Making mistakes during Cabinet reshuffles is nothing new – Blair did it, Cameron did it, Lord Liverpool probably did it, but snafus went largely unreported in those days. However, with the speed and intensity of modern communications, any error is amplified to fill a news vacuum. So, the 20 minutes Chris Grayling spent as chair of the Conservative Party after a social media error will be replayed as another example of the chaos within the May administration.
Across the pond, Donald Trump’s attempts to counter the accusations in Michael Wolf’s Fire And Fury led the president of the United States to tweet that he is a “very stable genius”. This is a classic example of saying something that is interpreted as the opposite. I often tell clients to try and remember when they were younger and were trying to chat up a member of the opposite (or same) sex in a bar – if you told them you were good looking, intelligent or a nice person they’d think you were a creep.
What do these incidents have in common, apart from causing massive amusement in The Guardian’s newsroom? They are both functions of the pressures of social media on the already demanding 24/7/365 news cycle. News used to be what you read in the morning or evening paper, then moved into what was revealed on news channels, and now is framed by what either news generators or news reporters can post rapidly on Twitter.
The news media is in a speed race not unlike the Cold War arms race – except with more participants. A friend who was working for Reuters once beat rivals a Bloomberg and Dow Jones by 10 minutes with a political story, as was phoned by the CEO to tell him how wonderful this was. Yet if it isn’t market sensitive news – does it matter?
I have some advice for news generators – and that includes Tory HQ and the White House. Take a breather. Is it better to be quick or to be right? You own the information, so if you hold it for 15 or 20 minutes to ensure that you don’t look an idiot, that’s time well spent.
I recall an advert – I think it was for tyres – saying speed is nothing without control. That should be the slogan for communications teams.