The Breakfast Table


Dear Alan,

Most Britons don’t know what to make of baseball, since it so clashes with cricket. I don’t blame them: I don’t know what to make of cricket. I hadn’t heard about the Yankees’ glorious victory, which, as you point out, didn’t seem to be covered in the papers. I was looking forward to watching Channel Five’s broadcast at 12:50 A.M. tonight, as noted in today’s TV listings, of Game Five of the World Series.

I absolutely agree with you that we’re crying out for a piece on the threatened factory workers, written from the factory town. The national papers, as you know, are all put together in London, and I don’t think they have the money or the inclination to hire a lot of people to run bureaus around the country. It’s a big problem. When there’s some quirky human interest story that they do want to cover but don’t want to bother actually reporting,–vicar sleeping with organist, dog marching 500 miles across country to find his family, Thatcher’s foundation wants her archive at Cambridge to include a handbag–the papers often just re-write the story from the wire version. So you get the same quotes in every paper.

Have you noticed the glut of columnists? Political columnists, gossip columnists, regular person columnists writing about whatever they feel like writing-you name it. We obviously have our equivalents, but one thing I find amazing about the British papers is how manypeople they hire to fill their pages with whatever opinion flies into their head that day, often in these strange, full-page pieces where they can write little snippets on five or six different topics, ranging from how irritating Richard Branson is to what a disgrace it is that a picture of the Queen’s head will not appear on the Euro.

They discuss celebrity marriages, their problems refurbishing their houses, their feelings about what someone said in the House of Lords. No topic is too grand, or to picayune.

Very rarely do these people actually do any independent reporting. This means that stale news gets recycled over and over again (which points up one of the problems of the papers: too little news, and too many papers). The first day, the news happens–Geoffrey Boycott starts his trial in France. The next day, the columnists respond to the news–the French justice system is a joke. For the rest of the week, other columnists respond to the news, and to the responses–the French justice system certainly is a joke, because of the way they don’t speak English, but Geoffrey Boycott is a disgrace, etc.

In fact, the columnists do what we’ve been doing all week.