There seem to have been rather a lot of important news stories around this week so, scared of the increasingly complicated life that surrounds me, I’ve decided to retreat into minutia and concentrate on a really important thing – a mitten in a hedge.
You cannot have failed to notice the incredible growth market in Crap Local News Stories this year. You certainly won’t if you stray into the toilet literature section of a bookshop over the next few weeks.
They’ve always been there, of course, in Private Eye’s True Stories series, later Funny Old World, and the Nigel Rees sub-genre (is there such a thing?) of the Quote Unquote books, although I’m not sure the Eye’s Christopher Logue ever came up with anything quite as “good” as the team of six people rescuing a baby hedgehog stuck in a crisp packet in Weston-super-Mare last week, and could definitely have never matched the attempted robbery at silly-string-point of an 11-year-old’s owl which he just happened to be carrying down Morecambe Promenade.
And I suppose that’s the point. Do any of us know what’s good and what’s bad these days?
Driven by Twitter and a handful of mocking websites, the minutia of our daily content is constantly being held up to ridicule, as Trinity’s digital doodah Dave Higgerson has noted.
Now I have some sympathy with the sneering smartarses, having berated photographers about unimaginative pictures of people pointing at holes or looking disapprovingly at offending dog turds. But that’s what we have to work with, our currency, our daily bread.
And so it is with some of the ‘news’ stories that now make it onto our websites. The demand is to constantly upload new material; the filter blocking the crap is ineffective, usually consisting of a red-eyed twonk who isn’t a trained journalist and who spends all day with his headphones in so he doesn’t have to make human contact with someone who might be.
And hey, let’s not be naïve about this, if our twonk accidentally posts a badly-written, pun-riddled ‘story’ about a Whitstable mum-of-three who is dis-custard after a hunt for the dessert sauce in the town proved fruitless, leading to a massive spike in worldwide website hits, who’s going to complain? Not our masters, surely? They’ll just want more of the same.
Which brings us back to that lonely mitten in its hedge. Sad and sorry and utterly worthless it might look in three-par isolation, but consider this. Was there blue and white police tape surrounding the site? Were there police vans about? An appeal for information regarding a similar knitted item? Add any other element and you’ve got an important news story by anyone’s estimation.
It’s just too difficult to make that call sometimes. I’m going back to some easier questions, namely how a respected BBC television programme managed to wrongly name a man as a notorious paedophile without carrying out the kind of simple checks that Whitstable’s custard correspondent would have made. Maybe I shouldn’t have done so much moaning down the years about the BBC lifting our stories without attribution.
At least then they’d stand half a chance of getting things right.