The contribution (or hindrance depending on how you feel about it) that social media has had on journalism is momentous.
Thanks to Twitter many breaking stories have been found from tweets or photos on the site and a recent study shows that three quarters of UK’s mainstream journalists find their stories through Twitter.
I was aware of the influence that social media sites have on news, especially as a PR student, and have read about the effectiveness of pitching to journalists in 140 characters.
On Thursday I was able to see first hand how being in the right place at the right time, with sufficient battery life to send a few tweets, can contribute to a global news story.
My sister’s the Bieber fan
I was coerced into taking my younger sister and her friend to see teen pop star Justin Bieber on his current world Tour at The O2. (He is currently the most followed person on Twitter with 35,739,577 followers, and was the most-Googled person of 2011).
Whilst there, towards the end of the show he complained of having breathing difficulties and stumbled off stage, looking very ill.
To give a bit of context, this past few weeks the star has been late to his own concert angering mothers and fans, allegedly went partying in London with an underage friend for his birthday and since has been involved in an altercation with a paparazzi.
As soon as I realised what had happened, I knew this was going to be big news everywhere in a mere minutes thanks to social media.
I began tweeting what was going on, how the stage crew were stalling for time, parents and kids leaving, his manager’s on stage announcement and finally the singer’s return to the stage.
By the time I was home I was seeing news stories everywhere, but all seemed to be under the assumption that he had fainted on stage, which of course I knew not to be true and they lacked any real facts.
After tweeting about the media sensationalising the truth I was surprised to find a reply from a journalist working for the Associated Press in my mentions. I was asked if I’d like to talk about what happened and what I saw.
After verifying that they were a real journalist and that it was not a joke, as I had originally assumed, there were two main reasons that led to me saying yes. I’d already seen untrue headlines, if I could be of any help in getting the true story to be printed then I would feel as though I had done something good and secondly, the PR student in me was extremely excited at the prospect of being able to speak to a journalist to see first hand how the entire process works.
We exchanged emails and after being sent over four or five questions about the ‘incident’ I realised it would be better if we spoke on the phone. (Bearing in mind it is almost 2am at this stage). We spoke for 20 minutes or so, I gave her my account of what happened, the reactions from the audience and the overall mood before and after. When I told her I studied PR she complimented my use of Twitter during a breaking news story. She said she had seen my tweets as it was going on and that I had used it perfectly, I had it down to a tee.
She was very kind, sounded rather tired unsurprisingly and thanked me for my time. I then quickly set up a Google alert for ‘Jazz Chappell’ and ‘Bieber’, so I’d receive an email whenever one popped up on Google, just to see if anything I said was used, not expecting much I finally went to sleep.
The next morning it is safe to say I instantly regretted setting up that particular Google alert. Forgetting just how vast America is thus how many local news sites must exist I found myself mentioned on the sites of America’s ABC News, USA Today, Huffington Post, Entertainment Weekly, Fox News, Washington Times, New York Daily and was even complimented on my name in Vanity Fair. Other sites from Canada, South Africa, Italy, France, Spain, Germany and Australia all published it too and this list is excluding a host of regional and local news sites.
It was amazing to see that from the original News Alert that the Associated Press had sent out, my account of the incident and comments were everywhere. Of course I hadn’t intended for this to happen when I initially began tweeting at the concert, I just wanted to have a record of what happened for myself to compare to the inevitable Daily Mail story the next day if I’m honest!
It showed me that journalists really are doing a good job of seeking out stories using Twitter and other social media sites, and if the person is willing to help as I was, a news story can be improved as a result.
I received an email the next day from the journalist thanking me again and saying how helpful it was that I was able to give some context to the story. It also showed me how fast the entire process is and has to be as a result.
I began tweeting at 10:30pm, spoke to the AP at 2am and under two hours later the first few stories were published. If it wasn’t for the journalist’s speed then AP would have missed out on an opportunity and it would have been picked up elsewhere.
I acted fast when I first tweeted that something bad had happened to this generation’s ‘teen pop sensation’, most of the audience around me hadn’t even noticed something was wrong. The journalist acted fast when she contacted me for more information and wrote the story- in today’s media landscape that’s what seems to be the trick and it is a lesson well learnt from me!