March 17, 2011

News Junkets

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When news of last week’s earthquake in Japan first broke, the details and images were largely provided by Japanese media sources. After a couple of days this changed – the UK media had arrived! These newsreaders added nothing to the coverage. They stood in front of devastation and read the news, as opposed to sitting in a London studio and reading the news. They are just talking heads, what difference does it make where they are physically. The same goes for reporters parachuted in to Japan (I hesitate to call them journalists considering their output so far). One reporter after being asked how hard it would be to evacuate, said he had no idea, he had only been in the country a few hours. Why did he bother? The UK media people just seem to be adding “colour” and making comments on ethnic stereotypes (“aren’t the Japanese calm and stoic”).

Why does this disaster migration occur? Is it delusion, that the UK-based reporters can provide a better new service if they are there? Perhaps it is self-importance, that an important story requires important newsreaders to give it weight? Alternatively: a junket; profile building; to give an air of authority; or, to provide a more interesting slant to a downbeat story? They add nothing and must subtract a great deal. I can only imagine they are in the way of the rescue effort for a start, and consuming resources (water, food, housing, power, etc) that could be more charitably utilised.

All the major news programs in the UK seem to be doing this type of reportage – Channel 4 have at least 3 unproductive reporters in Japan right now (not including their production teams). They must have racked up the frequent flyer points after arriving fresh from Libya and Egypt. Perhaps the reason the growing crisis in the Ivory Coast is being largely ignored is because the reporters can’t get visas. This travel can come across as hypocritical. Jon Snow took a trip to Brazil for reports on global warming in advance of the Copenhagen climate summit (he was heading in the wrong direction for a start). While there I didn’t see him do anything that couldn’t have been done by a local reporter. Back in Europe the next week for the summit itself, his reports noted the increasing evidence that flying is becoming a notable cause of global warming – like sending a news crew half way around the world for no good reason!

Am I missing something? I can’t believe that the audience need this travel to occur to be interested in stories of disaster or revolution. It just seems pointless and ego-boosting.


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