Bin Laden story shows changing media nature

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Internet traffic surged above normal Sunday night usage. Akamail Technologies Inc., which delivers about 20 percent of the world’s Internet traffic, said that global page views for the roughly 100 news portals for which it delivers content peaked at more than 4.1 million page views around 11 p.m. EDT. CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC had nearly 15 million viewers between 11 p.m. and midnight Sunday when Obama spoke, led by CNN’s 7.8 million. That time on a typical Sunday, the three networks are pulling in 1.7 million viewers, according to the Nielsen Co.

At CNN, which reported at 10 p.m. that Obama would speak, it was another 45 minutes until the speech was connected to bin Laden, even as Wolf Blitzer provided some cryptic teases: “I have my suspicion on what the president is going to announce. Probably something we’ve been looking forward to, at least from a U.S. perspective, for quite a while.” CNN’s John King eventually reported the news.

Blitzer conceded Monday that he had a pretty good idea what the news would be when sources assured him that the president’s news was not about Libya.

“I didn’t report it because you don’t report something like that based on a suspicion, based on a hunch, based on your journalistic gut instinct,” Blitzer said. “You’ve got to get confirmation. And you can’t just confirm from one source. You need at least two really excellent sources.”

It’s no longer unusual these days for social media to reflect the first stirrings of a story, said Mark Kraham, chairman of the Radio Television Digital News Association and news director for WHAG-TV in Hagerstown, Md. Yet Kraham said that conventional media showed care and proper caution in reporting the story through. People would have been offended or hurt if news organizations had reported a story of this magnitude and it turned out to be false, he said.

If social media outlets were quick on the story, many posts were quick to point followers to mainstream news organizations, or to pass on links _ such as Griffin’s advice to turn on CNN.

Even Urbahn put the brake lights on a rapidly spreading trend: “Stories about ‘the death of (mainstream media)’ because of my first ‘tweet’ are greatly exaggerated,” he tweeted on Monday.

The Newseum, the Washington-based museum devoted to journalism, saw its website crash on Monday because of the crush of people who went to the site to see digital replicas of the front pages from newspapers around the world, a service it has offered since 2002. The site was processing more than 2,800 requests per seconds when it crashed, said Paul Sparrow, senior vice president for broadcasting.

In New York, where nearly 3,000 people died at the World Trade Center, some of those front pages were blunt: “Rot in Hell” was the message on the New York Daily News front page. “U.S. nails the bastard,” the New York Post said on its cover.

There was a rush for information on mainstream online news sites, and sometimes it caused problems; The New York Times website was inaccessible for about 30 minutes shortly after the news broke due to the volume of traffic. ABC News said its digital properties had their busiest hour in their history Sunday night. MSNBC said its site had delivered 1.73 million streams of Obama’s speech on Sunday night.

Broadcast networks readied special reports on Monday, expanding their evening news broadcasts to an hour to cover the story.

ABC News touted exclusive video of the blood-soaked scene at bin Laden’s compound, obtained through a Pakistani-based producer for the network; ABC would not say how the producer got the footage. On Sunday night, the network had to backtrack from an initial Brian Ross report that bin Laden had been killed several days earlier along with about two dozen other al-Qaida operatives.

Ten years ago, Aaron Brown worked all day at CNN, broadcasting from a rooftop with the smoke from the World Trade Center in the background. Many Americans got the terrible news from him that day; now he typifies how news delivery is changing in explaining how he first heard bin Laden was dead.

“I was at dinner here and my phone beeped,” said Brown, who now teaches journalism at Arizona State University in Tempe.

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