Imagine, when young, that you want to become a television reporter. You make the appropriate life decisions to make this outcome more probable.
At school: you work hard; study widely; wear smarter-than-are-comfortable clothes; and make serious YouTube documentaries about issues you don’t really understand.
University: you don’t go to lectures; you overuse the words “investigate” and “conspiracy”; you wear a scarf and boots, even in summer.
Real world: you graft as a lowly paid researcher; you drink in places you can’t afford; you live in the nicer part of the edgier side of town (once you’ve left your parents’); and after five years or so, you finally get in front of a camera. Your big chance, your opportunity to shine, to provide sparkling and incisive analysis of...
...oh. You’re on a promenade in a run-down seaside town, providing “LIVE” storm updates. As it turns out, the weather is wet, windy and cloudy. In an unsurprising turn of events it is likely to get worse before it gets better. Equally unsurprisingly, the state of affairs won’t be permanent - the wind will eventually die down and water will stop falling from the sky. Every single non-development will be meticulously chronicled by you, and ignored by the general public, except for the occasional remark of “we know its stormy, do some real reporting.” Perform poorly and the glittering on-screen career is over. If you do it well, you’ll get the privilege of a reprise come the summer heatwave: “Our beach expert has this report...”
Everyone knows the difference between news and non-news. Even if you haven’t considered the distinction, you’ve experienced it. Anecdotes contain news – information and content, with the irrelevant stuff edited out (unless you hit a Baliff Bridge – see “30 things in life there should be words for” article). Coffee machine discussions with colleagues on Monday morning contain zero news. Boring facts about transport, weather and children, yes. News, no.
Life isn’t exciting enough to be followed minute by minute. Even if a group of people is about to embark on the world’s first drunken skydiving orgy, the pre-flight routine where they sit down, strap on their seatbelts and have their parachutes checked isn’t riveting viewing. Everything after take-off, sure, I’d watch. Then I’d judge them for it, judge myself, cry a little and lose interest in anything anyone involved ever did again.
A second problem I have with round the clock reporting is that there is never anything insightful revealed when the anticipated event does happen – everyone is too excited/terrified. This applies equivalently when the event has already occurred, and an endless queue of uninformed bystanders are ineffectually questioned by a dead-behind-the-eyes reporter. Aside from the occasional viral when a genuine crazy happens to be plucked from the crowd, and given a public platform for the cascade of paranoid hallucinations coursing in front of their eyes, these interviews are useless. It would be easier just to dedicate a special BBC3 team to trawling the streets of (let’s face it) Southern US cities, identifying, recording and collating crazies and their viewpoints in a nice bite-sized late-night package.
Aside from the sheer monotony of it all, I also get the creeping feeling that I’m a bad person for watching. I want something unexpected to happen – and very rarely does unexpected mean good. I’m implicitly supporting the bad guy every time I look at the news. Actually, when BBC Parliament is on in the office (no YOU stop having so much fun), I explicitly root for the bad guy. Specifically, Guy Fawkes.
The recent live coverage of courtrooms in England is what prompted me to think about this – the football highlights were interrupted to show the silent video of three judges preparing to sit down, while the news anchors helpfully provided information. “These appear to be the judges.” “Yes, three of them” “That seems to be how it works in the Court of Appeals.” We just have to hope that the level of articulate explanation doesn’t drop from this lofty peak.
In the UK we’ve been particularly hard hit over the past five years thanks to our monarchy (not blaming them, its not their fault) – a royal wedding (which to be fair, gave the entire male population the opportunity to behave as normal at weddings and, ahem, compare the bridesmaid to the bride), a jubilee, and a royal baby.
If this nonsense is going to continue, which sadly it is, can we please make sure that someone in the Palace signs a document giving the rights to Harry’s stag do?
The point I’m trying to get to is that rolling coverage of non-events must stop. Even my opinion on that isn’t news, Anchorman mocked the tradition in 2004, and plenty of sketch shows stuck the knife in before that – I’m essentially guilty of rolling news coverage myself just by writing this. Stay tuned, updates to follow as soon as we have them...