Jeremy Lee: Twitter provides the perfect platform for breaking hot stories

I've been off work for the past fortnight. Did I miss much?

Jeremy Lee
Jeremy Lee

Sadly, it was impossible (even if I'd holidayed on Mars, rather than just West Herts) to avoid the tragic events of last weekend, with a crazed gunman going on a hideous murderous rampage in Norway followed by the sad death of the talented but fragile singer Amy Winehouse. Impossible, that is, because of the way that news is disseminated.

There's a blog post on Brand Republic by Chris Arnold asking readers to let him know how they first heard the news of the demise of Winehouse. For very few people, it is likely to have been watching a news bulletin that evening or while perusing the Sundays after strolling to the local newsagent.

While Arnold says that he heard it first via a Huffington Post alert on his iPhone, for many people it will probably have been on Twitter. This is rapidly proving its worth as a conduit for the breaking of big news stories, whether by news organisations or not, and the subsequent republishing of associated content.

As well as news channels, there almost appears to be a race from individuals, rather than just journalists, to get their take on a story up there and prove that they are ahead of the debate. Which, given the scandals that have engulfed Fleet Street and done considerable damage to the already battered reputation of journalists, might not necessarily be considered such a bad thing.

Equally, there are those who are quick to add their own rather less useful perspective to the news - most notably celebrities. Phillip Schofield, Stephen Fry (natch) and Sarah Brown were quick to take to their laptops and get on Twitter to add their two-penn'orth.

Brown, the wife of a former prime minister, wrote: "Sad sad news of Amy Winehouse - great talent, extraordinary voice, and tragic death, condolences to her family." It's difficult to imagine Clementine Churchill doing something similar but then I guess she never worked in PR.

Schofield's contribution was in a similar vein: "Just heard the sad news that Amy Winehouse has died. At only 27 what a terrible waste of a great talent. Sincere condolences to her family." So as well as threatening traditional news outlets, Twitter appears to have parked its tanks firmly on the lawns of online memorial sites such as Lasting Tribute, which also provide a useful revenue stream to old-school media.

And what were the newspapers left to print? Well, largely, it seems the celebrity response to Winehouse's death, along with wild speculation about the beliefs of the Norwegian nutcase.

The phone-hacking scandal means that the perceived value of print journalism is at a dangerous crossroads. Whether Twitter is a better replacement, I'm unsure.