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Twitter is changing the way we receive news

If there was ever a time to join Twitter, now would be it.

Those were my sentiments exactly as I watched announcement of Osama bin Laden’s death play out on the social networking site, in 140 characters or less.

There I was, sprawled on the couch after Sunday dinner, enjoying the last night of my sister’s visit when I scrolled down my timeline to see one of my friend’s tweets about President Obama making a big announcement at 10:30 p.m., EST. While odd, I thought nothing of it and shamelessly went back to watching Star Jones and NeNe Leakes duke it out on “The Celebrity Apprentice.”

Moments later, the same message scrolled at the bottom of my TV screen and, like clockwork, I received an email from my editor. She was briefing us that Obama would be making a speech and wanted someone to cover the announcement and try to localize the story.

Having math homework due the next morning (that I promised I would finish after The Apprentice), I passed on the opportunity and went back to relaxing and periodically checking my tweets. By then, word was out and people were buzzing.

Going with my better judgment, I switched from NBC to CNN to await the president’s announcement. Call it a sign of the times or politically ignorant, but I let Wolf Blitzer’s commentary fall on deaf ears as I continued to watch my followers piece together the story of the night. Long before the president made his speech or even before the networks began to speculate bin Laden’s death, I began reading tweets from reputable sources that the United States had killed bin Laden and were in possession of his body.

Donald Rumsfeld’s former chief of staff, Keith Urbahn, tweeted: “So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama Bin Laden. Hot damn.”

As a journalism student, I am supposed to believe rumors are rumors and to take any tweet with a grain of salt.

I estimate there were at least five minutes of bin Laden death talk on Twitter before any network picked up the speculation. Five minutes might not seem like a long time, but in the world of journalism, life can change in a second. I’m sure correspondents got word of his death but were reluctant to announce it because of network reputations and source checking. One slip-up could threaten the reliability of an entire network.

But none of that matters on Twitter, and therein lies its power.

As history played out in the next few hours, Obama announced the death. Analysts weighed in. Buckeyes jumped in Mirror Lake. Tweets surged.

Twitter reported that at the peak of the news, more than 5,000 tweets were sent per second. Whether they were tweets of American support, fear for national security, Obama solidifying his second term or jokes that bin Laden was “the 2001-2011 Hide-n-Go Seek World Champion,” Twitter’s community came together to communicate about one of the biggest moments in recent history.

But for those who still may be skeptical of the importance of Twitter in our society, consider Sohaib Athar.

CNN reports that Athar, an IT consultant in Abbottabad, Pakistan, first tweeted the details of an unknown raid. He stated: “Helicopter hovering above

Abbottabad at 1AM (is a rare event).” This raid would ultimately turn into the capturing and death of the face of terrorism.

I can’t say that Twitter is the most important source of media we have today, but I can say that I am convinced and confident that it deserves more credit that it gets. Sure, it’s a vehicle for rumors, bad humor and self-proclaimed critics, but aside from that, I affirm that Twitter, like any other media, is a vital source for sharing and receiving information when used properly. I wouldn’t get my breaking news from TMZ.com, much less from Justin Bieber’s Twitter account. But I would take heed to a tweet from @AP (The Associate Press), @andersoncooper or Roland Martin.

You know, the people who actually tweet things that affect our daily lives.

So get familiar. Because after last night’s episode, it’s safe to say Twitter isn’t going anywhere.

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