Enjoying the plight in Tasmania

No, not the plight of the miners – like everyone else, I anticipate their imminent rescue with a warm feeling in my gut, and really hope they’re out to cheer on their teammates on the footy field this Saturday.

UPDATE: 9 May – They’re out! 10 May – what the papers are saying.

Rescue workers at Beaconsfield Image from Monsters & Critics

What I’m enjoying is the plight of the networks in Tassie.

For those who sensibly avoid network news like the plague, you may not have realised that as soon as the miners were found alive, every network sent a top-ranked set of newshost talking heads down to Beaconsfield, anticipating that the miners would soon be aboveground and general high-rating warm-fuzziness would ensue. So, we’ve had current affairs programmes presented nightly “live from Beaconsfield” and breakfast TV shows presented “live from Beaconsfield”, with all the newshosting-talent standing around looking cold and uncomfortable against the unprepossessing backstop of mining head machinery that dominates the town.

And of course, because the extrication of the miners has turned out to be taking a lot longer than was initially expected, the talking heads have been down in Beaconsfield for days and days, instead of just pulling an overnighter, doing a few tearful reunion interviews and jetting back home.

The expense to the networks must be immense, having full crews down there for live broadcasting of that sort, and there’s no end yet in sight. The boring machine (apparently even more effective than Morris Iemma) has only just been adequately anchored in cement footings, and is going to have to go very slowly to displace the existing rockfalls to make a safe passage to the miners without triggering further rockfalls. After all, they have the safety of the twenty rescuers to consider as well as the two trapped men.

I actually heard one of the newshosts get a bit tetchy, almost accusing the miners’ union representative of misleading the public about the time that the miners’ rescue would take (inital estimates when the miners were found alive were that rescue would take about 48 hours). The talking head kept saying “what about this 48 hour limit? what happens after 48 hours? how are you going to get there before the 48 hours is up?” and didn’t want to hear that there was no “limit” or dramatic deadline, merely an estimate which had had to be reconsidered in the light of new information. Eventually he subsided, accepting the prosaic explanation with a bad grace.

Unfortunately for the networks, miners trapped in a safe space, with adequate food, water, light and communications channels through the pilot bore and well-placed confidence in their colleagues’ ability to rescue them, simply aren’t as dramatic as a “life and death race against time”, which seems to be what they thought they had.

As the network news cycle for such stories is usually only a few days, their cycle on this story has been thrown totally out of whack, and all their anchor talent is stuck down in Tasmania until the miners are rescued instead of available in the home studio to do interviews for other stories: can you imagine the backlash if the top newshosts leave town now, just because there’s no good visuals happening? They have to appear to keep on caring. The interviews with the family of the dead miner Larry Knight have been done, his family wish to grieve and they can’t be seen to keep bothering them, the families of the trapped miners have done endless variations on “we’re so glad he’s alive/can’t wait to see him” and there’s nothing new there: what’s a poor TV deskjockey to do?

Two local schoolchildren are surrounded by the media after
leaving a letter at the gates of the Beaconsfield mine yesterday.
Image from The Age

But what I don’t understand is why the networks thought they had to send down their top talent to cover this live in the first place. I don’t know who sent a full newshosting team down first, but why didn’t the other networks just point and laugh while contenting themselves with the usual satellite-uplinked field reporter on location? Instead they all scrambled onto the bandwagon.

It’s a disturbing trend – it wasn’t bad enough that for years we only get news if a TV field reporter is on hand with good visuals or at least an interview with “punch” – someone swears, cries, or is about to die. Now apparently we have to have the studio newshost talent flown off to do the commentary and interviews – why? (Poor buggers probably thought they’d left all that sort of low-rent roaming behind them years ago).

I anticipate a shameful scrabbling for post-rescue interviews by the network heavyweights. The executive producers are probably tackling each other in their haste to sign up families for exclusives already. Let’s hope they manage to show a modicum of decorum, or the sour taste in the viewing public’s mouth will be even worse than that left by Channel 7’s Kokoda broadcast.

Tread carefully, TV people. It’s harder to hypnotise us when the story’s not working to your hype cycle.

UPDATE 4 May: Today’s Australian is also schadenfreuding over the networks’ circus. Also the SMH.



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