Maybe I’ve reached a midlife crisis of confidence in the news, given how long I’ve worked in PR, but the more I read the papers or listen to the radio these days, the more I find myself considering the underbelly of the stories that I’m hearing and pondering on who exactly delivered a particular story and if they’ve spun it so that it would arrive on the particular day knowing what effect it might have on the world. Actually, I think it’s more than that – it may be becoming an illness. I may be developing Churnophrenia, a disease that affects publicists of a certain age and forces them into ever more desperate attempts to join the dots.
Everywhere I look I think I see small stories blowing themselves out of all proportion, being pumped up by the people behind the news agenda, floating in the headlines like ungainly zeppelins spinning slowly out of control. I’m not entirely sure what is imagined and what is truth any more, and so, to try and find out, I routinely find myself picking compulsively over the minutiae of who, what, where, when and why a story might have been spun out to create the biggest impact, all the while playing the news matrix like some vast, infernal sudoku puzzle that MUST be completed.
Take yesterday morning’s news that Harris Tweed has decided to drop all reference to Scotland in their promotional material to “avoid a backlash over the release of the Lockerbie bomber” – I immediately developed a cold, shivering sweat as I considered the possibilities.
The first thought that struck me, like a falling brick, was that it’s perfectly possible that there could be no hidden agenda; there might actually be a backlash. A brief moment of respite from the neurosis! Better than medication, I took the resurgent memory of the time the French irritated the USA in 2003 by opposing the invasion of Iraq, and the Americans renamed French Fries as Freedom Fries in revenge. The chill abated – of course it’s easier by far for an irate American to give up buying Harris Tweed than give up their favourite over-salted fried potato sticks, so there really could be reason for the tweed makers to be cautious.
Then I remembered the debate I took part in last week for the Radio Academy, which made me brutally aware of how many people accept and acknowledge the use of spin to make the news, of how many consume the information knowingly, unquestioningly. And here I am breaking out in a paranoid sweat again. I am Jack’s Churnophrenic sense of confusion.
Not even the idea that there may genuinely be crofters out there panicking about losing sales to the wrath of America can save me now – I can still feel a realisation trickling down my spine like ice: if I were looking for a good way to get Harris Tweed stitched into the national consciousness and talked about the world over, I would certainly consider planting a story about it, connected to a hot topic of the day if possible, primed to burst onto the news agenda on a Monday and help dictate the way the week’s news ran.
My god, it even ties in nicely to the launch of Dan Brown’s new book, The Lost Symbol – the hero of which wears Harris Tweed, probably even to bed.
Should I seek treatment for my condition? Is there any hope for me? And, more to the point, am I alone in this Churnophrenic inability to be entirely sure what is truth and what is spin? Worryingly, I think not…