How not to break a news story

Once upon a time – and not so long ago – if a story broke at (say) 10pm, it would be in the morning paper next day. When I worked as a sub-editor on the Western Mail in the early 80s, pages could be changed as late as 1 or 2 in the morning (or even later in emergencies) and readers would have them on their breakfast table a few hours later. If for any reason the morning paper missed it, the story would certainly make the South Wales Echo (which hit the streets at about mid-day).

When I tipped off the Western Mail about a story involving the pianist Lang Lang on Sunday night, it didn’t appear in the paper until Tuesday morning and – interestingly – appeared in exactly the same form in the South Wales Echo at the same time. Which seems to suggest that phoning the newsdesk of a daily paper is not the way to get a story out.

It’s time for me to take Twitter seriously. If I had tweeted at 10pm on Sunday, any followers I was fortunate enough to have would have seen the news immediately – and could have forwarded it to others by re-tweeting. As my learned colleague Rob Campbell points out, those who heard the news could also have joined in the investigation of what was going on – linking to a wider pool of knowledge and experience.
If a paper – in Cardiff or even London – had picked up the tweets, they could follow up the story. But that’s exactly what they would have been doing – following.

This episode has brought home to me just how far the news media have changed in my own professional lifetime and just how far the old print media have been left behind. Only by adding value to a story already in circulation can they hope to offer anything their readers would want to pay for. And in this case, the paper added nothing to what I could have tweeted 36 hours before they passed the news on.

Tweet, tweet!

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About James Stewart

Senior Lecturer in Radio Journalism.
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One Response to How not to break a news story

  1. Robert says:

    “And in this case, the paper added nothing to what I could have tweeted 36 hours before they passed the news on.”
    – They added an audience…

    Twitter only really makes sense for people with lots of followers, or people who like to follow a lot. It’s about 99% nonsense, with 0.5% funny stuff and 0.5% interesting stuff. Far too much rubbish for most people to sift through. Eventually, Twitter will crumble and become a niche tool. Like Myspace is only used by bands these days (and even those are leaving it), Twitter will become solely a tool for journalists, PR people and aspiring citizen journalists, and a few gossip-addicts. Even the hipsters will probably leave it in the end. It gets a lot of press because a lot of the press use it – but this distorts their perception of the impact Twitter has had on real life (which is negligible).

    Sure, the story could have been out on Twitter 36 hours sooner. But who would have gained anything from that? Where’s the advantage? Big stories have never been 9-5 (and would not have been treated that way by journalists), and little stories would not gain a huge amount of momentum on Twitter unless they are particularly cute / funny / silly.

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