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Monday, July 25, 2011

Twitter leaves the media standing

Yesterday morning Broadcasting House on Radio 4 carried an item about the death of Amy Winehouse. The reporter went to Camden Square and mused into his microphone about why people were standing around. He then recorded interviews with them. It seems likely that even more people will subsequently come to stand around because at last something was happening. People were getting interviewed about why they were standing around.

The media may well have to get used to just standing around looking at people standing around because this weekend's events have seen them not so much breaking stories as puffing along in their wake. The first hint of the events in Oslo appeared in my Twitter timeline in the middle of Friday afternoon. I searched on "Oslo" and immediately my screen looked like the Dow Jones index at the height of a crash, with tens of thousands of tweets in different languages scrolling past at an unreadable speed. I switched on Five Live, which is the BBC's news and sport station, to hear Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode reviewing films. I found myself on an RTE site where they were just running the feed from Norwegian TV.

Similarly the following afternoon I was watching rugby on TV with the iPad on my lap when a tweet appeared from a source who you'd expect to be well informed, asking "Is this Winehouse story true?". I immediately searched on "Winehouse" and discovered what the story was. This can't have been more than half an hour after the ambulance had arrived at her home. An hour later it was confirmed.

Obviously mainstream broadcasters and newspapers can't publish on the basis of unsubstantiated tweets but the pressure to do so is going to become harder and harder to resist. And this at a time when there is talk of them being brought into line. It'll be funny if the press are restrained from intruding into private lives while at the same time a medium ideally suited to the spreading of unsubstantiated gossip become's the nation's favourite toy.