Extra! extra! ... and less
DYLAN, for all we know, may just have taken a sudden liking to the smallest room in the house. He is, after all, very much the smallest member of the Welch family; his age is still counted in months rather than years. Anyway Dylan, whatever the reason, went and got himself stuck in there. Locked in. Unable to get out. Dylan's mum wanted to get him out, of course, but found she couldn't. All the same, she was not worried. She's not the worrying kind. And Dylan, not being at all the fretting kind, did not fret. As his mother said later, ``He likes playing with water, so that was fine, and we managed to stand on the coal bunker outside and pass some toys through the window crack to him, and orange juice and biscuits. He is a very good mimic, so I acted out unbolting the door and he went over to it and imitated my movements. The only thing was he didn't actually touch the bolt, so the door stayed locked. We talked to him, of course, and he chatted back, perfectly happy.''
This awkward but unperturbing situation continued for a little while. Eventually, Dylan's mother concluded that some outside professional assistance was needed. She quietly called the fire brigade. In no time, a particularly thin fireman was being fed head first through the crack in the window. As he came through he said, ``Hullo, Dylan.'' Dylan glanced up, said hullo back, and then went on playing. The fireman unlocked the door. The fire brigade then let Dylan sit in the fire engine and everyone had a great time.
MINUTES later a knock at the door revealed a gentleman of the press. In answer to his questionings, this gentleman was given to understand that nothing seriously untoward had occurred - as, indeed, it had not.
But when the paper came out, it contained a small paragraph which read in part: ``...firemen removed an hysterical youngster who got stuck in the lavatory ... at his home ... on Monday.''
Now, according to my dictionary, ``hysterical'' means ``wildly emotional.''
And according to the same book ``truthful'' means ``characterized by truth; veracious; rendering reality accurately.''
Dylan's mother later happened to come across the reporter. In answer to her expressed surprise at the report, he said he felt he had not been given ``enough information'' by them, so he had had to ``create a little.'' The event was little enough, certainly, but ``create a little'' is still an intriguing understatement to cover the difference between calm and hysterical.
Why do the media feel that emotive language is so necessary? It occurs more and more even in the most ``respectable'' publications.
Perhaps we should really blame Lord Northcliffe. Wasn't it this newspaper baron who observed that if a dog bites a man, it isn't news, but if a man bites a dog, that's news? One gets the feeling sometimes that ever since this useful guideline was uttered, a large part of the news profession has been looking for men biting dogs, and if they are emotional about it so much the better.
What puzzles me is that the simple facts were not felt to be interesting enough. What made Dylan's little adventure entertaining was his apparent unawareness that there was anything odd about being temporarily unable to escape from a bathroom or that a thin fireman came through the narrow window opening.
IT so happens that I have inside information on another recent newsworthy incident. This involved the teen-age son - we'll call him Sebastian - of a friend. Sebastian has a pal with a metal detector. During their school vacation,the two of them detected a metal object in the school grounds. Soon afterwards someone happened to see Sebastian walking past the notable example of 18th-century architecture which is the school's main building. He was carrying the said object.
``I think,'' said this person to Sebastian, ``that what you are carrying is a bomb.''
``You mean that this object,'' asked Sebastian, ``is a bomb?'' So, just in case, Sebastian put it on the ground and rapidly left the scene. The building and grounds were then evacuated. Experts came. They confirmed that it was an unexploded German bomb from World War II. If it had exploded, it would have caused fairly wide havoc. They then proceeded to bury it under sandbags and to detonate it. Sebastian is going to be more careful of metal objects from now on.
The local papers reported this, of course. But what intrigued me was that the only national paper - a keen modern interpreter of the Northcliffe dictum - that sent a reporter finally printed nothing.
My friend came to the conclusion that this was probably because nobody was hurt. There wasn't even a man bitten by a dog. And though the newspaper in question is surely no stranger to the ``create-a-little'' approach, its editors evidently felt that nothing could be done to this quietly resolved occurrence in the way of emotive language that would make it sufficiently alarming to attract the readers. The excellent news that nobody was scathed and historical buildings preserved, and that courage and quickness disarmed this dangerous hangover from the war - all this was apparently of only local interest.
Can I be forgiven for feeling that in both instances the newspapers mentioned missed fine opportunities of cheering people up? Not that one wants to whitewash the world. If a man sinks his eyeteeth into an unfortunate German shepherd, naturally I want to know all about it over breakfast. It's just that I wouldn't mind also knowing about people's steadiness in fearsome circumstances, or about their specific kindnesses, or their lack of prejudice, or their generosity.
I want to know more about some of the things that looked as though they might go wrong - but didn't.