I WALK down the street, the gutters awash with the detritus of the storm – discarded England car flags, spare Tower Hamlets ballot papers, yellowing Home Office paedophilia dossiers – when I spot a figure squatting by the side of a bus shelter.
His arms are wrapped around his knees and he is rocking back and forth while gently wailing. He is wearing a cardigan and by his side is a half-empty bottle of plastic cider. Every couple of minutes he stops rocking, looks up, and shouts skywards: “THERE IS NO ‘E’ IN LIGHTNING!” I instantly realise that he is a sub-editor who has spent too long on Twitter over the weekend.
There can be no argument that the last few days have been a triumph for the champions of the dreaded user-generated content. As the thunder and lightning crashed around the country, Instagram groaned under the weight of millions of dramatic weather pictures taken by ordinary civilians – some of them very good indeed. These were in turn snapped up by media outlets from regional papers to the national press, from the main TV channels to local radio (yes, really).
Great free content, of course. But non-buyer beware. Things are not always as they seem. Take the picture at the head of this column. It popped up on the Twitter account of some bloke called Ryan on Saturday morning with the message: “This happened last night on the south coast of England”. And it is a dramatic shot. So dramatic that an ITV producer called Dan Smith breathlessly replied: “Hi Ryan, did you take this? Would I be able to use it on ITV news?” At this point, Ryan had to confess that he hadn’t taken it himself, but had found it floating around on social media.
Two things. First of all, does it look like a picture of the south coast of England? Of course it fucking doesn’t. It looks a far more exotic place than that, especially after it was probably Photoshopped; perhaps somewhere like Venezuela, where it was actually taken in 2012. Secondly, as a hopefully embarrassed Dan Smith has now discovered, you should never believe a word you read or a picture you see on Twitter (or anywhere else) without checking out at least two, and preferably three, separate sources. There are people whose hobby is tweeting made-up shite and it is alarming how easily people are taken in – not least some of those who pass for journalists these days.
WHILE we’re on the subject of weather, can I just advance my belief that no self-respecting regional daily newspaper should ever run a Page 1 splash headed: “Hotter than Barbados”. It’s lazy, hackneyed churnalism that always rounds up the usual suspects – the local health trust warning old people and asthmatics not to go out; the RSPCA warning you not to cook your dog; the AA warning you of traffic jams; the police warning you not to leave your windows open; and the local supermarket manager warning of sausage shortages and a charcoal crisis.
I could write it in my sleep, and probably have done several times over the past 30 years.
‘PUTIN’S LOOTERS ROB BRIT VICTIM’ shouts the front of Saturday’s Sun, amid allegations that the luggage of Newcastle United fan John Alder had been rifled at the site of the MH17 disaster.
So Mr Murdoch’s flagship title accuses the Government’s number one bogeymen of robbing a dead football fan at the scene of a major disaster? Sounds somehow familiar, that.
The Grey Cardigan has been in newspapers since the days of hot metal and expense accounts. After a lengthy career as chief sub on several regional newspapers, plus a multitude of shifts on the nationals, he was appointed editor of the Evening Beast in 2009 before being ignominiously 'rationalised' last year. He is currently collecting gas in jam jars in case the Russians cut us off. @thegreycardigan