Twitter and the naked tabloid editor

A very ornate urinal on Ormond Quay, Dublin fe...

A very ornate urinal on Ormond Quay, Dublin featuring a poster ad for the News of the World . Date: 1969 NLI Ref.: WIL 41[12] (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Twitter journalists rarely have as large of following as their employers. Even the exceptions prove the rule as Piers Morgan has just over 4 million followers but he is more of celebrity than a journalist. On Twitter, the tabloid journalists and editors are without their company’s power, prestige, or protection. They are naked. With institutional power, it is easier to make a caustic remark and savage someone’s reputation. On Twitter the individual journalist find a different reception. Before social media, the victim could only respond by way of a public complaint or a letter to the editor. With a large and aggressive legal department, even rich and powerful people faced a difficult challenge to respond to attacks.[1] The journalists and editors rarely had to face an immediate response by their victim. Twitter and social media changes that.[2]

Twitter creates counter battery fire to attack tabloids

On Twitter the victims can and do fight back. They can develop their own following. They can write their own story. They can counter the attacks. They can form their own network of allies to challenge the tabloid. This power to challenge immediately and persistently changes journalism. Proprietors and publishers can no longer pimp the public interest. Instead of the tabloid claiming the public interest to justify their stories, they have to justify their stories to the public. Previously, they would have only had to justify their use of the public interest if they were brought to court. Now the court of public opinion holds them to account. Editors and journalists cannot say “Well, we met some of our readers at an event we hosted so we know what the public want and we act in the public interest.”

Tabloid monstering still exists as the individual troll.

Even as the public interest has becomes democratic, and tabloids are losing their appeal, “monstering” still exists.[3] What is different is that its power has changed.[4] The individual tabloid writer cannot troll with institutional power.[5] The victims can identify their practices and publicize them, which is something they could not do previously. In the age of Twitter, the tabloids find it difficult to monster someone like Claire Short for her Page 3 campaign.[6] There is no single person that tabloid writers and editors can monster to stop a twitter campaign. What has emerged, though, is the individual troll. Twitter reveals, through the troll, the same, vicious, sexist, and racist attitude and behaviour that fuelled tabloid’s fearful monster machine. The troll is like an individual tabloid without the perverted public interest mask. Neither trolls nor tabloids can make an uncontested claim to work in the public interest.

Without the public interest, the tabloid is naked.

For those who previously claimed to control the public interest, social media raises the question: “Who controls the public interest.” Who captures the public interest on social media will decide if the tabloid culture has been tamed and whether a decent society is possible or if tabloid culture will become the global culture.

[1] See comments by Zac Goldsmith and Max Mosely in p13

[2] See the response by Stephen Fry to an attack by a journalist. Stephen Fry has over 7 million followers while the Telegraph has 584,000 followers. The journalist in question has just over 4,000.



[5] For an example of that practice consider the case of @TabloidTroll.



About lawrence serewicz

An American living and working in the UK trying to understand the American idea and explain it to others. The views in this blog are my own for better or worse.
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