“And in news just in, I will grudgingly pass on that it is, apparently, a boy. You’re listening to the Globalist Asia, on Monocle 24…”
From the moment it was announced that Kate Middleton was in labour, the news channels lost all sense of, well, news. All switched immediately to live coverage of a door. In front of the entrance to the Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital in central London, a procession of news anchors stood pontificating, interviewing and speculating – desperately filling time until the birth could be announced. They talked about the gender, the name, the time of birth, who would be sat where, what the Queen would think, what Prince Charles would think, what the birth might do for the economy, anything really, so long as it was talked about with a sense of enthusiasm.
Here at Monocle 24, despite the fact the baby was born just a stone’s throw from our Marylebone studios, we really couldn’t have cared less. A sardonic Australian said a few words then got back to a news agenda which included the blacklisting of Hezbollah by the European Union, a major corruption scandal in China and a dramatic rise in Arctic shipping. Without being too po-faced about it, we just felt that there was more than enough actual news elsewhere in the world that was more deserving of your time than the birth of a royal baby.
A generation ago we would not have been alone. Even The Daily Telegraph, that most royalist of newspapers, found space for 10 other stories on its front page alongside the news of William’s birth. This time around it was all baby, all the time, all the way back to page seven.
The media may claim they were only giving the public what it wanted but by the end of the day even some editors must have been wondering if they might have gone a little over the top. The BBC broadcast its flagship news programme, BBC News at Ten, outside Buckingham Palace, a decision that rapidly backfired once the anchor, Fiona Bruce, began discussing terrorism and child porn (two other stories which somehow managed to break through the royal coverage) in front of crowds of grinning, waving patriots.
There is a broader issue here. Talking heads are cheap; journalism is expensive. As newsrooms cut back further, expect more episodes like the royal birth. News as entertainment, served up for next to nothing.
We will do our best to remain different. As our competitors yesterday continued with around-the-clock coverage of the as yet-unnamed baby, we stuck to a more interesting news agenda: the mass escape from an Iraqi prison, Brazil’s religious divide and the Norwegian town shrouded in darkness that is installing giant mirrors in the surrounding mountains to bring in daylight during the long winter nights.
If you care about the royal baby, fair enough, you can watch Sky News. Otherwise, you know where to find us.
Steve Bloomfield is foreign editor for Monocle.