MINNEAPOLIS (AdAge.com) -- The revolution will be televised -- and blogged, texted and Twittered, as Iran's social explosion over its election may have as many possible geopolitical implications as its nuclear program.
Of course, if President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the theocracy that really rules the country have their say, citizens and journalists won't have theirs, as the government has reportedly tried to block U.S., pan-Arabic and BBC broadcasts and interrupt internet transmissions. And if high-tech methods don't work, there's always low-tech intimidation: Reporters Without Borders claims many Western journalists had their equipment -- and sometimes their colleagues -- detained.
Whether the media crackdown will keep the country from cracking up remains to be seen. But it does point to a journalistic trend increasingly seen during international crises, such as the terrorist attacks in India late last year: The crowdsourcing of stories is real, and really powerful.
YouTube videos, tweets and eyewitness internet reports were part of a meta-media narrative over the weekend. And as long as the reports were sourced appropriately, they not only advanced the story but often became it. Indeed, just when mass-media layoffs make one wonder if there will be any journalists left, everyone with a common communication device -- and uncommon courage -- is a journalist.
But the reporting from Iran also contradicts the continued perception that the media industry has lost its relevance. Instead, it's the opposite, as totalitarians turning off TV cameras invariably prove.
The story should give American cable news networks a moment of pause. Real, relevant news is out there, and as tragic as it can be, it's compelling TV. But instead of living up to the idea or ideals of what a worldwide, 24/7 news network can be, all too often cable news is a cacophonous roundup of the usual suspects with usual arguments.
Just look at who has the shows on cable news: showmen. Fox leads with Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. MSNBC counters with Keith Olberman, Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews and now Ed Schulz. Outside of Matthews, who did serious pre-talk-show reporting on domestic politics, it's hard to imagine any one of these hosts in an inhospitable reporting environment such as Iran.
CNN seems torn between the partisan personality model and its admirable reporting heritage. But tellingly, during a week when Iran became one of the biggest headlines of the year, its HLN service -- formerly Headline News, when it actually covered headline news -- named not the network's Christiane Amanpour but Joy Behar of ABC's "The View" as a new host.
Journalism, be it by professionals or amateurs, is alive (if not well, at least financially). And as opposed to new media being a threat to old media, it can be used as a tool, as it is in Iran.
|See how all the shows did in the ratings.|
But the most effective tool is still the will to practice journalism. It's never too late for cable news networks to re-emphasize the news. And great reporters can be marketable stars as well -- witness Edward R. Murrow, as well as Woodward and Bernstein.
It's the dawn of a new era in which communications tools are a force multiplier in speaking truth to power, which is why they so scare the theocratic thugs in Iran.
WHAT TO WATCH:
Monday: OK, walking the talk, at least as far as broadcast journalism: Great coverage of Iran can be seen on PBS's "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer."
Tuesday: And the great meltdown of the global economy is explained on PBS's "Frontline: Breaking the Bank."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR:
No NBA or NHL finals this week means summertime prime time -- and lower ratings -- is upon us.
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NOTE: All ratings based on adults 18-49. A share is a percentage of adults 18-49 who have their TV sets on at a given time. A rating is a percentage of all adults 18-49, whether or not their sets are turned on. For example, a 1.0 rating is 1% of the total U.S. adults 18-49 population with TVs. Ratings quoted in this column are based on live-plus-same-day unless otherwise noted. (Many ad deals have been negotiated on the basis of commercial-minute, live-plus-three-days viewing.)
John Rash is senior VP-director of media analysis for Campbell Mithun, Minneapolis. For more, see rashreport.com.