Old media beats new media to breaking yesterday's news

 by Martin Belam, 3 February 2009

Jon Slattery has an interesting post today entitled "Old media beats new media in snow havoc". He suggests:

"It seems an inherent fault of the internet that when a site is really popular and at its most needed it crashes."

I'd certainly agree with him that the printed press have a very resilient delivery network. I'm not, though, entirely convinced that failing is an inherent characteristic of the online network. I'd argue that a lack of contingency planning for load spikes is to blame here.

And there is another, more significant, point.

Jon Slattery may be right. Having failed to get Network Rail or the TFL site to load yesterday, when you trudged your way up the road through the snow to the newsagent, you would have seen a full array of newspapers on sale. But I'd question how useful a picture of Lily Allen in her frilly knickers was going to be to help you decide whether you could get into work or not.

Daily Star front page 2nd February 2009

There was only one news story that mattered yesterday, and 5 of the nationals had no mention of the weather at all on their front pages.

Daily Mail front page 2nd February 2009   Independent front page 2nd February 2009

The Guardian front page 2nd February 2009

The Sun was even splashing with a 2-for-1 rail tickets offer, on a day when in some places you couldn't get a train for love nor money.

The Sun front page 2nd February 2009

For the rest, there were front page mentions of the snow - but nobody was able to lead in print with what was actually happening during rush hour that morning. Even the Express, which I've statistically proven to be obsessed with the weather, only used the snow to trot out a picture of the Queen.

Daily Express front page 2nd February 2009   Daily Mirror front page 2nd February 2009

The Times front page 2nd February 2009   The Telegraph front page 2nd February 2009

Plaudits must go to the Metro though. Their audience is clearly commuters, and they were the only paper to lead with travel chaos. I wonder if they anticipated the British army of stay-at-home workers, and printed less copies yesterday?

Metro front page 2nd February 2009

As James Cridland pointed out - the medium best able to take advantage of the snow was local radio.

The printed press may have got through the snow - but it was carrying yesterday's news.


And today's papers were quite funny. Full of outrage that Britain ground to a halt.

The Mail's Harry Phibbs: Unbelievably ... the Department of Work and Pensions has given its entire staff the afternoon off to enjoy the snow.

But the Guardian reports: the Daily Mail made its deadline so early in the day that many reporters filed and went home after lunch.

You said: "the printed press have a very resilient delivery network"

In reality, of course, the printed press is just as hobbled in terms of their delivery network.

Big story? MUST pick up a paper? Chances are, it'll have sold out. And it's a terminal fault - printing and distributing more newspapers to shops which have sold out is, to all intents and purposes, impossible.

On the other side, advances in virtual web hosting like Amazon EC2 mean that you can automatically fire up additional hosts to cope with the load during heavy traffic periods. So, you could argue that the web's delivery mechanism, when done right, is rather better than print...

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