Bin Laden story shows changing media nature

By David Bauder

Associated Press

Published: Monday, May 2 2011 3:15 p.m. MDT

A man watches a TV broadcast on the death of Osama bin Laden at a vegetable shop in the southern port city of Sidon, Lebanon, Monday, May 2, 2011. President Barack Obama announced Sunday night, May 1, 2011, that Osama bin Laden was killed in an operation led by the United States.

Mohammed Zaatari, Associated Press

NEW YORK — A soldier in Afghanistan learned about the death of Osama bin Laden on Facebook. A TV producer in South Carolina got a tip from comedian Kathy Griffin on Twitter. A blues musician in Denver received an email alert from The New York Times. And a Kansas woman found out as she absently scrolled through the Internet on her smartphone while walking her dog.

In an illustration of how the information world has changed, many people learned through media formats or devices that weren't available a decade ago that the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks had been killed.

"It just kind of spread like wildfire online," said Stephen Vujevich, a student at Immaculata University in Pennsylvania. "It's amazing to see how social media played a part in it."

Vujevich was at his girlfriend's house and both were on their laptops, when she said that many of her friends had updated their Facebook status to note bin Laden's death in Pakistan. He went to Google News to find out that President Barack Obama had scheduled an address to the nation. He searched other sites to get news and credited Twitter with giving him the most immediate information.

Jaime Aguilar, a Denver musician, was at a friend's house watching HBO when he saw the news alert on his smartphone.

A soldier who identified himself only as Carlos from Queens called New York sports radio station WFAN Monday to note that he and his buddies in Afghanistan learned the news not from commanding officers, but from Facebook. Angie Scharnhorst of Overland Park, Kan., had an early morning plane flight and if she wasn't carrying her smartphone while walking her dog Ruby at 2 a.m. CDT, said she probably wouldn't have heard the news until later in the day Monday.

Ashlee Edwards, a content producer for the CBS affiliate WBTW-TV in Myrtle Beach, S.C., was watching "The Tudors" with a friend when she saw Griffin's tweet urging her to "turn on CNN now" because the president was about to make an announcement.

It was before 10 p.m. EDT Sunday that many Washington-based reporters were told to get to work because the president would speak. They were not told why.

At 10:25, Keith Urbahn, the chief of staff for former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tweeted: "So I'm told by a reputable person that they have killed Osama bin Laden. Hot damn."

The word spread quickly, even as Urbahn subsequently tweeted that he "didn't know if it's true, but let's pray it is."

Mainstream news organizations began reporting that bin Laden was dead about 15 or 20 minutes later. Some, such as CNN and NBC, were tentative at first. Others, including ABC, were more definitive. Fox News Channel was joyful.

"This is the greatest night of my career," said Fox's Geraldo Rivera. "The bum is dead, the savage who hurt us so grievously. I am so blessed, so privileged to be at my desk at this moment."

The speed of social media struck some as an epochal moment in news coverage. "If anyone isn't a believer in Twitter as an amazingly powerful news vehicle, last night should convert you," tweeted Chris Cillizza of the political website The Fix.

Twitter said that it saw its highest sustained rate of tweets. There was an average of 3,440 tweets-per-second from 10:45 p.m. - 12:30 a.m. EST, according to the site. At 11 p.m. EST, there were 5,106 tweets-per-second.

Parody outraced news. Even before CBS had reported bin Laden's death, a tweet came from Eric Stangel, co-head writer on David Letterman's "Late Show": "Report: President Obama to announce Osama bin Laden is dead. I won't believe it until I see the death certificate."

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