I’m still mulling over an extraordinary discussion around newsgathering held here in New York City this morning. One pane stands out, however, and no doubt will continue to for years to come.
It’s not just that I had the chance to meet Ann Curry, who was passionate, thoughtful and deeply insightful.
How can I not admire a television journalist who spoke with such passion and conviction about journalism, facts and getting it right?
She noted with considerable gravitas that she took her responsibility to “never Twitter something that is wrong” seriously.
Curry suggested to citizen journalists covering global stories that “I want you to shoot that story like it’s your sister, brother or mother.”
She also offered a perspective I can appreciate, based upon my own experience:
“My followers are my own newspaper.”
Aside from Curry’s comments, all of which I hope become available online as soon at the conference videographers can manage it, there’s another story to tell.
Last Saturday, CNN anchor Rick Sanchez noticed something happening on Twitter.
That’s nothing new: @RickSanchezCNN has in many ways bet his show, even career, on his integration with social media.
His use has paid off, according to the remarks Sanchez made at JeffPulver’s 140 Characters Conference, and not just in terms of his 95,000 followers: social media, particularly Twitter, has pushed CNN to cover the existence of fraud or overall validity of the elections in Iran.
After his comments on the panel, Sanchez described to me and others how his email about #CNNFail on Twitter went up to the highest levels of the network. And, after the network’s business, PR and marketing staff was pulled in, coverage the next day shifted.
In other words, just as the audience here in New York grew restive after hearing Sanchez and Robert Scoble talk about #CNNfail and asked to hear from Curry, CNN’s online audience on Twitter pushed the network to cover the news differently.
I wasn’t watching CNN on either day — I was focused on tracking Twitter, YouTube and other online sources — but I’m now incredibly curious about how Sunday’s broadcasts on CNN were different.
I do know that Sanchez said to me that CNN stayed with Ahmadinejad’s speech on Sunday much longer than they would have otherwise.
During the panel, Sanchez that “at no time did CNN drop the ball” — based upon his remarks following, however, I have to wonder whether there was an appreciation in the C-suite at CNN that the online backlash on Twitter was a hint that Amanpour reporting live from Tehran wasn’t capturing the whole scene, and that US citizens were hungry for more information about what was happening on the streets and rooftaps of Iran.
I know now that, on some subtle level, there were changes — and that’s a win for all of those in the US who wanted CNN to cover events in Iran more closely. There’s a long road for newspapers and cable news networks to travel yet as they adjust to the real-time Web and its audience gathering information and publicly critiquing coverage decisions of network.
Even digital natives are still working out the standards for validation, attribution and information sharing. Old school publishers and broadcasters, by and large, are behind. It could be that the events in the Middle East this weekend could change that.
Sanchez was honest about the economic realities there, including the competition with Fox. Unfortunately, given the existence of a profit motive and ratings driven by celebrity stories and natural disasters, there are real barriers to the cable news networks shifting their airtime to just serious news stories.
In a public company, after all, ratings rule when shareholder value must be maximized.
Ann Curry suggested another, more sobering root cause: “It’s hard to get Americans to care about international issues.”
If journalists can frame, analyze and convey the stories of our collective humanity, whether it’s in Darfur, North Korea, Iran, China or some other global spot, perhaps that will change. Nick Kristof won a Pulitzer for his coverage in the New York Times.
Here’s hoping others follow in his footsteps.