Today’s Mumbai terror crisis represents more than a new chapter in global terrorism — it is also opening a new chapter in global news. While CNN-IBN and other news outlets struggled to make sense of events, Twitter ran rings around their coverage, displaying tweets from citizens on the scene, which are flowing in at a rate of dozens per minute.
This news shift is as fundamental as what happened during the August 1991 Russian coup. Back then, the Russian government shut down telephone links, but it never occurred to the Generals to shut down the Internet. As a consequence, the world was able to follow events moment by moment via emails sent out from Moscow. For the first time, netizens were better informed than the news anchors.
This time the Tweeters are kilometers ahead of the reporters, and Tweets are just the tip of a citizen journalism tsunami. Flickr is filling up with photos posted moments after being taken, and there is already an authoritative Wikipedia page up and running — and being updated in near real-time. I am certain that we will see multiple layers posted in Google Earth at any moment.
Meanwhile, back in the world of old media, the talking heads on cable news are scrambling around like a bunch of stunned raccoons, telling the same hours-old stories and running the same hours-old clips again and again. Once this story settles down a bit, traditional media will have a role as a valuable source of perspective and analysis, but as long as events are still unfolding, the news will tweet, twitter, google and wiki it’s way onto our screens, long before it breaks on the networks.
In short, news no longer breaks — it tweets.