This is our truth, tell us yours
As I drove yesterday I listened to 5Live, and tried to make sense of the unmediated, unfiltered noise coming out of the radio. It might have been perfectly tuned, digital, with no trace of interference, but the BBC were broadcasting every source they could find, as if they were all of equal value. Gossip, rumour, hearsay, all spilled from the radio like vomit from a drunk.
How did we live before rolling news? How did we survive, having to wait for journalists to assess information, appraise it, report it as accurately as they could, with a professional pride in trying to get it right?
I am old enough to remember when news was compiled and broadcasted, not regurgitated. I am old enough to wonder what on earth our lives would have been like if, in the 1970s, the nightly riots, kneecappings and murders in the Six Counties had been reported live, in colour, with subtitles. Or would we have ignored them, because they were not newsworthy in the same way as a bomb in London would be? Rolling news may be spectacularly bad at actually sifting and presenting news, but it still makes very old fashioned editorial decisions about what matters, and what doesn’t.
I thought long and hard before even writing this, because I don’t want to merely indulge in whataboutery, but I remember where I was on two separate Saturdays, when Valley Parade burned, and when Liverpool fans died at Hillsborough. Can you even begin to imagine what they would have been like on rolling news, with reporters buttonholing anyone in the street to demand information, quotes, something they can broadcast, now, this minute? Can you imagine how people would feel in Liverpool, or Bradford, if those events had been broadcast in the same awful, insensitive, almost random way yesterday’s events in Paris have been broadcast? In case you’re wondering, we have the Glasgow bin lorry deaths a few weeks ago to remind us that some road traffic accidents (which is all it was), are judged more newsworthy than others, at least in part because they are convenient to news teams even when, as in Glasgow, the journalists are reduced to reading out tweets as if they went to college and university to learn how to do it with gravitas.
An untruth can go around the world before the truth can get it boots on; I heard stuff on the radio yesterday that was not just subsequently proved to be untrue (like casualty figures) but things that were contradictory at the time they were broadcast. No-one seemed to care, or pause for breath. I’m starting to wonder if, like old fashioned phone-ins, rolling news would be better with a time delay, to save us from the noise.