A Dose of the Few? April 29, 2009Posted by markswill in Media.
In London to promote a work creation scheme (i.e. my own), ogle a bit of art and socialise, I found myself decamped from Paddington onto a crowded tube train where everyone was reading the obligatory free evening newspaper (or legalised litter, as the uncharitable might call it). The front page headlines blasted out ‘TUBE ALERT AS SWINE FLU ‘ALREADY IN CITY’, and although as yet no-one was wearing the paper masks we’ve seen pictures of from elsewhere, palpable paranoia nonetheless tainted the acrid air of the Circle Line.
Over the subsequent 24 hours – and it may be even worse by the time you read this – such pervasive unease has been stoked into panic by an eager media and a compliant government, with a couple of the tabloids announcing this morning that NHS had ordered 32million face masks and that online sales of the Tamiflu antiviral have risen by a 1000% since last week. Which is hardly surprising, given that before the fourth estate got hold of the story, they were around zero. Perhaps more startling is the amount of coverage serious news sources such as R4’s Today Programme and the Daily Telegraph are according the epidemic, or to put it correctly, the Mexican epidemic since there are only a handful of cases outside that country and thus far only one person – a Texan baby – has died elsewhere. The net effect of course is to swiftly inflame public anxiety in a manner that brooks little of the scepticism or even debate engendered by other strains of national scaremongering, e.g. WMDs in Iraq or the desperate need for ID cards. I understand that Twitter, the social networking site for the alphabetically challenged, is also partly responsible for escalating the paranoia, which only goes to show – depending on your viewpoint – how uncritical, or vulnerable, we’ve become as a nation.
My ageing motor-scooter being rather poorly at the moment, tomorrow I’ll be travelling extensively around London on Nice Mr Johnson’s filthy, erratic, expensive but otherwise obligatory tube trains and am anticipating a mild outbreak of paper masks (thrice deemed utterly ineffectual by different experts on R4 news bulletins today) and mass defections from any carriage a passenger might sneeze in. In the meantime I wonder how long it will be before the whole thing calms down as quickly as it erupted or, as a friend warned me as I left my Welsh domicile yesterday, I don’t make it home alive?
And mention of Twitter – which I refuse to engage with as a matter of humbug-ish, middle-aged principle – prompts another observation on the state of the media (see my earlier blog, ‘Paper Tiggers’, if you will). Having recently decided to hawk my services to website publishers as well as those of the ink’n’paper variety (see my website, if you will), I’ve been spending much time trawling through a huge variety of sites just to see what opportunities might exist. The upshot being, unsurprisingly, that the standard of writing on the internet is generally pretty lame, the standard of editing and proofing, ditto. The easy if obvious explanation is that a generation weaned on digital media – texting and e-mailing in particular – have no time for grammar, spelling or even a coherency of prose and therefore the credibility of a website isn’t undermined, as it might well be in printed media, by sloppy copy.
This may also sound like a grumpy old mannism, or even mannerism, but just as journalism itself has evolved in my working lifetime, and in many respects for the better, perhaps we must embrace this and actually employ it to our own benefit? Certainly the newsmedia, who can develop a story far quicker online than in their daily ‘papers, are using the syntax if not the textual shorthand of the internet to get their stories out. So I’m gratified, though as there’s no such thing as an original idea, hardly amazed to read in the latest issue of Prospect that my argument for putting a levy on internet usage (ref. ‘Paper Tiggers’ again) is being mooted as a solution to both declining newspaper revenues and also a way of saving the country from bankruptcy.
If and when that happens, perhaps I’ll be earning enough money from my online antics to afford a stockpile of Tamiflu in time for the next outbreak of viral hysteria.
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(c) Mark Williams 2009