After Hours

Peter Cochrane's Blog: New media beats old when it comes to the weather

Anywhere, anytime reporting is the wave of the future

Written on the Ipswich to London Intercity, running on time despite the snow, and dispatched later the same day via a free wi-fi service on a snow-free Regent Street.

Every time I meet with professionals from the 'old media', the story is the same: new media is a menace and a threat to the truth and balanced and unbiased reporting. New media is the mob, unprofessional, uncontrolled, unreliable, unbalanced and out of control - with no real value add.

Anyone listening to or viewing UK radio and TV, or reading newspapers, cannot have missed the fact that the UK is in the grip of a 'Siberian winter'. Road, rail and air transport has seen major disruption and the advice of all public bodies and services has been: 'Stay at home - don't even try to get to work, school, or the shops'.

Images, video and audio reports have been effectively conveying the full horror of winter for more than a week now - but is it really true?

This morning I had to get into London. I awoke to find another 6cm of snow on top of the already 'crunchy layer' of 10cm deposited over the past week. Roads in my village were icy but reasonably safe, the first trunk road (A12) I encountered was down to one lane with a light covering of snow, while the second (A14) was more or less clear with both lanes snow-free.

Traffic was moving steadily and people were driving sensibly and there were no problems!

When I arrived at Ipswich station I found everything running normally with my train on schedule and got into London on time.

So here I am in London - where's the snow? There isn't any, and I'm not sure there has been any, only the merest covering of salt is visible on the sidewalks and everything seems to be dry.

What's my point? Listening to the professional reporters on radio and TV this morning I should have stayed at home, but they were wrong on all counts! Roads were passable, trains were on time, and there were no delays anywhere on my route. Sure I needed 10 minutes of extra driving time, but it was all safe and passable.

In complete contrast the social networks and individual text/email messages I received from colleagues and friends gave a far more accurate picture of real weather conditions. The travellers' network was up, active, timely and accurate.

The time-honoured maxim of the old media seems to be 'simplify then exaggerate and sensationalise'. They now seem to excel at this no matter what the topic! In contrast, new media seems to focus on the facts, and they are also thicker on the ground, pro-active, and devoid of sensationalism.

Old media with its limited number of reporters are focused on all the problem hotspots, while the new media has people everywhere, which is ideal for not just weather reporting, but everything else.

What happens next? How about access to all the weather stations and road cameras so we can judge for ourselves instead of having media in the way? Better still, how about access to those cars with cameras on the road too? If there was to be a case for social media, this past week would be a good place to start.

About Peter Cochrane

Peter Cochrane is an engineer, scientist, entrepreneur, futurist and consultant. He is the former CTO and head of research at BT, with a career in telecoms and IT spanning more than 40 years.

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