And finally…

OK! So.

Once upon a time the news had a pretty specific structure to it.

I’m not talking about years ago when it could only be seen in black and white in the cinema. I’m talking relatively recently. Before satellite came along with its 24 hour news party which threw everything out of the window.

Think back – to the halcyon days of “news” when papers were king, the 9 O’Clock news was something you watched on a terrestrial channel and the internet was just a twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye.

The news would go something like this:

1. Headlines – whatever happened that was deemed important. Murders, wars, explosions – you know… all that jazz.

2. News – A run down of the headlines in more detail with some other stuff thrown in. The less important stuff but still newsworthy – strikes, political stuff, medical stuff – whatever   interest is waning already.

3. A feature – some story that they’ve decided to use as a showcase for investigative journalism – usually a waste of time and money cos by the time they’ve filmed it it’s either old hat or irrelevant. Think “a day in the life of a tramp?” or “What happens to rubbish when you throw it away?” or “What does it feel like to watch paint dry?”

4. Sport – on specifically towards the end so that someone who just wants to know what the football scores were (before the internet etc) had to sit through the rest of the news.

5. “And finally”… the bit at the end of the news where the news reader would relax, put on their best false smile and waltz us through a wonderful, uplifting but completely irrelevant tale of human interest. It would invariably involve babies, animals or overcoming adversity. It would always have a happy ending.

The best “and finally” articles would combine all of these factors in a brain-melting display of love that would have you hugging your worst enemy in tears of solidarity in the middle of a knife fight. A story about a panda giving birth is a perfect example of “and finally” – Animals overcome adversity to have babies –  everyone’s happy. It doesn’t matter if the cub gets rejected a week later and starves in some squalid cage while its human handler weeps bitter tears and mumbles about how Panda’s are hell-bent on their own extinction. That comes later. The “and finally” is GOOD NEWS. It would never sully itself with the pain and anguish of the horrible reality it seeks to gloss over.

Animal cannibalism does NOT constitute human interest

Back when the news had a structure “and finally” stories never bothered me. They were television’s well-meaning but condescending way of trying to ease the burden of news that had just been dumped on the viewer. Like the media saying “look I know everything we’ve said, about the meteorites and the mass murderer in your garden and the strikes and shortages and pollution and starvation an all that are getting you down… but have hope  – even Pandas, a species hell-bent on its own destruction, can have babies. So there’s a little ray of sunshine out there for us all”

People would watch the news and just when they were  getting off their fat arses to amble through to the kitchen and get out the carving knife so they could murder their own children in their beds to spare them this terrible world Trevor McDonald would sit back, smile and say “and finally” and they world would feel a bit better.. Like when they say “don’t have nightmares” at the end of crimewatch as though somehow the power of suggestion is enough to ward off those demons…. frikkin’ crimewatch – For me that was like a cast iron guarantee I WOULD have nightmares – even if I hadn’t seen the show…

Anyway…. “And finally” was a harmless, patronising and ultimately meaningless dollop of news cream. It told people the news was about to finish and cheered them up before they topped themselves.

Of course now the news is on 24 hours a day – in the papers, on the internet, every-frikking-where. This means you can’t have an “and finally” because, on a 15 minute eternal loop, the news never ends. You can’t even do it in a newspaper. The news morphs into sport and every article has links to an online story where you can join the hordes of weasel-faced drones looking to add blather and comments on every piece of ink squeezed from a journalistic pen.

This should mean the “end” of and finally but somehow it hasn’t. It has a new name now. It’s a “human interest story” and it follows NO RULES apart from being largely irrelevant to anything that actually governs our lives. Since “and finally” gave birth to “Human Interest” the latter has multiplied like bacteria in agar. Now it’s so ubiquitous that every “human interest” story is leapt upon – and the internet alone supplies them to infinity (thanks Tim Berners-Lee) . But “human interest” isn’t positive or uplifting like “and finally”… it’s often as depressing as facing an eternity watching in complete paralysis as your body becomes entirely consumed by fungus while an out of tune accordion plays a “pop goes the weasel” over and over again!

Human interest stories are now as bleak as the stuff they’re supposed to provide relief from. And the interest they can generate can turn them into news pieces themselves. Not so long ago the world turned itself inside out over youtube viral turned “human interest story” about a cat being put in a bin.

I’m sure the new producers were just thinking “yeah – chuck that on, nice bit of human interest to break up this depressing post-election stuff and that Chilean mine thing” – next thing we knew the news was all over the news. It was being reported in Thailand. A woman putting a cat in a wheelie bin – REPORTED  IN THAILAND.

When human interest stories go bad!

And god was it depressing. Like Raul Moat… now that was news – but somehow the press weren’t satisfied with it just being news so they turned it into a human interest story AS WELL. Not only did we have blanket coverage and live radio mikes of him actually SHOOTING HIMSELF but the news ran an orgiastic frenzy of human interest coverage as well – Imagine Fiona Bruce cocking her eyebrow for an “and finally” and then emphatically delivering  an insane murder/suicide story before the weather comes on? Not nice … is it!

Where the news once treated us to one (JUST ONE) human interest story each night. A story that had to be happy and cuddly and signified the END of the news, now we get a different human interest story crowbarred into alternate reports. We can’t be trusted to watch 10 minutes of war in the middle east without being treated to a meaningless distraction. The internationalisation of the news m,eans that the irrelevance of the story can be global – the ubiquity of the internet means there’s an endless supply of human meaninglessness to draw upon and because the news is all about drawing a response from its audience like blood, there is no editorial responsibility to human interest stories. It doesn’t matter if they are horribly depressing, it doesn’t matter if they’re entirely banal – if they get a reaction and break up the blanket coverage of whatever is hot news on any given day they’ve done their job.

For the news the ideal new format would be like this nowadays:

1. Headlines – whatever happened that was deemed important. Murders, wars, explosions – you know… all that jazz.

2. Human interest story – man throwing a bag og kittens into a lake caught on youtube.

3. Headlines (see above)

4. Human interest story – Panda kissing a puppy’s broken leg better

5 Headlines (see above) and repeat…. forever

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