In 1980, CNN went live as America's first all-news TV network. It raised a fundamental question: Is there enough news worth watching to justify an all-news network? For years, CNN trudged along as an interesting experiment, more observed than watched.
Then came the first Gulf War. The first President Bush sent U.S. troops to battle on a scale not seen since the Vietnam War, and America became starved for news. Lots of news. From the ground. With live footage. Constantly.
The traditional network news couldn't satisfy our hunger for news of the war. Over the years they had whittled down their reporting staffs. And even with expanded coverage beyond the regular evening news, they just didn't devote enough air time to the war to satisfy the emerging hunger.
Enter CNN. CNN's enormous news staff and 24x7 air time for news suddenly became a major asset. CNN put reporters all over the region, who reported constantly on what was happening. Ratings surged. It became *the* place for news, because it was the only place to get the constant, immediate news from the ground that people craved. The Gulf War transformed CNN from interesting media experiment to "killer app".
Now it's happening again in Iran. Only this time, it's Twitter.
Iran's famously censored society makes it difficult for news organizations--CNN included--to operate there. The Iranian government has also been fairly successful in blocking local access to most websites that Iranians would typically use to share and broadcast information. Even CNN has been left behind.
But they can't stop Twitter.
Twitter's open architecture enables people to send and receive tweets via a range of other websites and SMS addresses. That makes it difficult for the government to keep up. And by posting under pseudonyms, Iranian commentators on the ground can build followership and credibility without disclosing their identities to authorities.
Like CNN during the Gulf War, Twitter has become the best source of direct, unfiltered, real-time information from the ground. Events in Iran have catapulted Twitter from interesting cultural phenomenon to killer app.
As I write this post, the featured story on CNN.com is: Pregnant Mom's Stabbing Still a Mystery. CNN looks old, tired, and late--just like the network news programs it supplanted 18 years ago.