Slow News Day
Lois Lane went undercover all the time – do you ever hear of a reporter doing that these days?
Once newspapers were about data. A report of a war. A summation of a court case. Details of an accident. Before Maxwell and Murdoch destroyed Fleet Street, reporters were required to train for their jobs; you handled a year of local court reporting where you learned to connect facts to build stories, and needed two attributable sources before being able to publish.
With the collapse of the old rules came the churn-and-burn school of reportage which consisted of never leaving your desk and adding your speculative thoughts to an incoming survey or PR initiative. New figures out on cancer? That’ll be via a charity press release. Article on road safety? That’ll be from the AA. Nonsensical anniversaries will encourage us to reconsider some bit of old news. Even the current coverage of World War One, fascinating though much of it is, is due to an anniversary marking the outbreak of hostilities. Why not its most decisive battle or its end?
The newspaper year is divided into neat sections. January – fitness articles. February – romance. March – spring fashions. April – religion, and so on. The reason why there are five religious films in the US charts at the moment is because they were promoted in churches during the run-up to Easter.
The next stage was to get rid of experts – out went crime reporters, arts critics, specialist correspondents. In came the children of the famous, often columns ghost-written by hacks. Journalists write for multiple newspapers; one writer I know (actually one of the few very good ones) writes for the Mail, the Independent and the Times.
How do you find a good newspaper? One test is to trim out all of the press articles with no actual news in, then remove the ones which are already getting blanket coverage, and seeing how many exclusives you have left. On Sunday the Mail Online – the world’s most popular press website – ran its lead ‘story’ about Prince Harry yawning, with speculation that he was tired after going out a lot. This involved a picture editor buying in a shot and someone coming up with something to say about it.
For me, it’s the reason why newspapers may die out altogether. The tablet has already created a new way of viewing news – skim-browsing, a method of gathering up soundbite information without having to read anything in depth. And that’s a problem. After the Murdochs of the world replaced real news with celebrity speculation, they failed to realise that they had painted themselves into a corner. Celebrities aren’t owned – anyone can speculate about a picture, and thus newspapers no longer have exclusivity.
So we’ve reached the slow new days of mid-summer all year round. This week the Mail led with a photo of Prince William flying economy and a personal trainer who spends a lot of money on his looks. The Mirror had something about a TV soap. The Times’s lead travel section article was about how you can stay near the super-rich. The Guardian had something about Vera Lynn admiring Dolly Parton, thereby combining the celebrity/ anniversary genres. Everyone is running pointless speculation about Jeremy Clarkson being fired. This morning, only the Independent, the Telegraph and the ever-reliable Al Jazeera are running real reportage.
It seems that those with a passion for breaking actual news are now writing in blogs and on websites. The rest is just filler.
And this piece? Speculation. It took me less than 7 minutes to source and write.