The power of citizen journalism is proven once again (Oct-09)

The Daily Mail has stirred up a huge amount of controversy this week after Jan Moir published her article titled ‘Why there was nothing ‘natural’ about Stephen Gately’s death‘.

Within a very short space of time this had caused a number of websites to strain under the amount of hits they received. Twitter, the BBC and the press complaints sites all shook and shuddered as people vented their rage over what the Mail had printed. The column was declared idiotic, blockheaded (by Charlie Brooker), and by many people, homophobic.

At this stage the comments people are making tend to be focussed on the journalist in question and perhaps a few have been levelled at what is being said is the Mail’s ‘agenda’.

Social media, and particularly Twitter have caused many, many issues to be looked at again, or looked into, by the authorities or just caused a new or different stance by an organisation. Some time back it was a group set-up on Facebook that prompted Cadbury’s to bring back the much loved and missed Whispa bar and in the last week we have seen the Trafigura case and the corresponding call for free speech ‘championed’ by Twitter and (Private Eye, always seemingly keen to stir things up!) many other online portals. The Trafigura case could not be talked about in the papers because of their lawyer’s heavy injunction, but no such injunction could stop comments on Twitter or Facebook, or a hundred and one different blogs.

The latest social media ‘campaign’ against the Daily Mail article has already been labelled as an orchestrated liberal plot but surely the width and depth of anger we are seeing implies that no single entity (not even someone with the Twitter following of Stephen Fry(!) could plan this kind of outpouring of feeling.

The protest against the article has caused some of the Mail’s advertisers (alongside that article at least) to pull their ads and it has surely caused long-term headaches for those at the paper. Some of the article does make you surprised the editor allowed it to get into print and while the Mail is no stranger to controversy, surely they must have had an inkling that to write an article like this, the day before such a well-loved individual was buried, would cause a good deal of angry response. Now, of course papers are written to get sold and this latest controversy has certainly drawn attention to their brand but was this too high a price? And has this done the Mail more harm than good?

The power of social media cannot be denied and it seems unlikely that the Mail would have expected this kind of tirade from the public. So the lesson to be learnt is perhaps this; if you write an article, or indeed even post a blog, in this day and age that piece of news can be read and transmitted many times over, furthermore it will never go away, as some server somewhere will always have a stored copy. As we say in our media training courses; there is no ‘off the record’ and so if you don’t want to see what you say in an interview, put in print, then don’t say it to a journalist. This situation is a little different as it’s the journalist who may be regretting writing something that has now created such an unstoppable tirade towards them and their paper.

Written by Will Edwards – www.bluewoodtraining.co.uk – October 2009.

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