Saturday morning was an eye-opener for me. In the space of a couple of hours, as a tenth of the United Kingdom’s entire force of armed police closed in on crazed gunman Raoul Moat, we learnt all we needed to know about the pecking order of the news media.
Runaway winner in terms of immediacy, scope, context and substance was social networking site Twitter who, through the combined efforts of its 100 million-plus users, brought the entire drama so closely into focus it became a downright chilling experience.
Surprisingly, internet news websites, the folk who love to champion themselves as the new force in media, were light years behind Twitter on all scores, and were even playing second fiddle to main stream television networks such as the Beeb and pay channel, Sky.
A quick check of New Zealand’s two main online sites (Stuff and the New Zealand Herald) at the end of the stand-off revealed their news to be hours behind the times, while Twitter followers had already shared all the gruesome details of Moat’s final moments, and in far more depth than anything radio or television was able to offer.
Much of it was, of course, snippets of information repeated from eye-witnesses, radio and television reports, and viewers’ own interpretations; the value was in the sheer breadth of the coverage, and the perspective that could be gained from the combination of all possible resources.
There were links to radio interviews, to video footage, photographs; much of it what we were eventually offered many hours later on New Zealand radio and television news. Twitter had effectively rendered the mainstream outlets redundant.
It wasn’t without its gallows humour, either, inappropriate through it may have been. Especially when, again well ahead of television, radio and websites, Tweeters started buzzing over a rumour that down-and-out former football star Paul Gascoigne had just turned up at the scene, drunk and asking to speak with his old friend, “Moatie”.
Radio interview links posted on Twitter revealed a legless Gazza at the siege, saying he was hoping to placate the gunman, and to this end had brought some peace offerings: a cooked chicken, a can of lager, a large dressing gown and a couple of fishing rods.
Cue some Twit, as the drama was at its peak, commenting: “They’re getting so tired of this Geordie nutter on the loose that the police have asked Raoul Moat to appeal to Gazza to go home”.
And the line of the day, prompted by a question from Sky news reporter Kay Hurley: “Are you scared?”
Rothbury Woman: “No. But can you people please stop parking in the centre of the Village …”
Chilling? Moat had killed his former partner’s boyfriend, shot her mother and then gunned down a policeman in
cold-blood at a roundabout. Gazza’s appearance aside, there was nothing remotely funny about the events that unfolded in England’s north east last weekend.
Having said that, I know where I’ll be going to follow the next drama. And it won’t be television.