The best and the worst

OK so.

Like many people I’ve been glued to the media and twitter for the last few days.

More so than ever last night when the riots spread to areas I’ve lived in like Hackney and Camden and my home city of Brum. Suddenly things felt very close and I found myself warning friends, family and people I didn’t even know except via twitter to look after themselves or keep away from places.

I’m not going to use this blog to go into a massive digression about my own views on these riots. This is a blog about how angry the news makes me. It’s not a blog about other stuff. I cannot fathom the motivations for what is happening, and, without that understanding, forming a view apart from the visceral is not easy to do. Let’s just say that two things sum up my view better than I ever could. First is this lady who decided to let the looters know exactly what she thought in the middle of it all

Second is this highly articulate blogpost by Penny Red who seems to sum up things pretty well. If I were to sum it up in a soundbyte I’d say it’s like Apocalypse now when Kurtz asks “Are my methods unsound?” and Willard replies “I don’t see any method at all, sir.”

But like I said. This blog is about the media and the news and there was enough of that going on to keep me occupied. Someone somewhere in the last 12 hours, said “These riots are bringing out the best and the worst of twitter”.  The same can only be said of our news services who seemed to have me lurching from jaw dropping rage to fearful admiration as each new chapter to the story unfolded.

It started for me on 5 live drive time. When Peter Allen managed to get someone on the phone who was trapped with their staff in a shop in Hackney. Now in my view people in the media are trained to deal with difficult conversations with sympathy and understanding. That’s why they present national shows where they talk to people. Right? Wrong! This bloke was scared and under threat. He needed some sort of support and encouragement – or perhaps he needed to be left alone to work out how to resolve the situation. He didn’t need a completely detached idiot in a studio miles away passing the time of day with him. “so what are you going to do now?” remarks Peter chirpily to someone TRAPPED IN A SHOP. “Are your colleagues male or female?” that’s right Peter get to the heart of the matter. “You know what you should do don’t you? You should get the coppers onto your side of the street to help you out!” No fucking shit Sherlock Allen. What next? I didn’t wait. Off went the radio and on went the Telly.

But we all know TV is capable of being just as bad, if not worse. The BBC were largely limited to archive coptor footage and reporters standing in relative safety behind the police repeating out of date and second hand stories. Both BBC and Sky anchors developed a sudden fetish for water cannons. That’s right. Those things with a top speed of a few miles an hour that can be distributed slowly to one location at a time! One look at the fucking google riot map would tell you that this was happening all over London as well as other parts of the country – and that the rioters were moving on very quickly. All a water cannon would do is mop up the broken class and wreckage in the aftermath. On Sky this was juxtaposed with rabid “experts” spouting mindless theories about the need for more police powers, conveniently ignoring the fact that stop and search was one of the alienating factors between police and communities.

The lowest point of the night came around midnight where Chris Ekin on BBC News was interviewing the owner of the House of Reeves as it burned on the telly. “I guess you can see your store burning. How does that feel?” – “I can sense a lot of bitterness coming out of you, what are you going to do?” – “I don’t think there will be anything you can salvage there, will the structure still be usable?” –  “You’ve lost everything haven’t you?” – it was horrible. I had to turn over rather than endure this casual and faintly condescending patter any more. I turned back a few minutes later and it was STILL GOING. The same conversation… Torture. Why didn’t the bloke just slam the phone down?

When events like this unfold there is one thing I cannot get over in the media. The point of 24 hours is that they can cover this live. They should be as prepared for these things as is humanly possible. But whenever it actually happens they seem completely lost at sea. Trained anchors making comments so stupid that a stupid factory would struggle to replicate them. Interviews where the only sound is the vapid jawing of the interviewer, completely insensitive to the terrible things that are happening or have happened to the interviewee..

But if that was the worst of the news then there are some golden redeemers who really brought home events as they happened. Mark Stone at Sky News cycling to Clapham Junction before the police arrived to bravely confront people ransacking stores in his best imitation of Connor Hammil has my complete admiration.

But special praise goes to the tweeters as well. @PaulLewis and @Muskhalili did an incredible job of live tweeting, uploading audio reports, writing and doing phone interviews with the media across London, from behind the barricades in Hackney, to Chalk Farm, to Enfield, to Ealing. They covered more ground than can be imagined and supplied plenty for the excellent Guardian coverage.

On a  more local note @tomfoot1 of the Camden New Journal was also live tweeting from Camden and @DawnHFoster was tweeting events as they unfolded in Battersea long before police and press got there in force. In fact, despite the press trying to damn social media, twitter was an important source of information for people trying to get home or just find out what was going on. 

It went one step further today with the move to mobilise a full #riotcleanup from @riotcleanup and for people to donate clothing/bedding/toysetc to people who have lost their homes in the riots:
Apex house,
820 Seven Sisters Rd

And kudos to the Turkish community in Kingsland Road who showed the true impact that solidarity can have in defending their livelihoods from looters


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