From Old Media to News Media close

Nick Woodbine
Nick Woodbine
In Musings, Online Innovation
16th October 2009
From Old Media to News Media

So it has finally happened… The non-tech world has realised that the way we consume news has changed irrevocably. Well maybe the Wider World is a bit of an overstatement, but just ask the Grey Suits at Carter Ruck and they will confirm what the cool kids have known for a while; Old Media is not dead but it simply cannot compete with the immediacy and the omnipotence of a million tweets when it comes to reporting events in real time. 

There was a time, not too long ago, where carrying a late edition of The Standard put you at the bleeding edge of the day’s news. Then came the evolution of mainstream media onto the web. Some (The Guardian & The Economist for example) achieved this better than others, but ultimately a lunchtime fix of the headlines moved from the Café to the desktop. As immediacy goes this was a big step forward. Allied with newsgroups and rss feeds bringing updates straight to you, with minimum effort and no cost, the thirst for immediate news was quenched if not sated. 

But we were still reliant on our chosen news providers or a limited number of bloggers to actually report on the news in a timely fashion. We were also restricted to one or, at best, a few opinions and viewpoints. Political leanings and personal agenda were present in the same way they had traditionally been with news agencies. There were also considerations such as time difference and legal restrictions that meant we weren’t receiving news on our own terms. 

Then came Twitter.

On Monday night The Guardian released the ultimate ‘anti-story’ informing their readership of an injunction that had been placed on them that was preventing them telling the world about a scandal involving an MP that they couldn’t name asking a question they couldn’t print of a Minister they were not allowed to identify. Crucially this amounted to a denial of a centuries-old and hard-fought right to report on the goings on within parliament. Quite a big deal.

The injunction was served by Carter Ruck, a law firm specialising in privacy cases in the press. They market themselves as ‘the UK’s pre-eminent media law practice’ but it turns out their expertise lies in Old Media, not Media of the New variety. 

That evening Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian’s Editor-in-Chief, fired out a single tweet linking to the piece. He had in the region of 500 ‘followers’ – a pittance in Twitter currency. By the time he returned from dinner, the Twitterverse had gone into overdrive. By the following morning #carterruck, #trafigura, the company that turned out to be at the centre of the controversy, and the #guardian were all top trending topics. The majority of Tweeters were simply outraged at the attempted blockade of an ancient journalistic right, others had taken it upon themselves to sniff out the truth and publish it, free from the binds of legal injunction. Twitter heroes such as Stephen Fry added their considerable voices to the cause (c. 850k followers) and by lunchtime on the Tuesday, an hour before the Guardian were due in court to contest the gagging order, Carter Ruck had rescinded the injunction due, almost entirely, to the weight of public opinion coming straight out of the Twitter.

What the Guardian did was crowd source the freeing of information that would otherwise have taken them days in a courtroom and enormous amounts of money to release. And it happened in the space of a few hours. 

It is for this very reason that today, if something captures my interest, my first port of call is a Twitter search. I know that on there will be countless others interested and talking about the same thing right then, at the very moment that I want to discover more. This is fundamentally changing how people consume news. Anyone with access to the internet can now legitimately broadcast information, free from the restrictions that bind traditional media in the form of legal tethering and time (time difference, editorial lag etc) and countless others can consume it and make up their own minds as to it’s legitimacy in the context of the general noise around the same topic.

But how do the powers at be, the police, lawyers, politicians – people with a vested interest in protecting certain information – deal with this new world order? It is now almost impossible for them to control information because there will always be someone, somewhere with a laptop and a cause.

The reality is they can’t control it. The only long-term option open to them is increased openness. A global broadcast network of millions cuts through the PR and the spin and when viewed collectively and objectively presents the new media news consumer with the facts.

In this age of transition between the old and the new there are those who are adapting well and those who are struggling. The channels of truth have been multiplied a millionfold and the Politicians, Companies and Celebrities have now 2 choices; voluntary honesty or involuntary discovery. Power to the Tweeple indeed.