It was a historic moment. Osama bin Laden is dead. All of the pundits talk about how this will be a moment where we will say to future generations, “I remember where I was when I heard the news.” What really stands out, though, is the contrast between the spread of word of bin Laden’s death and that of another significant death more than 30 years ago, that of John Lennon. In an age before social media and news apps on smart phones and computers, people got their news through more conventional means of TV news programs and the newspaper.
As the President made the announcement, fans at a Mets/Phillies game in Philadelphia learned about bin Laden's death from their phones with posts by friends on Facebook, Twitter, etc. and apps like CNN and the New York Times. The players, however, were oblivious and became especially confused when the crowd burst into spontaneous chants of “USA, USA” and began singing patriotic songs.
Back in 1980, Lennon’s death was reported on an ABC broadcast of Monday Night Football. At the end of a highly contested December game between the Miami Dolphins and the New England Patriots, Howard Cosell announced to the television viewing audience that Lennon was killed. In contrast, fans at the stadium then were completely unaware of the news.
Now, people no longer need to be directly informed to know the information as shown by the outbursts late Sunday night. It used to be about spreading the news directly to as many people as possible. Now, it's all about planting the news "seed" and watching it grow through online networks like Facebook and Twitter and reach hundreds of millions of people instantly — site hits are important too. People used to gather around the TV to hear breaking news; now we do it independently in our cars or at our desks.
The fact that so many people can be informed so quickly is great. But it begs the question; with the advent of widespread social media and news apps, digital content and constant Internet connectivity, are conventional TV news and newspapers even relevant anymore? Or will some things never change?