How media used email alerts to spread news about Osama bin Laden’s death

People who watched the news about Osama bin Laden’s death unfold on Twitter may have found breaking news email alerts to be untimely and redundant.

By the time I got breaking news push alerts on my phone alerting me to bin Laden’s death, I had already been following the news for at least a half-hour.

But many people did learn about bin Laden’s death via breaking news email alerts — and viewed the alerts as verification that he was in fact dead. “Got the #BinLaden news in WSJ email alert, guess I’ll believe now,” tweeted @goodgodwin. “Wish every one hadn’t spoiled the anticipation of Obama’s address.”

One news consumer even tweeted a photo of a Washington Post email news alert. “Husband spent 8 months on ready alert status,” tweeted @Molechase. “I won’t ever forget getting this email: http://twitpic.com/4s763y.”

Below, I’ve compiled breaking news emails that The Washington Post, CNN and Politico sent Sunday night and Monday morning to relay news as it broke. It tells an interesting story of how the news developed.

The Washington Post

  • The White House says President Obama is making a late-night statement but is not announcing the topic that he will discuss. Officials say the statement could come as early as 10:30 p.m. Watch the address live at http://www.washingtonpost.com/postlive1 (May 1, 2011 10:24 p.m.)
  • Osama bin Laden killed in CIA operation, sources say (May 1, 10:57 p.m.)
  • Osama bin Laden has been killed in a CIA operation in Pakistan, President Obama announced from the White House Sunday, ending a years-long manhunt for the leader of al-Qaeda and architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York City and Washington. (May 1, 11:39 p.m.)
  • A U.S. official says Osama bin Laden’s body has been buried at sea, according to the Associated Press. (May 2. 4:07 a.m.)

CNN

  • Osama bin Laden is dead, CNN John King’s reported Sunday night, citing sources. (May 1, 10:53 p.m.)
  • Congressional and administration officials tell CNN Osama bin Laden is dead. He was reportedly killed in Afghanistan. President Barack Obama is expected to address the nation shortly. (May 1, 10:57 p.m.)
  • Osama bin Laden killed at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, after a firefight, President Obama said Sunday. (May 1, 11:56 p.m.)
  • U.S. Navy Seals were involved in mission that killed Osama bin Laden, a senior defense official said. (May 2, 12:16 a.m.)
  • U.S. State Department warns of “enhanced potential for anti-American violence” following bin Laden’s death. (May 2, 12:44 a.m.)
  • Osama bin Laden was shot in the head during a U.S. raid, a congressional source familiar with the operation says. (May 2, 1:30 a.m.)
  • Osama bin Laden has been buried at sea, a U.S. official says. (May 2, 3:08 a.m.)
  • A DNA match confirms Osama bin Laden was killed, a senior administration official tells CNN. (May 2, 11:44 a.m.)

Politico

  • President Obama on Sunday night will announce Osama bin Laden has been killed almost a decade after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, CNN and the New York TImes reported. The United States is in possession of bin Laden’s body.  (May 1, 10:50 p.m.)
  • Osama bin Laden’s body has been buried at sea, a U.S. official confirmed. (May 2, 3:44 a.m.)
  • Former Vice President Dick Cheney praised President Barack Obama and the U.S. military and intelligence communities Monday on the death of Osama bin Laden, calling it “a victory for the United States and a tremendous achievement for the military and intelligence professionals who carried out this important mission. I also want to congratulate President Obama and the members of his national security team. . . .We must remain vigiliant, especially now, and we must continue to support our men and women in uniform who are fighting on the front lines of this war every day. Today, the message our forces have sent is clear — if you attack the United States, we will find you and bring you to justice.” (May 2, 6:39 a.m.)
  • Dramatic new details of the mission to get Osama bin Laden are emerging. Sources tell POLITICO’s Mike Allen that a helicopter carrying Navy SEALs malfunctioned as it approached bin Laden’s compound at about 3:30 p.m. Eastern Sunday, stalling as it hovered. The pilot set it down gently inside the walls, then couldn’t get it going again. It was a tense moment for President Barack Obama, who had been monitoring the raid in the White House Situation Room surrounded by members of his war cabinet. In the end, the sick chopper turned out to be a tiny wrinkle in a military and intelligence success. Bin Laden was shot in the face by the SEALs during a firefight after resisting capture. He was buried at sea less than 12 hours later. (May 2, 10:44 a.m.)
  • President Obama declared 12 hours after announcing the death of Osama bin Laden that “this is a good day for America.”“The world is safer. It is a better place because of the death of Osama bin Laden,” he said at the White House. “Today we are reminded that as a nation, there’s nothing we can’t do when we put our shoulders to the wheel, when we work together. And we remember the sense of unity that defines us as Americans.” (May 2, 12:17 p.m.)

How often do you first find out about news via breaking news alerts?

(Poynter’s Jill Geisler contributed to this piece.)

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  • Toby Eckert

    I think you need to make a distinction here between “news” and “rumor.” See Ad Age’s debunking of the Twitter “coup.” http://adage.com/article/mediaworks/twitter-broke-news-bin-laden-s-death-nonsense/227327/

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Harris/100001662210826 Paul Harris

    Now that kiss was breaking news, Mallary.

    - Paul

    PS: As long as you didn’t get a second email alert for the second kiss : )

  • http://www.facebook.com/jill.geisler Jill Geisler

    I think this story is a terrific reminder that journalists and news consumers often see news delivery through different prisms. Journalists come from a tradition of “Who among us got it first (and right)?” — and then we rank outlets and platforms accordingly. For consumers, it’s “When did I get accurate information wherever I was, however I could?”

  • http://twitter.com/mallarytenore Mallary Tenore

    You bring up a good point, Paul, about what constitutes “breaking news.” I sometimes question whether the breaking news push alerts I get on my phone are necessary. I got one last week, for instance, that said: “Breaking: Prince William, Kate Middleton exchange short kiss on Buckingham Palace balcony.” That didn’t exactly seem like breaking news to me, but maybe it was one way to tease a story about the wedding without stating the obvious: “Prince William and Kate Middleton get married.”

    It’s a balancing act — a matter of figuring out how to use email to relay breaking news in a timely fashion without seeming too intrusive or repetitive.

    ~Mallary

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paul-Harris/100001662210826 Paul Harris

    I stopped subscribing to news media email alerts years ago due to abuse. The “breaking news” alerts were too frequent and never “breaking.”

    On the other hand, I vividly recall learning about Jerry Garcia’s death (1995) on Usenet. Last night it was a @cbellantoni Tweet about an unexpected POTUS statement that piqued my interest. I first heard it was Bin Laden from the now-famous-but-humbly-being-downplayed @keithurbahn Tweet.