The UK riots, how the media and David Cameron finally get it right

Shop keepers are banding together to protect their properties, random groups of people are organizing clean up operations, random strangers are tackling criminals who are smashing up Windows and a 21 year old is cycling around Bristol doing his best to verify the truth of riot stories.

The first few examples are heartwarming and pretty predictable. The last one surprised me as did the ever increasing messages about posting verified information and not spreading rumours. One of the messages was from Bristol Evening Post reporter Emily Koch and many others include reporters from the nationals.

Twitter did amazingly well during the Bristol riot in April because

all the elements were there to bind people into a community. External forces, such as Tesco and the police; lack of media coverage which meant the conversation wasn’t redirected; and the violent attack against protestors and the police.

Bristol Culture also point to the lack of media coverage at the Stokes Croft riot as being key to the differences in the information about the riots.

On the first night of the riots in Stokes Croft, the media in Bristol were taken completely unaware by the seriousness of the situation. And unlike in London, we do not have television news helicopters on standby.

But something happened between the first riots in April and the ones now which has partly shown people to be as unreliable as journalists doing a vox pop assume them to be.

One of the reasons, as Bristol Culture point out, is that the coverage is now mainstream. We’re no longer dealing with an intimate little outbreak of violence in our backyard. Our celebrities have moved on from a handful of locals who grabbed the opportunity to take charge and help out with information to the nationals.

Our communications are guided by the big boys who do this for a living. Paul Lewis, from the Guardian, tweeted his experiences in Tottenham when the action first took place. He spoke to radio stations, other journalists and filed his story by morning. He, and other professionals like him, were out there again the next night and the days that followed. He brought the truth. It must be the truth because the papers published it the next morning.

There’s something peculiar about watching professionals do their job. They are thorough in terms of coverage, they are articulate and they have access to reliable information.

One of the first stories to break about the riots in Bristol was from @bristol247 editor Chris Brown and he quoted the police and reported his adventures as he experienced the action in person.

His further communications through Twitter were careful to point out the information that came from the police.

The #ukriots information is largely controlled by the media who do their best to provide reliable and robust information about what is going on. They are best placed to do that when news reporting works as it should (see #hackgate).

When there are gaps in the information then bloggers, tweeters and the rest are there to fill them.

There don’t seem to be too many gaps at the moment. Newspapers are running live blogs, MPs are talking to the cameras and the police are filling in where the others leave off.

That leaves the rest of us, when not engaged in cleaning up and reporting our unverified information to gossip and make it up (apparently).

Some of it is opinion and other bits are lies but it doesn’t matter because ultimately we are just playing and the people in charge will take care of the truth.

There’s a real sense of handing over responsibility for the truth to those who are used to dealing with it because they have the resources to do it well.

But there is a danger here that because the media are good at reporting we decide that they are also the best at understanding and providing solutions. I don’t think they are. They are people who do their job well but they work for others who have an agenda and their conclusions can be often found to support their own biases.

For now I’ll sit back and let the professionals do their job and applaud Prime Minister David Cameron for getting it right at least once while in office remarking that too many twits do make a twat.

One response to “The UK riots, how the media and David Cameron finally get it right”

  1. Wouldn’t many of the rioters thought that their computer games had come into real life, and were just joining in the ‘fun’?
    Instead of putting them into expensive prisons (another bit of action = fun!),
    could they not be given some practical real life – i.e. clearing up some the mess they made (or equivalent) , or be made to pay for it by working it off (even 14 year olds), also to pay for the supervision involved?

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