Could the Japan Earthquake Mortally Wound Broadcast News?

11 03 2011

I was still awake last night when the earthquake hit Japan. With several people on my personal twitter list being based in Japan, I knew of the earthquake within minutes of it hitting. Like pretty much anyone, my first thought was to turn on the t.v. and find out what had happened, how bad it was.

Knowing that my Canadian news would not be the choice to go to right away, I turned on CNN and it hit me how little I get my news off of the television these days. I actually saw CNN being informed of the earthquake while I watched. Expecting that news and video updates would be incoming within minutes, I was surprised to see newscasters reading twitter  and the  pictures and videos were coming from  the social media streams I was watching.

The earthquake had knocked out telephone service and probably a lot of internet service as well. As we’ve learned from Egypt and Libya, the world is becoming more and more informed and interconnected thanks to the mobile phone culture thriving in almost every continent. Even areas in Africa where there is no electricity or landline phone service, people have mobile phones and charge them at vendors who have set up charging stations in the markets and the preference of texting over voice communication thrives. Japan is legendary for their mobile phone culture and as long as the cell phone towers stand, news is able to get out of pretty much any place when newsworthy events happen or disaster strikes.

On the surface this would look like a boon to network news, live and local coverage with no overhead payout for the, but if you dig deeper, it may be what actually puts another stake through the heart of t.v. news. As I was watching the news coverage, I found myself getting more and more annoyed, the newscaster kept talking over pictures and videos that were coming in like that  person who speaks through a tv show or movie that you just want to duct tape their mouths. It was also very disconcerting to see the anchors visibly excited to be  reporting a high profile disaster. but we can’t lay the blame on the anchors,  it’s the way they’ve been trained to report and  that it’s more about soundbites and entertainment value. It’s increasingly showing itself as an antiquated way of reporting.

Like a lot of people I’ve been reading on my twitter and facebook feeds, the common theme has been people turning off their tv’s because they feel they can better, less interrupted, less repeated over and over coverage through their their technology than they can from network t.v.

There was a definite shift in media consumption last night that could have far-reaching effects for the networks. Viewership has been shifting, but this seems to be a turning point and it will be interesting to see how this all shakes out for online vs. traditional media.