In case you have been living under a cyber rock for the past 24 hours, you will know that the King of Pop, Michael Jackson has died.

I’m going to be a little disattached with this blog entry (largely because he is such a controversial figure, and largely because I tolerated – rather than loved – his music), but it was a fascinating night in the evolution of social media.

It seems to be that when big news hits, this relatively new industry & form of communication takes a huge jump forward.

Take for example the Iraq War. In 2003, blogs (particularly those in Iraq) gave people a more personal approach to news, particularly opinions of the common man, and it was fascinating. But in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t that important. It just gave an opinion of the common man, particularly as Iraq opinions weren’t forthcoming due to it’s heavily censored nature.

In 2005, Terrorists hit London. Londoners began blogging about it, offering help and again a view on the street (one such blog entry I remember, but can’t find, commented that he was in a pub outside one of the tube stations, and builders seemed more concerned with Steven Gerrard joining Chelsea), but they knew less than the news agencies, which during the break, knew very little.

Skip forward to 2008, and the first time that a social media platform beat the major news agencies, with the China Earthquake beating the US Geological Survey (an early warning system) with information. Okay, again earthquakes – even huge ones in South East Asia – are not that uncommon, so there could’ve been one – and the scale & severity was not known until later. Nevertheless, it was the first time that social media beat the traditional media to a major news story.

The news agencies got smart, and began using citizen journalism as a tool, rather than an opponent. Every news agencies began having facebook feeds and twitter accounts, and when US Airways Flight 1549 crashed in the Hudson River, Janis Krums became famous with that picture.

So what about yesterday? Well, it was the first time a fairly authoritive source (okay, TMZ isn’t the most authoritive) broke a story before the major news agencies. And with such conviction. Michael Jackson Dies.

It was a gamble for them. It was huge gamble. They called it before the official hospital announcement. All of a sudden, they had credibility and eyes on their site – what every website dreams of. A still of their site and URL was featured on most news channels. Just imagine if they – as it looked like last night – got it wrong. Their reputation would be destroyed, lawsuits would follow, and the old media would be justified with a lot of what it has said.

I’m not sure if I like the way certain blogs are acting. I’m a big one for the blogosphere, but one of it’s greatest assets, it’s lack of editorial responsibility, is it’s greatest detriments. News agencies cannot report things before confirmation. But news blogs don’t have that sort of guidelines.

It will be interesting to see just how this unfolds. First round to TMZ and to the blogosphere (so aptly reported by Phonicsey on Twitter). But this traditional media/new media war is far from over.

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