Everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when a big story broke. Whether it is waking up in a Bangkok hotel to find that Michael Jackson had died or hearing about the 7/7 bombings on your radio during your journey to work you are consuming the news in its rawest form: live, rolling news as it happens.
Whilst I love documentaries, packages and films, news in its purest sense does have a beauty. The impact of those first reports is lost with editing and hindsight. You will never recapture that moment again.
Today at work one of my fellow journalists noted that one of the differences between news and drama is that drama offers a more long lasting record of history than news. Indeed, we will never again see the raw unedited hour of CNN or the BBC News Channel when the death of Michael Jackson was announced.
And more’s the pity. Sometimes I really think that journalists would benefit from seeing that rawness for a second time in its unedited form. As a fellow history graduate pointed out when discussing this question today it’s a bit like primary and secondary sources.
One example of an attempt to construct a documentary in real time is a programme that I watched a few years ago about England’s World Cup semi final against West Germany in 1990. Although the documentary was condensed into less than an hour they filmed it in a way that didn’t give away the outcome of the match.
All the main players were interviewed in the present tense – no benefit of hindsight – about what was happening in the match as the action unfolded. So it was quite refreshing to hear how the England coach Sir Bobby Robson chose the takers of the fateful penalties: I would have chosen the same ones based on his rationale.
It was also surprising to hear how the legendary Jurgen Klinsmann had had an ordinary game and was not considered to be in a positive enough frame of mind to take a penalty. If you didn’t know the result of that game then you probably wouldn’t have guessed it while watching this documentary.
The approach that the documentary took gave me a totally different perspective on the game. You have your recollections from the time and acquire the rest of your memories from the most played clips and the national collective memory.
I think it would be fantastic to do this with news. We have a channel called UK Gold where cab watch classic TV shows. We have Have I Got Old News for You. Could we do the same with news – play an hour of old news from a rolling news channel?
Of course, they would have to make it clear that it wasn’t live – like they do when playing tennis matches from history during rain breaks at Wimbledon. But I think that if this minor hurdle were overcome, the resulting programme would be of interest to both journalists and historians alike.