Sometimes what's going on in the crowd-sourced new media world brings a dose of cynicism to old media coverage. After the earthquake hit D.C. last month, we laughed at friends' funny Facebook posts of overturned coffee cups and pencil holders, with captions like, "We will rebuild!" Meanwhile, on cable TV, as media critic Howard Kurtz put it, "It was all quake, all the time"—as breathless coverage went into overdrive. The difference between the TV coverage and the social media coverage was remarkable.
The bad news is that grass-roots journalism can be just as inaccurate, inflammatory, and unfair as old media coverage. The good news is we've moved "from a lecture to a conversation," as one media critic points out. And we've added a human element to breaking news reports: Think of the street protesters in Egypt this spring organizing flashmobs via Facebook, and the activists who risked their lives to upload videos of Syrian abuses onto YouTube. No wonder the first thing dictators do is shut down the internet and ban social media.
The media has really changed over the last decade. As a result of that transformation, it's safe to say that if 9/11 had happened today, the mix of old and new media coverage would be more grisly and shocking, but perhaps also more accurate and comprehensive. Most of all, I suspect, it would have more humanity and heroism to it. Not a bad thing in the long run.