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the by Dick Hobbs
M y best ever
expenses claim – back
in the days when I was
employed and had
someone to claim expenses from
– included the line item “Charter of
train”. This was 25 or more years ago,
back when IBC alternated with a
television exhibition in Montreux in
Switzerland. My employer at the
time was launching something
pretty revolutionary (although they
subsequently discovered they could
not make it work) and wanted a client
event that would make people talk.
So I chartered a train. The narrow
gauge railway that goes over the
mountains from Montreux had some
vintage Pullman cars. I had them
attached to the back of the regular
evening train, allowing us to sip wine
until they were uncoupled at Chateau
d’Oex. We spent the evening clogging
our arteries on raclette, then the train
company sent an engine up to retrieve
us and our coaches to take us back
down to Montreux.
The line serves the Bernese Oberland
from Montreux but it based in the
Francophone part of Switzerland,
so is called the Montreux Oberland
Bernoise Railway, and our guests
were highly amused when I gave them
tickets which said Montreux MOB.
I was recounting this story to a couple
of teenagers recently, and as I was
telling it I realised, with some shock,
that to set this up I had to leave the
office and go to the Swiss Tourist
Office in London, look through some
brochures, and probably talk to a
real person about the idea. Then I
established contact with the railway
company by telex, before speaking
to another real person by dial-up
telephone. The whole thing took
weeks. Of course today the research would
be done using Google, Wikipedia,
maybe Trip Advisor if I was feeling uncertain, and a couple of emails. 35
minutes tops. I would probably have arranged an electronic transfer of
funds rather than turning up at the station with a bundle of used Swiss
Francs, but that is another story.
Booking travel – even if it involves a whole train – is unlikely to change the
course of our lives, but it did make me think about how easy it is to get stuff
wrong by believing online information. There is a lovely picture doing the
internet rounds, of a nicely engraved print reading “The thing about quotes
on the internet is that it is hard to verify their authenticity”. It is attributed to
Us writers get used to referring to Wikipedia as the first line of research,
despite the fact that we all know stories of it being manipulated for
purposes other than making life easy for lazy researchers.
I recently visited a company called Inrix which provides traffic information for
radio stations across the UK and internationally. Its database is incredibly
clever at sifting information out of everything from police and Highways
Agency bulletins to tweets from stranded motorists, but before anything
gets on the air it is sifted by an experienced editor with a bank of monitors
of traffic cameras.
When it comes to television news it is all too tempting to be lured by
something with pictures. Which is all well and good, provided you know
where the pictures come from. By and large, our broadcasters in Western
Europe are commendably responsible. Transmitting unverified content is
extremely rare, and if they do take the editorial decision to do so then they
warn us clearly about what we are seeing. Audiences are left in no doubt.
But we cannot ignore that we are in the internet age. The unverified footage
is usually out there and available to anyone with a working knowledge
of Google. That ends up as a double whammy for responsible news
broadcasters: they are seen as behind the curve because “the internet” has
beaten them to the story; and they are seen as uninformed because they
are reluctant to use stories they cannot stand up.
Proper newsgathering is an expensive business, not least when you have
to pay people to go to unpleasantly dangerous places, and occasionally
cough up for the ransom to get them back again. Until now we have
thought it worth the cost to get news we can rely on from our trusted
brands (or, in the case of Fox, get news with our preference in inaccuracy).
Who knows what will happen in the future. Some are predicting disaster.
Eric Schmidt, the Google head honcho, was asked at a meeting of
advertisers in New York recently when internet video would displace
television, and he replied “That’s already happened”. Google, of course,
owns YouTube, so he would say that, wouldn’t he.
But is he right? Internet is a great voice for democracy, allowing anyone
with a point of view to publish it. Will the unvarnished truth emerge from the
massive amount of noise online? Google’s own statistics suggest that today
100 hours of content is uploaded to YouTube every minute: think about that
fact for a moment.
I think I am getting confused by it all. Excuse me while I take a
train journey and read a good book.
98 | TV-BAY MAGAZINE: ISSUE 78 JUNE 2013