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May 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

On Sunday, a day when broadcast and cable news operations are notoriously lean and lacking, it was Twitter that initially spread the word that Osama bin Laden had been killed during a 40-minute military operation at his secret residence in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The Twitter frontier was ablaze with the news more than an hour before President Obama went on the air to confirm it. The online activity was touched off at 10:25 p.m. by a tweet from Keith Urbahn, the onetime chief of staff to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld: “So I’m told by a reputable person they have killed Osama bin Laden. Hot damn.” It wasn’t until 10:43 p.m. that television caught up with the story. Geraldo Rivera appears to be the first reporter to go on the air with it — at 10:43 p.m. on Fox News Channel. The other broadcast and cable news networks followed suit about two minutes later, even as their principal anchors and producers were being mobilized to return to work. Each of the broadcast networks rejiggered its schedule for the night. On NBC, the final minutes of Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice were preempted on the East Coast as the network began to cover the news. (The network later said that the full episode will soon be available online and that it will be rebroadcast on CNBC on Friday.) For the news media in general, Baltimore Sun TV columnist David Zurawik commented, “the days of ‘breaking’ a story or ‘scooping’ the competition are mainly gone. … On a story like this, in the lightning-flash world of new media, the ‘breaking’ of news really is a social act.”