Waiting for the ‘snail media’ to catch up

'Snail' media: The BBC News website was nearly two months behind the political blogs in its reporting of a major story.

‘Snail’ media: The BBC News website was nearly two months behind the political blogs in its reporting of a major story.

“On Tuesday, this was a serious Conservative Party policy proposal, being reported in national newspapers. Now, it’s ‘never’ going to happen,” trumpeted web campaigners 38 Degrees in an email last night.

They were, of course, referring to the Tory idea that it would be all right to restrict consultations with an NHS doctor to three per year per person – presumably the Rupert who dreamed it up thought everybody who mattered would have private health insurance instead, and this seems to be borne out by the material in the rest of the policy document.

I’m perfectly happy with this result. In fact, I think it is blogs like Vox Political that helped make it happen because – as you’ll know, o loyal reader – Vox reported on this particular scandal on Sunday, two days before.

I’ll admit, the material in the article was sourced from the newspapers, but what’s interesting is that it took a further two days for the mass – or as I intend to call it from now on, the ‘snail’ – media to cotton on that the whole idea is utterly ludicrous and the public won’t fall for it.

During that time, the Vox article went viral, and Vox readers have never really been known for keeping their opinions to themselves.

A ‘snowball’ effect then ensued, leading to reports in the papers of the public reaction and the 38 Degrees petition, which resulted in Jeremy Hunt’s grumpy tweet: “In case being misled by ‘neutral’ 38Degrees e-petition, it IS NOT and WAS NEVER going to be Conservative policy to limit GP appointments.”

He’s only upset because we spoiled his fun, I expect.

Vox Political was not the only blog covering this story, as far as I’m aware, and I certainly don’t want to suggest that it was any more instrumental in this little victory than anyone else. What I’m saying is it demonstrates that bloggers are starting to drive the political agenda.

The problem is the length of time it takes the mass – sorry, ‘snail’ – media to catch up.

Consider this story on the BBC News website (powered by Atos, in case anybody forgets) yesterday:

Under the headline ‘Incapacity benefit test claims ‘conflated figures’ – watchdog’, it states: “Suggestions that 878,300 benefit claimants dropped their claims rather than take a medical test have been challenged by the statistics watchdog.

“Tory chairman Grant Shapps was quoted saying that nearly a million people had “taken themselves off” incapacity benefit instead of sitting the test.”

Again, it’s great that this nonsense has been challenged, and the challenge has been reported. What’s not so great is the timescale.

Because the Skwawkbox blog, run by Steve Walker, challenged this nonsense almost two months ago.

The comment in the BBC story – by Andrew Dilnot, the now famous head of the UK Statistics Authority – was that “research by the Department for Work and Pensions suggested that one important reason for those cases being closed was because the person ‘recovered and either returned to work or claimed a benefit more appropriate to their situation’ instead.”

That is uncannily close to Steve Walker’s comment that “this represents nothing more than ‘churn’ – a turnover of claims withdrawn because of perfectly normal things like people getting better, or finding a job they can do even if they’re ill” – published on April 2!

I’ll accept some people may dispute the blogs’ influence on the outcome of the ‘NHS consultation’ issue, but on this one it seems unlikely there can be any doubt. Mr Dilnot’s letter followed an inquiry from Sheila Gilmore MP, who follows Vox Political and is certainly likely to have read my report on this matter. It seems likely that she also follows Skwawkbox. The amount of time between those articles’ appearance and the piece on the BBC website is the time it took for her to receive a response to her inquiry on the matter from Mr Dilnot.

Isn’t it a shame that the BBC didn’t do any fact-checking for itself?

So there you have it: If you want proper political news – and proper analysis of events – forget the ‘snail’ media and go to the blogs. We’re faster and more accurate, and what’s more, we make things change.

For the better (in case Iain ‘We’re changing their lives’ Smith was wondering).

17 thoughts on “Waiting for the ‘snail media’ to catch up

  1. reecemjones

    Its always been that way I’m afraid. Even on the web, news has a way of being slowly filtered by the small blogs and being picked up on by bigger websites only after enough momentum has gathered for the bigger sites to notice. Take this story that was written by a site I post on http://nerditis.com/2013/02/17/an-immoral-outrage-against-comics/.

    Sure, its not relevant now, but in hindsight its pretty important as that one study set the tone for a lot of media properties and representations of groups for close to 30 years. Yet, it took the big sites about a month after we posted that to get a story written about it.

    1. Big Bill

      It’s not always been that way. Every paper worth its salt used to have journos who’d do their own investigation but now, to cut costs, press releases are simply rejigged and sent to the , er, presses. It’s cheaper than having it investigated and it fills up the space between the ads (the important part of the paper asd far as their sociopathic owners are concerned) just as well as investigative journalism used to.

      1. reecemjones

        True to a certain extent. I get the feeling its more that Journalists aren’t really journalists anymore as more than a few web designers and editors have been pushed into the role and as such can’t actually research for shit.

        Theres always been a difference between the frontier journalists, pushing at what can be achieved in the profession and those who work in the mainstream press. With all the layers of moderation that exist, its not surprising that even powerful stories are hacked apart until they are stripped of all urgency.

      2. Mike Sivier

        As a fully-trained and qualified print journalist, this is all very interesting. Let’s throw a couple more snippets into this mix.

        Over the 20 years or so since I started writing for a living, I’ve noticed a steady progression away from employing qualified reporters like myself. People have been picked up by newspapers according to (guess what?) how much they cost, more than anything else. A qualified print journo costs more, by definition, so they look for the cheaper guys.

        It’s correct that a lot of what newspapers publish now is composed of rejigged press releases. This is because the professional writing composition of a newspaper team has been cut down to the bone – some papers only have one reporter – and so time is at a premium. This is pretty handy if your political ambitions require certain things to be kept quiet, don’t you think?

  2. murray

    Although we are alledged to have a free press in this country,it appears that anything that seams to be detrimental to government policy is never reported,unless it is right wing propaganda.

    1. Big Bill

      Possibly this is because the government have it in their gift to hand out knighthoods and the like, and the typical media owner of today covets decoration.

  3. Gracie

    Currently the Tory press are waxing lyrical about Andy Coulson writing in a glossy, now call me an old cynic if you will, but why and why now has Coulson reared his head? He could have written all this to ‘Deckchair Dave’ in a little note or said it to him in one of their “phone conversations”. The fact that he has popped up now in public is not as the right wing press would have us believe to help his old “mate”, in my opinion it is a little more sinister than that! How long before the press pick up what is happening between Andy and Deckchair?

    Has Andy Coulson Just Fired The First Salvo? If So, Who For?


      1. Gracie

        Yes he is, both he and Rebekah Brooks trial starts this September I believe. Should be interesting, I think this may have been a warning shot fired across the bows of Deckchair Dave, it seems to me to be saying “hey don’t forget what I know”. This so-called “masterplan” of Coulson’s is kid’s stuff, that is definitely more about what it doesn’t say than it actually does say!

  4. skwalker1964

    Thanks for drawing my attention to the BBC article. It looks from your article as though you know the date Ms Gilmore wrote to UKSA? I wrote to Dilnot specifically about this issue on 11 May to ask him to add ESA to his spanking over the benefit cap claims, and invited others to do the same (http://skwalker1964.wordpress.com/2013/05/11/dwp-spanked-by-uksa-for-stats-abuse-please-help-make-it-happen-again/) – would be great if I’d played a part in making that happen!

    1. Mike Sivier

      I don’t know when Sheila Gilmore wrote her letter; to be honest I was flying a kite to see what it would attract!
      I think, considering the timescale of these things, that you can be more or less certain that your correspondence – and your exhortation for others to write also – did indeed affect what happened.
      (Let me put it this way: When I asked Vox Political readers to join me in writing to IPSA about George Osborne and that paddock he used to own, around 100 people contacted that organisation. Nothing happened in that instance but if a similar volume of mail arrived at UKSA, it might have been just the evidence needed to put another stern spanking into the schedule.

      1. skwalker1964

        I found reference to the date in Dilnot’s letter. She wrote to him on 9 April – a week after my first blog but well ahead of my email to Dilnot. However, the number of other emails that were sent subsequently may well have helped focus his attention on the matter!

    1. Mike Sivier

      I *just* sent her a direct message, asking about that! Oh well. I reckon that’s proof enough that she’ll have had it from your original article, one way or another.

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