Ash

I hadn’t given Thai orchids a moment of thought. It would be wrong to say I don’t care. But most of any care I have over the lack of orchids from anywhere, would be to do with loss of income for those whose livelihoods depend on them.

Until Monday evening we didn’t know whether Son would be able to turn up here this morning, and for a while it looked as if he’d be one of the lucky ones, with flight not yet cancelled and due to arrive 15 minutes after Manchester airport reopens Tuesday morning (if it does). But it was not to be, which I suppose should have been expected after he has narrowly avoided other air traffic disruptions this academic year. Son has a certain talent for ending up with travel disruption where his education is concerned, so why would now be any different?

But let’s return to the subject of Eyjafjallajökull, which Son can pronounce almost to perfection after his year in that place where he’s stuck for the moment. The Resident IT Consultant was amused at the Icelander interviewed on air on Thursday when it all began, because he reported that ‘the ways were closed and the cows were in the houses’. Of course they were.

Son has found himself increasingly annoyed with the BBC on this subject, and has resorted to Icelandic news on the internet. And as the orchids above indicate, I’m a little intrigued at how our trusted newspapers are reporting things.

It’s worth covering the repercussions of businesses going under, and possible shortages of tomatoes, say. But the Thai orchids can’t be unimportant only at Witch Towers, surely? Or the pre-washed salads. Convenient (and yucky, when you think of it), but hardly essential. I noted to my surprise that elusive ingredients for medicine is bad for the pharmaceutical companies. I’d have imagined it’d be worse for those who are ill and may need the medicine to survive. And I’m not going to lie sleepless if Robert Downey can’t make his film premiere next week. Will you?

Why do papers report such silly news? I’m the first to enjoy Lucy Mangan or Tim Dowling poking fun at stuff in an entertaining manner, but who checks what gets into the news pages?

12 responses to “Ash

  1. As someone whose job used to be deciding what news did and didn’t make it into a national newspaper, I think I’m qualified to answer.
    First, what is relevant to one person may not be to another. If you’re a florist..or perhaps a wedding planner..then Thai orchids might be exactly what you care about. The London Book Fair is a good example – writers, publishers, agents all care a lot about the empty desks. The general public might not think it was a subject worth reporting.
    Second a newspaper wants to show the scope of a story. That means the seemingly trivial alongside the vastly important.
    Thirdly there’s something quite comical about the way the volcano has affected the richa nd famous – Tony Blair, Robert Downie jnr all as resourceless as everyone else.
    The challenge for newspapers is to compete with the internet, which allows the consumer to personalise the way they get information. More and more I think newspapers will be giving the broader picture. I’ve found it fascinating to consider the many ways, trivial and otherwise, in which we’re affected by this situation.

  2. Wow, Keren! Thank you!

    I agree that the many ways we are affected is fascinating, but before I go any further I have to say that my post was based on a couple of things that may not have been obvious.

    One is that I am horrified by the amount of (physical) paper that is wasted on too much reporting (and speculating) at any time, which may well be a weird notion to have.

    Second, I was mainly hoping for really serious effects, i.e. similar to war time, to be listed.

    So, from that point of view neither the book fair (which I care about) or Robert Downey (who I don’t) matter. It’s upsetting that the book fair suffers, but it’s not serious. For the fervent fan of RD it’s very upsetting if you can’t see him, but it’s not the end of the world.

    Food is important. Going without some foods is OK, as long as we have enough, though.

    As I said, I’m more concerned about vital medicines not reaching the patients, rather than the welfare of the pharmaceutical companies.

    The orchids. Yes I see that professionals and prospective customers need to know. But I’d expect those in trade would not need the Guardian to find that out. If I was getting married, I’d hope my married life would be just as happy even with no flowers at all at the wedding.

  3. Ah, well if we go down that route then we wouldn’t have any printed newspapers at all, or books, now that there are electronic alternatives. In fact most newspapers are printed on paper made out of recycled paper, and if new trees are used to make newsprint then they come from forests of trees specifically grown for paper-making – trees which are replaced once used.
    I think in this case the mixture of experiences and effects is what makes the story fascinating. Some serious, others not. The human stories alongside the statistics. The implications for business, livelihoods, all kinds of stories. I heard yesterday about a funeral which had to be conducted without the dead man’s son there – he was stuck abroad. He gave a speech via a telephone.
    Old-style journalism where an editorial team decide how to present the news to readers and viewers, is a dying model. I doubt that traditional newspapers will exist in 20 years. Now we mix and match the news we want. A story like this shows the strength and weakness of the old and new models.

  4. I hope they aren’t all gone so soon. I just find myself wishing every so often that there were fewer pages in my daily paper. I wish we didn’t have to wade through pages and pages of speculation about an event before it’s even happened.

    Don’t know about the rest of you, but I suffer from information overload, and whereas I can easily avoid reading stuff, I find some shouldn’t have been written in the first place.

    The fact that the paper comes from a decent background doesn’t make using quite so much all right.

    Except, of course, I didn’t mean for this discussion to go so deep. It was more aimed at the Tim and Lucy fans, with a bit of tongue-in-cheek musing.

  5. I think trivial news, and speculating, in newspapers is very much a British thing. After all, that’s what tabloids live on. I think as a foreigner (I don’t know if you’ll agree Bookwitch) I find it somewhat bewildering.
    I read in The Guardian online (I think) what an effect this was all having on organ transplant surgery, with patients having their operations cancelled. That’s heartbreaking.

  6. Ah, another foreigner! Yes, I agree. I just didn’t dare suggest that some foreign press is more beautifully restrained. On the other hand, that also means much less of the wonderful with of the kind I mentioned above.

    Transplants. Yes. I’d hope that’s when they call out the RAF. It’s the least they can do. If the Navy can ferry tourists home, then a few vital organs can surely be ferried somehow.

  7. I saw a BBC report that nicely mixes the trivial and the serious and shows how intertwined it’s all become. It was about the reluctant detruction of roses in Kenya, which would not be able to be flown to the European marketplace in time. The Europeans can do without roses for awhile, I suppose–and whatever happened to those English country gardens anyway?–but a huge part of Kenya’s economy depends on their export trade of flowers and vegetables. Whether or not this should be the case, I have no idea, but the loss of this trade has hit them hard very fast.

  8. Ah, the general vs the personal. Son not getting home, far more interesting than Thai orchids. Except to Thai orchid importers. I’m with witch on the hideous waste of trees that some of the free papers represent. Our Murdoch-y taste for news is reducing the world to appallingly banal trivia. Now that’s almost as tragic as the grounded organs.

  9. The Guardian’s liveblog has been a lot more help than the BBC about alternative routes etc… if Son has internet access it might be worth him keeping an eye on.

    Rolling TV news has done a lot to make the current state of reporting so dreadful. Producers either want a sensation or a resolution there and then, hence all the false alarms… not to mention the assumption that a huge volcano was suddenly going to stop erupting in six hours, which is what they were still coming out with on Thursday!

  10. I have a bit of a soft spot for Robert Downey Jnr though, so I’ll worry about him while you lot debate the properly important stuff.

  11. Re printed material rather than volcano, this recent piece from the NY Times Paper Cuts blog makes a green case for the use of paper, or, as they put it, dead trees: http://papercuts.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/25/in-defense-of-dead-trees/

    I don’t know enough to fully agree but found the argument fascinating (must ask climate scientist brother-in-law for his take). It’s not a side of the story that gets a lot of attention.

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