I’m going to take a punt and guess that at some point this week you’ve watched a rolling news channel.
Whether it the committee hearings with the News International Cerberus, the horrific attacks in Oslo and Utoya or the death of Amy Winehouse. When news breaks we – or at least I – turn to BBC News (and Twitter).
What the three events last week showed is everything that is great and terrible about rolling coverage. The coverage of the News International hearings was great because it was a live event, happening, with questions back and forth. There was content. When Johnnie Marbles “pied” Murdoch Snr – though I don’t know any recipes for shaving foam pie – the coverage was effectively pied too. The content was gone. What we were left with was news anchors narrating over longlens footage of a man covered in shaving foam, and continuous slowmotion replays of Wendi Deng defending her husband – which was funny the first five times.
The attacks in Oslo and Utoya had plenty of content. There were cameras on the scene and a wealth of cameraphone videos filmed to show the damage of the blast. What was awful was the speculation about the perpetrator or perpetrators of the attacks. Almost immediately terrorism “experts” were brought in who commented that a Norwegian newspaper printed the Danish Muhammed cartoon and that Norway was involved in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, I’m not going to deny that myself and plenty others immediately thought of the possibility that the attacks could have been carried out by Islamic extremists but when your job is to inform the public, speculation about such things is dangerous.
The death of Amy Winehouse, like the death of Michael Jackson before her, showed that rolling news is absolutely terrible when someone dies. When someone dies in a continuing or developing event, fine. But when someone dies, they’re dead, and it is bloody terrible. Sky News had the story first so I stuck with it for a while. Immediately it was pointed out on Twitter that the image Sky were using of Amy was of her waxwork at Madame Tussauds
. Strike one
. Then a pre-recorded obituary package was shown almost immediately, with gossip magazine editors, the very people who profited from her demise, talking about her genius in past tense. Strike two
. Unable to stomach any more Sky News I turned over to BBC News where an endless list of music commentators were called up for phone interviews. Paul Gambaccinni, I remember you from when Michael Jackson died. The tipping point was when tweets from great commentators like Myleene Klass were read out on air. Yes, this tweet, was read out on air. Oh Em Gee.
Of course, the news channels are obliged to cover stories like Amy Winehouse’s death, and I’m not sure there’s a clear answer as to how to do it better. But as news media viewers, we aren’t obliged to watch.