Alex Massie

Iran Coverage: New Media vs MSM

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I agree with James's view that this New York Times' blog is doing an excellent job of keeping one up-to-date on the turmoil in Iran. I'd also recommend Andrew Sullivan's site. What happens next is, frankly, anyone's guess. But something is happening and the situation is so fluid that it's difficult for newspapers to keep up. That is, the internet and technology - Youtube, Twitter, blogs etc - is transforming the way we follow breaking news and permitting one to have a better, if still necessarily imperfect, understanding of what may or many not be going on.

It's sometimes said that the internet rewards certainty at the expense of nuance or curiosity; rumour at the expense of fact. And there's something in that. But not always: in this instance, for example, the web helps one get an understanding of the complexity and fluidity of what's happening in Iran. That is, the web can deal with uncertainty - the prevailing sense in Iran, I think - in a way that is problematic for traditional media outlets.

Consider this analysis by Bill Keller (editor of the NYT) and Michael Slackman. Headlined "Leader Emerges With Stronger Hand" the paper reports that:

Whether his 63 percent victory is truly the will of the people or the result of fraud, it demonstrated that Mr. Ahmadinejad is the shrewd and ruthless front man for a clerical, military and political elite that is more unified and emboldened than at any time since the 1979 revolution.

With this election, Mr. Khamenei and his protégé appear to have neutralized for now the reform forces that they saw as a threat to their power...



Is the Iranian "clerical, military and political elite" really "more unified and emboldened that at any time since the 1979 revolution"? Maybe it is and maybe it isn't. I'd say that it's too soon to tell. But that's not the sort of conclusion that butters many parsnips for newspapers for whom verdicts and appraisals must always be certain and instant.

That's why, for this story at least, the internet, chock-a-block with rumour and uncertainty though it is, has been a better source of information than newspapers handicapped by deadlines and journalistic convention.

Something is happening in Iran and it's too soon to say what that something is, but the web helps give one a sense of the scale and sweep and uncertainty of the drama.

This isn't, to be clear, a case of "new media" triumphalism, rather a story in which "new media" has an advantage over parts of the MSM. Not all, however: apart from anything else the BBC's Persian service has clearly been of enormous importance these past few days. It, like the rest of the World Service, is something this country can be proud of. Here's a clip from today's opposition rally that helps show why:

UPDATE: Andrew has it right.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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