Tuesday 5 October 2004

Why I don't watch the TV news any more.

Yesterday was, in historical terms, a great day. SpaceShipOne achieved its second successful space flight in a week, winning ten million dollars for its trouble. The age of commercial space travel arrived.

Usually, I don't watch the news on the TV much. Like many people, I've become depressed by it's piss-poor quality, its bias, its utter failure to comprehend anything even vaguely scientific, and the way its schedules are decided by infighting between politicians and journalists. But yesterday was different. Dale Amon has been giving great coverage of SpaceShipOne from the very start, but I wanted to see moving pictures, damn it. So I turned on the TV.

We've got access to all the main twenty-four-hour news channels, which seemed like a good bet. Nope. Flicking between CBS, Sky, BBC, Fox, and some others for half an hour yielded nothing. Not only nothing, but I couldn't help but be struck by the stupidity, pettiness, and pointlessness of the stories they were showing. Mount St Helena is going to errupt — fair enough, tell us about that. Ongoing coverage of events in Iraq — again, fair enough. But what else were they devoting airtime to? Tory conference, with lots of footage of speeches. Who cares? Peter Mandelson's first day in Brussels. He made a speech in French about how he can speak a bit of French but is generally going to stick to English. They played all of it. Something to do with Manchester United FC. Various other items so uninteresting that I can't even remember them.

Then, finally, ITV News mentions it: "Coming up after the break," apparently. So I wait till after the break, but then they have the interminable sports results. Then the weather. Then about five seconds of footage of SpaceShipOne landing (as if trundling along a runway was the great achievement), followed by a brief snippet of interview with Richard Branson about the flights Virgin Galactic hope to start running three years from now. No words from, and not even a picture of, any of the team behind the achievement. Not even a picture of the pilot. You know what this means? A one-minute-long segment after the sport and weather? That's the dead donkey slot. Seamus the skateboarding jack russell; the schoolboy who's invented a new type of whistle; the ninety-seven-year-old lady from Hertford who rides a Harley. This is what our mainstream news journalists think of one of man's greatest technological achievements ever. What a shower of useless dullards.

Today's papers are the same. SpaceShipOne should be on every front page. It's not on one.

Now, I realise that not everyone shares my interests. I realise that some people are very interested in the goings-on at Man U or what the Tories have to say for themselves. But look at it this way. Twenty years from now, every news broadcast will contain an item mentioning the anniversary of yesterday's flight. By then, commercial spaceflight will either be an everyday thing or, perhaps, it will have ended in accidents so horrific that no-one will have any intention of trying it again. Either way, the date of its dawn will be mentioned. Even wilfully obscure trivia-obsessed "On this day in history" columns around page 41 of the Sunday papers won't mention Peter Mandelson's first day of work in Brussels.

Go read Dale Amon's coverage on Samizdata. We don't need moving pictures. We need vision.


andy said...

What that behemoth of current affairs, The Metro? Front page today was SpaceShipOne. Tsk, Jo; sloppy research! :-)

Squander Two said...

We don't get Metro over here. If what you say is true, then well done to them.

It's a strange paper, is Metro. It can be so good and so, so bad.

andy said...

True. I'm pretty sure that with the exception of some of the features, almost all their material is simply syndicated Reuters stuff. That's one reason I like it, there are virtually no emotive words in the reporting, so it is as close to objective reporting as possible. Hence, you get articles about alleged paedophiles with the words "evil" and "scum" and articles about Bush without "cowboy" and "i hope he dies in his sleep", which just isn't that common in pay-pers (see how I coined a clever new phrase? And even worked in a relevant pun in drawing your attention to it?).


Andrew said...

I watched it all live on Sky News. Are you going mad? Fox News had even more coverage, but Sky covered it live from the point of separation from White Knight all the way up and back down to landing.

Squander Two said...

Well, if that's what you saw, that's what you saw. I couldn't watch it live, as I have a job, and, by the time I got home in the evening, it had been relegated to news oblivion and all the journalists could talk about was Peter Mandelson's first day at his new job. Maybe SpaceShipOne was big news for a couple of hours, but it didn't last.

Spoke to my dad on the phone yesterday, and, although he had been watching the news enough to be pissed off by the endless Mandelson coverage, he hadn't even heard about the flight.