One of those characteristically simplistic questions children often pose to their parents emanated from my mouth as a child when I remember asking my dad what the TV news bulletins would do if one day there was no news. I can’t recall his reply, unfortunately, but I didn’t realise then that, in the event of such a freak occurrence, that itself would be the news story. Forty years on, the instant availability of news through far more mediums than were present when I posed my question means there’s never any danger of there being a day free from it. Today the news is a billion-dollar industry. TV channels entirely devoted to it have 24 hours to fill, and many stories that would hardly have been classed as such before the current industry existed make it to headline status as a consequence.
The kind of banal filler that editors of local newspapers traditionally had to cram their regional rags with simply to use up the page count now seems to have become the blueprint for rolling news channels and online news sources. Finding enough stories to fill a local paper if the locality happens to be a sleepy backwater naturally means the columns will consist of parochial obscurities, but when it comes to TV or internet channels covering international events, one would imagine there’d be no such problems with content. When hours and pages require a seemingly unlimited supply of stories, however, it does have the curious effect – especially on quiet news days – of reducing international news to the level of local news.
The number of times the comments section on some online news outlets bemoan the ‘story’ they’ve just spent half-a-minute reading and rightly dismiss it as a non-story could be applied to so much of the output that constitutes the medium, yet the perceived demand for news leads to this state of affairs. I’ve no idea what the quota of stories required for the likes of Yahoo News or Google News is on a daily basis, but there don’t seem to be enough to satisfy the demand presumably from anxious proprietors with one eye permanently fixed on the competition. I suppose there’s the argument – where cyberspace is concerned – that the short attention spans of those who scan online headlines want to see constant updates and want them in bite-sizes rather than the lengthy articles associated with newspapers, let alone what they regard as ‘news’ – North Korea or Love Island?
For newspapers, the situation is compounded by falling sales, forcing them into alternatives that deviate from actual news even further. One example is the eternally fawning aspect to coverage of the Royal Family – or at least those members of it that Fleet Street has declared to be its darlings, which is an unusual diversion from news in that I don’t really believe anyone under, say, 60 is really that bothered about William or Kate or their kids. Both broadsheets and tabloids have an unhealthy obsession with the Windsor’s that isn’t really reflective of the country as a whole, yet they continue to plaster their front covers with images of them, labouring under the misapprehension that someone gives a shit. There’s an added bonus this year, with the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death imminent, something that the Daily Express in particular must have been counting down the days to since roundabout…oh…1997. Outside of this royal brown-nosing, the papers have more recently found other ways of filling their pages.
The Sun regularly has a ‘wraparound’ on its cover, plugging some other Murdoch enterprise, whereas its film and TV reviewers tend to reserve their greatest enthusiasm for produce emanating from yet another company owned by the Digger. Similarly, broadsheets are paid handsome amounts to publish gushing PR for various nations with dubious human rights records like China or Turkey, but clumsily attempt to pass this PR off as an actual news story. When it comes to their online incarnations, papers such as the Mail tend to receive enviable amounts of visitors, even if most are drawn to the crass ‘sidebar of shame’ and its relentless slavering over scantily-clad starlets rather than the genuine headlines.
The cliché of there being a thousand-and-one TV channels in the post-deregulation age and yet there’s still nothing worth watching on any of them could also often be applied to the dazzling array of news outlets. Indeed, the sole reason for writing this post was due to my scouring these various outlets over the last couple of days and finding nothing of interest to write about. Sure, there are bona-fide news stories on offer, though most are variations upon themes I’ve covered on here many times before; the alternative is to write about the desperately sad Charlie Gard story, but I’ve a feeling that anger over doctors playing God would impair objectivity. There’s also the depressing conclusion that parents are merely the custodians of children and it’s the State that really has the final say over us from cradle to grave
Naturally, we shouldn’t forget we are in the middle of the so-called silly season as well, so there’s bound to be an upsurge of guff posing as news. Parliament is now in recess and all the political intrigues that spanned a good couple of months after Theresa May called the snap General Election have also gone into hibernation until September. No doubt something will catch my eye shortly, but for now writing about having nothing to write about is what I’m writing about.
© The Editor