Claire Beale: Is death of journalism down to social media?

By Claire Beale, campaignlive.co.uk, Thursday, 27 September 2012 08:00AM

What delight everyone (not involved) has taken in the farrago at MEC this week. A resignation e-mail from one member of staff, painfully critical of a colleague, went viral and global within hours; you can almost smell the sweaty excitement in the Tweets.

Claire Beale: Is death of journalism down to social media?

The lawyers recommend caution when discussing the story, but you’ll know what I’m talking about.

The story briefly made the homepage of The Sun’s website, before being withdrawn. That prompted another delighted round of comments speculating that The Sun and its News International parent had been spooked by the idea of offending a big media buyer such as MEC (part of the mighty Group M machine, controlling well over £1 billion of media spend).

Probably sensibly, neither the resigning executive nor his colleague have (yet) waded into the Twitter frenzy, though perhaps that’s after listening to legal advice rather than simply their gut. MEC has kept its own response curt and eschewed the social dialogue it advocates to its clients. Again, what’s right legally prevails over the tempting opportunity to just let rip.

Anyway, into this vacuum have waded hundreds of commentators to have their say. Like all good industry gossip, the whole story has been pretty thoughtlessly chewed over by people with absolutely no real insight into what’s actually gone on. Worse, in social media scandals like this, we rarely get to see both sides of the story. So, while the accuser’s resignation letter has been well-aired, his colleague has had little choice but to remain silent; the accusations against him are best tackled by the professionals. All we know comes from a skewed angle.

Worse, as national media (The Sun, Mail Online, Loaded) have also piled in to report the story, the MEC drama is being held up as an example of the slow death of journalism. Some observers have criticised traditional media for chasing digital impacts by following where the social media scrum leads, without layering any additional knowledge or insight into the true turn of events.

But what’s trending on Twitter (and this story did, big time) is now legitimate news. Perhaps the (not so) old divisions between citizen journalism and the content produced by people who are paid to bring some professionalism and (you’d hope) perspective to a story are being eroded at the digital edges. But there’s no doubt that if Twitter’s overheating with a story, that’s fair game for the rest of us, as long as all the usual legal rules governing journalists are abided by.

Like virtually everyone else who’s feeding off this story, I don’t know the people involved and I have no idea what the truth is. But whatever that truth is, it has now been overtaken, rewritten even, by the social noise. And some people will be scarred by the result.

This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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