This is our truth, tell us yours
Ten years ago, today, I was sat in a busy office, watching rolling news footage on the office TV. We were told, variously, that there had been a power cut on the tube, that there had been an accident involving a power transformer, that a train had broken down….
We learned little from those first TV news reports, and most of what we did learn was wrong. The news stations were wrong footed, and reduced to reporting everything they heard, with neither judgement nor wisdom. It was intensely frustrating.
People I cared about, people I knew, people I worked with were commuting into London that day. Gradually the picture emerged, and the scramble began. Literally, the picture emerged; buses ripped open like tincans, tube stations turned into charnel houses. Where were our colleagues? Were they all ok? Did we cancel any trips to London in the day to come? What did we say to family and friends who were trying to find out if we knew where their loved ones were?
Meanwhile, on rolling news, nothing resembling journalism was taking place. Journalists, anchors, special correspondents, roving reporters, all were reduced by their methods, by the needs of their service, the events of the day, to mere gossips, repeating whatever they were told, refusing to speculate even as they wondered aloud who might have done it, or why, or what the death toll might be.
I had been brought up to admire and love journalism, the practice and craft of taking sources, facts and voices, and from them curating a version of the truth that could be consumed and deconstructed to add to our understanding of the world.
On a bleak night, after 7/7, when I woke up in darkness and wondered what world I was bringing my child up in,I realised that part of the problem was that I expected journalists to be curators, and on that awful July day I realised they were conduits, valued not for what they added in terms of understanding and nuance, but for the speed with which they got the latest gossip to the marketplace.
That realization was an end of the innocence moment, a realization that what I once saw as a principle of journalism might have been nothing more than an artefact of the production process. Great journalism might have been nothing more than an accidental consequence of the limitations of the printing process, and tolling news exposed that belief in high journalism as a narrative fallacy, a wish to believe in something more than just the practical.
As I say, I hate rolling news, both for stealing my illusion and for stealing the time and space in which great, considered, thoughtful journalism could happen.