By Elliot Adams
August is ending and silly season is ending with it for another year. ‘Silly season’ denotes the few summer months when parliament is in recess, organisations are hesitant to enact any major changes while important staff are vacationing, the law-courts aren’t sitting and new shows are rare outside of festivals because of the expectation of critics being on holiday – this annually starves the media of newsworthy stories to the extent that everyone runs pieces on exams getting harder/easier and cats being stuck in drainpipes. Many other countries have comparable periods, for example France’s morte-saison(dead season) and my personal favourite Germany’s Sommerloch (summer[news] hole).
This season has been an exemplar treat for those of us who value the valueless. I was particularly tickled by The Guardian‘s stunning news that ancient Roman soldiers may have worn socks with their sandals and the BBC report that two strippers have been picketing a small church in Ohio. These triumphs of the inane join the silly season repertoire of cows that moo in regional accents, a cheese puff shaped like Jesus (all the puns have been done already, to death, forever) and the classic Sun story on Victor Meldrew being found in space.
Doubtless the vacuum created by the lack of newsworthy material sucks in some absolute shite. But the press hasn’t always been so desperate to fill this empty space. On Good Friday 1930, Britain was on holiday, the economy seemed to be recovering after the Wall Street Crash and the political world was quiet – it was the slowest of news days. In response to this, BBC radio news delivered the most honest statement journalism has ever produced;
“Ladies and gentlemen, there is no news tonight. So here is some music.”
Now, I understand replicating this is impracticable - in a culture of 24 hour news broadcasting, 1930′s era piano music is not an acceptable substitute for newsworthy material – but it is still preferable by far to the dark-side of silly season.
Firstly, the hunger for content increases the frequency of bad science which is particularly dangerous when it deals with medical issues like The Telegraph‘s claim that shopping receipts make men impotent, or the report that housework stops women from getting breast cancer -this joins the hundreds of things the Daily Mail have claimed cause/cure/prevent cancer. If you doubt the danger of such poor understanding of scientific research, remember that there are still thousands of people who think the MMR vaccine is linked to Autism.
The same hunger is also exploited by public relations and marketing drones the world over, silly season is the highpoint of the year for those seeking to get their press release – or advertisement masquerading as such – into the press with few changes. This process also works in the other direction as press outlets dredge stories from within the highly partisan and second-level agenda setting environment of blogs and pressure groups, as further fuelled the argument over the so-called ‘ground zero mosque‘ earlier this summer.
The pretence that you always have something newsworthy ready to publish is deceptive but necessary. Whatever has – or has not – happened, The Mirror has forty or so pages to print, the news at ten has it’s half an hour to fill and The Today Programme has it’s three, and like a wagon train in some desert-bound circle of hell reserved for the myopic and excitable, the rolling news broadcasters must keep endlessly rolling on.
But just as the 1930 BBC broadcasters making their ‘there is no news tonight’ announcement were using the music as an alternative to the news agency material they were trying to break free from, modern broadcasters should use the fluff of silly season to break away from the PR material and bad science that likewise thrives in a newsless environment.
So by all means throw away some self-respect with articles about baby polar bears if you can’t run significant world news, just don’t throw away your respect for your readership at the same time.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is no news tonight. So here is a story about how the Roman’s wore socks with sandals.