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Home > Media

Rolling Coverage Gathers No Moss

Exclusive: live debate: missing schoolgirl Shevaun Pennington owns mobile phone: is your child at risk from paedophile texters?

18 July 2003

This is probably all you need to know about Shevaun Pennington:

British schoolgirl Shevaun, 12, recently disappeared off to Europe with Toby Studabaker, 31, an ex-US marine she met over the Internet. Studabaker has some sort of dodgy history with young, (i.e. underage) girls, although Shevaun claimed to be 19. Fortunately, Shevaun came back unharmed (and apparently unmolested). Studabaker has been arrested.

However, if you work for BBC News 24, you probably have the following questions:

  • Studabaker left the US marines anti-terrorist unit until just a few weeks ago. IS THERE AN AL QUAEDA CONNECTION?

  • Shevaun used the Internet. SHOULD THE INTERNET BE BANNED?

  • Shevaun’s father did not make an appearance until the very end of the TV coverage. HAD HE BEEN ABDUCTED BY ALIENS?

    The level of desperate speculation among the various BBC Woodwards and Bernsteins during the coverage was appalling - mainly the result of having to keep up with constant live coverage. In true journo style, they kept talking up the most minor aspects of the story: did Shevaun’s mum speak to her just BEFORE she appeared at a press conference?

    Who knows? Who cares?

    During these 'fast moving' and 'dramatic unfolding events' (their clichés, not ours) the BBC did what it does best: using its legion of worldwide correspondents to give the illusion of something actually happening. In the space of a couple of hours, there were items from:

  • a BBC reporter at Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris

  • two BBC reporters in Michigan

  • a BBC reporter in Frankfurt

  • a BBC reporter in Manchester

  • a BBC reporter in Leigh (an item showing nothing happening at
    Shevaun’s home)

  • a studio in Westminster (interview with Shevaun’s MP)

  • a BBC reporter interviewing Shevaun’s mum

  • a BBC reporter on the phone to Shevaun’s head teacher

    The problem was, once Shevaun was 'found' 'alive and well' (she came back to Manchester by herself), there wasn't much to add. Instead BBC News 24 made do by endlessly wringing out comments from its interviewees, including asking Studabaker’s bewildered relatives in Michigan to comment on the fact that Shevaun had phoned her parents earlier that morning.

    So what does the whole Shevaun Pennington story tell us? Answer: almost nothing.

    The problem is that Shevaun’s story isn't news in the sense of being something that affects the wider population. When people like Shevaun do unusual and unwise things of their own volition, there isn't much you can do to stop them. And when it comes to this kind of extremely rare event, legislation is almost certainly not a solution. One talking head (admittedly on Sky) raised the issue of banning chat groups. How? Why?

    Live TV news coverage: too much, too often.

    Someone sit them down and make them watch The Day Today.


    Martin Bell attacks rolling news:

    news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/2982861.stm

    An excellent guide to The Day Today:

    chilled.cream.org/forums/tdt.php



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