London riots and media ‘blackouts’

I will write a fuller blog on the London riots later, but just wanted to comment on a theme seen in some of the tweets and chatter: that the media somehow covered up the latest rioting in Enfield and other places in London.

The news is rarely instant. It often takes hours for something to be reported as “BREAKING NEWS”. That’s because newsrooms are big and have lots of things happening. It takes time to get cameras to a scene when something’s happening. Sometimes the initial reports take time to make it to a news-desk, or are contradictory by the time they get there.

Twitter means that we can (and often do) know about things before they appear on the mainstream news. As a twitter-addict and news-addict, I follow in turn many people with the same twin afflictions. I am very used to seeing a big story break on Twitter hours before it appears on the BBC. Lots of other people are less used to this, so when they saw hundreds of tweets about trouble in Enfield but no footage on the BBC, they assumed it was some kind of cover-up.

When journalists on the scene showed empty buildings rather than ongoing riots, some people assumed it was part of a conspiracy rather than because the looters were in cars, moving fast and not wanting to be on the news nicking  42-inch tellies.

When the BBC news website wasn’t updated, they assumed there was a D-notice rather than that it was a Sunday night in August so maybe the BBC website team was just a little light on the ground.

When nobody reported on the riot in Hemel Hempstead, they complained but didn’t consider the possibility that there wasn’t actually a riot in Hemel Hempstead.

Tonight proved again that Twitter is now the primary medium for news. This doesn’t mean that journalists have no role to play. I got my news tonight from the Guardian’s Paul Lewis on the scene in Enfield and Edmonton, the Telegraph’s Andrew Hough in Brixton, and Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy (who’s still out on the streets of Walthamstow trying to help). Two of those are broadsheet journalists and all were using Twitter.

In a public incident, Twitter will always beat traditional news media for speed. We’re all just going to have to get used to that rather than scrambling about for conspiracies.

3 thoughts on “London riots and media ‘blackouts’

  1. The mainstream media also failed to report the persistent Twitter meme that rioters had broken into London Zoo and released all the animals onto the streets. Like we need hardcore John Irving fans on top of everything else.

  2. I’m convinced that both the BBC and Sky were not reporting all of the news about the riots to try to keep a lid on things. LBC were giving far more details and were themselves surprised that the BBC and Sky were not doing the same.
    There were no reports on the damage and trouble in Streatham and Norbury which are close to where I live. Others I have spoken to are saying the same thing about their areas.
    I have emailed several BBC radio shows about it since during their many post riot discussions and not one has responded.

    1. Michael,

      I agree that the national media missed a lot of the local small-scale trouble and tended to focus on the larger incidents, but that’s what you’d expect. I certainly saw some coverage of trouble in Streatham on Sky. It’s just a question of scale – they want good visuals for broadcast media and only have a limited number of reporters.

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