Curb Your Need For Speed, Check Your Sources
In the ‘old days’, some 25 years ago, when your’s truly was a newspaper journalist, there was a daily 10pm deadline to finish your story, and to know what the competition had written about the same topic you had to wait until the next morning. You’d spend the entire day (or more) ‘chasing’ the story and making sure all parties involved had had their say and that all the elements added up.
But in today’s digital media landscape, there’s a deadline every second of every day, anywhere in the world, and the pressure to be the first to break a certain story is frighteningly more important than the need to have the facts right or even check back with those playing a role in the story. And the need to be the first to tweet an opinion on the subject often borders on the obsessive-compulsive. These opinions are rarely fact-checked or even fully thought through, but just as often immediately copied and re-tweeted nonetheless.
A few weeks ago in Belgium, an 86-year-old former radio and television host was accused of the sexual abuse of a junior staff member some 30 years ago. The accusation wasn’t made in a police station or in a courtroom, but in the studio of a late night talk show on national public television, by a friend and former colleague of the victim. Although the producers of the show were informed beforehand what would happen, they ‘forgot’ to check with or even inform the ‘accused’, later stating that they “forgot”, then “didn’t have time anymore” and that “he would have denied it anyway”. They also forgot to mention that at the time, both parties were in a relationship with each other, but that in the end the presenter decided not to leave his family.
Whether the story was true and, if so, to what extent, is irrelevant in this case, but what is relevant is that even a public broadcaster – synonymous with quality and ethics, and funded by the taxpayer’s money – had elected to cast their principles aside to go for a quick ‘score’ without checking their facts first.
When a political leader later noted, in certain terms, that the media were lowering the bar of professionalism dramatically he was immediately portrayed by those same media as being ‘unfair’, for – as they saw it – he had used them to his benefit at the last elections and was now complaining about them. Interestingly, though, the Belgian association of professional journalists declined to comment on the politician’s remarks, while his fellow politicians all of a sudden had no opinion. 2012 is, after all, again an election year, you see.
Titanic’s 3D Hoax
A similar, but less grave story happened on the other side of the world a month or so ago. When ‘Titanic 3D’ was launched in China, moviegoers were surprised to see that the now infamous glimpse of Kate Winslet’s bare breast had not made the 3D transition. Soon social media were buzzing with questions, opinions and conspiracy theories about why the Chinese had been deprived of the what many evidently considered to be the best moment of the 197-minute movie (other than the actual sinking of course).
Just as soon, an official reply came from the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television stating that those few seconds had been cut from the movie for fears that, when seeing Kate’s chest in 3D, male members of the audience might try to grab it which might upset the person or persons sitting next to them. The message subsequently went viral and made it across the pond where Titanic director James Cameron was informed about it during a US talk show.
What most (Western) media forgot to notice, however, was that the ‘official’ message was a hoax. They subsequently also forgot to report about this after they had scored with their initial story and opinions.
Don’t Speak/ Tweet
Sometimes it’s better to not to say anything, especially when you’re working in or with the media.
When Dutch Prince Friso was fighting for his life after suffering a massive head trauma when he had been caught in an avalanche last February, the spokesman of the Brussels International Airport – often seen on TV in his professional capacity – felt the compelling urge to tweet about “First Prince Friso, then Prince Frisco, hopefully not Prince Frigo” (a phonetic wordplay in Dutch, translating as: “first Prince Friso, then Prince Ice Lolly, hopefully not Prince Fridge”). Nobody was amused, least of all his employers and the Dutch royal family. The man himself was remarkably unavailable for further comments.
When last weekend another politician tweeted to the world that she had a found a stray cat in her basement and would take good care of the mongrel, I was happy for the cat but other than that couldn’t but feel sorry for her waste of time to let me and thousands of others know about this non-event. Although there is something ‘cartoonesque’ in there, isn’t there, tweeting about a cat…?
So-called social media – as pure media – are slowly losing their x-factor and their wow-effect, and those who use them to gather and forward information and opinion should maybe spend more time talking with their three-dimensional relations than blindly relying on their digital ones.
Social media are, of course, still a very powerful tool in any communications strategy, but I sometimes like to compare them to a machine gun without a safety catch: you better think long and hard, and aim even better before you pull the trigger, because the collateral damage can be major, especially when the subject is ‘a hot potato’.
That said, if anyone really knows why the Chinese were deprived of Kate Winslet’s 3D assets, do let us know.
Currently the Media & PR Practice Leader at MSLGroup Brussels, Serge began as a journalist and then shifted lanes to do marketing, sponsoring and communications. He is a sports marketing expert with 25 years experience in the communications industry. Over the last 12 years, he has been in charge of GM’s international motorsports communications with Cadillac (ALMS, ELMS, APLMS and Le Mans 24 Hours), Corvette (ALMS and Le Mans) and Chevrolet (WTCC). His professional interests revolve around motorsports of all disciplines: Formula 1, World Rally Championship (WRC), World Touring Car Championship (WTCC), American, European and Asian-Pacific Le Mans Series (ALMS, ELMS, APLMS).
How F1 Will Change Over The Next 2 Years – By Serge Vanbockryck