The world is not a newsroom; Joe Citizen’s not a journalist

The hoax radio station call to the hospital where Kate Middleton was staying after her recent bout of morning sickness – and the subsequent suicide of the nurse who put the call through to her room – has exposed an increasingly large gap between how the media and the public understand the world.

So, these two radio hosts from Australia, pretending to be the Queen and Prince Charles, phoned the King Edward VII hospital asking about Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge. The nurse who picked up the phone put the call through to Kate’s nurse, who gave them confidential information about the Duchess’ condition.

The radio station broadcast the hoax call, with the hosts laughing and saying how gobsmacked they were that they actually got through.

The implication is that they never thought anyone at the hospital would be stupid enough to fall for their prank. International attention and laughter ensued – and the nurse subsequently killed herself (although no official connection between the call and her suicide has been made).

But why wouldn’t she have believed them? Why would she be on the lookout for two goofy morning radio show hosts? She’s trained in nursing, not in security or media relations. In fact, once they did get through, why didn’t they just hang up? Why carry on?

I think the media forgets sometimes that Joe Citizen isn’t always on the lookout for journalists or others in the profession.

With the rise of social media it might not seem this way. There is so much more engagement between the media and the public than ever before that it’s easy for the media to think the public knows what the game is.

The rise in “citizen journalism,” in people being able to ‘report’ on a story through Twitter, post what they’ve seen on YouTube or talk about their experiences on Facebook  speaks to this new engagement.

And, increasingly, the media is using these social media outlets as source material – to get the pulse of a breaking news story or obtain the photo of a crime victim.

I don’t think the public necessarily gets this. And I think that the media needs to understand this. The world isn’t a giant newsroom – something I think editors, producers, reporters and goofy morning show hosts can forget. I think sometimes they can be as far removed from their reader/listener/viewership as they often accuse politicians of being from voters.

Here’s a great column on why no one is laughing now from the Sidney Morning Herald.

Social media has changed the way we communicate with each other – and the way we assume we understand each other. That’s something we all have to be aware of: the public who might be on the other end of a hoax, the tweeter who’s reaching out in an emergency situation and the media who need to understand the public aren’t as savvy as they are.

But it’s up to the media to be the standard bearers.

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2 comments

  1. You have to feel sorry for everyone involved in this case. There was no foretelling the consequences. But you’re right Deb, we live in an age when something on Twitter = News. It tarnishes many good and professional journos with the same brush.

    1. I think you’re right, Roy. Frankly, it’s only become news in retrospect … we’re all trying to find a lesson out of it when there isn’t one really – except some people are going to take to heart the actions of a couple of goofs. In some ways, the Twitterverse, etc. has only served to drive a wedge between us all and not connect us.

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