Amid Hoopla Over Royal Baby, Signs of Sanity and Restraint in News Coverage
For those of us who aren't agog at the impending birth of Will and Kate's royal baby, this would seemingly be a great day to moan about how the entire media universe has lost its collective marbles.
Camera crews and correspondents from both sides of the pond have been camping out for days outside St Mary's Hospital in London, and when Kate Middleton went into labor early Monday the impending birth was played big on the big three network morning shows.
Not surprisingly, the BBC's World News channel (the one we get on cable in the U.S.) had deployed a small army of reporters for their coverage, though it was a little odd to see the normally left-wing Guardian live-blogging the impending birth.
But at most American news sites there were signs of sanity and restraint. And even at British media outlets, which are increasingly seeking larger audiences in the U.S. after taking a PR battering in recent years from the tabloid phone-hacking scandal, there seemed to be an understanding that not everyone was fixated on the royal news.
The Guardian's website featured a button near the top of the page that allowed readers to switch between "royalist" and "not a royalist" modes. Click "royalist" and you'd find the top of the front page awash in dispatches about the royal birth; click "not a royalist"and those stories were relegated to a few headline links at the bottom of the page.
And while the story was at the top of the BBC's website, there were plenty of other items to be found there as well.
It was the same on the Beeb's World News channel and on BBC Radio.
Britain's tabloids, of course, were going big on the birth, with the Daily Mail trumpeting "The Great Kate Wait." The Telegraph offered a slightly more sober take: "Duke at bedside as Duchess goes into labour."
The New York Times was live-blogging the event, but on the homepage there was but a single royal story featured, below one about an earthquake in China. The Washington Post's homepage was similarly modest in its approach, and one Post writer even took pains to remind web surfers that "if you find yourself tiring of the story, we ... have lots on the political crisis in Egypt, India's school lunch deaths and the program of forced village relocations in Tibet."
The Guardian, perhaps in an effort to maintain its leftist street cred, featured several stories about Republic, an anti-monarchy group that has launched an online campaign "to encourage the media and the public to think about the very serious questions a royal birth raises about Britain and our political system."
Graham Smith, the group's spokesman, told the Guardian it should "treat the royal spin-machine the same way you would the Tory or Labour spin machine's: with a dose of healthy skepticism and some searching analysis."
"I would expect the Guardian to take seriously the journalistic belief in challenging power. Trivializing this issue only makes the Guardian an accomplice to that power and an appendage to the royal PR machine."
Of course, the anti-monarchist movement faces an uphill battle in Britain, where polls show roughly three-quarters of the citizenry support the royals. That popularity, not surprisingly, is reflected in British media coverage of any royal event. London School of Economics political scientist Tony Travers told Global Post "there is not much space in the mainstream media for people that have republican leanings to have their voice heard," adding: "The monarchy is popular and sells newspapers."
NPR European correspondent Philip Reeves notes the broad support for the royals but adds that "for many here in London, the much-trumpeted royal baby fever is more of a summer silly season snuffle - spreading faster around the world than it is in the U.K."
Reeves, using his subjective impressions of Brits, divides them into four groups: fanatical monarchists, mainstream royalists, doubters, and loathers. In the doubters category, he sums up what perhaps many were feeling about news coverage of the impending royal baby:
"These folk will tell you, over a pint in the pub, that the tabloid press waste far too much time writing about the tedious lives of the royals; they deride the media for spending weeks on the sidewalk outside St. Mary's Hospital in London, awaiting the royal birth."
Follow me on Facebook & Twitter