As I write, killer-on-the-run Raoul Moat is surrounded by armed police and riot cops on a river bank outside Rothbury in Northumberland. Going by numerous reports from the scene, Moat is armed with a sawn off shotgun, which is pressed under his chin.
Both the 24 hour rolling news and Twitter have had a field day with Moat over the last week. While reporters have been flying over the North East countryside and interviewing assorted professional trackers, Twitter has been abuzz with spoofs of Moat and critiques of the media's shabby reporting.
I've avoided getting caught up in this until this evening, after being alerted by an outpouring of comment on Twitter. When news broke that Moat had finally been cornered by the police, the media fell over themselves to get close to the action - and for once it was BBC News leading the charge to the bottom. Jon Sopel grilled an obviously distraught woman who feared for her mum's safety. This was followed by an undignified interview via a mobile with her frightened mum and then the live broadcasting of a private conversation between her and her husband. Couple this with scraps of rubbish about "Moat waving his arm", of "standing up and lying down again", reports broadcast in *night vision*, and "dramatic pictures" of Moat doing his shopping in B&Q, the depths have well and truly been plumbed.
And then, in a bizarre twist, ex-footballer tabloid favourite Paul Gascoigne turned up with a can of lager, a fishing rod and a chicken - all of which are apparently for Moat. He claimed Moat was a "friend" and that "someone must have wound him up" to murder his ex's partner, shoot her and shoot a copper he assumed she was having an affair with. But still, as this tawdry spectacle reaches its climax in arrest or suicide, Moat will surely be comforted to know Gazza is "on his side".
What can you say about the absurdity of the Raoul Moat media circus? As an event built on a week's worth of wall-to-wall coverage, tonight's climax has assumed celebrity-like attributes. Just as anyone can be a celebrity in the age of reality TV and YouTube, so anyone can be part of a hot news story. It's unfolding in front of our eyes, it's immediate, and we can simultaneously be part of a collective experience of consumption, interpretation and argument via Facebook, Twitter, blogs, and what have you. And if you live nearby, you can be part of (media) history in the making. Gazza's appearance in Rothbury brings a touch of surrealism to the proceedings, but he's only following the lead of dozens of normal, non-celebrity folk: there have been reports of outsiders turning up with deck chairs and settling in for the night.
It would be easy to denounce the journalists and editors for their coverage of Raoul Moat's pursuit, but there is something in the political economy of 24 hours news channels that transforms simple news into contrived, hyped and glamorous events. It boils down to the biases in newsrooms over what they deem as newsworthy, the shrinking budgets that privileges reporting over investigation, and the need to chase the dramatic for those all important ratings (and, of course, advertising).
In short, only a deep clean of the theory and practice of the 24 hours news media has any hope of rectifying the situation and preventing this sort of rubbish from recurring.Image source