In the modern world, anyone with a phone or a laptop and an Internet connection can be a journalist. The first on-the-ground testimony of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden came from an IT consultant in Abbottabad, Pakistan. Twitter broke the story of the attack long before the president's announcement- and before any major news outlet.
Sysomos reports that the first tweets about bin Laden's death hit at around 10:30 PM EST. The first news stories hit fifteen to twenty minutes later, and Obama's announcement wasn't until 11:30. The Internet was the first place with the scoop, and coverage has soared every hour since the raid.
As of this morning, we've seen some 40,000 blog and news mentions and 2.2 million tweets from all around the world. Those numbers are impressive, but total traffic generated by the event isn't exactly historic in size. What is worth noting here is the degree to which this story was birthed and shaped by the Internet.
Bin Laden picked one of the world's more isolated spots to hide in. His building itself had no phone lines or Internet connection and the the small town in Northern Pakistan it occurred in isn't the sort of place one generally finds journalists. Yet we have on-the-ground coverage of the attack that was made public the instant it happened.
This seems fairly unprecedented in the history of the Internet so far. We've seen stories broken by the Internet, and we're used to getting tweets out of events that happen in major population centers. The value of that information is marginal and supplemental at best, because those areas also tend to have reliable news coverage. What we have here is a major story exposed to the world by a layman doing nothing more than reporting on the world outside his window. Because his first reaction to something strange was to leap on twitter, Sohaib Athar now has a place in history.
We're past the day when major world events could unfold without the world having a chance to watch. Osama bin Laden wasn't outside Twitter's reach, and we're fast approaching the day when no one will be.