Nick Davies’ excellent Flat Earth News is a coruscating dissection of the state of the media today, uncovering poor fact-checking, little or no analysis, simply reporting what someone, anyone says. Then when that turns out to be BS, just report the opposite story later and pretend like the first article never happened. Kind of like Dory from Finding Nemo.
The latest example comes from The BBC. I’ve been getting slowly depressed about the state of BBC News (ridiculous TV graphics, sensationalist radio talkins), but this article on the website today just bugged me. “Puncturing the hype” of Twitter, it cites Harvard Business School research, as though this source is supposed to make us believe it unconditionally.
But the thing is, the BBC article massively oversimplifies the researchers’ original article. The Harvard blog never uses the word ‘hype’. It’s research, designed to understand and explain. But of course, that doesn’t make for a headline. So the BBC writer highlights a ‘quote’, citing the researchers, saying
Twitter is a broadcast medium rather than an intimate conversation with friends
But you see, the original article doesn’t say that. Rather more prosaically, it concludes
This implies that Twitter’s [sic] resembles more of a one-way, one-to-many publishing service more than a two-way, peer-to-peer publishing service.
It should come to no surprise to anyone with an ounce of understanding that a small core of Twitter users generate most of the ‘content’. Handfuls of web consultancies and bloggers create hundreds of posts every day, mostly just linking to each other. Media channels (like, er, the BBC) have multiple feeds for News, Sport, specific radio stations, all churning out ‘breaking’ stories. Every presenter has their own feed, broadcasting their show’s content. So the BBC is at least involved in this ‘hype’ it now seems so keen to puncture.
Of course lots of people sign up to Twitter and never come back. Pareto is a rule for a reason. Most brands and services have a core of loyal users who generate most of the sales. If only the BBC writer had bothered to think about that for a moment, or perhaps read and reflect the original research. But that’s too complicated. I don’t think the BBC News Team hate Twitter, I’m not even sure they care very much. They just need to write something, anything about it. And that bugs me.