And then the media ate itself: Why the Samantha Brick story really shouldn’t have been a story at all

One woman, with a positive opinion of herself, writes maybe 1,000 words on how wonderful her life is.

People on Twitter react badly to it. Website hosting article gets 1.5million page impressions.

Dozens of other journalists then write many more words than the subject ever did about herself and what it means. Radio and TV follow suit.

When you boil the Samantha Brick story down to basically what it is, I think we have definitive proof of the media eating itself – and of how the media’s obsession with reflecting activity on Twitter distorts the wider view of the world.

Is it a quiet news week? Not particularly. But when Brick wrote her first article – about the downside to being beautiful – it was just a feature in a national newspaper, not even the best feature in the Daily Mail that day.  The reaction, mainly on Twitter, is what turned a first-person piece into a major media story.

Today, it was hard to move for Samantha Brick stories. She was on This Morning defending her beauty to Eamonn Holmes (oh, the irony!). She was in countless other newspapers, including regional and national titles. The Guardian pulled its usual trick of sneering on tabloid obsessions while at the same time writing about them so it, too, could cash in on Samantha Brick search. Richard Bacon, on his Five Live show, was discussing the impact of the story. Regional newspapers carried stories on her. Regional columnists did so too.

And here’s the ridiciulous irony. 24 hours ago, no-one knew who Samantha Brick was. The Daily Mail sells 1.9million copies a day. We all know that 1.9million people won’t have read that article, but lets for ease of maths say they had. Estimates suggest 1.5million page impressions were generated off the article on MailOnline. Again, we know that doesn’t mean 1.5million people viewed it, especially when you take into account the return traffic you can expect on an article generating 5,700 comments, but again, for ease of maths, lets say it did.

A maximum of 3.4million people will have actually read that article. If all were based in the UK, that would be 3.4million adults (cos under 18s don’t do news websites, so we’re told) out of just shy of 51million adults. Or 6.5% of the adult population.

Many, many more than that will have become familiar with the Samantha Brick article via coverage elsewhere. This Morning, for example, can attract an audience of up to 1.6million. Five Live records an audience of 6 million (although the science of breaking that down to one particular show is beyond me). Their first thought, I would assume, would be ‘Who is Samantha Brick?’ Their second should perhaps be: “Why should I care?”

Brick’s follow-up article in the Mail today rather summed up how it all happened:

It was on my way there that I started receiving phone calls and emails to my BlackBerry — within an hour there had been 1,000 comments left on the website. And by mid-morning the Twitter debate was in full flow, with my story eventually getting an unprecedented one million hits.

The phone calls were largely from other people in the media — radio and television researchers — calling in their droves to ask me to defend myself in the face of the ‘Twitterstorm’. Most of them, when they spoke to me, conceded (and were surprised to do so) that I was ‘all right’ as a person and had a point in writing the piece. Predictably some went on to lecture me for thinking I was all that.

No one bothered to ask how I was coping. But what everyone wanted to know, vulture-like, was what it’s like to be so hated and reviled.

In other words, people reacted to it on Twitter and it became a news story. Twitter, depending on who you listen to, has between seven and 15 million UK users.  To give some sense to that number, Twitter has 200million global users, of which 100 million use it at least once a month, 50 million of who use it every day. so 25% of users use it every day. 

So, if the UK reflects the global figure, there will have been something between 1.25million and 3.25million people tweeting in the UK yesterday guaranteed. Is that a big enough number to be representative of what is interesting the UK? When a Google search of Samantha Brick on Twitter.com throws up 43,000 results, I’d argue not.

If Brick had already been a celebrity, maybe there would have been more of a story here. But one journalist’s words dominating the news agenda across print, TV and radio just because of a backlash on Twitter? There’s something wrong there. ‘Twitter backlash’ alone should not a story make.

3 comments

  1. I don’t really understand the thrust of your argument here: do you feel that the tweets about Samantha Brick were too few to be significant or more generally that tweets are not a valid indicator of opinion/interest? News items often “hit the headlines” when only a few hundred calls of complaint on a topic are received, for example, so why should this article being tweeted about by thousands not be newsworthy?

    1. Hi Steve,

      Basically, what I’m saying is that Samantha Brick’s reference to a ‘twitter storm’ demonstrated how quickly other media are to jump on the bandwagon of someone else’s story, running articles/interviews/videos about the reaction to a story which many of their readers/viewers/users won’t have been familiar with in the first place. Was it really worthy of the near saturation coverage it got everywhere? I don’t think so, and I think that reflects, in part, the over-emphasis newsrooms put on Twitter.

  2. I actually love that “the masses” get to shape the news via the views/reactions they express on Twitter and that long-term it is healthy that more than just a few editors get to decide what is newsworthy. I concede that the ramblings of the vain/delusional Samantha Brick are not the best example of the public using Twitter to elevate important issues, though I do feel that wider exposure of the shockingly biased drivel often written in the Daily Mail could be beneficial if it opens the eyes of some of its disciples. I further concede that many tweeters tend to behave like sheep and that Trending Topics are not currently an accurate reflection of what’s important to Twitter users. However, I feel that Twitter is still very much in its infancy and that once people get over their initial “excitement” at having such a tool to express their views, they will use it more wisely and it will begin to become more of a genuine gauge of public opinion.

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