Peter Preston writes an interesting column about the nature of news over on the Observer. What happens to the news when certain kinds of events (murder, muggings, riots, terrorism) become routine? We saw what happened with major earthquakes (in quick succession) in Haiti, Chile, and then China.
What happens – to quote my PhD thesis – is that events lose their eventhood. News loses its novelty (and newsworthiness).
Ah! The most difficult question. If news is essentially the unexpected, what happens when murder becomes routine? Well, in a sense we know the answer to that. Look for extended coverage of ghetto or township murders in Washington DC or Johannesburg and you look in vain. Look, indeed, for escalating coverage of terrorist strikes in Pakistan’s own press and you find that routine turns to page two after a while. Violence doesn’t guarantee huge headlines.
So now the same cloud settles over Millbank as front pages are cleared because a few dozen sort-of students moved from marching protest to window-breaking mayhem and Scotland Yard didn’t have enough boys in blue to cope. Was that – a rampage around Tory HQ, a storming of roofs – news? Of course. Everybody from David Cameron to the Met commissioner was sounding off.