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The worst drought since… erm… the last one to have been worse

April 16, 2012
Standard – but short – rant from me about popularisation-by-panic!

My appreciation of the tabloid drought coverage today [papers, breakfast TV, breakfast TV reporting of papers] hasn’t been made any more sympathetic by the very intelligent, measured, properly researched BBC Radio 4 coverage of the issue last week.

Today is best summed up by the imagery. At a time of drought, much of the media is to be congratulated on its dedication to recycling. However, that’s the recycling of stock photographs, not of water. These are images of cracked earth beds… the bottoms of reservoirs. Of course they crack – they are composed of clay to keep the water in. When exposed this shrinks and obligingly simulates the terrain of an African humanitarian disaster… and is clearly intended to invoke those associations, plus the idea of our green and pleasant land transformed in the coming weeks to semi-arid desert. Other shots of exposed outlet towers shout the same story “LOOK – IT’S RUNNING OUT! FAST!!!”.

Point is, give or take a bit of comforting conservation, there’s little the general public can do to stave this off – given the demands of industry and, in certain regions like East Anglia, of agriculture.

So there’s little practical point in winding everybody up. But lets worry them anyway – because it makes good ‘news’ – if not ‘good news’.

On that point. Why is it news now – and not two or three months ago, or two months from now. It’s a gradual condition, which will also improve only gradually – with the overall trend in stored water above and below ground. The answer, I assume, is that some statistic has ticked over somewhere, on the total rainfall over a certain period of time, which makes the statement “The worst drought since 1976”, officially true.

So lets take this particular instant in time to get scared, and scare everyone else.

Meanwhile let’s not assume that that imponderable of all imponderables, the great British weather, has even the slightest chance of making things better.

[PS. I do hope the fact that 50% of my travel disruption for the last 5 years has been due to water main replacement (most of the other half being the replacement of gas mains) means that the incomprehensibly large leakage figures, which the media will soon throw in to further stir our emotions, are now significantly reduced.]

Just realised this post is probably half of a matched-pair with my piece on snow reporting, back in November 2010.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 20, 2012 4:31 am

    I’m presuming you saw Charlie Brooker’s excellent Newswipe where he covered pretty comprehensively the why and how of stories, simply pointing out that the stories are covered to make them sound important, string them along, etc. etc.? If not, watch the whole series – it was an all time great. And presumably you can remember the water scandal when one of the big water companies turned out to have knowingly lied about their water leakage for *years* and just thrown lies and lawyers at the problem, so that by the time courts caught up with them, the management involved had gone and the company shrugged, chucked a couple of million at the legal penalty and wondered off?

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