How Did You Hear About Osama? I Bet It Wasn’t On TV...

Melanie Gross
May 7, 2011
Updated • Jan 4, 2018
Companies, Internet, Twitter

The way we consume media has changed drastically over the last few years. Instead of watching the nightly news, we are getting news real-time. And the news we get is no longer filtered by big media companies. We’re just as likely to get the news from a person who sees it happen as we are from the TV reporter. If you need proof of the way news consumption is changing, look at the death of Osama bin Laden.

More and more, people are turning to social media both to see what’s happening in the world and to get commentary on it. Because it is real-time, you can often get the news faster from Twitter than you can by waiting for the 6:00 news, your daily newspaper or even by turning to your local 24-hour news station. There may be a story trending on Twitter before the media even hear about it.

Twitter set traffic records the night Osama was killed. From 10:45 to 02:20 ET on May 2, there were an average of 3000 tweets per second about Osama. The traffic peaked when President Obama addressed the American public with around 5100 tweets per second. This was not a traffic record in terms of numbers, but it is a record in terms of sustained volume of traffic. While people may have been watching the speech on TV, they were clearly discussing what they heard as well.

Perhaps the most interesting role played by social media in the way we get news now is the local, eye-witness view. Never before have we been able to hear what’s happening from someone who is being directly impacted by what’s going on, in real time. Videos of the Japanese tsunami were on YouTube hours after the event. These were taken by local people, not reporters paid by the big networks.

This is why it’s so interesting to read the Twitter feed of 33 year old Sohaib Athar, a computer programmer living in Abbottabad. Being a techy, of course when the planes started flying over, he tweeted about it. By the time it became clear what was going on, he’d acquired quite a following. As he says himself, he’s the person that live blogged the death of Osama bin Laden without knowing about it. He and maybe one or two others are the eye-witness view of Osama’s death that would not have been possible even a few years ago.

Now, what do the powers that be think of the new way we get and talk about our news? Well, they seem to be using the social networks as much as we are. They’re using them to get a pulse on public opinion. Often, you’ll even get a report on what’s being said on the Twitter feed alongside the reporter’s coverage. As soon as Athar realized what he was blogging, he knew that the media want to know all about it. He had media contacting him even before it became clear what he was blogging. Now, he himself is part of the story.

What do the newsmakers think? Well, the smart ones have jumped on board. Everyone from the Pope to the Queen has a Twitter feed and a YouTube channel. Have you checked out the White House Flickr feed? There are numerous pictures posted of the President in meetings concerning the Osama raid.

Social networks have changed the way we get and interact with the major news of the day. Long, long gone are the days when we sit down to watch the 6:00 news to find out what’s going on in our world. Now, our news is real-time and always somehow close to home. It’s one effect of the new global village, I suppose. Looking at what happened online surrounding the death of Osama bin Laden highlights the change in thinking as news consumption gets less centralized and more personal.

So, where were you when you heard about Osama bin Laden? How did you hear? Did you run to the TV or to Twitter? Did you have both going? How do you get your news nowadays?


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  1. Roman ShaRP said on May 7, 2011 at 10:11 pm

    I was at my workplace, read it with News360 news aggregator, nice mobile app showing news announces collected from various sources.

    I quitted watching TV 3 years ago. My primary news sources are mobile news apps, then my friends on Livejournal, then Facebook (next could be Twitter, but I following only small circle of friends there, and most of them are my Livejournal friends).

  2. Alex said on May 7, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    Maybe this is insane but just before death i had a dream about how osama died i felt like i was there and after that i found out that this is true.

  3. MartinDK said on May 7, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    So, how much was the bet?.. ;)
    Because I heard about it on the TV – while I was eating my breakfast.

    But I usually get most of my news from the interwebs – primarily RSS feeds.
    And then I have a couple of pages that I go to manually – but only because their rss feeds suck (they just include links to their homepage, no article text – I’ve yet to wrangle a solution to this out of Yahoo Pipes, cf. recent Ghacks articles…).

    It’s all good and well with online communations and news, but when it comes to voxpop, I don’t even like it when the “professionals” do it on the TV News magazines. Unless a particular ‘Joe Average’ has critical knowledge pertaining to a subject, I’m not interested in what he thinks. And don’t even get me started on source criticism.

    However, twitter, youtube etc. definitely have their strong sides. Just think of the Arab Spring and the demonstrations Iran. In cases where the international media cannot gain access, it’s amazing how a single person can reach a worldwide audience with their firsthand accounts. Assuming of course they internet connection hasn’t been severed in that area.

    This article made me think of this comic:

  4. Bob Smith said on May 7, 2011 at 5:18 am

    I heard about Osama through a magazine, and heard about his death by phone… so I guess it was never tv…

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