Friday, 23 April 2010

With Cleggmania we're one step closer to the extinction of traditional media dinosaurs

Are you still enjoying the election ride? I know I am, but like many people I was appalled by some of attacks made on Nick Clegg in national newspapers yesterday. I am a supporter of the Lib Dems, but my dismay isn't actually party politically motivated - I simply thought that such an arrogant attempt to 'herd' the public was a disgrace.

The Mail managed to get Mr Clegg and the word 'Nazi' into the same headline - quite deliberate (obviously!) and reprehensible. Meanwhile, although the Telegraph's front page story did indeed raise some questions that needed answering (and those answers have already been given), if you analyse the detail it doesn't appear that anything wrong has been done (no homes 'flipped', no moats cleaned at the taxpayers' expense etc).

Of course, every major party's policies need to be scrutinised, especially if they have genuine ambitions to govern or play a role in a hung parliament. And yes, let's have more of that. But yesterday's attacks were something else entirely and I don't think they'll work. In fact, they just seem to have on one hand highlighted how out of touch with society some of the traditional media are, and on the other, further motivated people to get behind Mr Clegg and express themselves through social media.

Apparently, yesterday saw the highest volume of donations through the Lib Dem website, and I made a point of monitoring how many people were members of the
'we can get the Lib Dems into office' Facebook group. At the start of the day, the number stood at 132,000 - by the end of the day, there was a net increase in members of 7,000 (in contrast, there's been a more modest increase of 2,000 so far today, so I think the rapid rise on Thursday can fairly be called a reaction to the press).

There was also the tongue in cheek trending topic on Twitter - #nickcleggsfault. By tea-time yesterday tens of tweets being made with that hashtag every second (again, this isn't second hand information - I was monitoring it myself). On the surface that hashtag appears to be clearly anti-Clegg, but it is really nothing of the sort. In the UK's irony/satire rich culture, use of #nickcleggsfault is a way of putting two fingers up to the Mail, Telegraph and the establishment and was enthusiastically embraced by people from all backgrounds and political persuasions, including hoards of Lib Dems. That latter group were very happy to see #nickcleggsfault leap into the global top ten of trending topics yesterday, keeping him and the Lib Dems front of mind and driving the agenda (again). And then there was the website with the
Daily Mail Nick Clegg headline generator, mocking the Mail and churning out more Clegg content far and wide. All of this is an interesting variation on the online Barack Obama surge during the USA election - there are strong parallels, though I don't think the ironic/satirical elements could have played out this way over there!

On their own, the above developments (and many others) may be fairly minor, but put them all together and that partly explains why the Lib Dem bubble has definitely not burst. Yesterday morning's attacks at a national level have seriously backfired in several ways and could have major long term repercussions for those organs that made them. In a day and age in which social media platforms in particular allow people to react, engage, debate and express their opinions so instantly, through their ignorant actions, the traditional media dinosaurs may well be the architects of their own downfall.

Incidentally, from what I have seen so far, coverage of the election in the regional and local press has been much more palatable and balanced and perhaps highlights why the general public still have great affection for, and fundamentally trust, their local newspaper. I just hope that the bad behaviour of the nationals doesn’t start to tar all press with the same brush in the court of public opinion.