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Twitter had the riot covered

7 August 2011

12:33 PM

7 August 2011

12:33 PM

The revolution may not be televised, but the riot was tweeted pretty well last night. I was up at 3am (don’t ask), and BBC News hadn’t even interrupted their normal programming. But turning to
Twitter, it was all there. Specifically, via two reporters: Paul Lewis from the Guardian and Ravi
Somaiya
from the New York Times. They behaved like instinctive reporters: picked up (on the news or, more likely, on Twitter) that a riot was underway, then went out and reported it. And they
did so with pictures and observations that were well-judged and informative, never hysterical or futile.


The presence of a TV camera, with the bright lights, have a certain effect on a crowd — so the blogger with his mobile is better able to take and broadcast truer images of what’s going on.
The broadcasters were playing catch-up with Twitter. All you needed was a mobile, to find out — anywhere in the world — what was going on in Tottenham. Likewise the reaction.
Traditionally, we have relied on reporters (and their editors) to collate vox pops, quotes from people chosen on the street. Now, through Twitter, the reaction from locals is there for all to read.
They can be retweeted by people whose judgement we have come to trust by months of following them on Twitter. (Gloss80, for instance, was brought to me
by LabourPaul). When Paul Lewis tweeted that he saw someone with a hammer
leaving a "smashed *residential* block" we knew about the looting, in real time.

Two years ago, I had no interest in Twitter — thinking it was all about telling the world what you had for lunch. Now, it’s the news source I reach for first when I hear that something major
is happening; as good (or as bad) as the people you follow, including many journalists giving their real-time reporting away for free. Sure, there’s a hell of a lot that can’t be said in 140
characters. And there’s also the question of whether Twitter’s news-spreading powers actually inflamed the riot, as others rushed to the scene to see it for themselves. But for those people who
just wanted the bullet points from last night, Twitter delivered them quicker, cheaper and more accurately than any other medium.

P.S. The BBC’s Rickin Majithia tweets to say that its News Channel did include on-the-spot reporting
last night and that he tweeted lots. I agree, and accept that TV crews — with their massive vans and huge cameras — face far greater dangers when reporting such events. So there are
very good reasons for BBC and Sky’s relative lack of live coverage: they face obstacles that Twitter reporters do not.


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