By The Landlord
Good morning, afternoon and evening. This is the news. With runny coverage of the election and ripe predilection for projection, genuflection and retrospection. But what kind of news would you like? What flavour? What colour? What tone of voice? What brand? Would you like condescending, presumptuous news, or passionate, inflammatory, provocative news? And who would you like your news to be sponsored by? Would you like fries with your news, or cream? First though, some headlines:
Man Calls Police Because Cat Ate His Bacon
Man 'ran into ocean to avoid £375 restaurant bill’
Cyclist Starts Massive 73-Acre Forest Fire By Stopping For A Poo
Angry Seagull Forces Cornwall Tesco To Close After Taking Over Pet Food Aisle
Pensioner's Massive Cock Has Become A Local Tourist Attraction
Prisoner Successfully Sues Jail For Ignoring His Six-Day Erection
This Laser-Etched Tortilla Record Is Both Actually Playable And Delicious
'Dead' German Woman Wakes Up Screaming In Funeral Home
Woman To Marry Dog Following Death Of Her Previous Husband... A Cat
Man Imprisoned For Four Months Before Police Realised His 'Drugs' Were Salt
Mum and daughter tricked into licking feet of Poundworld staff who rode them like horses
Thailand: Tourist wearing fake shark fine harpooned 9 times by villagers
Nude Sunbather On Singapore Beach Injured After Crab Mistakes Her Vagina for Oyster
That's right, readers, you couldn't make it up! And no, these are not from a sketch by The Two Ronnies or anyone else. Factual news really can be better than fiction. These are indeed actual headlines.
So … during a momentous week, and particular today, 8 June, for many in the UK, not to mention around the world, we’re going to undoubtedly keep a sharp eye on current headlines and results. But in parallel, and for some occasionally light relief, let us also explore how the news, whether in newspapers, on television, on websites or social media, or indeed through any other means of communication, from drum beats to smoke signal, carrier pigeon or telegram, playground rumour, is played out, whether by style or content, in songs.
An example? Because this week many people are celebrating its 50th anniversary, here is the famous final track from Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, where the banal and the dreamily surreal qualities of news are brilliantly intertwined, saying something altogether deeper about the transcience of life. John Lennon used two unrelated stories spotted on the same newspaper page – holes in the road and a friend's death:
Last week’s topic was all about propaganda, in other words telling official forms of lies, but though this week’s subject is connected to it, it also branches out into another bigger sphere. While news is often told through the distorted prism of political leaning, moral or immoral compass or value systems, or is aimed at a particular demographic, news is also a broader form of communication and subject matter. And that's because news isn't merely opinion or conjecture, but actual events. So let's also suggest songs that mention all kinds of news stories told for any number of reasons. Perhaps because they are funny, or sad, serious, sensational, extraordinary, sometimes important, or even incredibly dry and boring. So what's happening? Shed fire! Fruit fight! Man kicked own leg!
And also while you're here, songs that ask, show, tell, and talk about what news is? Is it something actual new that's happened, or is it the same fodder to be consumed again and again, and to embellish pre-conceived opinions? Is it the same thing again about what is good or bad for your health, or the same story about the same people? Is it all rumour and not even news at all? Or is it real earth-shattering, breakthrough stuff that retells the entire history of humankind, such as yesterday's discovery of homo sapiens remains in Morocco, and 300,000 years old?
And how is news told? Key phrases such as “have you heard the news?” or "read all about it" might crop up, but more interestingly lyrics or titles that mimic or copy the style of headlines or tell news-style stories will do the job nicely.
Perhaps one way to look into the style and mechanisms of news is to examine parodies of this media. More than 20 years ago, Chris Morris and friends' satirical news programme came along, with the intentionally bland title, The Day Today. It parodied a huge variety of styles and values in a satire that was well ahead of its time. While spouting a load of at times edgy nonsense, the delivery and graphics expressed precisely how the BBC and many other channels even now, also churn out self-important and often sensationalised news. The Day Today features "factoid rhomboid" graphics that prioritise form over content. It has overdramatic and self-important Jeremy Paxman-style presenting, including an episode where Morris, in this anchor role, interviews his own correspondent and shows him up for not doing his own job properly (as if the idea of interviewing your own colleague isn't absurd enough, which happens all the time on real channels) and later when interviewing two ministers from the UK and Australia, delightedly decides to declare war when he forces them to disagree. "War!" he cries, as staff and graphics intertwined in a choreography of indulgent curtain-raising attention-grabbing pomp. "Bloody hell!" and "Let's follow the missile cam!"
Not to mention of course, the absurd head-only weatherman Sylvester Stuart, the ridiculous CNN-style Barbara Wintergreen, the petulant and incompetent economic correspondent Peter O’Hanraha-hanrahan, French philosopher of news Jaques-'Jaques' Liverot, bearded ‘news goat’ environment correspondent Rosy May, and of course some early appearances of sports desk’s Alan Partridge:
Then right up in the present, there is Jonathan Pie, primarily on Facebook and YouTube, who plays a TV news reporter who rants, very accurately, between the artificial takes of 'real' reporting, on what’s really going on:
Then there was Drop The Dead Donkey, a 90s sitcom that includes a reporter, Damien Day, who actually triggers dramatic, often violent events to report on so he can get the scoop. And there are pioneering sites such beautifully ironic The Onion or London Shite, where news media is always ripe for parody.
The internet is also rich in examples of when newsreaders start to laugh uncontrollably in what are called ‘blooper’ moments. But for me one of the most magical news accidents occurred when a taxi driver was mistaken for a tech expert on the BBC, and was interviewed about Apple, and while he initially looked terrified, played along anyway just because he felt he had to. Just look at his face.
As entertaining and amusing for everybody this was, it also very much reveals how there is pressure to play a role in the theatre of television news and simply waffle on with any old nonsense, whether as a guest, but even more so if you're the interviewer.
Yet newspapers are far more guilty of rubbish in many other ways. I have spent years editing thousands of news stories for a very reputable newspaper and website, as well as writing countless headlines, and doing my best to do this with impartiality and accuracy. One of the great battles is to avoid lazy point of view or 'pov', assumed knowledge, bias and cliche. Political bias is always an internal, as well as external battle in news organisations. But nagging away at our subconscious, or conscious selves, are also the nuances of language in news. So even in the highest standards of reporting it’s always a fight to avoid an “outpouring of emotion” in a “last-ditch effort” for “unsung heroes” in a “public outcry”, "giants" or a “desperate plea” “at the end of the day”.
And then there’s a whole other ballgame - the tabloid newspaper machinery of hatred, falsehood, hypocrisy and not even hidden agenda. In particular the endlessly harmful Daily Mail (read all about it here) and The Sun, which from everything such as the Hillsborough football falsehoods to this week’s incredibly blatant rubbish, alongside the Mail, attempting to draw some parallel between Labour's anti-war Jeremy Corbyn and recent UK terrorist atrocities, there can never be any forgiveness.
The massed harm of such publications, for whom I would never work, could arguably be worse a blight on the nation than any single bomb. The endless drip-drip of bigotry, ignorance and hatred is a poison that runs deep in society. But still there’s the excuse that this reflects what people think rather than directs it. What baloney. It is the excuse that Hitler made. But still we get reams of sex romp, blitzkrieg, bloodbath, or anger at so-called immigrant scrounger jihadist sympathisers, packing more racism and bigotry in a few words than a whole crowd of Ukip or National Front members could muster waving pitchforks on a cocktail of Red Bull and snakebite.
Just to clarify then, that 80% of the UK’s media is owned by these five people, and their publications’ primary objective is not report the news, but to distort any event or portrayal to protect their owners’ interests - in other words, offshore tax havens, low taxation for highest earners, and any government that will in turn protect them.
So where can you find trusted news sources? Aside from Private Eye which takes no prisoners in either excellent parody or accurate reporting of any form of political hypocrisy, all news sources are flawed. But whether they are left or right wing, this is one map, more for US readers, but global, which might help, very approximately, even if a little imperfectly. Note here how, interestingly, there are equally dubious, sensationalist, clickbait organisations on both sides of the political map, moving around social media bubbles at a rabid rate, and also, for example, Breitbart, almost off the map on the extreme far-right end of untrusted, used to be edited by Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's chief adviser. Now there's no surprise at all.
Sometimes however, on a lighter side, news media can really trip itself up, especially when newspaper layout designers fail to realise what advertisements will juxtapose with headlines or pictures, such as this:
Or fancy a little carry on cruising?
Or the columnists’ classic typographic revenge:
But for tonight's closing headlines, let’s end with a song. This one’s also been chosen for a previous topic, but here the great Ray Davies not only jauntily mimics the style of local news, and local gossip and rumour, but also reveals what that news can do to someone who is its focus:
Did you see his name in the local paper,
Stole a tin of beans,
From a cut-priced grocery store.
The judge said he must pay,
So he put him on probation,
And the paper gave his name.
So then, this week’s smooth anchorman, hopefully helping guide us through the next anxious 24 hours and beyond up to last orders on Monday evening, is the ever elegant-under-pressure EnglishOutlaw. Put forward your suggested songs that talk about or mimic the style, content and communication of news, all in comments below until 11pm UK time on Monday, so that playlists can published next Wednesday. What will the results be? No one, at the time of writing, really knows, but the polls are a clear indicator that, at the Song Bar, even if not anywhere at the ballot box, choices made will certainly be fair, and definitely entertaining.
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Fancy a turn behind the pumps at The Song Bar? Care to choose a playlist from songs nominated and write something about it? Then feel free to contact The Song Bar here, or try the usual email address.