These days, the 0.3% of the population who are actually interested in news that doesn’t involve a disgraced celebrity will probably find it by minimising the pointless window they’re working on and clicking on Sky News. Finding a TV, let alone switching it on, is just too much hassle.
The networks know this, and so spend vast sums of money on attractive presenters and graphics, hoping to hold the viewers’ attention. At least until the next ad break, anyway. As well as pretty colours and ticker tapes, they rely on three things to keep the ratings above the waterline: Fear, the words ‘BREAKING NEWS’ and, above all, humankind’s primeval addiction to rubbernecking.
FEAR: When people are scared, they crave more information. Should they run for the hills, they ask? Should pets be left, or taken as a possible food source? What is Paris Hilton doing RIGHT NOW? To stop the masses from realising that, outside their front window, the World is going about its business, they have to blow every little development out of proportion. At the start of the Swine Flu pandemic, Sky had a correspondent reporting from the Scottish village where the first UK cases lived. As he reported that they were recovering nicely, he was clearly gutted that they hadn’t bled out all over the bedroom carpet.
BREAKING NEWS: Nothing makes a newsreader moist more than breaking a huge story to an ignorant public. In that respect they’re little different from 12 year old girls. One such (w)anchor described 9/11 as the highlight of his career, gushing so much that he may as well have shouted “9/11! It was f**king great!” Unluckily for him, but not for the rest of us, such atrocities don’t happen on a daily basis (unless you count The One Show). Because of this, the networks have to use ‘BREAKING NEWS’ captions to draw attention to practically anything. A classic example was during a particularly nasty industrial dispute, when a channel splashed ‘B.N’ banners all over the screen to declare that absolutely nothing had happened. I can only assume this is aimed at those cretins who dial a premium rate number to vote that they ‘don’t know’.
RUBBERNECKING: And finally, nothing guarantees an attentive audience more than a solemn warning that “viewers may find the following scenes disturbing”. Of course we’re going to watch, you bastards – it’s the news equivalent of “scenes of a sexual nature”. And, as with that caveat, it usually turns out to be complete bollocks.