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Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Rolling News

BREAKING NEWS: As I write this, Gordon Brown has just left Downing Street and the nail-biting cliffhanger of the past few days is over. Never have so many flights of steps borne witness to so many platitudes and a collective sigh of relief can be heard, if not across the nation, then at least in the TV satellite vans currently besieging Westminster. Relief that, at long last, there is something to report.

Well "Hallellujah!" and praise Laura Keunssberg!

For Ms Keunssberg, Chief Political Correspondent for the BBC News Channel has been an absolute trooper, always there, like Zelig, on the shoulder of history.

Take, yesterday afternoon, when it fell to Lib Dem negotiator David Laws to update the assembled hacks on the state of play with Con - Lib negotiations. David duly did the needful, muttering "friendly", "constructive", "national interest" and "more Red Bull please". The fairly obvious gist was that they hadn't reached an agreement, but hadn't given up on doing so. Called upon to explain the complexities of this concept, Laura K went all Donald Rumsfeld and intoned "Well, it's not a deal, but it's not not a deal."

Ms Kuenssberg is obviously not daft, no- one gets to be a Beeb Chief anything without being very bright, very knowleadgeable and very hard working. It would have been as clear to her as anyone else that a deal had not been reached. But then a deal had not been reached ALL DAY and this in news terms, was frankly unacceptable. It then becomes the reporters job to convince the viewer to disbelieve the evidence of their own eyes. It's not an option for Laura Kuenssberg to say "move along people, there's nothing to see" since, horror of horrors, we very well might.

So what made said bright, able professional tie herself up in double negative knots (apart of course from near exhaustion which is taken as read...)?

Two words; rolling news - which in recent days has reduced the nation's finest journalistic brains to a rabble of breathless curtain twitchers.

"They're in the car! They're gettting out of the car! They're on the steps! They're at the top of the steps!" The hack pack recorded the movements of the negotiating teams with all the obsessive mundanity of an anxious first time mother checking the contents of her baby's nappy.

Of course, rolling news also had it's pre-polling day moment in the sun, outside the very ordinary Rochdale front door of Mrs Gillian Duffy. "These are amazing scenes" the journos exclaimed as the minutes rolled by, the door remained resolutely shut and scenes of any sort, amazing or otherwise, truculently failed to materialise.

To return to the curtain twitchers in the street, they were ably supported by the graverobbers in the studios. Since anyone who was anyone and knew anything was either in the talks or under wraps, the ghosts of Government past rose up to be stroked and petted back to life by Burke and Hare aka Huw Edwards and Jon Snow.

The mummified remains of Lord Hurd (previously plain Douglas) were exhumed, propped up next to the cheery spectre of Shirley Williams, and most chilling of all, a cadaverous John Greenwood slithered into the studio, to lecture us from the beyond political grave about what "the public wants."

But the most entertaining media spectacle of them all was the already legendary face off between Adam Boulton and Alastair Campbell. Campbell verbally planted his palm on Boulton's forehead and whistled nonchalantly while Boulton swung ineffectually at him like a demented emoticon. It was indeed very extremely hilarious and merited all it's youtube hits and retweeting.

But it was frankly also slightly disturbing that a professional journalist of that seniority should lose it so comprehensively on national television. Even if we take into account the possibility of a strong dislike of Campbell, it is also a symptom of the hysteria which has collectively gripped the political hacks. Boulton seemed like the personification of a lobby on the edge of professional meltdown, compelled as it was by the demands of the news schedules to find endless new ways of saying nothing much at all.

So what, you might say? A few slightly overwrought journalists at Westminster is surely nothing new. And yes, sadly, that's true. But given the fragile nature of the negotiations, and the "uncharted territory" that was being reported on, we "the public" might have a right to expect that those granted the privilege of recording proceedings keep a level head.

The sight of Brown leaving Downing St. hand in hand with his wife and children was poignant, moving and captured a sense of the incredible burden and privilege it is to hold such a high office. We need the cameras there to capure such moments and we need able writers to underscore and help make sense of the story unfolding. And we all need a moment to catch our breath and take it in.

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