#CNNFail: Why Traditional Media Is Failing to Understand The Web

Iranian Elections

While I think this may apply to all the major networks and forms of traditional media, I think the brunt of this is probably directed towards CNN, since apparently on Twitter, it’s created a whole new trend called #CNNFail. When someone typically says “Fail” these days, it usually means that a specific product, brand, service or idea has not performed to the standards that we have grown accustomed to. So in this instance, what has caused such a massive failure that merits its own trend on Twitter? The lack of apparent notice of the recent presidential elections in Iran has inflamed the online audience begging to find out what’s going on in the Middle Eastern country & to help raise awareness about the riots, alleged voter fraud, and apparent lack of access by journalists to learn more about the situation.

So what’s going on here? I had heard about the Iranian elections yesterday and found out that supposedly the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won re-election by “a landslide”, but this is heavily disputed since the leading opposition candidate Mirhossein Mousaviwas pretty favored to win or at least have a better showing than the results appeared. So when word got out that Ahmadinejad won, the opposition supporters decided to revolt and the government started to take on the protesters and seal off any communication to the outside world. But this is pretty impossible to do now with the Internet but it seems that mainstream & traditional media have failed to capitalize on what’s going on here.

Yes, there are reporters stationed in the country who are doing the reporting, even after the police seized all of their equipment except for their cell phones and this is where the power of Twitter really shines. Every disaster or event that has happened over the past year or so has rapidly been reported faster and detailed by Twitter and the Internet. I typically find out about things like the Air France disaster, winners of sports championships, etc first through Twitter before getting an email notice from CNN or MSNBC or even FOX.

It’s astonishing how the media just doesn’t seem to fully “get it”. I suppose it’s an issue of running it up the corporate news food chain in order for a story to get promoted on television, but you would imagine that something as big as possible democratic “revolution” in an Islamic country in the Middle East would be newsworthy. Perhaps I’ve mistaken. But what’s even more surprising is that these media companies are engaging in a half-ass campaign with their customers/viewers. So you’re telling me that you know what Twitter is, how it works, and are in a deadlock battle with Ashton Kutcher to get 1 million followers, but all you’re going to be doing is pushing out information? I understand that you can’t cover every waking moment of the Iranian post-election riots, but perhaps something of a mention on Twitter about where you can find more coverage?

Did you know that with this adoption of Twitter, CNN has allowed its anchors and reporters to create Twitter accounts so people feel that they can talk “one on one” with them and voice opinions about stories? Well apparently it’s all for show with respect to when the anchors are on television. Look at who they have on CNN: Rick Sanchez and Suzanne Malveaux – two well-respected journalists and well known on CNN. Rick Sanchez is probably the most well known of the CNN anchors since he actively promotes things on Facebook and Twitter, but out of these two…nary a word. Nothing. Not even a mention about where to find the latest information about the protests. Is there something in corporate that is preventing them from at least letting the public know?

Why does CNN even have a Twitter account? To push out their stories? I’m tired of hearing about stories that THEY want me to know about. If your producers want to know what’s going on in the world that the public wants to know about, then look no further than the Twitter trends. Right now it’s saying you need to focus on the Iranian election and stop showcasing less important stories.

Let’s look at what some other folks have been saying on a recent thread started by Robert Scoble on FriendFeed titled “CNN: you should be ashamed. Horrid news judgment today. Absolutely horrid.“:

  • I can’t believe how bad CNN is.” – Robert Scoble
  • I love this tweet from the CNN tweetbot: Tehran on fire”… “Palin vs. Letterman Who’s Right?” with panel discussion {priorities: fail;}” – BryanSchuetz
  • One of Australia’s Sunday morning TV shows wasn’t any better, it’s lead story was that a bank was introducing Muslim-friendly loans.” – Bryce, Learner Driver
  • So hard to believe we have to go to Twitter to stay on top of such important news as the protests in Iran.” – AirDye®
  • To be fair its not only CNN dropping the ball on this one. All of MSM here in America is ignoring Iran today. ” – BCK
  • CNN has access to Twitter and more. So why can’t they give the proper attention to this story?“- Donald Wilson
  • It’s actually all so called TV news outlets. Internet is a better source of news. To be fair though, sometimes, on duty journalists/editors do not have the last say in what’s covered as ‘news’. Simple politics and ratings. I usually tune in to UK TV channels than I do US for news, that too very rarely. Sad but true.” – Moushumi Kabir

It’s absolutely amazing that traditional media is not capitalizing on the web as a mechanism for broadcasting. I know that there is so much other news happening in the world, such as address the Sarah Palin-David Letterman tiff or the Holocaust Museum shooter, but as things go, I think the civil unrest in a near-nuclear-capable country might be something of importance for us to keep our eyes on. A lot of reporters are using social media or even the web to make their reports and it should be said that the organizations are at fault here.

Just look at how the citizen journalists are getting their message across. They don’t need fancy equipment or an anchor desk. They’re creating the news through the use of Twitter and having it shared with other people. Take a Flip camera and record video or capture a moment in history with a cell phone and have it uploaded to the web quickly. That’s how the word is being spread about what’s going on in the world. But where is traditional media to pick up these stories? No where to be found.

So where are journalists failing?

  • Ordinary citizens are able to broadcast their thoughts and report on the event through Twitter or FriendFeed in real-time.
  • Photos and videos can be captured using a multitude of ways by regular folks and spread instantly without waiting for broadcast times.
  • Conversations can happen instantly to spread information faster from a variety of sources.
  • No sanitation of words. Both sides can be stated so there’s no appearance of “bias” compared to mainstream media.
  • Multiple forms of distribution are available to non-traditional media: email, websites, social media, etc.

So what is traditional media supposed to do now? I’d say for them to fully embrace the fact that user-generated content is a good thing for them to adopt so that they can find out what’s interesting in the world that the public wants to see…not what makes good headlines. If you’re going to participate in using a specific medium, then perhaps the wisest thing for you to do is to fully engage in the concept. Right now I’m seeing only the media participating in social media by pushing their content. No. That’s wrong. You’re supposed to converse with your customers. So until you get it right, I’m afraid it’s just one big FAIL.

By Ken Yeung

Ken Yeung is a journalist fascinated with the stories of the tech industry and internet culture. He's currently the Technology Editor at Flipboard, where he observes what's happening in the space while also identifying new topics of interest. In addition, he co-hosts the weekly internet show "The Created Economy," which focuses on what's happening to creators and influencers. Previously, he was a reporter for VentureBeat and The Next Web, covering tech startups, the industry's innovations and funding. Ken also has a newsletter you should also subscribe to called "Filed."