Thursday 23 November 2017

Reporting from another dimension where no news is news

'On Sky Sports' transfer deadline day, however, they've gone all abstract, postmodern, avant-garde'
'On Sky Sports' transfer deadline day, however, they've gone all abstract, postmodern, avant-garde'

Tommy Conlon

The first day at journalism school they tell the students how to report a news story. It is a basic skill of the trade.

On Sky Sports' transfer deadline day, however, they've gone all abstract, postmodern, avant-garde. Here, they are pioneering a radical form of new journalism. Here, they are showcasing a new generation who have mastered the art of reporting a non-news story.

The ancient principles of form and content had become anchors holding them back from ecstatic flight. But they are casting off the shackles. The old rules have been discarded. They are now experimenting with radical and challenging modes of expression.

In Sky's west London headquarters they have created a movement which in time will be seen as a ground-breaking departure from such bourgeois pedantry as the who, the what, the where and the when.

It will be called something like news nouveau. And with its arrival, journalism will finally have caught up with other seminal artistic experiments such as cubism, stream-of-consciousness and, of course, freeform jazz.

While it is invidious to single out some of these daring explorers from their equally innovative colleagues, it is surely only a matter of time before Gary Cotterill will be crowned the Picasso of broadcast news, Vinny O'Connor its James Joyce, Geraint Hughes its John Coltrane.

Now, it should be said that old-school journalism has always flirted with the non-news story as a raw material. Many a yarn that made it into print, or onto television, was categorised as such by a scornful public. So the editorial establishment would quickly retreat to its banal and timid conventions.

But on Monday last, the likes of Gary, Vinny and Geraint jumped off the cliff without wings, without a harness, without a safety net. And for hours on end - for an entire day in fact - they remained effortlessly airborne while saying nothing. Having no story to provide them with a safe ledge, they defied the hitherto iron laws of reportage, like men defying gravity itself. It was a magnificent act of sustained improvisation.

And there was no doubting its historic import: it was journalism's declaration of independence, its digital manifesto, its heroic leap into modern art.

As Gary stood on a deserted London street and told us ad infinitum that nothing was happening at QPR, one could almost see his microphone mutate before us into Marcel Duchamp's famous 1917 work, the porcelain urinal.

All was nothingness, not just at Loftus Road but Anfield, the Emirates, the Etihad and a dozen other football grounds the length and breadth of Britain. But out of this nothingness Sky's foot soldiers at the frontline wove their magic, turning the emptiness into drama like so many proletarian Samuel Becketts.

"It doesn't look like any signings coming in as it stands," said Pete Colley, reporting on Aston Villa from an abandoned field. It was shortly after lunchtime.

"It's unlikely that Manchester City will be making any more signings," said Fraser Dainton from the Etihad.

"It's been a quiet day so far at Arsenal," said Geraint Hughes.

"Not so much happening on deadline day," said Mark Benstead at Sunderland FC.

Vinny O'Connor, standing in a car park in Liverpool, had an update. Brendan Rodgers had revealed it'd be "a quiet window for us".

In this terrible silence they could hear the winds howling, and a faraway dog barking at the sky. And yet, rather than being fearful of this deathly hush, they embraced it. In fact, they were liberated by it.

In those long lonely hours that followed, they entered the void and gave it meaning. They had become performance artists using nothing but their own inner resources for inspiration. They faced the cameras every time and just when it seemed they had reached the limits of articulate nothingness, they found a new way of saying it. Truly it was a high wire act without the high wire. Those of us watching open-mouthed at home understood instinctively that we were witnessing nothing less than the shock of the new.

Kaveh Solhekol, down at St Mary's, was perhaps the most experimental in his bid to push the envelope, daring to deviate even further into this unorthodox terrain. Southampton FC, he revealed, had provided him with "a delicious lunch of steak-and-kidney pie, chips, ketchup and mayonnaise."

And inevitably, where one artist leads, others will follow. Suitably emboldened by Kaveh's courage, Chris Hull told us he'd been "invited in for moussaka and lasagne" at West Bromwich Albion.

Giddy with excitement at this new-found freedom of expression, Gary dared to say that Harry Redknapp had invited him in "for a cup of tea and a bowl of pasta", while Vinny declared that he'd brought his own sandwiches, "a lovely lunch of beef butties and ham butties."

We were being taken into uncharted territory by these voyagers at the edge of planet news. They had discovered brand new colours for journalism's jaded palette. In one delirious afternoon they had opened up virgin vistas of exploration; every subject was legitimate, anything was possible.

And somehow their original assignment didn't seem to matter any more: they were free men, and so were we.

When Sky HQ showed dramatic footage of Chung-yong Lee hurrying through the car park at Crystal Palace to complete his transfer, it just didn't seem to matter as much any more.

It was dark by now, but shining upon us with glittering brilliance was the light of a new dawn.

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