What Storm St. Jude tells us about the state of news coverage

According to the office, we don’t name storms in the UK. So the minute news broadcasters started calling this week’s storm St. Jude, you knew the hyperbole machine was in top gear.

Of course there were some tragedies as a result of high winds, and I’m not belittling the storm (which hit Denmark and Germany the hardest), but in retrospect I think we can safely can agree that the most damaging force this week was the relentless coverage from rolling UK news stations.

The advent of 24-hour news has redefined the meaning of hyperbole. With broadcast hours to fill, viewers are worn down through repetition.

We were bombarded with phrases such as “hurricane force winds”. In reality a hurricane requires sustained wind (for more than one minute) in excess of 74mph. We didn’t have this in the UK. We had “gusts”.  By contrast, Hurricane Sandy (which hit the US last year) had sustained wind speeds of 115mph.  The Great Storm of 1987 gusted across the UK at 122mph.

But we accept the claims put out by the news channels and trade them as part of the public consciousness.

Of course, with outside broadcast units mobilised, none of the news channels was going to admit that the storm was actually something of a damp squib. And so we continued to be fed on a diet of hyperbole.

My favourite clip (from Sky News) shows a reporter at Milford-on-Sea in Hampshire. However the setting seemed altogether rather tranquil; and so he resorts to pointing at “ripples” on the water and a “swan battling its way against the wind”. Apparently this man is a serious journalist.

I’m not belittling the storm. People died. But our broadcasters have become too quick to adopt a tone more befitting of a Hollywood disaster movie. In other parts of the word, what happened this week is classified as a Tropical “Disturbance” or Moderate Tropical Storm. Last year 531 people lost their lives in the US through weather-related incidents alone.

Instead the cataclysmic rhetoric of UK rolling news stations almost certainly influenced the decision of transport chiefs to ground planes and cancel rail services unecessarily.

An increasing proportion of our news output is produced at great speed to meet the demands of 24 hour news. Our news is no longer carefully curated. It seems to have become lazy; trading in half-truths and interested only in selling opinion and conjecture. Increasingly it cares less about the validity of a claim and more about the ability to put a claim to the public as quickly as possible.

In fact it sounds like Twitter.



video courtesy of Waykiwayki  http://www.youtube.com/user/waykiwayki?feature=watch


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