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Friday, February 13, 2009

How the media works (latest in an endless series)

A well-known Radio 4 programme just called me. They wanted to do a story about the magazine ABC figures and needed a comment. I took my "tell me what you want me to say and I'll tell you whether or not I'll say it" stance. It turns out that out of these thousands of figures, all of which tell a story to initiates but may as well be in Aramaic as far as outsiders are concerned, they had identified two threads.

One was fairly well-based. However once the broad brush had done its work it was bound to be wildly misleading. What's the point of me going on the radio to say, what you've just said is not the case for these reasons? That's going to mess up their neat and tidy narrative and make me sound very pedantic.

The other was a thread about an initiative that somebody's trying to get off the ground. I'm prepared to bet my house it won't work but again what's the point of going on the radio to pour cold water over something that most people have never heard of and will never get to hear about? That will make me sound bitter. So I politely declined, leaving the producer a bit miffed.

The media - particularly the broadcast media - has a series of dance steps worked out. What it's looking for is a partner who's prepared to follow. The last thing it wants is somebody who's going to stop and say "why are we doing the waltz when we should be doing the foxtrot?" Some of this frustration is unavoidable. Elvis Costello was talking about this in a recent issue of Word. He found the tedious thing about being interviewed is that the interviewer always came along with a preconception that wasn't true. Then he started his own chat show and discovered he was doing the very same thing himself.