Thursday, 15 July 2010

push the levels this time to get the best sound

A post regarding the merits of rolling news channels, in the wake of the death of Raul Moat

I'm a self-confessed news junkie. I love watching the rolling news channel, especially when something exciting is happening, but even without the disgraceful voyeurism of live events unfolding in front of your eye balls via a satellite link to some provincial location - I can watch the headlines be repeated for longer than I expect a reasonable human should.

Jon Sople talking to Paula's Mum

Therefore it isn't a shock that I happened to be watching News 24 and with giddy glee the Moat circus unfolded minute by minute - a horrific unscripted human tragedy, with night-vision enhanced pictures and Paula Mason's personal calls being intruded on by the BBC's Jon Sople. It was beautifully awful, it was gorgeously hideous and handsomely grotesque. It was to the nation's premier news journalists what discovering a whole load of gear down the back of a sofa is to a strung-out junkie. They'd hung out around a middle-of-nowhere town, without their favourite franchised coffee shops and sandwich bars for nearly a week with pretty much nothing live to show other than police cars whizzing about and armed officers raid abandoned farm houses. And then just before their weekend off, it all happens. At prime time.

If this had happened just five years ago, I'd venture they wouldn't have had the amount of buy-in from witnesses eMailling and MMSing pictures of the stand-off. I'd also reckon the number of viewers would have been much lower, pre-digital switch over. Suddenly this time around, in 2010, regular non-IT people can transmit live images of an event happening to Sky News. They can twitter the current happenings of the world on their doorstep to BBC News. It isn't any new technology, it is simply that technology is now in the hands of the bloke next door: the bloke next door is an armchair journalist. You see, everyone has access to the basic tools of a journalist: a dictaphone, camera and transmission system (their mobile). Everyone can become freelance, albeit unpaid, reporters for news channels. It doesn't work as well for traditional news media - newspapers - as they report what has happened. TV News reports what is happening now, or more to the point; what might be happening now.

Jon Sople et al haven't got time to check with experts what is actually happening, they're reporting what they think they've seen, making some finger in the air assertion about which way the wind is blowing and voilà, it is news. They can't leave dead air while some researcher back at the Television Centre is thumbing through guidelines, ruminating wikipedia or seeking other sources; Jon has to talk to the personnel around him - chat to Danny Savage, recount the events as they unfolded to him, then show some video as they try and get some fresh angle. You can only ramble on about what isn't happening for so long before even they get baffled by the amount of clichés, stupid phrases and techno-babble they are able to spout on national television.

It has been said before, but it does have relevance here; say something with enough of a sound of authority and the listener will believe you know what you're talking about. I bet the only police stand-off most of us have witnessed are those in US TV cop dramas, the same goes for journalists: yet they're waffling on about what process is taking place like they're running the show. That is if they're not having emotional local residents thrust towards them, such as Paula Mason. That was the lowest point on News TV I've ever seen. Jon Sople was that junkie shoving his hand down the sofa.

Paula had contact to someone inside the police cordon. He felt the familiar feel of the cling film wrapper. His finger could just about get a touch of purchase on the wrap, but not enough to dislodge it. He pushed further, grazing his forearm in the process. Had Paula's Mam seen Moat? He had to know. As Paula tried ringing a half-dozen times, eventually it got through. Jon eventually convinced her to speak to Mam. He's got two fingers on the wrap now; it's moving, so soon he'll get his fix. Paula's Mam hasn't seen him. He stops being so rough with the wrap - it might burst and then it'll be over. But Paula's Mam's neighbour has! With a final push, junkie has almost dislocated his wrist and has another finger on the wrap. Jon Sople then asks this 'witness' what he's seen - remembering to get a name - but the witness is vague whether or not it is Mr. Moat, not sure about what type of gun it was; so Sople puts the words "sawn-off" into a resume statement, ensuring he says it is Moat and the witness agrees that it is accurate, before stating that he's no expert. Junkie removes his hand and in his fingers is a tiny wrap, just enough to get him through.
Sky News' Nightvision

When the weather turned, there were various mentions of there being an ending sooner than later as the reporters are getting wet, nothing is happening and the police are thinking of moving everyone away. Aside from the fact Moat had lived rough for a few days and reports he'd been moving about using storm culverts and drains, this was pure wishful thinking by the reporters. Interest for most is now waning after all, no one will be watching solidly to a broadcast into the early hours. Sure enough, the news channels switch to studio broadcasts, with the regular anchors. This story has been downgraded to a dip-in story, not a permanent as-it-happens outside broadcast - because nothing is happening. Then, in the early hours a gun shot, shouting and for the family and friends of Mr. Moat, they hear his suicide on live television. Kate Burley was on Sky News, once again being insensitive as ever, promising they'd "push the levels this time to get the best sound". Nice.

So the new age of viewer interaction has finally come to the fore; we can be part of the news. However, the reason why we don't rely permanently on the viewer collected content is that they don't work to guidelines and it is dangerous reporting someone's submission as fact. When Jon Sople, Kay Burley and the like are acting the same way, how can we be expected to value news broadcasts any more?

The only true medium for accurate reporting remains the newspaper, with online written word somewhere close by. Writing takes time, it is both personal and open in equal measure. There's time for it to be checked before publication. You can detect subtle nuances in writing, more so than voice, which enables you to have an unbiased stand point from the author. I won't stop watching news channels, but they're not my preferred source of fact. News International have begun charging for their online news stories on The Times and while a shame, they've every right to. I'd prefer they charged for the content rather than pulling it all together.

{Originally posted to my facespace notes}

Monday, 5 July 2010

ban kids because paedophiles exist

A post regarding speed on Britain's roads

Everyone who knows me will know I drive slow. Not just at the limit, I drive under it: I tootle on the motorway mostly at 55mph, with big trucks over taking me. I like it, it's legal, it is good for the environment, it good for my personal economy and I get to enjoy more time enjoying a drive. It also annoys wankers on single-lane roads, which is a bonus.

I maintain a constant speed - say 40 on a 50 limit road, so that there's no unexpected slowing, so dangerous it is not. If you're approaching me from behind at the road-legal speed you've got adequate braking time and you will be able to choose a suitable time to overtake. If you choose to drive faster, that is no more important than my choice in driving slower.

That's why this view point on the Government's ideas-generating site amuses and scares me: 
Do you ever get fed up by that pensioner with his flat cap on in a small car driving along at less than 50 mph on the motorway? Its time this is stopped - introduce a minimum speed limit on motorways to forces people to drive at a set speed when the traffic is moving, thus promoting quicker journeys and less queues on motorways as people wont get stuck behind them and slow other lanes down when overtaking. 

It will save the economy billions in allowing people to get to work quicker and so be more productive. It may reduce the number of cars on the road leading to less carbon emissions to help the environment. Lastly it will reduce the number of accidents caused by these dangerous drivers and cause less road rage incidents, which has the knock on effect of not needing as many police and saving the economy more money.

For a start, it won't save the economy a penny, it will cost more. Empirical evidence proves higher speed increases the risk of a fatality in an accident. Increasing costs via healthcare, benefits and judiciary.

Second, the slower cars move, the higher the throughput on a given junction; they can travel closer together: both side-on and fore and aft. Have you ever had the misfortune to be stuck on the motorway behind an accident? When you get out you'll realise how wide the lanes are: they're massive - almost twice a car's width. Try that on a local road, allowing for cars being parked at the side, you'll find you don't get much space. I got told once by a driving instructor that a good way of looking at it is imagining the edge of the lane are brick walls; therefore drive as though loss of control - no matter how minor - would cause you to scrape into a wall and it's more than a little unnerving at high speed.

How exactly would it remove cars from the road? From my understanding it wouldn't remove any: as if the argument raised that slow drivers cause delays, removing them would mean more people encouraged to use the roads.

Also if it causes road-rage incidents, then surely it's the road-rage driver that's at fault? That argument is the same as saying we should ban kids because paedophiles exist.

{Originally posted to my facepace notes}