Traditional news outlets lose to the web

While relaxing in my dorm Sunday, my roommates and I were surprised when the building suddenly began to sway back and forth.

One of my roommates turned on the T.V. to get news on the earthquake, but it was at least 10 minutes before even local news networks had any coverage of it.

Two of my other roommates immediately went online, and within a minute they not only had a report from the U.S. Geological Survey‘s Earthquake Hazards Program but also information from all across Southern California on the earthquake and any damage it caused.

While news of the earthquake will ultimately fall to the wayside, the differential coverage of the quake across media is a perfect example of the power the Internet has as a news source.

Older media outlets are increasingly demonstrating an inability to keep up in a truly digital age. Simply put, when it comes to the news race, television is falling far behind its online counterpart.

More and more people are being empowered by an Internet connection — whether over an iPhone, a laptop or even a desktop — with the ability to contribute to real-time coverage of news events.

Between blogs, videos and pictures, sources of input that started out as personal opinions have emerged collectively as a viable alternative to the major news networks.

It’s important to note, however, these contributors are not trained journalists. A lot of the content generated from new media sources is unpolished, and it can’t be assumed all online reports are reliable.

But a large portion of the sources are trustworthy, and while they might lack a professional edge, they make up for it with the exclusivity of their eyewitness content, networking skills and access to events official reporters might not have.

Essentially, the people who contribute to new media sources make up a global flash mob, springing into action whenever they are needed.

That’s part of the appeal of new media — it’s citizen journalism, pure and simple. While online news sites exist, it’s regular people who send out links to the articles. In that way, the power is not in the corporation that owns the network, but in the Internet user who decides to share a story with his friends or even create the content himself.

Take a look at old media: The major news networks — CBS, NBC, ABC — are all floundering. MSNBC and Fox News Channel are riddled with partisanship and petty squabbles. CNN, the supposedly moderate station, seems as if it’s actively trying to destroy its own credibility. Between pointless celebrity coverage and awkward attempts to use Twitter and Facebook, Ted Turner’s brainchild is suffering more than the partisan news stations.

These news outlets are doing their best to adapt, going out of their way to implement new resources and technologies, but they fail miserably.

CNN has developed an almost obsessive use of Twitter, trying to control the social networking site with a top-down attempt at the dissemination of information.

CNN’s domineering use of the site completely misses the point of social networks, which create grassroots movements where the people decide what is newsworthy and what to send out to the masses. Television fails to grasp this and misses out on more and more news stories everyday.

If you want a great example of this paradigm shift at work, consider Iran. After the nation’s disputed 2009 elections drove citizens onto the streets in protest all professional journalists were banned from the country. Old media outlets were left with no way to cover the civil strife.

Almost immediately, Iranian citizens began posting videos of police brutality on the Internet and blogs describing life amid the protests. Citizen journalism became the main source reporting from Iran and provided a valuable “man on the street” perspective.

Similarly, after Haiti was struck by an earthquake footage of the quake was already being uploaded onto the web while television networks were rushing to get camera crews to the country. Even when the networks set up their own coverage, however, much of their reports were based off of web videos and pictures put online.

None of this is to say old media ought to give up and quit — television news still provides an invaluable service. News stations have the funds and resources to conduct large-scale investigations and enough clout to interview figures like heads of states.

Sometimes, television really capitalizes on this, like on CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS, which has steadily put out great interviews with key policy makers in the international world.

Clearly, old media sources are still able to accomplish quite a bit, but they lack the globalized networking resources that make new media news so powerful.

Old media isn’t dead, but it certainly is not the leader in news the way it used to be. New media has stepped up and taken over. It has empowered us as citizens to contribute to the spread of information, putting the power in our hands. The next time a major event strikes Los Angeles, people won’t be looking to their televisions for the answers. Care to guess where they will turn?

Nicholas Slayton is a freshman majoring in print journalism. His column, A Series of Tubes, runs Thursdays.