmentary, real-time updates and nuggets of data.

    This combination of consumption among Tweeters illustrates the switching between active and passive to which you allude, and it also illustrates the immense power of Twitter as an aggregation tool for content of all sizes, despite its own diminutive nature.

    How’s it all going at City, anyway? I graduated from Newspaper last year; switched from Editorial and now working in Digital Product Development at the FT.

    • George Brock

      Hi Alex – Great that you’re doing so well. All fine here at City, thanks. You’re right of course about Twitter and links, but the very essence of Twitter – its brevity – does in the end work against the extended expression of any kind of complexity. If I’m right about a coming passive/active split, it indicates a wider choice.