And Now For The
Its a very well
written piece, said the editor of the TV
local news programme, encouragingly.
Im afraid we cant run it in its
present form, but today is your first
day as a reporter with us. Once youve got
used to our house style, Im sure your
stories will be fine.
John was relieved. Writing
reports for TV news had been a prestigious job to
get, and he been a little anxious about not
making the grade. Everyone had been very friendly,
however, and he was reassured to hear from Greg,
the senior editor, that his writing had met with
approval, even if he had evidently not yet fully
understood the precise type of report that the
programme required. What sort of changes
are needed to the piece? John asked, keen
Your story is about a
member of the public with some kind of
personality disorder, who is harassing the local
authority over some trivial irrelevance,
John agreed. The local authority have bent
over backwards to be conciliatory and work out
some amicable solution, but that woman is
impossible. Shes not interested in
listening to reason.
Thats a pretty
common scenario, Greg confirmed.
People like that drive public bodies to
distraction with their pathological pursuit of
mindless complaints. I think the main objective
for most of them is to see their grievances taken
to the European Court of Human Rights. Ive
followed a lot of these stories, Greg
continued. They target local authorities,
the civil service, the NHS, the police and any
other public organisation. Those bodies tend to
have complaints procedures that force them to
take seriously any daft whinge. Confidentiality
also means that those organisations cant
argue back via the media.
wrong with the story? John asked.
We cant report
that David is mindlessly harassing Goliath,
Greg explained. Viewers see public bodies
as uncaring, monolithic institutions, Hell-bent
on intimidating defenceless individuals. They
relate to stories about those individuals
fighting against such institutional oppression.
We cant report that this woman is bonkers
and only pursuing her complaint for malicious or
pathological reasons even though
thats the truth.
So I need to reframe
the story to cast her as a downtrodden heroine,
doggedly fighting for justice against an
inflexible and jobs-worth establishment,
Youve got it,
Greg concurred. To be honest, he
added in response to an unease he had perceived
in the tone of Johns previous comment,
Im not happy, myself, about slanting
reports in that way. Its just that
its not fair on viewers to present them
with the concept of a public body being harassed
by an individual. Theyre not bright enough
to grasp it, and it would be too risky for us to
Why is it risky for
us? John asked.
Because there are any
number of lawyers and consumer organisations just
waiting to take up the causes of these nut-cases
in pursuit of their own agendas, Greg
clarified. If we didnt support the
apparent underdog, wed be accused of
colluding with the establishment against the
little people the very people we rely upon
to watch and support the programme.
I see now, John
said. Ill re-write the piece to show
this mad woman as an ordinary member of the
public, forced to take a heroic stand against
bureaucracy. I can even get an emotional
interview with her if Im just going to
accept and agree with everything she says.
said Greg. Do that this afternoon, and
well run it on the late programme. I can
already see that youre just the sort of
reporter we need for TV local news.