Monday, 25 April 2011

Robin Williams and a small earthquake in Chile

Small earthquake in Chile. Not many dead entered UK journalistic legend circa 1930s as the “least significant headline” to appear in The Times – and came to extend to newspapers in general.
Left-wing journalist Claud Cockburn said this was his winning entry in a jokey contest held among newsroom chums when he was a sub-editor on The Thunderer.
Reference is still made to it today but no such headline has ever been found. Cockburn’s memory was at fault or, more likely, he aimed to amuse with an invented headline.
Today foreign deaths – however few – wouldn't be treated so lightly. But in Cockburn’s day the world was a much bigger place and Chile would have been classed an area so remote to be of little concern.
News of any disaster in the country would take days to emerge – and then would be relegated to a couple of paragraphs in a Reuters wire service.
Compare this, say, to the live broadcasts from the very real Chilean mining accident last year. Several books and documentaries followed – and thankfully none of the miners died.
There is a need for a modern equivalent to Cockburn’s underwhelming news event challenge. I don’t mean of Lost dog found variety to be found in any local newspaper. But a true-life non-story that has gone round the world.
My candidate would be the news that actor-comedian Robin Williams wasn’t given a $100 ticket by cops who stopped him cycling on a New York sidewalk recently.
He revealed the experience in a TV talk show; the incident was repeated in the online editions of a couple of newspapers; it was picked up by websites every where; and now Google registers over 800,000 references to the search: “robin williams” + sidewalk.
The media’s appetite for celebrity stories is so huge that had Williams been fined the reaction would have been off the scale.
All the news that fits used to provide a barrier to regurgitated trifles finding their way into newsprint. The internet has opened floodgates and we are awash with trivia.


  1. No No GC. The conventional media started first with the trivia. The net augmented it.

  2. Cycling on the sidewalk, eh? He always was a comedian.


What do you think? GC