Iran from Norway

Will the aftermath of the Iran elections be the defining event for social media tools like Twitter? How do old and new media manage to provide coverage of chaotic breaking news? And how does a place like Norway, with a tech-savvy populace and presumably media, juggle coverage from afar, when there are virtually no journalists allowed on the ground?

I’m writing this in real time, with Norway’s leading news sites open in front of me, various Twitter tools trying to tackle the stream of tweets related to the Iran election, while flicking between various TV news stations and watching major international news sites. How are they doing?

Well, the Norwegian web sites have been put on the back burner. Aftenposten has been running a morning NTB (Norwegian news wire) story and Dagbladet has been slow to mobilize. VG has done the best job by far, plugging their updating main story into a range of new media, linking to footage being posted on YouTube, and apparently using Twitter or something similar. I can only assume they are doing this since they are using some very cagey phraseology about their sources, making it sound like they are talking to people in Tehran, while at the same time being so vague about their sources that the likely explanation is that they are in some doubt themselves.

NRK, the Norwegian equivalent of the BBC, have football on TV and BBC Sport on their 24-hour news radio channel. Online, their coverage is surprisingly bland, text-based, reliant on traditional major international sources. All the more puzzling since NRK have had reporter Sidsel Wold on the spot and active, and she has been such a rare commodity that she has been supplying Sweden with news as well.

Is Twitter the answer? Not really. Tweets are flooding in, they contradict each other, the sources are unclear, and there is plenty of mutual accusation – you can’t tell who is who. There is one thing I don’t understand about this though – rather than trying to filter the raw material generated by Twitter, why haven’t old media used an old practice to harness the new media? Why aren’t there stringers on the spot, reporting by mobile? Perhaps there are, and for reasons of security and exclusivity, they are working by handles known only to their employers? That would make sense, and if it isn’t happening, then old media are asleep at the wheel. But they don’t act like they have trusted contacts on the ground.

Top marks to the BBC Persian service which has been running nearly live video from Tehran. CNN has been terribly slow and cautious, and it is intriguing to see complaints about them i Twitter channels, though these seem largely motivated by CNN’s ponderous use of mainstream media – painful in this case since their primary source is Iran state media – and a professional, old-fashioned desire to try and confirm the wildfire of reports coming out of Iran via mobile and internet channels.

The Twitter generation prefers input to confirmation; old media is trying to adapt and compromise, bringing in expert commentary and relying on established sources, while  using Google Earth, YouTube and Twitter to break their reliance on traditional methods. But the impression from Norway is that this isn’t a top story, even if it does make visits to the top of the pile.

Update: In keeping with their trend-friendly philosophy, Dagbladet recovered to muster the most complete and advanced Norwegian online coverage, adding an assortment of video links and a Twitter topic feed. Perhaps part of the explanation for the patchy coverage is that this is a weekend and troubled media houses have thinned out their staff?

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