Image: Michael Jackson
John Moore  /  Getty Images
Fans of Michael Jackson pass by his star to pay their respects on the Walk of Fame on June 26 in Los Angeles.
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updated 6/26/2009 8:08:02 PM ET 2009-06-27T00:08:02

"Ladies and gentlemen, Michael Jackson has just died," the woman called out breathlessly upon boarding a Manhattan bus, moments after the news had broken. Not a word was spoken in response. But nearly every passenger reached for a BlackBerry, a cell phone, whatever device was at hand.

"People are already texting about it, putting it up on Facebook, remembering his greatest moments," noted Delmar Dualeh, sitting in the back. At 17, he confessed, the news didn't really move him emotionally. He was too young to recall the 50-year-old entertainer in his prime. But he was fully engaged in the cultural moment. He hurried the conversation along so he could get back to texting.

In Iran, people speak of a Twitter uprising. Was this the first major Twitter celebrity death? Because it wasn't just how many people first learned of Jackson's demise but what they did once they found out.

"Once you knew the news, there wasn't so much more to know — the rest is all comment," said media critic Jeff Jarvis. So, he said, maybe you'd go to your friends instead of the news: "You might care more what your friends say than some analyst."

Jarvis himself tweeted the moment he heard of the death: He noted that Iran's spiritual leader should be grateful to Jackson because the story wiped Iran off the day's news agenda.

"That was re-tweeted a lot," Jarvis said.

The company said news of Jackson's death generated the most tweets per second since Barack Obama was elected president, and more than twice the normal tweets per second from the moment the story broke.

Plain old texting, Dualeh's choice, had its largest spike on AT&T'S network in history. Nearly 65,000 texts per second were sent, the company said — more than 60 percent over normal volume.

And on Facebook, "sharing of all types went up — including wall posts, comments, notes, posted links," wrote spokeswoman Jaime Schopflin in an e-mail. "Status updates in particular saw an increase of more than three times the amount than usual."

Some posters were cynical, but many more were grief-stricken, like Jackson fan Scott Friedstein, an administrative assistant who lives in Brooklyn.

"There will never be another like him, ever," Friedstein wrote. "The word 'superstar' is tossed around a lot, but no one personified the term, lived and breathed it, and delivered like he did. To all the people who liked Michael Jackson when it wasn't cool to ... I feel for you."

Facebook said there were no internal reports of the site slowing from too much traffic. But there were slowdowns or outages on other sites. Google said the spike in searches related to Jackson was so big that Google News initially mistook it for an automated attack.

Wikipedia, meanwhile, had trouble with traffic, with people getting intermittent error messages, said Jimmy Wales, founder of the online encyclopedia, in a telephone interview. He also described an online debate between users and regular editors over whether Jackson's death should be added to his entry before the news was officially confirmed.

Finally, editors intervened and prevented entries about Jackson to be modified for about six hours, Wales said.

Experiencing slowdowns were the Web sites of ABC, AOL, the Los Angeles Times and CBS, according to Keynote Systems, an Internet monitoring service. Also experiencing an impact were MSNBC.com, NBC and Yahoo! News.

(Msnbc is a Microsoft Corp.-NBC Universal joint venture.)

The initial news of Jackson's death broke on TMZ.com at 5:20 p.m. The Los Angeles Times and then The Associated Press confirmed the death just before 6:30 p.m. EDT, and networks then led their broadcasts with the news.

TMZ quoted a source inside the hospital, and turned out to be right. But there were plenty of false reports circulating across the Web that mainstream news organizations had to chase: Rumors of actor Jeff Goldblum falling off a cliff, Harrison Ford falling off a yacht and, on Friday, George Clooney in a plane crash.

Balancing two sides
Another challenge the mainstream media faced was presenting both sides of Jackson himself, and balancing the polarities of his story. On the one hand, there was ample video evidence of the extraordinarily gifted young man who took the world by storm, moon-walking on the Apollo Theater stage, or dancing hypnotically in the groundbreaking "Thriller" video.

On the other, there was the pale, older man, dangling his baby off a hotel balcony, or seen in video from his trial on charges of child molestation. So which Jackson to show?

"There was a duality to Michael Jackson that you had to deal with," said Susan Zirinsky, executive producer of "48 Hours" and CBS specials. "The man died with a legacy of shame. The news had to be a combined sentence."

To open the one-hour special she produced, anchored by Harry Smith, Zirinsky chose four words that she felt conveyed the dichotomy: "A prodigy. A sensation. The controversy. The tragedy."

The same duality was evident on NBC's "Today" show, where one moment Matt Lauer and Meredith Vieira were describing how Jackson was the most compelling entertainer they had ever seen.

Later, writer Maureen Orth, a guest on the show, told Lauer that Jackson had ruined the lives of families and children, and she cast doubt on the justice of his acquittal.

"But I did love his music," Orth added.

"Today" executive producer Jim Bell acknowledged it was a challenge to balance the two sides. "But that was one of the main reasons he was such a compelling figure," Bell said. "Otherwise, I don't know that his death would have been such a momentous occasion."

The fact that the news broke on a celebrity Web site and spread like wildfire across the social networking sites is a noteworthy change in how celebrity deaths get reported, Bell said. But he added that the mainstream media is becoming more nimble as a result.

And, Bell added, with a huge media event such as Jackson's death, the audience is going to increase everywhere, including network TV. "There's going to be a lot of eyeballs in both new and traditional media," Bell said. "It's not a zero-sum game."

Maybe not, but Friedstein, the Brooklyn man, went home Thursday night and logged onto Facebook right away. He didn't turn on the TV — he doesn't even have one.

"I just wanted to see how other people were feeling," he said later by telephone. "This was shattering, surreal even. It's my generation's version of Elvis dying."

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: World reaction

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  1. Michael Jackson fans cry as they embrace during a public gathering to watch Jackson's memorial service on a giant television screen along 125th street in the Harlem section of New York on Tuesday, July 7. (Mike Segar / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Residents walk past a graffiti depicting late U.S. pop star Michael Jackson in Port-au-Prince, Tuesday, July 7. (Ramon Espinosa / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Michael Jackson fans gather to pay tribute to the late pop legend at a shopping mall in Hong Kong on Tuesday, July 7. (Kin Cheung / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A Michael Jackson look-alike dances during a tribute to the late pop icon in Mexico City's main square Zocalo on Tuesday, July 7. (Eliana Aponte / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Images and messages to singer Michael Jackson are displayed on the wall outside the Lyric Theatre in London, on Tuesday, July 7. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Swiss fans of Jackson attend a memorial ceremony at the Rathausbrucke bridge in Zurich, Switzerland, on Saturday, July 4. (Arnd Wiegmann / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Mackenzie Houck, right, visits a makeshift memorial for Jackson that has sprung up outside the Jackson family home in the Los Angeles suburb of Encino on Wednesday, July 1. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Michael Townes holds a portrait of a young Michael Jackson as he and other people wait in line for a public memorial for the pop star at the Apollo Theater on Tuesday, June 30. Fans began converging on the Apollo soon after Jackson died Thursday in Los Angeles. It has continued to serve as an impromptu memorial site in the days since. Jackson's ties to the theater go back to 1967, when The Jackson 5 won the Apollo’s Amateur Night contest. (Stan Honda / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A hat, sunglasses and a single white glove are displayed on stage at the Apollo Theater on Tuesday, June 30, in New York. (Bryan Bedder / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Bronx resident Conchita Jones, right, comforts her crying daughter Essence, 13, during a tribute to Jackson at Harlem's Apollo Theater in New York on Tuesday, June 30. (Jason Decrow / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Kena Patterson of Los Angeles writes out "MJ" with lit candles at a makeshift memorial outside the family home of late pop star Michael Jackson in the Encino neighborhood of Los Angeles early Monday, June 29. (Gus Ruelas / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Graffiti depicting the young Michael Jackson on the walls of an undergound passage in Stuttgart, Germany. The painting was created over the past weekend during a legal graffiti session at Stuttgart's "Hall of Fame." (Marijan Murat / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Pakistan's Sindh provincial Minister for Culture Sassui Palijo, left, lays a flower bouquet beside a huge poster of Michael Jackson during a ceremony to pay tribute to the late entertainer Monday in Hyderabad, Pakistan. (Pervez Masih / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Singer Janet Jackson, sister of the late singer Michael Jackson, speaks at the 2009 BET Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium on Tuesday, June 28, in Los Angeles. (Kevin Winter / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A poster board containing greetings from fans of the late Michael Jackson was on hand during a candlelight vigil in front of Hitsville, the Motown Records Museum in Detroit, Mich., on Sunday, June 28. (Gary Malerba / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A Michael Jackson fan mourns the death of the "King of Pop" at the U.S. embassy in Moscow on Sunday, June 28. (Natalia Kolesnikova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A fan of Michael Jackson shouts before a candlelight vigil held in tribute to the pop music icon in the city of Lima, Peru, on Sunday, June 28. (Enrique Castro-Mendivil / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Michael Jackson's fans gather for a commemoration in Piazza del Duomo in Milan, Italy, on June 27. (Vince Paolo Gerace / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Filipino inmates perform in front of a portrait of Pop star Michael Jackson inside the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center in the central Philippines on Saturday. Around 1,581 orange-clad Filipino inmates who gained worldwide attention for an impressive "Thriller" performance on YouTube paid their last respects to the late "King of Pop." (Dennis M. Sabangan / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. A member of Michael Jackson's Fan Club in Vietnam poses with a portrait during a memorial tribute at a cafe in Hanoi on June 27. Jackson's death dominated news bulletins, radio airwaves and Web sites the world over on June 26 as tributes poured in for a man called the "King of Pop" and "natural heir to Elvis." (Kham / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Taiwanese Michael Jackson impersonators Wang Chi-wei, 31, right, and Lee Yen-ting dance Jackson-stylized moves in Taipei, Taiwan on June 27. In 1993, Wang was voted as best impersonator of Michael Jackson in an island-wide contest allowing him to meet with the pop star. (Wally Santana / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Fans dance to celebrate the life of pop icon Michael Jackson at Washington Square Park in New York on Friday, June 26. (Eric Thayer / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Fans read a banner hanging near the Jackson family home in Encino, Calif., on Friday. (Joshua Lott / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Michael Jackson fans react during a vigil in Santiago, Chile, on Friday, June 26. (Roberto Candia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Fans sing as they pay respects to the late pop star Michael Jackson near Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris on Friday, June 26.


    Are you at memorials for Michael Jackson? How are you remembering him?

    Did you take photos or video of public outpourings of grief or tributes to Michael Jackson? Share them here. (Gonzalo Fuentes / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Michael Jackson's fans gather to mark his death in Paris, on Friday, June 26.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Thibault Camus / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Two women sob at a sidewalk shrine at the star of Michael Jackson on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles on Friday, June 26.


    Are you at memorials for Michael Jackson? How are you remembering him?

    Did you take photos or video of public outpourings of grief or tributes to Michael Jackson? Share them here. (Reed Saxon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Russians lay flowers in memory of late pop star Michael Jackson at the U.S. embassy in Moscow on Friday, June 26. Fans around the world grieved for Michael Jackson while his star friends in Hollywood and music declared themselves devastated by the sudden death of the "King of Pop." (Natalia Kolesnikova / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Fans hold up a sea of single-gloved hands in an impromptu celebration of the life of Michael Jackson. They gathered outside UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles after he was pronounced dead on Thursday, June 25.
    (Reed Saxon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. Young fans of Michael Jackson take part in a candlelight memorial to commemorate him in Karachi, Pakistan, on Friday, June 26. (Shakil Adil / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. A fan sits after laying a tribute to Michael Jackson at the O2 Arena in London on Friday, June 26. The 50-year-old superstar was preparing for what would be a series of 50 concerts starting July 13 at London's famed 02 arena. (Nigel Roddis / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Sand sculptures of Michael Jackson, a guitar and his fedora hat, made by Sudarshan Pattnaik, are seen at the Golden Sea Beach for the fans to pay floral tribute at Puri, India, on Friday, June 26. (Biswaranjan Rout / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. An Indonesian painter puts out a painting of the late U.S. pop star Michael Jackson in front of his booth for sale on the street in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Friday, June 26. The pop star Michael Jackson died June 25, collapsing after a cardiac arrest at his home in Los Angeles, officials said.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Adi Weda / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. A Japanese fan reacts as she looks at a commemorative stand for Michael Jackson at a music shop in Tokyo, Friday. (Kim Kyung-hoon / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. Michael Jackson look-a-like Wu Di, who has been performing as Michael Jackson in local bars for two years, dances as he poses for pictures in the street in Beijing, Friday. (Reinhard Krause / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. A woman checks the breaking news of Michael Jackson's death at an electronic store in Hsintien, Taipei county on Friday. (Sam Yeh / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. A fan of Michael Jackson attends a vigil in Mexico City on Thursday.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Eduardo Verdugo / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. A pedestrian in Times Square holds up a sign while a silhouette of Michael Jackson is displayed on a billboard in New York on Thursday, June 25. (Seth Wenig / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Jermaine Jackson, brother of late pop star Michael Jackson, speaks at a news conference at UCLA hospital in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 25. (Gene Blevins / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Fans mourn the death of pop icon Michael Jackson on Thursday, June 25, in Los Angeles.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Gerard Burkhart / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Fans gather outside of the Apollo Theater in New York to remember pop star Michael Jackson on Thursday, June 25.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Cory Schwartz / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown, pauses for a moment before a news conference held after the death of Michael Jackson, Thursday, June 25. (Jae C. Hong / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. Tyson Stevens, center, joins other fans on Thursday to remember Michael Jackson at the star they believe belongs to the pop star, but actually belongs to a radio personality of the same name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles. (Philip Scott Andrews / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. A woman cries on the phone as she tells a friend that Michael Jackson has passed away on Thursday, June 25, in Los Angeles. The iconic pop star, 50, was rushed to the hospital after going into cardiac arrest, according to reports. (Ann Johansson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. The Rev. Al Sharpton speaks in front of the Apollo Theater to the media on Thursday, June 25, about the death of Michael Jackson. (Louis Lanzano / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. Curator Curtis Huber, left, and curator assistant Eric Valencia lift a wax figure of Michael Jackson to put in the front display at the Wax Museum at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco on Thursday, June 25. (Jeff Chiu / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Lana Brown, a tourist from Dallas, cries as she hugs her 10-year-old son Tovre as they mourn the death of pop star Michael Jackson outside the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 25.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Lucy Nicholson / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. Police tape hangs across the street near the emergency room dock outside the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 25. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. Fans of Michael Jackson gather at the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 25. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  50. People watch the news about Michael Jackson in New York's Times Square on Thursday, June 25.


    Are you at memorials for Michael Jackson? How are you remembering him?

    Did you take photos or video of public outpourings of grief or tributes to Michael Jackson? Share them here. (Mary Altaffer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  51. TJ Thomas and Marie Bouchard remember Michael Jackson at what they believe to be the singer's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 25. Jackson's star was covered by the red carpet for Sascha Baron Cohen's premiere of the movie "Bruno" when the news broke. (Nick Ut / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  52. A Michael Jackson fan reacts to the news about the "King of Pop" outside the UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles on Thursday, June 25.

    Discuss the life and impact of Michael Jackson in PhotoBlog. (Mario Anzuoni / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Michael Jackson fans embrace in New York on day of Jackson's memorial service
    Mike Segar / Reuters
    Above: Slideshow (52) Fans react to loss - World reaction
  2. Michael Jackson in a Butterfly Collar Shirt
    Henry Diltz / Corbis
    Slideshow (36) Fans react to loss - Life and career
  3. MICHAEL JACKSON
    AP
    Slideshow (16) Fans react to loss - The face of change
  4. 6th Annual RFK Tennis Tournament Party
    Ron Galella / WireImage
    Slideshow (13) Fans react to loss - Famous friends
  5. Courtesy of the Malnik family
    Slideshow (12) Fans react to loss - Jackson’s children unveiled

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