For the past year or so, I’ve been collecting my thoughts for a treatise of the sad state of the news today. I have something to say, if I could just get it down on paper. Paper, hah! Old habits die hard. You see, for many years I was one of those ink-stained wretches. But a few years back I rode off into the sunset. Not so ink-stained any more. Back to my article. I liked the opening:
“Breaking news is an everyday part of our lives. All the news stations feature it and even though CNN sometimes varies the parlance with “Developing Story”, we know what they mean. Sometimes I’ve wondered, can news actually break? “Breaking” suggests that it’s in the process of doing so, like falling. But eventually the falling ends and you’ve fallen. And suffered the consequences. Like I said, I sometimes wonder about this. Only sometimes, while taking a break from less edifying musings.”
That’s as far as I got. Though recently I had cause to consider this in all seriousness. I got a call from Dr. (huh!) Tabitha Lloyd, an old colleague of mine in the news game. She made a name for herself in the Fleet Street days with ripping exposés of “The Lascivious Lord’s Loo”, “The Prince’s Prance Pitfalls”, “Sportsman’s Special Speculum” and “MBE MIA, WTF”. I couldn’t fathom where the “Doctor” came from and true to her roots, she never revealed that source.
“Dandy you old tosspot, how are you?” she began. “I’m working on something so smashing, so devastating, so...” she paused, trying to summon up that elusive third adjective. “You’re out of the business aren’t you?” she tacked.
“Tab, what a delight. Yes, I sheathed the quill years ago. Around the time I was telling you that no one cared for salacious tripe in the Post-9/11 World. What have you been up to? It’s been, what – almost five years since you were last here, what, covering the Brad and Jen split as I recall?”
“Old news Dandy. I’m on to something even bigger. I’m a researcher now; Guest Professor of Popular Reportage. Murdoch Institute for Reporting Excellence. News for the people Dandy.”
“So what’s the big project? And why me out of the blue?”
“Dandy, I’ve signed umpteen confidentiality agreements. I can’t trust anyone in the business and we go back. And now I’ve got something that will shake the world, close industries, change our lives”. She hit the troika this time. As for going back, well, I’ll leave that for another time. “Are you on Skype?”
“Sure isn’t everyone?”. “Tomorrow night, 8:00, no make that 7:00; are you still on the East Coast?” “I..” I started to reply. “Then 7:00 it is. Your coordinates?” I could hear her tapping a bunch of 5s. “7:00 tomorrow. Wonderful to catch up with you” as she rang off.
To understate, my curiosity was piqued. The going back comment resurrected memories of her “Swinging Singer Slings Sinful Sting” scoop where our paths first crossed. Five was her lucky number then, something about pentagrams and how there were FIVE Rolling Stones but only FOUR Beatles. Mercifully, she didn’t like to elaborate. Sometime later she settled on three. I was afraid it might have something to do with the Bee Gees. So I didn’t ask. And mercifully she didn’t tell. Though maybe that’s why she got the Brad-Jen-Angelina assignment. Tough break there. She was sure she had coined her way into Supermarket Press Hall of Fame with Joli-Pitt (“it sounds so sexual Dandy, but icky”). But Brangelina won out.
So what could this shaking, closing, changing story be? I was always glad to renew acquaintances with Tabby. She was the Russell Branyan or Rob Deer of the tabloid world. Always swung for the fences, struck out a lot, but hit enough homers to keep employed. Walked some too, though she never stayed with one club for long. I cracked open a vintage Night Train and settled down to ponder.
The next day came soon enough. Night Train used to be followed by a Morning Glory brunch but these days I’m more judicious in my vices. I killed the day playing Blasterball and Chuzzle Deluxe. Then I posted some OS rants under the five or six IDs I try to keep current. No way I’m revealing them now, but if you rated that “Emailin’ for Palin” post a while back, thank you.
7 o’clock finally arrived. I tuned in, turned on, and Doctor Tabitha Lloyd dropped in. “Dandy, you won’t believe what I’ve come up with. The news as we know it could end.” Small loss I thought but I knew that was my cynical side talking. “So what is it, what’re you working on?” I prodded.
“Where to start? I’ve been working on how the news penetrates the human psyche. How it can be pushed, thrust and implanted in the public consciousness. You’d be amazed at what I’ve come up with.”
“I’m listening. Watching too”. The years had been catching up but she still had that spark, that vitality that so intrigued. She had some severely earnest worry lines that weren’t quite there in the Brad-Jen days. Back then they were more like the prized battle scars from the front lines of a hard-living beat reporter. Character. In retrospect they seemed like premonitions.
“Well we, or I, have been analyzing how the news penetrates, envelopes, “ “Yeah yeah” I interjected, forestalling another trifecta. “You already said so.”
“So you know how news can hit a saturation point? Well it doesn’t actually, but it comes damned close. The saturation point is like the frictionless surface. It doesn’t really exist, or so we’ve always thought, but it’s a useful concept. It first approached this during the OJ trial. We, I mean all media, almost overwhelmed mankind with our coverage. The next big event was 9/11. In between, and since, we’ve had the tsunami, the 2000 stolen election, a couple of wars, the New Orleans hurricane, Obamania, Terri Shiavo, MJ’s death, Elian Gonzalez, and the Haiti earthquake. And that’s not all”.
“OK, I get your point, if there is one; but calling me after five years to tell me that various things made the news, well..” I paused, significantly I hoped, while I waited for something to wrap up the sentence. Or that she’d give me credit for not stating the obvious, whatever that was.
“The point Dandy, is that we’ve neared the saturation point several times but never quite hit it. Do you know what would happen if we did?” “Ahh,” I began to respond. “Well, all the evidence points to a complete breakdown of concentration shortly after the saturation point. Like how Bertrand Russell had to give up mathematical logic following Principia Mathematica. His concentration was shot and thereafter he could only dabble in Epistemology and Set Theory. Or Springsteen after Born in the USA. After that, he was reduced to troubadouring for the honest working man. Brian Wilson after Pet Sounds. Scorcese after Goodfellas. The five Rolling Stones after Exile.” Yeah yeah, I got the reference. “Dandy, this could happen to everybody!”
“I’m not following” I interjected truthfully.
“Dandy, I’ve been following the trends and we could be on the cusp of total media overload. Think, what’s the biggest story around?”
Caught off-guard, I floundered for examples. “Ah, global warming? Haiti? The Olympics?” I knew I’d better downshift. “Tiger Woods? Didn’t someone who’s been on TV just have a baby?”
“Now you’re getting closer. The correct answer is Tiger of course. I measure the media inches, the air time, the blogging posts, the Twitters, the Diggs, all of that. And I’ve come up with my own way to measure the intensity of it all. Don’t ask, trade secret. And it all adds up to Tiger. But what if there were more to the story?”
“More? Wasn’t the mistress count up to 19 or 20, at least the last I checked. Surely we’re getting into rounding errors territory.”
“Dandy, it’s not just the quantity. Who else has been in the news? Don’t interrupt.” She must have seen me starting to draw a breath. What if a certain blonde, beautiful gold medal winner was also in the mix? You know, had a pull on the Tiger’s tail”. How I admired her gift for thinking in headlines. “So if it came out that this blonde Olympian was carrying a Tiger cub, what would than mean?”
“Mean!? Umm, I bet it would make headlines”. When stuck for a response, understate the obvious is my credo. I’ve seen it work. Sometimes anyway.
“Good old Dandy. Still hoping I’ll mistake that for dry humor? But I love your sticking to what do best. Or trying to.” Hmm, was that “you” or “your”? “But on this mega-news, it could really be the saturation point, the tipping point, the BREAKING point!” I thought she was going to come through my screen.
“You mean..” having no idea, but shrewdly reckoning that she wouldn’t hang me out to dry. “YES. The news will actually BREAK!. As in broken. After this one, every celebrity scandal will fade to insignificance. No one’s going to care if Jessica Simpson has a new boyfriend. Who’s going to want to read about Megan Fox’s views on hygiene? And as for Suri’s latest outfit..” She pitched back in eruptive snorts.
“Dandy, do you realize that I’m could be cutting my own throat? If what I think could come out, comes out, then my days are finished. Over. Kaput. I mean, I’ll still have the Institute but it barely pays the bills. And there’s more of them than before. If there’s some Earl who’s paddling his nanny’s fanny, well,...” Uncharacteristically she trailed off. But surely there’d always be work for someone who could zip off such phrases.
“Dandy” she emphasized. I was glad her introspection deficit disorder was alive and well. “You could get back in the game”. I knew she meant well, at least I hoped so. “There’s bound to be more of a market for your IMF rate-setting stuff.”
I didn’t want to get my hopes up. That was in the past, but who was it that said “the past was close behind”? I needed more info. “Tabby, have you got this nailed down?”
“Welllll, almost. My source isn’t the most reliable, rather dubious if you must know. He’s a sort of cleaner; used to be the guy who’d clean Tiger’s spikes after practice rounds. Wasn’t TV-ready for the tourneys. He’s been laid off of course but he got a gig waxing skis at the Olympics.”
“I get it. He’s a cleaner so he should know dirt when he sees it.” Boy, maybe I still have the touch. “You’re welcome for that one Dandy. But he’s been dodgy on the details and I need another source.”
“So if there’s no other source, maybe there’s no story and maybe there’s nothing to it. Then where’s your breaking point?”
“Dandy, you don’t realize. Maybe there is no story. But it’s a matter of time. With the concentrated, pervasive focus of today’s media, it will happen. It’s like the meteorite that will one day strike the planet. We might get some false alarms, close calls, but eventually it’ll strike us. Same as the news that breaks the news for good, forever.”
“Well I’ll just sit back and watch then Tabby.” Was it my imagination or was she dropping down to twos? Interesting. “In the mean time, you have any other irons in the fire? Any chance you’ll be in this neck of the woods?” I hoped she didn’t think I was punning. Not that I’m averse to it. Hell, I’d been trying to craft a Tabby-Tiger tie-in for the past half hour. Eventually it had to come.
“Can’t say. If the Olympic cubby story fizzles out, I might be. Say, do you know where that Oscar Mayer factory is?”
“What in hell is Oscar Mayer? One of your designer pals?”
“Oh Dandy” she sighed. “Still a zero on popular culture. Unless it’s baseball or football, though you probably call it soccer now. No, they make cold cuts, sausages and the like.”
“Sausages? That’s way off your trodden path isn’t it? You working an e-coli angle?”
More sighs. “No Dandy. My backup project. John versus Oscar: Which Mayer’s weenie is worse? Anyway, gotta fly now. There may be a second source on Olympian cubby. Can’t pass that up. But we’ll see each other before you know it. There’s another item where I’m sure to need your help. Ta ta”.As usual, an encounter with Tabby left me dishevelled. And what was that “another item”? I reached for the Night Train.