Ian Monk: Jackson's death a new media scoop

Michael Jackson's death, for all the bizarre quirks of his life, was a classic rock 'n' roll ending. Too beautiful to live; too young to die. A haze of pills and drugs, and a fatal confusion of reality and fantasy, mixed with the desperation of a man trapped behind the image while trying to recreate past glories.

Ian Monk
Ian Monk

The final denouement follows the pattern set by Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain et al. A sudden death that should have surprised no-one quickly spawned conspiracy theories. The quick-fire efforts of the publicists to grab and mould the beginnings of the legacy vie with the circulation-driving instincts of the sensationalist media.

Yet the seminal difference between Jackson's death and its forerunners was the way it was conveyed to the world. As befits the first superstar death in the new media age, the news broke online. The global scoop - truly a 'world exclusive' - belonged to the US-based TMZ website. Loathed and used by celebrity publicists in almost equal measure, the website employs traditional tabloid methods of relentlessly door-stepping the stars. Its foot soldiers are an army of more or less trained journalists, reinforced by 'citizen snoopers' armed with cameras and prayers for a break. The latter were answered last week with the arrival of ambulances at Jackson's rented mansion.

TMZ grabbed the moment and put out definitive news of the star's death. Traditional media were left trailing by an hour or more, during which Sky News could only attribute the death to the website, filling its screen with its home page. The BBC waited until the death was confirmed by official sources in Los Angeles. Both were beaten by an hour - a broadcasting eternity in the age of 24-hour rolling news.

Meanwhile, the news was relayed on millions of tweets, covering 15 per cent of global Twitter messaging on 25 and 26 June. News, rumour and conspiracy theories swirled around the globe as new media claimed the spoils of the dawning age. For publicists, it is a definitive case history of the opportunities and challenges presented by the new era.

Ian Monk is founder of Ian Monk Associates and a former executive at the Daily Mail and The Sun

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