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HNews­wor­thy vis­i­tor: be­hind the broad­cast­ing an­chors, staff gather to take pic­tures of the Queen as she vis­its the BBC’s news stu­dio at Broad­cast­ing House in cen­tral Lon­don ow much news do you want? And how do you want it de­liv­ered? Clearly news that you can read has the ad­van­tage over news that you have to watch, in that it can be picked up and put down at will, tai­lored to fit your day, whether it be de­liv­ered by a whistling school­boy or a small screen that barely hums. But the thought struck me when I saw the pic­tures of the Queen vis­it­ing the BBC ear­lier this month – stand­ing be­hind the oblig­a­tory duo of news­read­ers as they de­liv­ered their tid­ings to the na­tion – that there are so many things that ir­ri­tate me about tele­vi­sion news. The pair­ing of a man and a woman for in­stance. Why? Is there too much for one per­son to read? Will they get tired? A bul­letin is only half an hour long and those nice ladies So­phie Ra­worth and Fiona Bruce man­age it with­out run­ning out of breath, so why, in other bul­letins, is the task shared? Per­haps they think we’ll get weary of one face and one voice. It can’t be so ar­ranged in or­der that the two of them can have a con­ver­sa­tion, since they never do, ex­cept when their mi­cro­phones are switched off at the end of the bul­letin and we try to lip-read their con­ver­sa­tion. I sus­pect it is sel­dom more el­e­vat­ing than “Fancy a swift one in the bar be­fore you go home?” On a more se­ri­ous note, there is the dan­ger of con­jec­ture. This is a sce­nario that has been ex­ac­er­bated by “rolling news” – the er­ro­neous as­sump­tion that the view­ing pub­lic want to see peo­ple on screen talk­ing about the day’s so-called “news” 24/7. First thing in the morn­ing, early and late evening will suit most of us nicely, thank you, cou­pled with the morn­ing pa­per over break­fast and brief bul­letins on the hour on ra­dio. Rolling news is there for one rea­son only – to keep those in the news depart­ment busy and to make them feel more im­por­tant. My mother’s old maxim that “a trou­ble shared is a trou­ble dragged out un­til bed­time” is nowhere more proved than in rolling news. And when facts are thin on the ground, some­one who knew some­one who knew the un­cle of the vic­tim is bound to be per­suaded to give their two-pen­ny­worth. Tell us the facts and move on, please; hearsay is best passed on over the gar­den fence – or by those who wear black at the Grou­cho Club. Then there is the be­lief that re­porters need to be where the ac­tion is. Ex­cept that of­ten it isn’t. “Nick Robin­son, our po­lit­i­cal edi­tor, is in Down­ing Street.” Why? No one else is. The Prime Min­is­ter is in Par­lia­ment, or else he went off to Che­quers for the week­end hours ago; all that’s left in Down­ing Street is the No 10 cat, a po­lice­man and Nick Robin­son. Why does he have to be there? He’s bored and frozen. We know where the Prime Min­is­ter lives, so if we must hear from Nick Robin­son, for good­ness sake get him in the warm. Lazy graph­ics are an­other bête noire. If house prices are go­ing up or down, you know that be­hind the news­reader will be a pic­ture of a street con­tain­ing For Sale signs. If petrol prices fluc­tu­ate, there will be a shot of a hand on a pump. But even th­ese are bet­ter than the cur­rent BBC back­ground, which is of an of­fice in which jour­nal­ists mill about, or not, de­pend­ing on the time of day. Now I don’t mind jour­nal­ists milling about – it’s how they gather sto­ries. The pro­viso is that they should be in the dis­tance and not too dis­tract­ing. But a few days ago I no­ticed two of them meet­ing al­most di­rectly be­hind Fiona Bruce. I could see their fea­tures clearly. You can bet that some de­signer has man­aged to per­suade pro­duc­tion that such an ar­range­ment is “edgy” and “the way for­ward”. No it’s not; it’s just dis­tract­ing. Give us back the painted flat of West­min­ster or the Thames; fail­ing that, a view of Sal­ford. You may as­sume that I have lit­tle time for news. Not a bit of it; I have a lot of time for news, but lit­tle for the un­nec­es­sary trap­pings that seem to go with it and the pro­mo­tion of the news­room over the news it­self. It was Dame Mar­got Fonteyn who said: “To take your job se­ri­ously is im­per­a­tive; to take your­self se­ri­ously is dis­as­trous.” In tele­vi­sion news, the tail seems all too of­ten to wag the dog. A friend vis­ited my gar­den re­cently and re­marked: “What a won­der­ful es­cape from re­al­ity.” I ex­plained that this is re­al­ity. Noth­ing is more real than the trees, the flow­ers and the wildlife. Re­gard­less of eco­nomic down­turns and civil un­rest in farflung cor­ners of the globe, na­ture will carry on, even if spring is later, the sum­mer is wet­ter and win­ter un­sea­son­ably mild. The stuff of tele­vi­sion news that de­presses us daily is but a man-made over­lay on re­al­ity, and pur­veyed in a quan­tity with which the aver­age hu­man brain is ill-equipped to deal. To pile on ev­ery in­di­vid­ual’s shoul­ders, 24 hours a day, the worries of the world – from Syria to Afghanistan, Europe to the United States – is as un­rea­son­able as the weight of the world upon At­las’s shoul­ders. And once you have come to terms with to­day’s crises, there will be new ones to­mor­row. And that Nick Robin­son will still be stand­ing in a de­serted Down­ing Street. The dec­la­ra­tion in a re­cent sur­vey that cou­ples who meet on­line are more likely to have last­ing re­la­tion­ships than those who meet via other means did lit­tle to al­ter my feel­ings about the use­less­ness of such sur­veys. In­ter­net dat­ing be­gan in 1995. That’s 18 years ago. As some­one who has been mar­ried for 38 years this sum­mer, should I be­lieve that if Mrs T and I had met via an in­ter­net dat­ing site the prospect of a longer time to­gether would have been more as­sured? As a sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian friend re­marked to me re­cently, on the oc­ca­sion of his golden wed­ding: “I think it’s long enough, don’t you?” I was taken to task by a reader who noted that in my col­umn about poul­try-keep­ing a few weeks ago I did not men­tion that I fed my chick­ens grit or oys­ter shell mixed with their corn. That’s be­cause I don’t. I know it is re­tailed in text­books that such pro­vi­sion should be made, but my hens pro­duce eggs with de­cent shells on all the same, since they have a de­cent-sized run with plenty of dust baths. But if you have a small run, and no dust, by all means give ’em grit or oys­ter shell as well as grain. Not that they’ll thank you for it. Chick­ens are funny like that.

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