Twitter Triumphalism? (“CNNFail” and All I Got Was This T-Shirt)

For just $17.99, you can be the proud (triumphant) owner of this #CNNFail ringer T.

Probably you’ve heard of #CNNFail? That’s the Twitter hashtag (and related Web site) created over the weekend and affixed to a downpour of tweets from people complaining about what they saw as CNN’s slow-footed weekend coverage of the emerging post-election situation in Iran. “Untold thousands,” according to the New York Times, “used the label ‘CNNfail’ on Twitter to vent their frustrations.”

According to the Wall Street Journal:

Snarky tweets included, “Dear CNN, Please Check Twitter for News About Iran,” “The revolution started on the weekend, people! Give [CNN] a break.”

I’ll add a few: “Twitter is my new CNN!”; and, “CNN no longer decides what is news. We do.”

I’m no cable apologist. But (and my colleague Megan is working on a longer piece examining this in more detail) I do think we need to, yes, explore (again) Twitter’s potential as a reporting tool and as a tool for mobilizing complaints about those already doing the reporting —a media criticism tool— but also ask some questions.

What are the key things we want/need to know about the very difficult and difficult to report (ever-changing, hard-to-read, limited-access) situation in Iran? And how many of these questions might be answered by Twitter (and/or, more generally, Twitter-fast)? And how many of them might require us to wait an hour or so (a day, daresay?) for, say, that Christiane Amanpour update?

Remember blogger triumphalism? Doesn’t some of this sound like that? Maybe you need to get your news from Twitter, CNN! Well, that’s just what a penitent (overcompensating?) CNN seemed to do, largely, yesterday (with, for the patient, occasional updates from Amanpour). Octavia Nasr (at one point introduced as “CNN’s Senior Editor for Arab Affairs” brought on to analyze the latest in, um, Persian Affairs— more CNNFail! — but later correctly identified by her official, more relevant-sounding title, “CNN’s Senior Editor for Middle East Affairs”) sat behind the news desk reading tweets as they appeared on her Blackberry. Nasr’s still there doing a lot of that today.

I’m not suggesting #CNNFail has nothing to teach us. Just that I hope the we get more from it than CNN Could Have Done More, Faster And If They Don’t, Twitter Will Be There To Take Them To Task (And, Eventually, Replace Them). Anyway, Megan will have more on this later.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.