Big Ben not chiming for 4 years is one of the biggest news stories of the week. Why?
I know it is a symbol of how fantastically British we are (yawn) but I don’t know how this story has managed to take over front pages and headline news for almost a week now. Bare in mind that during that time around 500 people have died in mud slides in Sierra Leone, US Air strikes have killed around 100 people in Iraq and Finland suffered their first ever terrorist attack.
Of course, the tragic Barcelona terror attack has been big news worldwide too. Deservedly, this cruel and maddening attack has caught the hearts of many people both domestic and abroad but did you even know 2 people had been stabbed to death in Finland? The perpetrator was an 18-year-old Morrocan born asylum seeker who supported ISIS and shouted Allahu Akbar. This screams Daily Mail but for some reason it just didn’t quite cut it.
Learning why some things get coverage and others don’t is one of the most important things I have learned as a journalist. The old saying that dog bites man is not news but man bites dog is, needs to be remembered whenever you wonder why something hasn’t hit the headlines. There is always something that makes it stand out.
News values are what they’re generically called. The things that make you go hmmmm. Stuff like celebrity status, surprise factor or something to do with the political elite, although, for me, one particular factor stands out. Being relevant to the average person is by far the most important: Does it affect their day to day life? Could it affect them in future? Have they been on holiday there? Is the Royal Family involved? Was Wayne Rooney on Top of the Pops? This is what makes news tick.
This video highlights how news is constructed to fit in with what we expect in an efficient and easy to understand way. Honestly.
Let me break this down even more. 500 people have died in Sierra Leone this week in what was a horrible natural disaster. There were no Brits there, it is not a popular British holiday and bad things happen in Africa all the time. This doesn’t mean we should care any less but it does mean the BBC cares more about who is on Strictly.
As well as this you have to remember the economic and timing limitations that the news has. No one can take in all the news in all the world and capitalism means it is all about ratings. Yes, it really is that simple, don’t argue, money always wins.
Let’s say the 10 o’clock news is an hour long and the schedule has already been decided. Half way through the program, two massive news stories break. One is that an extremist group in South America has kidnapped and killed over 1000 children, the other is that a convicted pedophile has escaped custody and is on the run in your area. The second story will always win.
When you consider the scale of the first story, surely people will want to know but the reality is it wouldn’t last as long in the memory. We have no political involvement in that area and it is miles away from our families. That is the brutal yet understandable way the human brain works.
These limitations then go on to have a big influence on how the news is broadcasted. Big headlines that catch your eye, monotonous reporters breaking down the facts, everything has its place and some things just don’t fit. It makes really you have to admit. These are the problems with the news of today and the worst bit is there might not be a better way of doing it. A shit realization but yep, that’s the way it is.
“News is what a chap who doesn’t care much about anything wants to read. And it’s only news until he’s read it, after that it is dead” – E. Waugh, Scoop (1982)
Where we come in is pressuring those in charge to pick the right news. I see so many complaints online asking why certain things get more coverage and whilst we must understand that total information is not possible, we can still push the institutions in the direction we want them. Yes, the news might have their own way of doing things but in this technological age, where information is so free, they can’t get away with telling us what we SHOULD be learning about.
So what I’m trying to say here is, the best way to cut the crap, is to ignore it. Ignore the Big Bens, the gossip and the cats up a tree. Focus on the men biting dogs and not the dogs biting men and mold our news agenda into what will help us best. This is the 21st century, we’re all journalists now, pick your stories wisely.