01 August 2019

August: the political editor’s equivalent of writers block

The month of August is an political editor’s nightmare. It’s the time when the early morning editorial meeting starts with the usual question, “OK what has happened that we can report on?” The problem is with parliament in recess, lots of people on holiday, and most major sports events finished weeks ago, the answer is often “Not a lot.” So with empty columns to fill in the paper or hours to fill on TV news channels, thinking out of the box is required to relieve the equivalent of writers block. What we end up with depends largely on the imagination of those tasked with a story.

Thankfully there is currently still quite a lot going on. Today the news is full of weather related stories, interspersed with a little matter called Brexit. Refreshingly there’s also quite a lot happening elsewhere. There’s the campaigning for the Democratic Party candidate for US President, continued unrest in Hong Kong, and the continuing Ebola health scare in Africa. 

It makes a refreshing change from all the naval gazing of the last few months. It also means we’ve been largely spared pictures clips of cuddly baby pandas born in a zoo, or contrived stories designed to plug a new TV programme. There are still some good examples of lazy journalism though.

Take the story of the recent hottest day on record. This was spread across the BBC news outputs for over four days. At first it was, tomorrow could be the hottest day ever. Then it was unverified reports that their prediction was correct, together with all sorts of explanations of why it may not be. Such back tracking proved unnecessary when two days later it was confirmed that 38.7% was officially the hottest day ever recorded in the UK.

Then there’s the sad story of a 19 year old lady who’s died in Madagascar whilst on an internship. The story is typical tabloid fair, with a picture of the pretty lady, but devoid of any additional detail. The story is widely covered on various news outlets, but it’s obvious the Foriegn Office press release wasn’t giving much away. There’s no detail of how she died, what she was doing at the time, or exactly where she was. This may have been at the wishes of her family, but without this detail it was effectively a non-story that left you with more questions than you had before.

A bit like Brexit! Oh well, at least we have the Boris Johnson Brexit roadshow to keep us amused until the “normality” of parliament resuming and the party conference season.

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