Who decides the news agenda? The Internet?

A small story becomes a big story because of the Internet. The recent media frenzy over a passenger being removed from an overbooked United flight has been interesting to watch.

Back in the day, news rooms decided on the merits of a story. The editor edited. Now, the Internet can decide that a story is news worthy, and then even more serious news outlets (yes, a few remain) have to run the story too.

The United story would have been a non-story without video. The two (or was it more?) videos that circultated made this a story, because they were dramatic, and there was even some blood involved.

After the initial reports (videos plus sketchy details), we are then treated to the United response (another chance to run those videos), plus the tracking down of the passenger involved and the inevitable scrutiny of their personal life. Then we have more bad stories about United (any large airline will have some controversial or negative incidents attached to them), and for the next two weeks any stories about airlines behaving badly will be fast tracked.

Next we’ll have government response, and perhaps even new legislation, all on the back of a small but regrettable incident that got blown out of all proportion by the Internet.

I’m not knocking the Internet. It’s how I started, and it’s how I (largely) communicate as a media person. But the way incidents like these suddenly become news shows there’s something wrong with our news outlets. In the wine world, we should be wary of letting the agenda be set by noisy, or controversial, or simply ill-informed people. Or people who are simply famous. Some people are just famous for being famous, without every contributing anything substantial.

Also, if you are going to do something bad, then make sure you don’t do it where you can be filmed and end up on the Internet.

Also, don’t join internet mobs. Don’t throw combustible materials on internet fires. Don’t waste time on news as entertainment.

4 comments to Who decides the news agenda? The Internet?

  • It’s easy to criticise the United episode as just a small incident, but I’d argue that it is a good thing that such poor practices (overbooking and dragging people off flights) deserve to be removed.

    Overblown? Perhaps. But if it shines on a light on poor practises then it’s a good thing IMO.

  • Stu

    Having just re-watched the 1st Episode of Black Mirror you can understand how we are in a very different era regarding news cycles.

  • Felicity

    Back when I was a journalism student,I was fortunate enough to have a very famous current affairs producer for my investigative journalism lectures. He had run a report detailing government corruption that was so detailed and well researched, that when they aired it, it brought the government down. It had started, he said, when he’d seen a very small incident that somehow didn’t quite seem right. So he tugged on the thread and followed it up, and it turned out the small incident was symptomatic of widespread institutional corruption.

    What he taught us was to tug on the threads. This United video suggests that behind this brutal incident is a dysfunctional organisation, that is probably as poorly behaved towards staff and suppliers as it is towards its customers. And, indeed, more stories about United’s shocking behaviour are starting to come out.

    Running the videos has been the start of some excellent journalism on the state of aviation. I would suggest they show what’s right with news outlets.

  • There is nothing new in the power of visual material to attract interest for news stories. When the Apartheid regime clamped down on media access to the townships, overseas coverage of the riots there dried up.
    And yes, in the wide context of a world in which people are being killed, maimed or simply displaced every minute, the United Airline story is as important as the parsley on the steak. But, again, the news has always been a mixture of important and trivial: just look at the coverage Hollywood ‘starlets’ used to get during the darkest days of WW2
    But, the United story is worthy of coverage because it describes an event that could happen to any one of the people watching those videos the next time they fly. It’s a great example of a big entity bullying an individual, and when taken alongside the share price fall and the non-apology, it’s a great example of hubris.

    As for your advice on not doing anything when there are cameras around, I’m afraid it’s too late. Nowadays it’s wisest to work on the basis that someone somewhere may be recording what you are doing.

    But then I speak as someone who was once spotted by a fellow Brit while I was on a secret holiday on an – apparently – wide empty beach in Cuba (before the days of smartphone cameras).

    Stu’s 100% right though. If you want to know where the world is heading, watch ALL of Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror episodes

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