Jokes about the reports written by newly-engaged reporters, before they have honed their journalistic skills, are well-known. These inexperienced writers are usually given assignments in the courts or local council meetings. They end up writing reports like this:
“Mr Brown, asked whether he had been in the car at the time, replied, ‘No. I was at home watching Coronation Street on television. I had a curry for supper and a can of lager with it.’ The case continues.” Such irrelevances often turn up again as jokes in Private Eye or similar humorous magazines.
There was a complaint on the radio the other morning that news reports in the media these days are always depressing. If someone is rescued after a motor accident for example, so the complaint went, it never makes the news. But a fatal car crash can be splashed across the front pages. I suppose that’s inevitable. Somehow ‘MAN IN CAR CRASH UNHURT’ doesn’t make for a very exciting headline and I probably wouldn’t read the whole article, even if a cub reporter adds information about what he was listening to on the radio at the time and what he had for lunch, etc. But ‘M25 closed for 4 hours after man crashes through road barrier and dies on way to hospital’ has unfortunately more of a ring of a drama about it.
Anyway, in answer to the criticism about its news, the radio tried to issue a news bulletin with only positive and optimistic stories. It included the ‘small earthquake in Peru; no one hurt.’ item, which rather spoilt it I thought, but otherwise it was OK. I did feel better afterwards that, for once, seemingly there was no pain or suffering anywhere in the world. But of course the bad news leaks out eventually and the bulletin was also one of the least interesting I had ever listened to.
But it is not just anodyne stories that make the news boring – sometimes editors add totally irrelevant information just to fill column inches. This usually only happens in the local press; the stuff that never reaches the nationals, like “Man steals pair of socks from H R Taylor and Sons, men’s outfitters, 27 High Street, Haslemere. Police took him into custody. The socks were blue with red spots.” Or “Mrs Emily Jones tripped over the step at the entrance of the Georgian Hotel on the High Street, Haslemere. She was treated for a grazed knee. Afterwards, she walked home. When asked if she wanted a lift, she replied, ’oh, stop making a fuss’.” And so on and so on. You all know the sort of local news I mean.
But I wonder whether I have detected more such irrelevant writing in the press in recent days. Are the newspapers, post-Leveson, scared of reporting information that might be a bit contentious or have they maybe run out of the exclusives they used to obtain earlier when they used more dubious news-gathering methods?
The thought first occurred to me when listening to a news report on the radio about a violin being offered for sale in Bulgaria by some gypsy possibly being the missing Stradivarius of classical musician Min-Jin Kym. It was a fascinating story about how stolen goods, such as copper wire and lead roofing, passed through various travellers’ hands across Europe. The musical instrument appeared to have followed a similar route, before turning up on the streets of Sofia. But the report then ended with the sentence, ‘Miss Kym’s violin was stolen in Euston Station while she was buying a sandwich’. My wife and I looked at each other and both burst out laughing. It was such an incongruous statement after all the interesting stuff about itinerant European families.
In the last couple of days, there has been a flurry of Royal news. We are always subjected to lengthy articles at such times from various royal watchers and experts, but this time the relatively minor incidents seem to have been an excuse for filling page after page of the newspapers. Maybe there wasn’t any other news. Or maybe this was another attempt to fool us with feel good stories. Or was it simply the safest subject to cover?
One report discussed the hospital where The Queen recently spent a night. However interesting the history and lay-out of the hospital is, the article rather fizzled out with the sentence, ‘One of the police guards on the door was Britain’s tallest officer, Anthony Wallyn, who stands at 7ft 2in. His partner is Tony Thich, who is 5ft 6in.’ I could imagine the young cub reporter being sent to the hospital to get what information he could for the article and coming back with this tit-bit. No attempt to telephone the hospital to ask a nurse for a report on The Queen’s condition this time though.
Then an article about Kate contained the information, ‘The Duchess of Cambridge wore a green double-breasted coat and matching high heels. Experts advise against the wearing of high heels by women after the fifth month of their pregnancy.’ For goodness sake! What are we supposed to do with this snidey aside? Or perhaps this is the most controversial the paper felt it could be in the present climate?
Finally, an article about the Royal Princes on a skiing holiday. It’s not as if this was a trip packed with off-piste shenanigans; at least one evening the Princes were invited to a ‘reception in a nearby hotel attended by 200 guests.’ But the article droned on and on about who was in town that week, whom the Princes spoke to, what they wore, etc, until the whole page was covered with words and photographs of snow. And then, feeling something had to be added about Kate, the Royal all their readers are currently gagging to hear about, the paper ended the article with the sentence, ‘The Duchess of Cambridge had a traditional sledge made of wood.’ Obviously this information made an impact on me or I wouldn’t be writing about it, but equally clearly a one paragraph diary note that the younger Royals went skiing in the Alps just wouldn’t do. And no suggestion of overhearing private conversations or telephone calls either. I could see a whole team of cub reporters in the bar of the Gstad Hotel, scrabbling around to find enough information to fill a whole page. Or perhaps we’re supposed to think, ‘oh no, surely she didn’t lie on a sledge on her tummy in her condition. And could she drag the sledge to the top of the hill by herself without inviting injury, especially if it wasn’t a modern, lightweight plastic one?’
Is this the sensation and controversy and contentious discussion and provocative argument we must content ourselves with in this brave new world of media watchdogs underpinned by legislation?