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Tech Winners and Losers from Media Coverage of bin Laden's Death

There was only one big loser from yesterday's announcement that U.S. Navy Seals took out Osama bin Laden, and that was Osama himself. Given that we all agree that he was due for a big defeat, we can feel grateful (as always) for the brave members of our armed services and satisfied that we as a nation finally brought this evil mastermind to justice.

Last night's news was good news, and we don't intend to cheapen it or minimize it with what we're about to do here. Every big story, though, has byproducts and subtexts, and last night's late-night news explosion was certainly no exception. So, given that this is a tech-focused media outlet, after all, we thought we'd look at the early returns on which tech companies came out as winners in last night's media coverage and which didn't fare so well.

Just to legitimize this whole thing a bit, let's not forget that technology plays a major role in pretty much every news story these days, as it does in the events that actually make the news. Social media played a major, and arguably unprecedented, part in the dissemination and consumption of last night's news worldwide, and from what we at RCPU have read, Osama's lack of connectedness -- as we all know now, he had no phone or Internet in that weird bunker thing he was living in -- might have made him easier to catch, not more difficult. 

So, with a baseline established, let's look at your editor's exclusive declarations of who won and lost in the tech world during the first few hours of Osama coverage last night. This little survey is based on your editor's own viewing of a scattering of networks -- primarily CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox -- from about 11:30 to 2:30 am last night. (Keep in mind that writing this is taking your editor away from watching more news coverage, and that lots of new details might have surfaced by the time you stumble across this entry. So, go easy if some of this stuff seems dated only a few hours after these pixels hit the Web. Thanks.) Please feel free to send your own list of winners and losers to lpender@rcpmag.com or start a discussion in the comments section.

Winners

Twitter. This is the one part of last night's story that's making your editor miserable, but credit where credit's due -- Twitter reached a new level of influence last night (barf). Not only did Twitter users leak the news of bin Laden's death before President Obama had a chance to announce it, but some Twitter user apparently (and unwittingly, we think) live blogged the actual raid on Osama's compound as it was happening. That kind of live "reporting" of a secret military strike in progress seems not only unprecedented but really pretty darn incredible to us at RCPU. And it makes whatever live blogging we might do from Tech-Ed later this month seem pretty lame by comparison.

Apple. Over and over last night, your editor heard about people all over the country -- particularly those in Washington, New York and at that great Mets-Phillies game in Philadelphia (let's go, Mets) -- checking their iPhones and iPads for news about bin Laden. The iPad in particular reached Kleenex-level brand recognition last night. Not once did your editor hear a newsreader say the words "tablet device." Nope, it was all about the iPad, with the iPhone along for the ride. Plus, even though it was dying down, anyway, Apple's privacy mini-scandal is officially over now.

Google. Seriously, though, did you see CNN's Google Earth renderings of Abbottabad and Osama's compound? How incredible was that? The world's most wanted criminal was just shot by Navy Seals in his massively fortified compound in Pakistan -- oh, and by the way, here's an actual close-up photo of the bunker taken from a helicopter (or plane, or some sort of aircraft), courtesy of Google. Sure, the news networks have since gone in and gotten pictures of the haven of evil, but Google was showing us where it was and pretty much what it looked like within minutes of the president's speech. Wow.

Verizon. OK, so this was a minor win, but at one point last night a CNN reporter in New York was interviewing a woman on the street who was recalling, with great emotion and in great detail, how she and other telecommunications workers witnessed the destruction of Sept. 11 first hand because they were in charge of trying to get computer and phone connections up and running again after the attacks. Unless your editor was hearing things, she mentioned that it was her job as a Verizon employee to get things back on order. The timing and setting of the interview were fortuitous for Verizon, although your editor feels a bit cynical for remembering that one little bit of an otherwise moving recounting of that horrible day.

Losers

Facebook. Oh, don't get us wrong; we're sure that, like many other sites, Facebook got plenty of traffic last night. But your editor is not the only one to notice -- or comment, in some public forum or another -- that not everybody on Facebook is particularly bright or interested in the news. We've already read some comments on various message boards about odd or random things "friends" said about bin Laden's death. We hate to say this, but Twitter had much better content on the story, and it generally just blew Facebook away in terms of content and timeliness. Darn it.

Microsoft. OK, so maybe it's harsh to call Microsoft a loser, given that it's just one of many tech companies that remained pretty much entirely unmentioned throughout the evening's coverage. But with Google and Apple scoring major points, Microsoft was almost conspicuously absent. Not only was every tablet and cell phone mentioned either running an Apple or a Google (mostly Apple) OS, but at no point did we see anything -- not a graphic, not a computer simulation, nothing -- overtly running on Windows. Remember when Microsoft used to be a major player in consumer technology? It still wants to be.

YouTube. This is a stretch, and Google's Earth win certainly outweighs it from a corporate perspective. And, granted, we know that YouTube is more directed at hosting videos of animals peeing on themselves or '70s TV commercials than it is at being a news site. But with video of Obama's speech available at pretty much every media outlet in the country online within an hour or so of it happening, and with CNN and the other networks rocking compelling video of crowds gathering in Washington and New York and pulling off one of the more impressive expert roundups ever conducted after 11 p.m. on a Sunday night, nobody was thinking about watching anything on YouTube. Not to worry, though -- the site will obviously survive. Those animals aren't going anywhere. 

Posted by Lee Pender on May 02, 2011 at 11:57 AM