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The NEW News Wire: Twitter Steals the Spotlight with Bin Laden

Monday, 2 May 2011 | 1:51 PM ET

The big news that Osama Bin Laden was finally dead wasn't reported first by a cable or broadcast TV channel, nor by a news wire or newspaper.

Osama bin Laden
AFP | Getty Images
Osama bin Laden

Twitter broke the news, long before anyone even knew what the news was, when IT consultant who lived in the vicinity of Bin Laden's compound complained about the noise.

Twitter is disruptive by design — by allowing anyone to communicate directly with the news, it's shaking up the entire news business, shifting power from traditional media to ordinary people.

There's no question that TV networks and newspapers are taking notice — they feature Tweets right alongside reports from their journalists. It's too soon to say just how profound Twitter's effect will be on traditional news outlets, but it's safe to say the impact will undoubtedly be meaningful.

If Twitter becomes our new news wire, will we look more to traditional news organizations to verify news first reported on Twitter? Or for analysis of the news that first breaks on Twitter? It seems inevitable that Twitter will redesign its service to make it easier for users to treat it as a news wire — to find news coming out of a certain region or about a certain topic. I'd be surprised if within six months Twitter doesn't offer the same kind of ability to browse news as Yahoo or MSN news websites do.

Details of the raid on Bin Laden's compound were Tweeted in real time before anyone know what was happening.

An IT consultant named Sohaib Athar, who lives in Abbottabad complained at 1am local time about a helicopter hovering ahead then reported on a "huge window shaking bang." He also drew on information from Tweets from other people in the area to try to draw a clear picture of what was happening. He was oblivious to the gravity of the event, but he could have actually had a hugely negative impact on the raid itself, alerting Bin Laden's people about what was happening.

Then the news of Bin Laden's death broke on Twitter — again, not by a news outlet like CNN or NBC, but by a former political aide Tweeting a rumor he heard. "Keith Urbahn wrote "I'm told by a reputable person they've killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn."

Following the trend, the White House turned to Twitter to announce President Obama's news conference and invite people to tune in, and to deliver the headlines to @whitehouse's2.1 million followers.

Twitter has seen a massive spike in traffic from this news — more than 4,000 Tweets per second at the beginning and end of Obama's speech. And when more news breaks more people are sure to look at Twitter for the first word on what's happening and info straight from the source. We'll see how TV and newspaper outlets react and distinguish their services.

Questions? Comments? MediaMoney@cnbc.com

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  • Working from Los Angeles, Boorstin is CNBC's media and entertainment reporter and editor of CNBC.com's Media Money section.