Monday, August 22, 2011

Losing the War

If you're a rolling news channel, you're only as good as your last war, and BBC News has had some pretty dreadful ones lately. Turning to Sky News for coverage of vital events is like relying on a slightly dodgy friend for all your gossip - you know you shouldn't, but it's just so entertaining. And recently BBC News has been anything but.

Hot on the heels of BBC News's abysmal coverage of the London riots comes their coverage of The Liberation of Libya. On Sky News you could see nighttime crowds in Green Square, celebrating and firing guns. On the BBC it was still daytime as they made do with a loop of library footage from earlier in the day. At 2am they were still claiming that this was a report from "The Front Line". But the broad daylight suggested that the fighting, and the story, had long since moved on.

The picture quality on Sky and Al Jazeera was never going to win an award - but it was there, fresh and live, and a bit like chat rouelette with guns. Sky News even had a fabulous lady in a tin hat - Alex Crawford, standing right there, in the middle of Green Square, with the plucky look of someone who just knows they're going to get played by someone fabulous in the movie of all this.

Meanwhile, the BBC's man on the spot was trapped in his hotel... 5kms away. His twitter account went from initial frustration:

to an increasingly Evelyn-Waugh's-Scoop desperation, including a plea for Sky News's correspondent to come and liberate him.

His on-air appearances had a similarly hapless air, the poor man looking like a freshly-bollocked fish. It must have been terrible for him - trapped in his hotel by the government, in an increasingly dangerous situation, surrounded by minders with guns... but it made for dreadful, dreadful television. And having to carry on reporting gamely on the view from his window (er, silent night) while his rivals had jubilant crowds, gunfire, and the thrilling tearing down of flags.

After a while (out of frustration or pity), BBC News cut away from the poor man and settled for showing still pictures from the internet (like the liberation version of Tony Hart's gallery) and then a studio interview with a dull man in a beard until we gave up and went to bed.

BBC News gamely ignored the stunning coverage by its rivals, except to make the occasional petty corrections ("@SkyNews reports that looters are moving into #Rixos hotel... not really. A few."). This morning they've put on a bolder face (in an article which could only be more bathetic if called "My room service hell as Tripoli fell..."), and are pointing out at every opportunity, with wounded pride, how dangerous Libya still is. But, as the fighting continues...

...the war for news has been won. For the last few weeks, Sky have made us forget the Corpse Copter, Kay Burley and even that shouty man... and instead have proved the one thing that no-one wanted to see... that the BBC's rolling News service just isn't worth watching.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Reclaim the streets

Last night social media came into its own and rolling news ended up looking silly.

At about 1am, as the London riots reached Camden, I got chatting to my neighbour Kim. "BBC News is rubbish," she said, "What's going on?"

I told her we were getting our news off Twitter. "Oh," she said, "How do I do that? I only use it for the celebrities."

Not that Twitter was entirely reliable. You know how in an office there's normally one PA who can't resist sending round emails saying "Just passing this on, but a friend of a friend overheard a foreign man with a beard saying to steer clear of town tonight..."? Well, Twitter is a breeding ground for these trouble-stirring fucktards. The one mercy is that at least they can't tweet in Comic Sans.

These rumours went hand in hand with stupidly thoughtless photoshop forgeries (London Eye in flames, anyone?) - and with exactly the same bleating caveat as you used to get with those shit-stewing emails of "Don't shoot the messenger!!! Just want people to stay safe." No, no you don't - you just want people to live in fear.

The nice thing was the way that Twitter self-policed these things very efficiently, and soon proved a great way of serving up news, comment, and even the odd bit of brilliant gallows humour . That said, if you're easily offended, Twitter ain't the place for you. Or maybe it is. As London got progressively sadder (and drunker) there was a noticeable increase in people loudly taking offence, forgetting that humour is frequently as valid a defence mechanism as leaping on a high horse.

While Twitter triumphed, the BBC News Channel had a peculiarly glum evening - as though everyone had gone home and was hoping we'd all go to bed, rather than staying awake, desperate to know our homes were safe. Instead we were treated to increasingly out of date footage... and then, madly, BBC News went over to Singapore. For an hour and a fucking half. While warehouses burst into flames and the violence spread across the country, BBC News pressed on gamely with their planned Singapore coverage, flapping around like a flaccid cock at an orgy.

We turned over to Sky who had thought to send out reporters to try and cover the catastrophe. A man called Mark (with good hair in a crisis) stood on the streets of Clapham asking rioters if they were happy with what they'd done. Back over on the BBC the rioters and looters were still being called "protestors", which seemed a bit hopeful. But, as someone said on Twitter, "BBC News so out of date they've just reported a fire on Pudding Lane".

Again, I keep mentioning Twitter. At about 2am people started talking of a clean-up of the streets. We staggered to bed, vowing to go along to the one in Camden.

As it turned out, the worst of the damage in Camden had been blitzed by street cleaners used to the weekend market. So we were sent to Clapham...

What followed was both wonderful and the dullest flashmob of our times, as over a thousand people gathered with brooms and bin bags ready to clean the shattered High Street. We waited... and we waited.... and we waited...

We were all VERY middle class, politely queuing to tidy up the chaos. We were so middle class that when Sainsbury's handed out free croissants, we applauded.

But... as the hours ticked by... it became more curious. We were, for example, penned in. It was very politely, discretely done, but penned in we were. We were there for the cameras to take pictures of - nice, jolly, lovely people trying to do their Ealing Comedy bit with brooms and brio. As an example of a community reclaiming the streets of a vibrantly diverse area we were all a bit white and middle class. Which was possibly a bit disappointing for the media who got consequently over-excited when a passing rasta Mum started shouting. She may have been screaming mad, but at least she didn't look as though she was a freelance web designer.

There was an upside to all of this... the totty. There was, after a while, nothing better to do than gawp at the sheer quantity and quality of the hot men of London who'd turned up with brooms and troubled expressions.

They were supplemented by the nearby branch of Fitness First who disgorged their trainers and resident muscle marys who joined the crowd, milling, pecking away at their iphones with pudgy fingers and furrowed brows. It was more crammed with hot men than gay pride. It also felt a bit wrong... which made it all the better.

In the end... Boris turned up. Like the crowd were a nice little backdrop for a photo op. Shortly after that the crowd were allowed to finally start cleaning up. Funny that.

But overall... it was a good thing. The right thing to do. And there's a nice feeling to being able to recognise my broom on the picture that went round the world.

Monday, August 01, 2011

RIP TJ Hughes

I am very sad that TJ Hughes has gone into administration. I discovered a branch in Glasgow last year and I've been more times than to the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art. Or the Polo Lounge.

I think I loved it because it's a battered relic of the 70s ("As are you" the Affection Unit muttered as I dragged him on a farewell tour of their lavender hand creams). The shop was orange and formica, resolutely unmodernised, but also weird. Sometimes the lobby display would be vacuum cleaners, sometimes trampolines. The rest of the ground floor was taken up by celebrity perfumes by non-celebrities (Helloooo Samanda! the twins from Big Brother.

The "fashion" department was the creepiest. At the top of the stairs you'd be met by a picture of two children. A yellowed and creased picture of two children. Who by now must be approaching pensionable age. The only customers would be old ladies whose leopard print skirts swished against their crutches.

The basement was where TJ Hughes swept everything that didn't even belong in TJ Hughes - electric fires with fake logs, teapots and industrial concrete steamers. I loved going down there, mostly because the escalator squeaked in exactly the same tune as the incidental music to Doctor Who: The Greatest Show In The Galaxy.

On our farewell tour, the Affection Unit and I went up to the top floor where pleated curtains hid. We were met at the top of the stair by a Scottish Ginger Prince. "Are you twose looking for duvets? We're down to singles and kings and it's a miracle if you'll find a valance." He wandered away, leaving us surrounded by mercilessly floral scatter cushions.

"I think we've pulled," muttered the Affection Unit, pointing to where the Ginger Prince lurked among sprays of fake dried flowers. I nodded, not really listening. I'd spotted a sale on tea towels. Everything must go.