I love people, I really do. No, honestly it’s true. I have to say that upfront because it occurs to me that what I’m about to say may appear to contradict this sentiment. I love people of all ages, backgrounds, opinions and preferences. At least, I know I should. Which for the most part suffices.
So it’s not the people I don’t like. It’s the pretence. The pretence that I’m being shown something meaningful and intelligent when actually I’m being conned. The people are great, it’s just that I don’t necessarily want to hear what they have to say at that particular moment.
The situation requires something a little more but, despite this being obvious to anyone who takes half a moment to consider it, we are all fobbed off with what I can only describe as – pap.
Here’s a recent example from nearby Brighton, as ably (or should that be ‘terribly’) demonstrated by BBC Southern News. It seems there are plans afoot to build a whole gaggle of wind turbines off the coast at Brighton. Let’s just pause there. Take a moment to consider some of the possible issues that you might want to consider when reporting on that piece. And who you would ask.
The environmental lobby, the waterways agency/ coastguard, local and national shipping firms, the local council, the energy companies, the minister for energy and transport to name but a few, would each be able to put forward a range of carefully measured and nuanced arguments both for and against. You could probably spend a good few hours debating the pros and cons of such a development with any one of these vertiable agencies.
And who does BBC Southern news ask for comment?
Two elderly gentlemen who just happen to be passing by the pier at that moment in time.
Reporter: And what do you think of these? (Thrusts photo showing how the turbines may appear under the gentlemans’ nose quickly.)
Old gentleman #1: Um, well, er, we need to have clean energy so its good. I think.
Reporter: And what about you? What do you think?
Old gentleman#2: Well, I think they look ugly, don’t they?
Reporter: But I see you are riding a bicycle. Surely you are keen to save the environment?
Old gentleman#2: No mate, I’m on my way to work.
Reporter (turns to camera): Well there you have it. Back to the studio.
There you have it indeed. Sheer pap.
Now don’t get me wrong. We are all entitled to our opinion. I hope I would defend those two chaps right to have their say. But it’s not the ‘locals’ that I have a problem with. It’s the lazy news reporting, being dressed up as concise opinion.
Perhaps the news crews just want to give us a taste of local opinion, but even at this first step I’m afraid just stopping folk in the street denies us the chance of any serious issues emerging, for a good few (painfully obvious) reasons:
Number one, most of these type of reports are filmed during the day. So who are you likely to bump into during the day in a town? Those involved in the issues are likely to be at that very moment involved in serious discussion (elsewhere in the town.)
So, let’s be honest, you’re going the be left with a) the elderly, b) the unemployed, c) homemakers or d) students. All lovely, lovely. But perhaps notoverly representative of the general feelings of the population. (Unless you are in category a) and live in Eastbourne.)
Number two, what are the statistical chances of finding someone who has something meaningful and interesting to say about a specific issue by standing in a street and hoping they will pass by? Depending on the number of people living in the area, I’d say roughly 0.9 in a thousand.
Number three, even if, despite all the obstacles in the way, you do find someone, how long are you going to give them? My viewing so far puts the average at about 30.2 seconds.
Lastly, number four, put yourself in the position of the poor bystander. Let’s say they’ve struck lucky and you happen to have personal experience of the issue involved and some sort of a balanced idea of the pros and cons. You may have read around the subject, done your research and be able to put your thoughts forward in a meaningful discussion.
So there you are, walking along Brighton seafront when a man with a microphone stops you. Can they ask you a couple of questions? What about? Oh, yes, you know about that. O.K, go!… go on… put it all into a snappy soundbite even though this may be your only ever appearance on television, calm those nerves and the thoughts of who might be watching and sum it all up in 30.2 seconds…
“Well…it’s…er…yes, I think it’s …basically a good…” CUT.
Thanks, that was great.
“But I think you should also consider the view that…”
Yup, thanks, excuse me, I have to talk to this person on their bicycle.
As I said, I love people, and everyone should be able to have their say. Just not on my news program please. Don’t waste valuable air time in this lazy quasi-comic lottery of information.
You’re the reporters! Go and do some proper finding out! Any charlie can stand on a street corner and ask people what they think, but it’s going to take you long, long time to get a rounded and balanced view of the nuances of the situation. Give us some news, not Pap!
Finally, I leave you with Monty Python’s version of ‘Vox Pop’ …still (unfortunately) funny…because it’s true…
- Brockton Council supports municipal turbine protest (ontario-wind-resistance.org)
- Green Jobs in Germany (altenergyshift.com)