Jackie Weaver and the Handforth Parish Council.


The story that has been filling our newsfeed over the past weekend and covered on just about every news channel and media outlet across the UK (…in case you missed it!). But how did it get there?


In a blog post from last year, we examined the decline of newspaper consumption and questioned the inevitable impact Covid-19 would have on newspaper circulation. Even before the pandemic, social media was not only responsible for influencing content on the news, but also creating it. The Handforth Parish Council scandal is just one example of how social media users have now become content creators of the news.


Jackie Weaver became an overnight internet sensation after a video recording of a local parish council meeting went viral. Weaver would later appear on every news channel, radio station and talk show in existence. However, the vast majority of the public already knew who she was. These guest appearances and interviews were simply adding more to the story, not necessarily announcing it first hand.


The council meeting went viral when a 17-year-old politics student found the video posted on YouTube, and later decided to share the video on his Twitter account to his 500 followers. At the time of writing, the 17-year-old now has over 5000 followers and has been retweeted by celebrities such as Piers Morgan and Richard Osman. 


You could argue that, in this case, the student was the journalist and therefore responsible for the media sensation that followed. 


Discussing the impact of Twitter and blogs on the broadcasting industry, Ed Oswald writes “Blogs make anyone a ‘journalist.’” No longer are broadcasters the sole creators of the news: anyone with an internet connection, a blog and an audience can create content.” 


Over the next few days, Jackie Weaver became a hero, a feminist icon and an array of memes with appearances on Good Morning Britain, BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour and The Last Leg to name a few. The Tab even created a quiz for people to discover which ‘character’ they would be from the council meeting, adding to the internet buzz.  


Which member of the Handforth Parish Council are you really? (The Tab)


Even before lockdown, many newspapers were already struggling to cope as circulation declined along with advertising revenue. Now, with many older readers unable to leave their home to buy their daily papers, sales have continued to fall. However, Dessie Blackadder, editor of the Ballymena Guardian in Northern Ireland, has stated that people have continued to buy their local paper “for a certain degree of normality” throughout the pandemic. This has forced newspapers to find creative solutions and transform their business strategy to engage with an online audience. 


List of newspapers in the UK by circulation.


Since March 2019, national print newspaper sales had fallen by 30% with some companies making redundancies and pay reductions as their income diminished. With many journalists being furloughed, newspapers have had to adapt to working with fewer staff and utilising social media to publicise their content. Free newspapers such as the Evening Standard and Metro have also been badly hit due to the decline in commuters and ad revenue. 


In May 2020, The Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) decided to no longer have their sales figures automatically published. Before lockdown, they were responsible for recording and auditing sales, publishing figures every month. However, ABC stated that publishers were growing concerned about a “negative narrative of decline” in newspaper sales and therefore would not continue reporting their monthly findings.


ABC circulation for August 2020


Across social media, journalists now seem to be giving a substantial amount of attention to Twitter and use the platform widely to find stories and engage with their sources. Journalists often write articles about discussions and debates that occur on the platform, which often originate from the journalists own timeline. In an article from 2015 it was reported that news outlets often tweet first, then post online, then go to print. As Twitter gives news more immediacy, the biggest impact is how journalists now make minute-by-minute decisions on what they publish, versus when a group of editors would hold collaborative power and contribute to the story, thus taking longer to go to publication.


Social media has introduced new methods of communicating and engaging with the news. In addition, internet users are able to access more news than ever before at a much faster rate. Members of the public are becoming part of citizen journalism, where public citizens play an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analysing, and disseminating news and information. It is not uncommon to be watching the evening news and see screenshots from social media users appearing in different segments, from Donald Trump to Kim Kardashian. Robinson Meyer adds to this and discusses how it is the new normal for tweets to be embedded in news stories, screencapped for Instagram, quoted on television shows and podcasts or even how a series of tweets can create a larger-scale news story.


It is now easier than ever to post on social media with a study finding that 10% of Twitter users are responsible for creating 80% of tweets. Due to the impact of social media and the rise of the citizen journalist, The Handforth Parish Council meeting now has 1.4 million views on YouTube, while #jackieweaverhastheauthority is still trending almost a week later.