The Speed Of Information (And Why It Matters)

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I often go off on a rant when breaking news happens and I can’t find anything on TV about it until an hour after the event.

As a meteorologist with many friends working in broadcast media, I often get a lot of heat for pointing out how outdated television news as an information source is. I’ve had plenty of Twitter arguments with people whose livelihoods rely on the ongoing profits of television broadcasts.

On the other end of the spectrum, I have friends asking me “who cares?”

I do. And you should too.

Earlier this week, I saw on Facebook (of all places) that a shooting was ongoing at Ft. Hood,TX (again). I texted my mom to let her know, as we used to live there and still have some connections to the place. She texted back “On what channel?”

She was flipping through the cable news stations and getting no information. At this point, the shooting had occurred nearly half an hour prior.

My mother is relatively comfortable with technology for her age. She has an iPhone as well as Twitter and Facebook accounts. But she still gets most of her news from TV or anything she catches on the radio on her commute.

She’s not alone. A Gallup poll in the summer of 2013 showed that TV is still America’s primary news source. This goes for all age groups–yes, Generation Y included.

In January 2009, a regular guy named Janis Krums broke the Miracle on the Hudson story with a simple picture on Twitter.

The picture quickly went viral, with news stations picking it up and reporting on it.

Now, five years later, social media is consistently breaking news faster than old school media.

Should technologically savvy citizens have faster access to information than less savvy citizens?

If the news doesn’t impact you directly, why do you care if you hear about it half an hour later?

Information is invaluable. I imagine this same conversation has happened throughout the millenia as new ways of getting information have been developed:

  • Who needs writing when we have spoken word?
  • Who needs the printing press when we have monks handwriting books?
  • Who needs to deliver messages by horse when we can just run?
  • Who needs the telegram when we have horses to deliver news?
  • Who needs the telephone when we can just wait for the telegram?
  • Who needs the internet when we can just call someone on the phone?

Now I’m flipping this and asking: who needs TV when we have social media?

Sure, older forms of communication are still valuable–hell, we still use spoken word more than we use the internet. But many forms of communication have become irrelevant with time, like the telegram and handwritten books, while others are struggling to keep up in a changing time, like the postal service, whose services are still necessary but less necessary than they were even 20 years ago.

Thankfully, ships no longer have to cross the Atlantic to tell us how the war with the colonies is going. Wars have been won and lost with timely and truthful (or misleading) intelligence. Who gets to decide what information is important for you and me to know?

Let me be clear: I’m all about accuracy of information. This is not about speed for speed’s sake, although I would argue that if you care about the speed of your internet and cable but not about the speed at which you obtain information, your priorities may be misaligned.

There is a lot of misinformation on social media. A lot a lot. But if a news channel can tweet about breaking news as it happens but not even cut in to their corresponding 24-hour news channel to say “We are receiving information about XYZ event, we will keep you updated as we learn more,” then why should I even turn the TV on?

Old media really seems to be struggling to merge its new media presence with the old. Almost every TV station and newspaper has a website and social media profiles. While I don’t expect the newspaper to be printed off fresh every time breaking news occurs, it is mind boggling to me that CNN can tweet about something as it happens then continue to report on something irrelevant on the air.

Unless television news can successfully integrate the information I can find quickly online into its format, I have as much need for it as I do for the telegram.

Viva la información.

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