Now I know it’s summer and that people go on holiday, but even so I just couldn’t believe the feature by Camilla Wright of Popbitch at The Observer. In “News from the streets, straight to the web” she’s either got some amazing irony thing going on, or serious delusions. I’m actually hoping it’s the irony thing.
Here’s just a few points where this article (about how nowadays, maaan, everyone gets their breaking news from the web) is loco.
Once upon a time, on 7 July, when London came under terrorist attack, Britain went into a frenzy, with hundreds of thousands of people trying to reach loved ones and find out just what was going on. Mobile phone networks crashed, unable to handle the traffic.
Online news sites such as CNN, Sky and the BBC all went down that morning, overloaded with people desperately trying to check out the latest information. Yet hundreds of thousands of media-savvy web users turned to the message board on celebrity gossip site Popbitch to get news and information before anyone else.
Um – the BBC website was fine. And I listened to the radio. And since when was PB the place to go to find out breaking news on terror attacks? (And this is just the first two paras. I skimmed, thinking things would improve.) OK, it’s certainly the place if you want to know about Dutch footballers and suppressed videos and Posh’s next failed contract and so on. However..
She then claims that PB was the place to go on 9/11 “when all news sites crashed and phone lines went dead.” Um, Camilla? I watched Sky News. Could have watched BBC 24. Online news site? Third alternative after radio.
When Shepherd’s Bush tube was targeted by a bomber, it apparently took the BBC three hours to get a reporter on to the scene, even though BBC TV Centre is less than a mile away. Online news sites can react much faster.
Yes, but can they get a reporter who can actually report – you know, find stuff out – to the site? That three hours was likely because the police wouldn’t let anyone near. It would have taken three hours if you were 100 yards away, probably.
Popbitch’s traffic skyrocketed. On 7 July, we saw a 300 per cent rise in users logging on during the first hours after the attacks. In the first hour, we had more than 10 times the usual hourly traffic. By the end of the day, we’d seen the second busiest day in our five-year history. The busiest since 9/11. So even if you couldn’t contact anyone by phone, you could post that you were safe and well, and know that this would mean something to thousands of readers.
Yup, that would be simple. I’ll just go to this internet cafe and… oh, there’s a queue of 5,000 people. Um.. I’ll email it from my phone! Oh no, the phone network’s down. Urr.. I’ll voice-phone it in. Oh, no, there’s a queue of 10,000 for the phone box. Maybe buy a Blackberry? No, the mobile network is down, remember. Guh.
There’s some trace of the necessary irony in this piece, though I wish she’d made it clearer and said that when the bombs hit Dresden that all the US POWs were able to write books to say they were safe and well… But come on, this is witless. It’s got the internet fallacy: the belief that because the Net can (in theory) work after a nuclear attack, everything else will. Ain’t so. You’ll need working phone lines or networks besides a hand-turned generator to keep the blog going, people. Quite apart from the other problems.