Oscar Pistorius and the press pack

David Bullard asks, how many hacks does it take to report a total non-event?

Watching the Oscar Pistorius circus on SkyNews last Monday (with the sound turned off) it's not difficult to see why the print media is in such a financial mess. It has to be the most inefficiently organised industry in the world.

Crowds of hacks and their photographers turned up early in Pretoria to get the story. Except that there was never going to be a story and all most could come up with was that the day happened to coincide with what would have been Reeva Steenkamp's 30th birthday. In the absence of any interesting new information this was the only crumb the assembled press corps could toss to their hungry readers. Otherwise much was as expected. Oscar looked edgy, the prosecution are pressing on and the trial date is set for next March. If the prosecution had turned up and said that it had all been a ghastly mistake and they've got the wrong man then there might have been some justification in getting up early and travelling to a crowded courtroom in Pretoria. But they didn't so it wasn't.

What I have never understood is why journos are prepared to put themselves to great inconvenience to chase a story they must know doesn't exist. Is it the vain desire to be the one who broke the story I wonder? If it is, the glory is usually short-lived because the rest of the news corps are onto the same story so quickly that it soon becomes irrelevant who broke it.

Not so with the Oscar story which was famously broken early on the morning of February 14th by Barry Bateman of Eye Witness News. His Twitter follower numbers rocketed as a result. My suggestion then is that Barry Bateman should be the official go-to man for the Oscar story from now on. It is, after all, his intellectual property. Any other member of the media could then ask Barry what happened on Monday and this would be a far more efficient way of disseminating information than having a throng of grubby hacks hanging around, half hearing conversations and putting their own slant on the day's events.

Apart from guaranteeing one reliable version of the story it would also save the newspaper proprietors a fortune. There would be no need for individual newspapers to send their own reporter to Pretoria to get precisely the same non story and pictures as everyone else. It could all be cleared through the Barry Bateman news agency. And if there was ever a suggestion that Barry's reports were anything less than scrupulously accurate an entirely new news story would emerge, broken by whoever discovered that Barry wasn't telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Levity aside though, it is mindboggling the number of journalists it takes to report a very mundane event. Remember the press corps camped outside the Lindo Wing for days waiting for a first glimpse of the new heir to the throne? Can you imagine anything more mind numbingly boring? Every time the door opened they hoped it would be an emerging royal couple with a baby. And then when it did happen all the pictures looked the same. The final insult came on Tuesday of this week when the UK newspapers carried ever so slightly over-exposed pics of William, Kate and George taken by Kate's father Michael Middelton, thus rendering all royal photographers redundant.

While crowds of hacks are drawn to a non-news story like flies to horse manure, very few are drawn to the real news hot-spots of the world like Syria, Afghanistan and Egypt. Those are the really gritty news stories although one day in Egypt looks very much like another these days. But at least you can't accuse the news agencies of wasting resources if they have one embedded journo reporting from a war zone.

There's nothing wrong with not wanting to put your life at risk just so you can be the first to report the demise of a toppled tyrant and win a press award. However, a life spent endlessly hanging around hospital wards and courtrooms hoping for some breaking news to report can't be particularly fulfilling. Particularly if there are another 200 people with exactly the same thing in mind. But maybe that's why some of us become columnists.


With the move to the glorious Cape winelands looming one of the things I had to do in order to transfer our Joburg house to its new owner was to get an electricity compliance certificate. You can do this in one of two ways.

With Joburg being one of the corruption capitals of the world you can slip a dodgy certified electrician a couple of grand and he'll write you out a compliance certificate irrespective of the condition of the wiring. This has just happened to friends of mine who've bought a house and their recourse is to the seller of the house whose recourse is to the dodgy electrician who....guess what?...can't be reached on his cell number. Even if he could be reached chances are any legal action would be pointless because he would have no money to pay any damages. The recourse might then be to the seller of the house but only, I suspect, if you could prove that he had knowingly opted for a dodgy electrician to save money.

Being a fine upstanding citizen I have opted for a certified electrician with some concern for his professional reputation. He and his team climbed all through the roof, tested every socket and checked the wiring of all the installed appliances. The verdict wasn't good I'm afraid. Despite having been carried out by "reputable" firms the wiring is a disgrace with uncovered junction boxes and bare wires a major feature of my loft (a place I have never visited).

For 22 years I have been living beneath a major fire risk. It's going to cost R13000 to put it right but at least I am unlikely to have an unhappy buyer on my hands. The electrician carrying out the work tells me that a high percentage of houses he surveys are in a similar or worse condition because people assume an electrician is doing a thorough job. So it might be worth sending a capable sparky up into your roof, whether or not you're thinking of selling your house; particularly as your insurance is unlikely to pay out if there is a hint of contributory negligence.

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