I’ve been joking that Saturday Night Live is going to do a fake Colorado Ad Campaign: “Wildfires, Six Foot Lizards and Batman Villains Live: Come Live the Adventure”.
The reason that hoke’s even worth trying is that every one of those items had the reach they did because of Social Media. That there is “Social Media” isn’t news. What is news is that networks built on Social Networks are literally overthrowing old school governments, companies and ways of solving problems.
Waldo Canyon Fire burned an area larger than Manhattan. Before it was out, it was already the most expensive natural disaster in Colorado history. It’s out, but unless the tourists return, the long term damage is going to be far higher. Someone’s six foot tropical lizard chewed through it’s leash and escape. It’s where abouts are still unknown. And, now, up the road in a Denver suburb, a man who described himself as “The Joker”, now charged with 142 different counts, showed up a movie premier, leaving 12 dead.
Two of the three events were national and international news. That’s nothing new. What’s new is that many people found about them via social media before they hit traditional news services. The hashtag #WaldoCanyonFire on Twitter was the center of the action around the Waldo Canyon Fire. For the self-described Joker’s #AuroraShooting, it was Reddit.
With our dozens, hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousand followers, friends and readers, everyone is a journalist. We can instantly break into our follower’s (and some friend’s) lives, their regular programming, for instant updates. And, sometimes, the best reporting doesn’t even come from the same time zone. During Waldo canyon, in some cases, I received breaking news tweeted by someone in Massachusetts that originated from a Denver TV station. In other cases, I alternated between pictures my wife tweeted from within the evacuation area and TV station’s live streams from cameras just outside it.
GigaOm and others have called it crowdsourcing the news. For some people, the first time they saw this phenomenon, was with the Arab Springs. Twitter, Reddit, Facebook and other social media are being used to report and respond to news immediately.
We seem to have mastered the immediate part. If you can get the need out in 140 characters, people respond. Massive rallies appear in Tahrir square, sleeping bags materialize at an evacuation center before the evacuees arrive, donations pour in for shooting victims.
A lot could be said about how, since everyone is a journalist, there’s a massive need to learn to be journalists: to question things before retweeting, to have ethics about how they shoot their mouths off on Facebook, etc.
And, I think the more interesting story is what happens after the immediate, after the wildfire is extinguished, after the Egyptian government collapses, after the horror at the latest mass shooting fades. We don’t seem to have a mechanism to continue to harness the energy of Twitter.
In the case of Egypt, it wasn’t the twiteratti that won the election. It was an old school political organization: the Muslim Brotherhood (official site, wikipedia). Here, Waldo Canyon Fire is over but the effort to organize an grass roots effort to help local businesses has gotten very little traction.
But, the most incisive summary was probably “Sadly, Nation Knows Exactly How Colorado Shooting’s Aftermath Will Play Out” in, of all places, The Onion:
According to the nation’s citizenry, calls for a mature, thoughtful debate about the role of guns in American society started right on time, and should persist throughout the next week or so. However, the populace noted, the debate will soon spiral out of control and ultimately lead to nothing of any substance, a fact Americans everywhere acknowledged they felt “absolutely horrible” to be aware of.
I don’t think that state of affairs will continue. It’s not a question of “if” the internet and social media will be used to supplant old school political organizations (like the Egyptian Brotherhood) by organizing the power of the massive numbers of engaged Twitter, Reddit and Facebook users. It’s a question of when.
Last December, a piece called the (B)end of History in Foreign Policy argued that we’ve entered a new age. At the level of governments, the piece argues, like we once shifted from empires to modern nation-states, we’re now shifting from nation-states to a world of networks. International news —for example Al Queda and the Arab Spring— has been driven by loose networks for at least a decade.
Bringing that back around to life here in Colorado —and yours— the Social Networking challenge in our business and, more importantly, in the lives we work to live, is to master social media to build comparable networks. While old school hierarchies still lumber on, that’s not where the action is and that’s certainly not how we’re building the future.
A start, perhaps, is to not stop discussing this issues when the horror fades. In that vein, I plan to write several follow-on blog entries in the near future. If you have ideas and thoughts, contact me via Twitter (@Coyote4til7) or our contact form. If you’d like to comment, I’ve cross posted this as 4til7.com/beyond-social-journalism