Nothing to report? Then don't


(Terry Williams) #1

Some of us oldies will remember the days when Bruno Masure presided over the TV news. A first-class journalist and news anchor; which is why this comment rings so true.


If you don't have anything to say, then shut up, a lesson that TF1, FR2 et al would do well to learn. The media feeding frenzy surrounding Charlie Hebdo, and the irresponsible reporting that too often accompanied it, made me angry.


The fear of going back to normal programming before the other channel led to hours of meaningless and often misleading "reporting" from journalists on the spot trying desperately to find something new to say. I had a lot of sympathy for them because, as a news agency journalist, I often had to rehash a story to give the next newspaper cycle -- morning or evening newspapers, newspapers in different time zones -- a fresh bite at the story. And I know how difficult it can be.


The temptation to say "Sorry, nothing new to report. Back to you in the studio" must have been great. But no professional would ever do it, more's the pity.


(Terry Williams) #2

Back in 1968 I was sent to stand somewhere on the route of one of the major protest marches. My job? Count them! Nobody argued with the figure I came up with either! The gap between the official figures and the organisers' figures was always so huge we decided to produce our own figures and I drew the short straw. Still got a photo of me on one of those marches.


(Peter Bird) #3

Can well believe it Terry. I occasionally do a bit of sports reporting for an english paper and at one of the venues the attendance figures are not very forthcoming so the assembled hacks agree to publish a figure and this figure which then becomes sacrosanct is the figure which will appear in every match report.


(Terry Williams) #4

Sadly too true, Peter. I remember a group of tabloid journos meeting in a bar in Barbados to agree on what comment to attribute to Princess Margaret. I protested that she didn't say anything. "Doesn't matter. If we all say the same thing they won't be able to deny it," was the cynical reply.


(Peter Bird) #5

Wasn't it the wonderful Mr Twain who said :

"Why let the truth get in the way of a good story" !


(Ian Cowburn) #6

Remember also the media circus for the Bugarach apocalypse thing. Crowds of Japanese and Russians milling around trying desperately to find UFO gurus and New Age Druids :)

The village did well out of it though, the bar continually ran out of beer!


(Terry Williams) #7

Not necessarily the fault of the journalists, Peter. The instructions come from on high, as Bruno Masure says, from the bosses with their eyes riveted on audience share and the accountants glued to the bottom line. It's a very competitive world and it gets worse with every passing year. The pressure to be first with the news, particularly in the major agencies, is intense. When I began my career back in the 60s the unbreakable rule was that you had to have two sources saying the same thing before filing a report. Accuracy came before speed. But under pressure from the markets, which are only interested in whether an item of news will affect prices, the two-source rule was dropped. Then, again in the interests of speed and with the help of modern communications, the "second pair of eyes" rule was dropped and reporters now file directly to wire. This puts enormous pressure on the reporter to get it right and get it first. Until you've heard a major client screaming that he's lost 10 million quid because we were half a second behind the opposition with some item of news you can't appreciate just how much pressure there is. And yes, they do measure timings down to fractions of a second these days! The ever-mounting pressure and the constant stress that went with it was one of the reasons I retired early. My health came first.

Inevitably, in the race to be first with the news, you're going to cut corners, take chances, speculate when you don't have facts. We saw a lot of that (speculation) this month as reporters tried desperately to meet the demands to keep talking while waiting for something to happen.

A classic example of taking a chance and getting caught happened at a Monaco Grand Prix many years ago. As Jack Brabham went into the last corner of the last lap, a news agency filed an alert saying he'd won. He crashed on that last bend!

On the other hand, on another occasion, Eddy Merckx and Luis Ocana were battling through an epic rainstorm in the Pyrenees with overall victory in the Tour de France as the prize. Both fell. Merckx got up, Ocana didn't. I was listening to the radio commentator on his motorbike. A rival agency had a man on another motorbike right behind the two riders. I filed quoting the radio reporter. The rival agency man had left strict instructions that no-one was to write anything about the Tour except him. So his desk in Paris, which was also listening to the live broadcast, waited for him to contact them. And in the middle of a major storm in the Pyrenees in 1971 he wasn't about to get through to Paris. So I got a front page headline in France Soir and he never spoke to me again!


(Jacquie Clegg) #8

Stop watching! Lower viewing figures would be the only way to make some of these editors question their policy.

Perhaps part of the problem is that they have an allocated time slot and nothing to fill it with when there's nothing to report.


(Katherine Davies) #9

Years ago when I was a fledgling reporter for a small town newspaper in my native New England, I was sent to cover the court proceedings that resulted from a small town teachers’ strike. The judge ruled against the teachers and they were hauled off to jail (this was in 1977). I was instructed by my editor to ask the teachers, as they were taken from the courtroom, how they felt. I had never felt so ugly inside. It was the beginning of the end of my journalism career. With the necessity of instant ‘news’ now, things are worse and have gone to the dogs. We’re all guilty of demanding it, though, and money and survival being the bottom line for traditional news outlets, what else do we expect?


(Peter Bird) #10

Am I the only one who finds the media circus during the CH story distasteful ? Journos have a job to do and a service to provide of course but some of the "let's get more info than the opposition" attitude becomes almost obscene to me at times. Ok, the publics right to know is important but just how much do we need to know ? Knowing the identity of the assassins for example meant nothing to anyone except the authorities trying to stop them. Telephone calls from media outlets to villagers and hacks hanging around in strategic positions desperately trying to find a few square metres where rival hacks can't be seen, giving the impression this is almost a 'scoop' situation was embarassing to say the least.

Not suprising then that much of the general public see journalists in the same light as estate agents and overpaid footballers.


(Terry Williams) #11

The one I hate most, Pater, is "the whole town is in mourning following the death...etc etc". No it isn't. So to back up that statement they find a couple of punters willing to say how dreadful it all is and what a wonderful person so-and-so was. I have serious doubts whether most of these interviewees have ever met the person concerned. If you set out with the idea that the whole town must be in mourning then of course you'll find people to back you up.


(Terry Williams) #12

Because they're not reporting for the same market, Chris. Local reporters will be looking for local angles while the national reporter will be taking a broader view. OK, the same reporter could do both jobs but it wouldn't leave much time for the actual news gathering.

Many, many years ago when the Monte Carlo rally was a really major story and there were a lot of amateurs taking part we (Reuters) would be commissioned by various UK local newspapers or the Press Association to produce reports on their home-town teams. So I would write the main story, send the standings and so on and then hang around at the various checkpoints waiting for the UK teams to arrive to get the local angle for a given client. I would then write totally separate stories leading on each individual team. And this was before the age of instant communications. Everything had to be phoned in or telexed (first find the phone!). No laptops or mobile phones. And of course we still had to get to the next checkpoint in time to catch the leaders. So a lot of fast driving on sometimes icy roads and not many hours sleep. Had a great time! The first time I saw people using "laptops" in the press box was at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Tandys if memory serves. A lot of screens burned out because of the sun!

(Peter Austen) #13

...And do South East Today not know what is going out on the national news. - We don't need to see the same story repeated, - not even in more depth often, - on the local news.

Lots of lazy reporting, & bad editing, & sack the sound recordist!


(Chris Knox-Johnston) #14

Slightly off topic but why oh why do the BBC have a reporter on BBC South East for their news and then for the main news have a different reporter down from London on the same story.


(Peter Austen) #15

I watch South East Today, & it is the same there, except that they have to fill their half hour slot.
I squirm when they ask questions such as, "How do you feel" of recently bereaved parents.


(Jane Williamson) #16

I totally agree. We had interviews with people who all said the same thing over and over again.