My new weekly spot at the New Statesman went live today.
It’s called “The Net Office” and it’s an attempt to skim the surface of social media looking for stories that move the web, but don’t necessarily make it onto the mainstream news agenda. Working a week ahead of publication, in an age where more and more journalists do most of their reporting from their desks, will make this a tough proposition. But the fact that most mainstream media outlets continue to work within quite a narrow news cycle driven mainly by Westminster gossip, wire stories and forward planning calendars should make it a little easier. Easier still if readers feel kind enough to submit potential Net Report items “for:becky_hogge” on del.icio.us.
First up is a story about how difficult it is to find genuine public outrage at the sight of Ronnie Biggs on a mobility scooter:
It’s a scandal that has attracted coverage across the tabloids, accompanied by the sort of angry editorialising that the British middle classes seem to enjoy with their kippers and cornflakes. The Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs, released from prison on compassionate grounds in August as his health continued to deteriorate, has been spotted using a mobility scooter to pop down the shops with his son in London. The world is outraged.
Except that the world doesn’t seem very outraged at all. The family of the train’s driver, Jack Mills, who died from injuries sustained in the robbery, has long campaigned against Biggs’s release, and is clearly angry at any evidence that he is enjoying life outside jail. And the leader of Aslef, the union for train drivers and operators, told the Mirror that the photo showed “Mr Biggs has confounded the medical profession as much as he has the British legal system”. This may be true, but it doesn’t compare with the worldwide anger and diplomatic damage that accompanied last month’s release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi.
The Biggs photo may be a gift to tabloid editors, but the scandal seems hardly to have touched the blogosphere or the Twitterverse. There are no Facebook groups protesting Biggs’s access to the streets of London, or YouTube mash-ups of him on his scooter.
Check on Twitter and all you’ll find is the Sun promoting its own story among two or three retweets; there’s not a single mention in the world of blogs. Even the febrile right-wing political bloggers, who usually seize on any evidence of Labour weakness, have nothing.