It's the biggest story of this decade (so far, at least) and it seems altogether fitting it was broken on Twitter.
As you no doubt know by now, last night at 11:30 p.m. ET President Barack Obama announced that U.S. forces had finally found and killed Osama bin Laden. (You do know that, right?)
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But the story first surfaced an hour earlier on Twitter. At 10:25 p.m. Sunday, former chief of staff for Donald Rumsfeld Keith Urbahn tweeted:
So I'm told by a reputable person they have killed Osama bin Laden. Hot damn.
That is now the tweet heard round the world.
Urbahn discounts his tweet as having any great significance. In another tweet he says his source was a "connected network TV news producer." He also said:
As much as I believe in rise of "citizen journalism," blogs, Twitter, etc. supplanting traditional media, my tweet isn't great evidence of it.
But here's the thing that makes Twitter unique. The networks had this story, but they were constrained by the usual rules of engagement to hold it until the president had made his speech. (Because Obama started his speech 50 minutes later than scheduled, though, most reported it by 10:45 p.m. citing "sources." Still, Twitter was first.) Twitter isn't bound by those rules -- and from here on out, neither is anybody else.
The fact is, news can no longer be contained by anyone. Once it's out there, it's out there. Why a network news producer doesn't understand that –- and proceeds to spill the beans to someone outside the tribe, thinking it will remain secret -- tells you a lot about why mainstream media is flailing in the age of Twitter and YouTube.
[Update: Here's something I missed. On the ground, next to the Bin Laden compound, Pakistani IT consultant Sohaib Athar "live-tweeted" the attack as it was happening, without knowing the significance of it. In his account, he talks about the swarm of media attention he received as a result. His current tweet as I type this: "Bin Laden is dead. I didn't kill him. Please let me sleep now." ]