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Richard Quest speaking at Nokia World 2011

LONDON, United Kingdom – “Losing your credibility is like losing your virginity. It’s hard to get it back.”

CNN business correspondent Richard Quest thinks the mobile phone is like the birth control pill, viagra and Napoleon – small, liberating and powerful.

Quest told an event on ‘The Next Billion’ at Nokia World that he’d first used a mobile phone to cover the news of the sale of John Lennon’s Rolls Royce in 1985. Naturally the first person he called on it was his Mum. Handsets were larger and less empowering in those days.

The growth of mobiles, social media and citizen journalism has been a transformative, if sometimes unsettling, experience for news organizations like CNN. Quest denies, however,  that the news agenda is now driven by social media: “We have a section in every morning editorial meeting where we discuss what is happening on social media – but it doesn’t change the agenda in terms of the big story of the day. That will always be determined by big events.”

Those big events themselves are now often driven by the momentum of social media. Most dramatically, this year’s ‘Arab spring’ showed how social media could spread information in a way that a traditional news organization couldn’t hope to compete with. Quest added that while citizen journalism sometimes complemented traditional journalism – he still thought he could do the job better. “There’s a component for social media. There always has been: it’s like the old radio phone-ins.”  

Those who tweeted from Tahrir Square, or sent photos around the world of Colonel Gaddafi’s corpse may beg to differ with that analysis of who’s complementing who – with journalists chasing behind  a fast pace of change. 

Unless, of course, the system goes down. Reporting the London 7/7 terror attacks in 2005, Quest found himself unable to make any calls on his mobile. Then he said it was, “my kingdom for a landline.”