The West End, it’s always famously said, is a small village; and the villagers can’t help talking to each other. So it’s impossible to keep a lid on gossip doing the rounds, and that’s been accentuated in the age of Twitter, which is really just a channel for gossip to go viral.
Only the other day I wrote here about how quickly the news spread about the intended closure of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and quoted Michael Coveney commenting how “the news pre-empted a producer’s announcement thanks to an actor’s tweeting and was gleefully seized upon by bloggers and tweeters who regard ‘joining the conversation’ as a substitute for checking facts and abiding by proper journalistic practice.”
Fast forward another weekend, and on Sunday I duly tweeted news that I’d heard of the show that was going to replace The Umbrellas of Cherbourg: the musical version of Lend Me a Tenor that has been hovering around since its Plymouth try-out last October looking for a theatre had apparently found a new berth at the Gielgud.
I must stress, of course, that when I tweet these things I never do so “blind”, but check out my sources first, just as any journalist would: for The Umbrellas of Cherbourg it was good enough for me that a cast member who had been told of the fate of his show alongside the rest of the company would be close enough to the source, and again on Lend Me a Tenor I was directed to the Facebook profiles of people connected to the show (which even gave dates for the intended transfer), before I tweeted it.
There is, nevertheless, a world of difference between a tweet - a casual passing on along the grapevine - and translating that into a hard news story. Perhaps there are no barriers anymore, but one news story published yesterday duly cited Twitter itself as its primary source. “Proper journalistic practice” might determine that one asks the producer or press agent instead; and I’ve done both. The producer duly told me that no formal announcement was possible until the final deposit on the theatre was paid, so its appearance now as a fully confirmed news story is pre-emptory.
Of course it’s impossible, nowadays, for a producer to keep a lid on things, when his own creative and production staff are understandably so happy celebrating their long-anticipated West End transfer that they are already sharing the news freely. (And in this case, I gather, too, that some re-casting has been necessary because various cast members now have other work, and breakdowns that have gone out to the agents have also been mentioning the theatre it is headed too).
But it’s also clear that, in the age of Twitter and Facebook, that news is being quickly assimilated, distributed and translated into hard fact; and by the time the press agent finally gets around to issuing a formal release, it is old news. So expect Twitter to be cited as a primary source a lot more, whatever “proper journalistic practice” may dictate.