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Exeter bomb blast: the social media afterthought

Now the dust’s settled both around Giraffe restaurant in Exeter and in the general world of breaking news, and yesterday’s events are becoming clearer, it’s interesting to see how the coverage of the event has also settled down both for traditional media and more Web 2.0 sources.

While yesterday the best sources for breaking news were the online Exeter City fans forum Exeweb, and Twitter, today things have settled down somewhat. The thread on Exeweb has slowed and hasn’t been updated in a while, while Tweets on the issue have been restricted to those from traditional media accounts like ITN and the Guardian [1].

Likewise, Technorati and del.icio.us have sporadic entries, but nothing traditional media hasn’t already told me.

[A quick aside here – partly to blow my own trumpet, but partly because it fits in well here – POLIS director Charlie Beckett followed up his very nice comment with a blog post praising what I wrote yesterday, which is as unexpected as it is flattering (and humbling). But where did Charlie find my piece? Via his colleague on del.icio.us. QED.]

But where it gets really interesting is Digg. If you search upcoming stories for Exeter then the majority of articles ‘Dugg’ are from traditional sources: the BBC, the Telegraph, etc. [2].

Now, I’ll admit this has only been a cursory glance and any research I’ve done hasn’t been as thorough as yesterday but there’s still a few strands of hypothesis we can draw from this.

The main point being, when you have a breaking news story, traditional media is a lot slower than online sources and social media tool and, in many cases, less reliable. This also suggests that people are moving towards these tools rather than more traditional sources when they want to find out more information.

However, once the story moves beyond it’s initial ‘breaking’ stage (usually 24 hours, or an overnight gap), traditional media reasserts itself. The posters on Exeweb or Twitterers are likely to have the time or access to compete with media outlets, so at this stage the fastest, most reliable sources online will revert to the familiar brand names. They have the lines to the police, they eyewitnesses, and the politicians and now can be seen to be across the story.

The big loser in all this now is not social media, which can happily exist outside of the mainstream media and isn’t solely news-orientated, but the Express and Echo, Exeter’s local paper.

Yes, the Echo have continued to add updates to their site, but I still can’t read today’s coverage, which is maddening – the message to buy the paper for full information has been on the site since they posted a brief summary of their lead story, and they’re already telling us to buy Saturday’s paper for the update. Which would be great if I still lived in Devon, but I don’t.

Now, the Express and Echo may well have some of the best journalistic coverage on this topic, and today and tomorrow’s papers may well be ground-breaking award-winning stuff, but it’s really too late. Any smart reader, Exonian or otherwise, will have gone to somewhere like Google News, done a search for Exeter and read a lot of the pieces available there, most of which contain not just yesterday’s story but up-to-the-minute articles with today’s events (the Telegraph’s is particularly good). In the meantime, the Echo sits with none of this.

Taking this logically to its conclusion, why would I – the online reader – then need to buy tomorrow’s Express and Echo or visit it’s website when I know there is better information elsewhere? In looking to maximise the paper sales, the Echo could potentially lose out on readers both on and offline.

[By the way, if you want to contact me with any links or aspects of this online case study I may have missed, or anything that may be interesting or relevant to the blog or, for whatever reason, you don’t want to leave a comment, there’s a contact form on the About Me page.]

[1] Assuming you can actually get onto Twitter – it’s having another bit of downtime/crash. Honestly, it’s more tempramental than all of my ex-girlfriends morphed into one.

[2] Anti-fascist campaigners may want to note the amount of Diggs BNP links are getting (and on Technorati as well).


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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com