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The Twitter challenge: Ashton Kutcher vs. CNN

April 23rd, 2009

If you’ve tweeted lately, you may know that Ashton Kutcher recently challenged CNN Breaking News to a popularity contest on the ever-growing social media site, Twitter. The site has become increasingly popular with 14 million users and counting.

Amazed by how Twitter allows one person to have as big a presence as an entire media company, Kutcher posted a video on qik.com last week, challenging the media giant to see who could reach 1 million followers first. Prior to this dare, no Twitter user had hit the 1 million mark, according to TwitterCounter.

During the online video, shot inside Kutcher’s vehicle, he said, “I just thought that was just kind of an amazing comment on the state of our media, and I said that, if I beat CNN to 1 million viewers, then I would ding-dong ditch Ted Turner – because I don’t think it’s gonna’ happen.”

I agree, this is an astonishing comment on the state of our news media. I personally was rooting for CNN. It may not be my first choice for gathering information, however, it’s the principle of the challenge.

Kutcher was right; he didn’t beat CNN, and as of Tuesday afternoon, Kutcher had 1,137,100 followers and CNN Breaking News had 1,302,790 followers.

One person can be as “followed” or as popular as an entire news outlet. That is disturbing to me. That’s not to say that I am not a Kutcher fan, but I don’t believe that he is more important than the news.

For those of you who haven’t Twittered, Twitter is a social media Web site that allows you to post 140-character updates as often as you like. It is a way of micro blogging, in a sense.

For news outlets specifically, it allows a constant flow of the day’s news, literally at your fingertips, in real time. Media outlets, such as CNN Breaking News, have used the site to form a conversation with their audiences. Considering CNN’s phenomenal amount of followers, the idea of news as conversation is really taking off.

But I find it remarkable that one person, such as Kutcher can have the same effect on people as CNN Breaking News.

This truly does say something about the state of our media. More and more, we’re seeing a decline in print journalism.

Some claim that print publications are dying and that they’ll soon cease to exist. I would contend that this is a bit harsh. Print is declining, but I believe and hope that it will always be around in some capacity.

If you follow news regularly, regardless of the publication, you’ve probably read that many print media outlets are cutting back their publication areas, reducing the number of days they publish and shrinking their circulation, while others have either moved entirely to the Internet or completely folded.

As someone who hopes to pursue a career in journalism post-graduation, it is scary to see such a decline.

This year’s Pulitzer Prize winners were announced this past Monday, and reading an article on the winners, I was shocked to find that one of them had recently been laid off.

Paul Gibbon, who with Ryan Gabrielson, won a Pulitzer for local reporting, for their work on a five part immigration piece that ran in the East Valley Tribune, was laid off this past October.

According to an article by Robert MacMillian on Reuters, the East Valley Tribune cut its staff by 40 percent, in addition to reducing its publication and distribution area. If a Pulitzer winner can’t keep a job, there isn’t much hope for the rest of us.

While Kutcher’s challenge may not seem like anything important – just a game – it is an indication of the trouble that our media outlets are in.

And while print media is probably having the most trouble, they aren’t the only ones that need to step up their game. If Kutcher’s provocation has taught us anything, its that entertainment has become just as important to the public as actual news. This is a frightening concept to grapple with.

So, if you care at all about the pirates in Somalia, the coverage of a campus sex crime or the latest political coverage, please put down US Weekly or Cosmo (I know its difficult, I love it too), and pick up The Wall Street Journal. Stop checking the post secret tweets on Twitter and follow CNN Breaking News or whatever other media outlet you prefer to get your news from.