More than anything else, social media has changed our definition of news. The very nature of always-on, 24/7 update-ability means news organizations no longer serve story deadlines. Our traditional definition of news as something that’s already happened has given way to something even as it happens. Since life is fluid and perspectives constantly shift and evolve, news no longer deals in factual reporting on events. As we’ve all been witnessing for the past week, the news ‘story’ has been the quicksilver vagaries of speculation and opinion surrounding LeBron James.
“He’s going to Miami to join Wade and Bosh.” “He’s announcing in Greenwich, that’s like ten minutes from the Knicks practice facility.” New rumors pop up every minute and anyone with a blog or twitter account has a platform to join in on this evolving story which so far, amounts to little more than educated guesses. Hardly the stuff of Edward R. Murrow…
This kind of empowered speculation has insidious effects on what news organizations serve up to the public. Remember how we were all supposed to die from Bird Flu? At the beginning of this year, the head of the Paris-based World Organization for Animal Health admittedly that dire forecasts of a deadly H5N1 bird flu virus pandemic were overblown. Similarly, the director of the World Health Organization’s Collaborating Centre for Epidemiology testified that swine flue was similarly exaggerated. In both instances, the news reported predictions–splashy, headline-generating predictions–as news.
Following developments around what the Wall Street Journal has coined “LeBronference Call” on Twitter or Facebook makes one thing incredibly clear: social media is crowd sourced PR, full stop. It is not a news service; it is a vast and powerful opinion outlet. On rare occasions like last year’s elections in Iran, it can serve as an ad hoc source for on the spot reporting, but by and large, it’s stock in trade is feeling, prediction and belief, not facts and figures.
So instead of joining the speculative fray about tonight’s announcement, I will instead offer up two predictions that are as good as fact:
1. Michael Wilbon’s statement this morning that “More people will be unhappy than happy when he makes his decision” is an unassailable truth.
2. We will be forced to wait until at least 9:25 EST/8:25 CST to hear his actual choice, in order to milk the suspense deeper into the one hour ESPN telecast.
Personally, I will be following the story on my mobile. I’ve got a basketball game tonight.
By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79
UPDATE: As part of the deal, ESPN insisted LeBron James announce the selected team within the first fifteen minutes of the show to avoid backlash. So at 8:14pm CST, stand by… Or not: ESPN will have three hours preceding the show and two hours of analysis afterward.