What a difference a tweet makes

David McClure, author of “Royal Legacy”, recounts how Twitter helped him break a global news story with unintended results

At the end of July last year I tweeted that the Queen’s private income from the Duchy of Lancaster had hit a record high.

No newspaper picked up the story. In a way this was understandable since at the time I only had a handful of twitter followers (including one who claimed to be related to God) and after a long wait the information only found its way into the public domain via the publication of my book on the royal finances (“Royal Legacy” Thistle Publishing 2015, p.7).

At the end of July this year I tried a different tack and the results were phenomenal. Instead of just posting my tweet onto my twitter page, I tweeted directly to the Press Association and the royal correspondents of two tabloid newspapers and the BBC.

“Has anyone noticed that the Queen’s Privy Purse income has risen by 18% to £16m as Duchy of Lancaster 2015 profits skyrocket?” ran the 125-character tweet along with a link to the Duchy’s annual report. The first message was sent to a national newspaper at around 08.00 on Wednesday July 22.

In my dreams I hoped that one of the royal correspondents might contact me for more information and in return for a plug for my book I would give them a quote or a new line to pursue. Who knows maybe someone would commission me to write a background piece on the Duchy? Alas, this was all for the birds. Despite the hourly checking of my twitter page, there was no response throughout Wednesday and when most of Thursday passed mutely without any birdsong I concluded that I was deluding myself in thinking that the sharp rise in Duchy profits was a real story. Sadly it was only of interest to royal financial anoraks like me.

Before clocking off for the day on Thursday, I checked my emails at 17.30. To my surprise it was chockfull of messages recording how my one tweet had been retweeted over a dozen times. There were also direct tweets from reporters from the BBC and a national tabloid thanking me for the tip.

The Daily Express was the first to run with the story at 17.24 on the Thursday (“Queen enjoys a bumper 18% boost in income from vast property empire”) and this was followed later in the evening by the Daily Mirror (“Queen set for a huge 18% pay rise with a £16m payout”) and then the Daily Mail (“Queen’s coffers boosted by £16m”). The next day both The Times and The Guardian all covered the story – as did the television websites of Sky News and ABC News (Australia). The BBC’s royal correspondent posted several tweets on the Duchy on his twitter page although the information did not appear onto BBC News On-line.

The news seemed to hit a nerve. The Mirror ran a readers poll asking whether the Queen should be getting pay rise with 14% saying yes and 86% no. The story was picked up by both regional papers like the Western Daily Press (“Queen’s Duchy of Lancaster income has risen by 18%”) and foreign ones like the International Business Times and Honk Kong Breaking News (英女王年收入增18%).

I would like to think that this global story came as a result of some brilliant piece of news sleuthing on the part of the author. But the truth is more humdrum. The information came from the Duchy of Lancaster’s 2015 annual report as posted on their official website (the Duchy is the sovereign’s ancestral landed estate and its rental profits mainly fund her private expenditure).

From past experience I knew that the Duchy never made a big fanfare about their annual profits (cynics might suspect they like to bury good news in the silly season) and so when the annual report was late coming out, I checked their website several times a day for two-three weeks. Much to my amazement on the morning of July 22 I hit gold.

Would the news have come out if I had not tweeted it on July 22? Probably but perhaps not so quickly. A couple of royal reporters have now suggested they would have picked up the story eventually although it’s worth recalling that they failed to do so last year when the Queen also received a big pay rise.

Is the moral of this story of 140 characters the promotional power of Twitter? Yes and no. Its speed and spread is phenomenal. Without social media one apparently arcane piece of news about an ancestral estate would not have gone global within a day and a half, although it would have been nice if one newspaper had actually mentioned my book.

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David McClure

David McClure is a television producer and freelance writer and journalist. He has worked for Reuters, BBC News and Thames Television and made current affairs programmes for Channel 4 and Sky News.   He was also written for The Sunday Times and The Guardian and is currently developing a...More about David McClure