Fame and Analysis - Twitter, Teenagers, the Media and Morgan Stanley

I noticed a couple of reports over the last two weeks about the Morgan Stanley report by a 15-year-old intern about social media use among teenagers. I clicked through to the news article, read it quickly, and then just as quickly dismissed it.

Last week I read a post by Kent Anderson at The Scholarly Kitchen on the same story. Anderson contends that the incident is an example of a gate-keeping failure at Morgan Stanley.

For instance, they published the report “[w]ithout claiming representation or statistical accuracy,” yet felt it provided “one of the clearest and most thought provoking insights we have seen.”

How can it be non-representative and inaccurate, yet clear and thought-provoking?

Kent linked to a U.K. newspaper story at the Times Online that reveals how Matthew Robson got the job at Morgan Stanley.

Gaining a place at Morgan Stanley to explain teenage media consumption to the world required a little luck. It was not just what Matthew knew, but whom he knew, or rather, whom his dog, Rudolph, knew.

In January Rudolph, a three-year-old whippet, was being walked by Matthew’s mother in Greenwich Park when he became friendly with the dog of Patrick Wellington, a senior financial analyst at Morgan Stanley. His mother and Mr Wellington began chatting about her son’s struggles to get a work experience placement.

“We had tried many places, mainly in the local area,” said his mother. Matthew had written to local businesses, solicitors and banks including Lloyds TSB and all had turned him down.

So he wrote to Morgan Stanley, which offered him a two-week internship and two weeks ago on Monday he set off for the bank’s offices in Canary Wharf.

I don’t begrudge Matthew his chance to work at Morgan Stanley but the background on how he got the job makes me even less likely to credit anything he, or by extension Morgan Stanley, say about how the internet or social media really work. The whole story begins to smell link link-baiting or trolling from the start.

The problem is that it is these types of media hype stories that force me to reconsider all media stories. I can think of three possible explanations for the this story at Morgan Stanley

  1. The analysts at Morgan Stanley were truly surprised by the things Robson said and wanted to publish them. From this I conclude that the analysts don’t know much about their subject if they are so easily amazed.
  2. The folks and Morgan Stanley just wanted to give some props to a plucky teenager who displayed a bit of talent and drive. This is probably the most flattering interpretation of MS behavior, because then the media frenzy is not their fault.
  3. Or the Morgan Stanley people deliberately promoted the story because they knew it had all the media hooks that would get it wide publicity: a young teenager telling his confused elders where to stick their vaunted expertise.

    Morgan Stanley comes off looking poorly under all of these scenarios.

    The media problem may be even more serious. The media moves so quickly from Michael Jackson to Walter Cronkite, and controls so much of our mental space for respect and reputation, so that the only lesson to be learned is to make a big splash with some confidently asserted thoughts and hope that the fame machine picks you up for a day or two.

    It’s a crazy world and it just seems to grind talent up faster and faster.