London tourist attractions and retailers have sent out mixed messages about the short-term economic benefits of the Olympics. But in what they used to call Fleet Street, newspaper editors must have considered the Games manna from heaven.
For when the Olympics are on, even if editors don’t see any rise in circulation they at least have something to fill up their pages in the silly season that is August. Usually, with parliament in recess and employees of the organisations that make regular newsprint appearances (Ofgem, policy think tanks et al) drifting off to spend quality time with their families, the gap in newsworthy items is occupied by items which have been hanging around in the tray marked ‘non-urgent’ for weeks. Out come the health survey findings, along the lines of ‘blondes less likely to develop heart disease than brunettes’. The other trusty alternative is the animal story, accompanied by a large and cute photo which, conveniently, takes up most of the rest of the page.
During the Olympics editors enjoyed a glut of material. Sport moved to the main section, and the numerous Team GB successes meant ample material for human interest stories such as reactions from athlete’s families and home towns. The Opening Ceremony left journalists with plenty to pick over for days: what was it like directing the Queen in the Bond sequence? Who was the imposter walking with the India team? Then there were the glitches in the otherwise happy narrative to report on: the empty seats saga, the wayward foreigners deliberately losing badminton matches.
Why do quality newspapers fill their pages with dross and trivia in August when there is a logical solution if it’s too quiet on the home front, which is to seek out and report on what’s happening globally? The ‘world news’ pages, never numerous at any time, could be expanded. We could learn about conflicts in Africa, famines in Asia, political turmoil in the South Pacific. After all, any of these stories have the potential to ‘explode’ later in the year, so August is a good opportunity to give us a grounding in a global issue and make us more informed citizens of the world.
I like the Olympics as much as anyone. But it didn’t feel right, leafing through the first few pages of the newspaper, to be confronted by stories I had already read, or was about to read, in the special Olympic sports section. There was much about the Olympics that was worth reporting, but it doesn’t change the fact that summer 2013 will be a very different ball game.
In the spirit of the Olympics, and of the ‘brotherhood of man’ which the on-screen John Lennon sang about at the Closing Ceremony, we should explore curiosities, places, and peoples across this whole diverse world of ours. Just what, I trust, Further Afield blog does.