TV land v Real World: What happens when a newsdesk gets a bomb call?

TV Land is great. Just about every time you see a newspaper reporter on television they are incompetent or unscrupulous and – of course – the libel and Contempt of Court Act is something that doesn’t exist in UK Soapland. It’s a familiar – and lazy – story.
But there’s another newspaper scenario in TV Land (and, come to think of it Cinema Land) that I particularly enjoy watching; it’s the Call To The Newsdesk.

In TV Land the Call To The Newsdesk goes something like this:

Ring ring…
“Hello, Newsdesk”
“This is the [Insert ridiculous pressure group name here]; we are fighting for the [insert improbable cause here]. This is our [improbable and pointless ideology here]; there is a bomb in the bin in the bus station car park. It will detonate in 10 minutes”.
Editor to MI5/SAS/MI6/shadowy other: “I’ve just had a bomber contact my newsdesk with obscure yet cryptically detailed information that will lead you straight to the ringleaders within the next 40 minutes or however long this storyline needs to last. Don’t feel the need to keep us informed in any way as your investigation continues, despite our being fully aware of the threat.”

Then the action cuts immediately to some cutting edge government/police organisation that will prevent said bomb with seconds to spare.
Sounds efficient and calm doesn’t it? Yeah right…

This is what happens when a newsdesk received a phonecall alerting them to some sort of local security threat, if that call follows the normal parameters of the general public contacting a busy regional newsdesk:

<bellow>“NEWSDESK”bellow> [subtext: I am an extremely busy newsdesk person and you are boring me already]
“Hello this is the [insert ridiculous pressure group name here]; we are fighti-“
“WHO??” [Bloody PRs]
“We are figh-“
“Who do you want to TALK to?” [Jesus, deaf AND in PR]
“Um…”
“If it’s an emailed press release then we’ll consider it on its merits” [I’ll never even open the email]
“I’m ringing to tell you there is a bo-“
“What name do you have on your database? Because we’ve had a reorganisation here and it sounds like your information might be out of date”.[Get your database up to date and stop bothering me. I have another edition to get out]
“No problem! Sorry to bother you! Bye!”
[Click. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrr]

And this, just to add some context, is what happened when I answered the phone to someone purporting to be a bomber.

<bellow>”NEWSDESK”; [subtext: I am an extremely busy newsdesk person and you are boring me already]
Monotone woman: “This is the [obscure branch of an anti-hunting group]; there is a bomb in the bin on the side of the [A-road near Bishops Waltham, Hants] by X garage”
Me: “Um…”
Monotone woman: “We are committed to ending the slaughter of innocent creatures by… [etc etc etc]
Me: “Hang on, you say there’s a bomb. Is it live? What are you-“
[Click. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrr]
Me: “Gordy [my news editor] that was someone saying there’s a bomb planted in a bin in Bishop’s Waltham. Has Fareham edition gone?”
News editor [yelling at production desk] “Hold Fareham front – we’ve got a new splash!!!”

I did ring the police, of course – I wanted a comment for my story so it was a case of two birds with one stone. There wasn’t a bomb by the way; it was just some group’s way of getting attention. And this was all pre 9/11 and 7/7 too – I’m not sure they’d get treated with the same weary “bunchanutters” tolerance nowadays.
A frankly huge police officer, who would have buffered any detonation if he’d been standing between bomb and populace, came to interview me later but it was a total waste of his time. Other than “it was a woman and she was rude” I couldn’t tell him anything useful about the call.
But it gave the Southampton Echo’s Fareham edition a splash on a day when there wasn’t much else kicking around, so on the whole I like to think everyone got something worthwhile out of it.

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About Alison Gow

I'm a journalist, particularly interested in story-telling, networks and digital innovation.
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