The Revolution [May] Be Televised

The post-election protests in Iran are big news worldwide, but the US media seems strangely slow to take up the story. The information flow, however, highlights both the risks and opportunities for traditional media.

Most information on the protests is coming from social media sites. Twitter, as usual, is gushing with information and rumors (#iranelection). Flickr and Facebook are brimming with photos. YouTube is a center for videos, but has also been the target of some scorn for removing videos of police beating protesters. People are wondering if the site has been complying with Iranian government requests to remove material. This action, though, simply forced people to go to alternate sites. Some of the best reporting is found on local blogs such as Revolutionary Road. That blog also has some amazing photos.

Rumors abound as well as facts. At one point Mousavi (or someone managing his account) Tweeted that he’d been placed under house arrest, an assertion his wife later denied. Other sites and Tweets repeated reports of tanks in the streets and takeovers of military bases, suggesting the protesters could be arming themselves. With the governement ordering the foreign media to cease reporting, the only news will come from citizens. Internet and cell phone connections have also been disrupted by the government leading to Tweets of functioning Iran proxies.

With so much information, one has the feeling of being on the scene, looking out a window at what is unfolding on the street. You’re subject to the same images and the same rumors as those people actually in the country. And that provides the opportunity for the media.

It’s silly in circumstances such as these to not report on the existence of rumors, waiting to find out if they’re true. Everyone interested in the situation has heard them, so ignoring them doesn’t mean they go away. The opportunity is to distinguish the wheat from the chaff for the audience. Mention the rumors and say you’re tracking them down. Show the photos and videos. Tell your readers how to follow the story (Mashable has done a nice job of that).

Huffington Post is doing a good job of sorting things out for its audience. Reporting the Hezbollah rumors, true or false, tell us about the state of mind of Iranians and what they’re worried about. Sitting here in the US I wouldn’t have been wondering if the police are actually Lebanese Hezbollah, but after reading the rumor in comments and reports, it gives me a better understanding of what Iranians might be thinking. The New York Times is doing something vaguely similar, but in a much more sedate fashion.

Now is the time to be a curator for your audience. Tons of information is coming in from the scene, but none of it is yours. So what? Sort it and report it. How’s that for utility?

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