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06 September 2012

On Brain Dead Jocks

So did you fall for it yesterday?

In one of those crazy social media moments a tweet did the rounds purporting to be a cutting from The Sun in 1991 ... in which Britain's leading tabloid supposedly gave a sneering reception to the birth of the internet.

It was a hoax. A pretty obvious hoax, given that the byline was one 'Dot Comme'.  But it has serious implications for anyone seeking 'content' for a radio show.

The story of what happened is here. It was retweeted by too many people who should have known better. As we all know a retweet from a credible source lends authority to the absurd, so the myth spiralled out of control. Ask round the watercoolers at work today and the chances are someone will have heard about it, and may well still think it was real.

Radio is of course one of the big drivers of water cooler moments. It's part of the unique intimacy of our medium; the presenter is our friend who tells us interesting stuff that we then repeat, as we repeat gossip from our real life friends. It's part of the lifeblood, so presenters scour papers and websites looking for 'funnies' to mention in their programmes.

I'm currently being urged on Twitter to follow this service generating talking points for those broadcasters too hassled, or too idle, to search topics for themselves. This week's highlight: 'Toilet paper - are you a folder or a scruncher?'  It is possible to take intimacy with the audience too far.

Actually I'm not that bothered about presenters talking arsewipe.

I do get bothered when presenters start talking about news.

I get bothered on a number of professional levels. There's a reason why your journalists have been to college to get a news qualification, and it starts with law.

Let's not recall how serial killer Dr Harold Shipman could have walked free because a wacky drivetime show crew somewhere thought it was hilarious to chant 'Guilty!, Guilty!' behind discussion of his trial. At the time he was still an innocent man protected by Contempt of Court.

Let's not think about the scandalous showbiz gossip thrown up by American websites, generated in a country with a freedom of speech amendment to its constitution, repeated breathlessly in a country where the rich and powerful prefer to bring their libel actions - because UK defamation laws are so fierce.

The jocks whose automatic defence is 'it was in the paper so it's alright' or 'it's only showbiz, so it's OK  to make it up  .. it's a laugh, they'll never sue us'  have clearly never learned that every repeated libel is a new libel. Nor have they seen the vengeance in the eyes of 'Hacked Off' zealot Hugh 'convicted for lewd conduct in public with a prostitute' Grant. He did it. Other stories on the net fail to stand up to scrutiny.

At a less critical level it's bloody frustrating for newsrooms when your wacky jock finds a piece in the paper that mentions Ourtown. Brilliant, it's local and relevant!

Except on many occasions on my watch the self same 'amazing, wow, would you believe it' story that was lavishly credited as a Sunspot, or as a story in the Telegraph & Argus had been on my bulletins the day before - unheeded by 'the talent' because they regarded the bulletin as the dull break in the show where they could nip to the loo before coming back to be brilliant and entertaining for another 57 minutes.

Now of course we live in a world of smaller teams, multi-tasking and social media; there are even fewer checks and balances between source, mouth and transmitter.

That can be a disaster waiting to happen.

The 'Sun Dissed the Internet' story is funny. No-one died. The fact that something inaccurate, made up or wrong is 'funny' is often used as justification by those who spread the myth that it doesn't matter.

Except it does.

Fundamentally it breaks the implicit bond of trust between the radio station and the individual listener. Radio guru Valerie Geller's excellent first rule for broadcasters is 'Tell the truth - and never be boring'.

If presenters regularly and deliberately recycle false information because it's entertaining something vitally important has died; and that's trust.

There are people out there who spread false information for all sorts of reasons. Hoaxers who like making broadcasters look stupid 'for LOLs'.

More chillingly I read a piece this week which shows Republican politicians in the US elections continuing to repeat false information even after their claims have been exposed as false by journalists who've investigated the facts. What happens there usually drifts over here in a very short time.

So you. Yes you, with the designer headphones and the glam / nerdy / lippy / salt-of-the-earth sidekick about to entertain the patch with your sparkling wit and off-the-wall observations for the next 3 hours in between the liners and the ads.

Check. Your. Facts.

Before you click 'retweet'. Check especially before you open your mouth to repeat summat you've seen on the web. If in doubt, talk to your news team.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you liked our toilet scruncher/folder topic, Richard!

    It is just ONE of hundreds and hundreds of topics on Radio Talk Topics, though. There are some serious ones as well as fun ones.

    Thanks for the mention.

    Paul Chantler