The Third Man

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
17 July, 2018
Editorial: 220
Fecha de publicación original: 20 junio, 2000

Abundance, like want, ruins many

Junk information is still on the increase at an exponential and uncontrolled rate. It is repetitive, redundant, excessive and hyper-abundant and, despite the insistence of many gurus, is not confined to the Internet. Let’s take the TV and traditional media for example. For quite some time now a new TV personality has slipped onto our screens and seems to be here to stay. The TV news family used to be made up of one or two news readers. Now someone else has taken up a permanent seat in the studio -the sports commentator or, to be more specific, the person who tells us everything –everything, as always, means just a bit– about top level soccer. During the morning, noon, evening and late night news bulletins on all channels, in a special section sometimes sponsored by some big company or other, there they are. For the moment, the scope, intensity and resources of this kind of coverage is still a particularly Spanish phenomenon but there are imitators popping up all over the place.

The other media, particularly the printed press, have quite happily given over large amounts of space to the subject. The much-haled emphasis on quality information in the traditional media, particularly on the analytical side, as a way of getting back to the basics of good journalism and combating the advance of the Internet, is reaching hitherto unknown heights in these overdoses of soccer information.

This is a relatively new development in communication, but, nevertheless, very significant. We are not talking about new sports channels here, nor an increase in sports broadcasts or articles, which are as inevitable as the Big One that will send California into the ocean away from the rest of the US. Nor is it just a passing phenomenon related to the soccer Euro Cup being played in Belgium and Holland at the moment. This is a new autonomous information area within news broadcasts which is being given almost more status than the rest of the news itself. Consequently, as is only natural, it is starting to make up an inherent part of the world view propagated by TV news bulletins. (“That’s what happened and that’s what we have told you”)

Talking about soccer three times a day, above all when the crucial event, the match, is still a few days off, leads to situations that border on, or are completely, ridiculous, but this doesn’t seem to bother programme directors. Their philosophy seems to be that people will take what they get. Journalists are forced (and even compete!) to fill the periods between matches with all kinds of resources. And when I say all kinds of resources I mean things that nobody could ever have imagined would form part of communication pedagogics.

“Pepito has a slightly inflamed calf muscle and might not be able to train tomorrow”. The news is not even whether he will be able to play the game or not, but whether he will be training! “Tony is a little constipated and it is not clear whether he will up to his massage session on Friday”. Logically enough, the news is accompanied by shots of a reporter bearing a microphone with the channel logo on it, poised at the toilet door. “Inside this door is Tony accompanied by the club’s doctors who are trying to see if they can solve his problem before Sunday’s match.” A few days ago, before the Spanish team’s début in the Euro Cup, a national newspaper dedicated half a page, complete with graphs, computer graphics and close-ups of each image, to the texture of the player’s shirts, their capacity for sweat absorption and their thermo-electric-quantically-dispersive properties. In other word, they were made of cotton and polyester. In another illustration, they showed a bi-coloured circular disc. “This is what the referee is going to use for the toss”.

The level of information is amazing. For instance, the “topic” of grass as viewed by a botanist and a social psychologist. The other day, on the 8 o’clock national news we were told that the grass on which the Spanish team were going to play three days later was “dry and a little long”. After a few digressions on how grass has the cheeky tendency to grow, we were subjected to an interview with a psychologist who discussed the “fear of distorted perception”, an ailment suffered by players who are unused to grass of a “certain length” and systematically miscalculated the distances and force they should apply to kicking the ball. This obviously led to a serious drop in self-esteem, disastrous for a good performance. The interviewer just had time to say “Well, considering what they earn…..” before he was cut off.

What is happening to us? Is there anything to justify this pseudo-journalistic drivel to which millions are subjected? I am not saying this from a purist’s point of view or as someone who isn’t interested in soccer, in particular, or sports in general. Quite the contrary. I was –and enjoyed being — a sports journalist for a long time. If I can, I watch the matches I am interested in on TV and I think Maradona is a genius in short pants. But, there is a considerable distance between this and being subjected to a world that is reduced to the shape of a soccer ball and the tunnel vision of those who turn it into meta-news.

There are those that justify the time –above all time, in this era where time is supposedly pure gold– and useful news space devoted to soccer because of the economic importance of “this sector”. Apart from the obvious affront of considering money as the only pillar on which to base our need for knowledge of what happens in the world, in this case, it is absolutely ridiculous. A survey published in the Barcelona-based newspaper La Vanguardia on Sunday 18 June, claimed that professional soccer in Spain has a turnover of 500,000 millions pesetas a year (around 3,000 million US dollars), about 0,6% of Spain’s GNP. If we take this criteria into account, there should be science (0,9% of the GNP), health, finance (any bank in a week has the same amount for breakfast as soccer turns over in a year), telecommunications, military affairs specialists etc. on hand as well.

It is strange that these variables –such as the amount of sport within general information– is never an issue amongst those attempting to renovate the traditional media in such turbulent times. At the 53rd World Newspaper Congress held in Rio de Janeiro a few weeks ago (something we will be taking a look at in editorials to come) and titled “Reinventing Newspaper Companies: Strategies and Success” (quite a peculiar title when one thinks that it stems from journalists), and other similar events, the tendency is to discuss the need to “reinforce the quality of information”.

One supposes –and I don’t think we are “peculiar” in this– that this information is related to, among other things, the time and space dedicated to subjects that have something to do with the society we live in. For instance, the socio-cultural impact of immigration, how we can and cannot impact on areas of social activity, the contradictory relationship between our tendency to consume more and more and our perception of the environment, the fundamental importance of certain types of research, especially with regard to health etc., etc., etc. It goes without saying that none of these areas has a special reporter in the studio (or with their own section in the newspaper) to tell us what has happened that day in each of these fields.

The only way one can explain this exponential increase in repetitive, redundant and superfluous junk information which sticks in our minds for no more than two minutes at the most, is to turn to conspiracy theories. This way, at least, we can believe that someone is trying to do something to us and has some kind of plan in mind. If this is not the case, it is hard to imagine why such abominable journalism exists in a world as complex and fascinating as the one we live in.

Translation: Bridget King