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The BBC presents: The future of news

Published by marco on

Updated by marco on

 Screen-shot of articleThe article Man sectioned over Manchester Airport plane bomb hoax (BBC) was forwarded to me purportedly for its content.

That content? They closed an entire airport for a bomb hoax.

But something else caught my eye: the sheer impenetrability of the presentation. I took a screenshot of the whole article, shown to the right. Can you tell where the article is hiding?

I’m going to ignore the British news-authoring penchant for crash blossoms.[1] Also, I’m going to assume that using “section” as a verb that means “commit to confinement for mental instability” is something that the British news-reading public understands.

What fascinates me is that a news site has chosen a layout that’s almost deliberately difficult to read. It’s so confusing that it’s hard to determine that information as to what actually happened is almost completely missing. I’m going to set aside the by-now age-old complaint that the sidebar and giant article footer include so much extra information about other stuff. Instead, I’m just going to be happy that there are no ads for busty Russian brides in my screenshot and focus on the presentation in the article itself.

There is almost no information in the article. I’ve summed it up below:

  • Guy made bomb hoax
  • Plane was escorted by RAF
  • Airport was closed
  • Guy was “sectioned” (presumably they mean committed to a mental institution rather than chopped into little pieces)
  • Other passengers were either oblivious or inconvenienced
  • Plane arrived early

I didn’t count the half of the article that consisted of irrelevant statements from passengers.

I gleaned this information in a couple of re-readings. This is not because my grasp of the English language is shaky, but because the ordering of information was so strange. The editors of the BBC don’t trust their readers to be able to read more than a single sentence at a time. And they didn’t trust themselves to present more than four or five of these so-called paragraphs without throwing in an utterly unhelpful graphic.

In order, the graphics are:

  1. Picture of a fighter jet in air; purportedly taken from the plane. Oooh, how exciting. It’s like we’re on the plane. The photo differs in no way from a stock photo of same.
  2. A montage of where Manchester is in England, stating in no uncertain terms what the BBC considers its readers’ grasp of geography to be, A picture of where Doha is relative to Manchester, also very, very useful in learning about what happened and, finally, a stock photo of an RAF jet, as if the picture above wasn’t clear enough that the RAF had scrambled a jet.
  3. Next up was yet another picture of the airliner accompanied by its staunch companion, the scrambled RAF jet. A Typhoon, if you haven’t been paying attention.
  4. And, finally, we have a picture of the jet on the ground, with lots of colorful little emergency vehicles in front of it, accompanied by a caption that has nothing to do with the picture, “Nine incoming flights were diverted to other airports”.

If you’re like me, the article doubtless left you wishing for more information, like:

  • How did the man make the threat?
  • What kind of threat was it?
  • Why was he considered mental rather than a terrorist? Because he’s white? Non-Muslim?
  • Why did they scramble a jet and shut down an airport and then not render him to Guantánamo? General lightness of skin tone? Lack of beard? Oops, same question as the previous one.

These are burning questions that the BBC is happy to let you feel might be answered in any of its other fascinating-sounding and doubtfully information-saturated articles, like:

  • Military jet escorts passenger plane
  • Reaction to airport alert
  • Hoax bomb suspect ‘non-descript’ (video)
  • Plane passenger films jet escort (video)
  • RAF jet filmed escorting plane (video)

…all published on the same day (before 09:00) and three of which are videos, so as not to strain your brain with too many more words. I deliberately didn’t link any of them in order to be complicit in wasting more of your time.


[1] Crash Blossoms (Wikipedia) are an oft-discussed topic on the Language Log, a more recent example of which was “Dutch military plane carrying bodies from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash lands in Eindhoven.”.