Twisting in the Flashbulb

By Addison Walton

“Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes” sang David Bowie on his famous 1972 song. In Bowie’s context, he uses the song to refer to the reinvention of his artistic self. Yet, this changing of medium is currently happening in the journalism community.

I was reminded of this again after examining Bob Shullman and Stephen Kraus’ blog post for AdAge on how affluent households learned of Osama bin Laden’s death. What draws this piece together is the references to bin Laden’s death as a “flashbulb moment” and drawing comparisons to other moments. Some examples of past flashbulb moments include 9/11, Michael Jackson’s death, and the O.J. Simpson car chase. Ask anyone where they were when these events occurred and chances are they will give you a more precise location than Google Maps.

According to the study, 57 percent of households with an annual income of more than $100,000 learned of the bin Laden breaking news through television. Granted, the announcement of bin Laden’s death occurred late on a Sunday night, but this number seems rather low to me.

My first problem with the results of this study is that more people found out about this from an email (2 percent) than via Twitter (1 percent). My own flashbulb memory of that night starts and ends with Twitter. From the initial major announcement tweets from different media outlets to the jokes that were cracked, my Twitter feed was a rapidly updated stream of tweets that I shared with friends. I received more information before all of my non-Twitter using friends and family because of social media.

Second, I am skeptical of these results because of how high some of these percentages are. With radio, email, and newspaper accounting for 65 percent of households learning about bin Laden’s death, this leaves Facebook and Twitter with only 6 percent of the households, hence my skepticism. Instead of “how did you,” I believe the question should be worded “where did you?” Many people probably saw a long time buddy on Facebook say “WE GOT HIM!!!” and then the consumer raced to turn on CNN. With bin Laden’s death being one of the biggest national stories of the still-young 21st century and arguably the biggest of the Facebook era, this was one of, if not the first story that Facebook “broke.” As users shared the news with their friends, it became a huge night for the ever-growing website. Although I don’t believe it’s fair that we credit Facebook for breaking a story, its quite true that for some people that night Facebook was the only place they went for “news” on Bin Laden’s death. 

By comparing statistics from the Japan earthquake coverage to bin Laden’s death the authors rely on their research to do the talking. With the publication of these stats they  dispel rumors of print and network news media demise and offer a firm conclusion of their authors’ research. By presenting their research in a cohesive and comparative form they challenge other forms of media on becoming more reliable during the breaking of news. This post presents what habits consumers have during breaking news while giving insight to media companies who need it. While the results may be different than what people thought, changes are still making their way through breaking news. 


About onamizzou

Welcome to the official blog page for University of Missouri students working to bring the Online News Association to Mizzou.
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