One of my colleagues in that there London probably summed it up pretty well on Thursday night. I’d prepared myself for the inevitable borefest of important yet predictable coverage of the Autumn Statement when things started getting busy. A tidal surge was sweeping down the East coast, just as journalists were still crunching George Osborne’s numbers.
Then news started filtering through of an impending announcement from President Jacob Zuma of South Africa.
While Twitter nearly exploded, said colleague quipped :
He wasn’t wrong. The death of Nelson Mandela versus the East coast storm was a no brainer for most journalists. But it was and still is the source of some debate online.
The passing of a world leader always attracts attention, and in Mandela’s case rightly so. But on Thursday evening, 1,400 homes were evacuated in England and many were flooded. Some were literally blown from the cliffs. Even by the hysterical meteorological standards of certain newspapers, this was pretty unprecedented. Two days later, and some have started moaning. Sections of the news media are on trial, accused of “abandoning” the big story at home in favour of “wall to wall” coverage of events in South Africa.
It’s all too much! These rolling news outlets ought to be ashamed of themselves!
What the critics are forgetting, of course, is that not everyone’s a news junkie. But if you do want to find variety, it’s out there. On Thursday night, most BBC Local radio stations were on air along the East coast – some all night, opting out of networked programming to keep people in touch with what was happening. Far from abandoning its audience, correspondents stayed on site to report on the unfolding drama and its aftermath. If you wanted any proof of that, the following picture was just Tweeted by by colleague Jo Black :
The problem of how much coverage to give one story over another has, in some way, been exacerbated by the fact that we have dozens of rolling news outlets that weren’t there 15 years ago. Newspapers and broadcasters have both embraced multimedia. The broadband age means that anyone with a smartphone can beam live pictures and sound from just about anywhere. Therefore the ability and desire to go with a big story for hours – or even days -‘is greater than ever.
Some say that news editors become too obsessed with a single story. “Is there nothing else happening in the world!” Is a common gripe. Well if you choose to stick on a news network, that’s what you’ll get. Big networks covering the big stories. Others complain: “I pay my licence fee/cable subscription/taxes – I DEMAND more variety in my news!” Fact is, you’ve never had more choice.
If it’s any assurance, I can tell you from the inside that the rest of the news isn’t being ignored. Far from it. I’d humbly suggest tuning to a reliable local radio station or a decent local newspaper website if you want the proof.
But then, it wouldn’t stop some people claiming that we’re not “doing enough” Mandela.