As a non-car-owning train traveller I was pathetically excited today to hear of news of further plans developing for HS2. When I got home I popped along to thetimes.co.uk to catch up on the day’s news. (Yes, I pay Murdoch’s wages, yes I can sleep at night thanks for asking, yes, I happen to think it’s a fairly balanced paper ).
I’d almost forgotten that I had seen mention of HS2 on twitter earlier in the day when I say the following news item:
Livelihoods to be destroyed! OK, I can see what angle we are taking here. The article started:
People living along the planned high speed railway woke today to find that their homes would be destroyed and businesses bulldozed as ministers outlined details of the £33 billion line north of Birmingham.
I was disappointed in this, ‘people woke today to find’, gives it an air of a sudden negative development, as we will see, if it happens at all it will probably be about twenty years before this line is built. And you could say ‘bulldozed’ is a loaded word. But at least we are aware of the cost, a key fact.
Two-hundred and twenty seven residential properties will be demolished, 179 commercial properties, 42 industrial sites and five community facilities will be bulldozed to make way for the £18.2 billion Northern branch lines.
The second paragraph sticks with the same theme, but doesn’t provide much further information about the what/why/when of HS2. I find the numbers a little confusing, the first paragraph states the HS2 line north of Birmingham as costing £22, but here the ‘Northern Branch Lines’ are £18.2 billion, as HS2 will branch at Birmingham (to Manchester and Leeds), these two are the same thing, yet different quoted prices.
Manchester will suffer the greatest number of demolitions, with 47 homes destroyed north of Piccadilly station and 22 bulldozed at West Gorton where the line emerges from a tunnel. Sixty-three businesses and 28 industrial plants will also be pulled down.
Third paragraph, third ‘bulldozed’. Terrible news about the 28 industrial plants, will nobody think of the children. As I write this and look out of my flat, I look to a rather ugly office block called New England House, and the multi-story car park both were built in the sixties and a number of streets were cleared (sorry: bulldozed) for them, I’m pretty sure more than 47 homes were destroyed for them.
It goes on, with several paragraphs along the same vain. We then reach our first quote:
“I just can’t believe it. It has taken years and years to get this business open, we finally got it opened just before Christmas – a month since – and we found out this morning that this is happening. We think it is terrible that they have left it until now to tell us all,” said Bryan Mason, whose home and farm shop will be destroyed at Park Side Farm, near Barnsley.
Only Today! At the very very earliest the work for the line north of Birmingham will start in 2025, knowing how projects slip, more likely 2030. Only 17-22 years to think about what to do. And they only told us today.
Oh and “Edward Cavenagh-Mainwaring, whose Whitmore Hall estate in Staffordshire will be crossed by the line” – that line could have come out of an article when the railways first came to Britain.
We next get three quotes from three tory MPs who all do not like it.
Near the end of the article we get some positive comments: One from the Shadow Transport Secretary (boooo Labour), one from ‘Accountants at KPMG’ (boooo accountants) and “The business lobby, trade unions and councils in the cities that will have stops on the line are highly supportive.” lobby groups, trade unions and red-tape loving councils, all talking positive about Hitler’s new HS2, it must be bad!
As I reached the end of the article I was struck about how little I now knew about the proposals. Yet this was the only article on The Times homepage about this major news story.
I had a hunch, something newspapers haven’t quite got right in this new online world is how to balance ‘new’ while not presuming the reader checks the website every 5 minutes. In the print world this is easier, you could presume the reader would have some notion of the previous day’s news, and a quick recap of the key points would help who weren’t.
On a number of occasions I’ve struggled (with all major newspaper sites, particularly the Guardian, sorry), where there is a major news story, but can’t find an article to cover the story in general terms. I can see the Live Blog, and the ‘world reacts’ article, and the how it affected those locally story but not the key article (in print it’s easy, the one I would be after would be the one on the front page).
If my hunch was right, that this was a ‘new’ article, focusing on the consequences to those who will loose property, then the main article should hopefully be in the related list:
The odd thing about these stories is that they all read the same: The first says ‘Tory revolt’, the second says Tory rebellion and the third: ‘residents [of Tory chancellor] rail’ ‘don’t push them’ ‘close to the edge [of revolt?]‘. These all seemed to focus on unhappiness of those affected by the plans, which, seemed to be the exact same theme of the article I had just read.
At this point I popped along to the BBC News page:
This is the lead story on the BBC News site. A clear main article, with a good headline (informative), and further links to maps, reaction, Q&A etc. The article has changed between when I first saw it and as I write this, originally it linked to the excellent gov.uk which provides the original source maps and information. This provided much of the information I wanted to know, while reporting on both sides of the argument.
Back to The Times, in the end it was the reporter’s twitter feed that pointed me to the key article, the one titled Tories push high-speed rebellion up the line, I’m guessing this had been in the homepage for much of the day as it had 88 comments. It starts off ok, though doesn’t paint as clear as picture as the BBC article, but then seems slip in to the same tone as the one I first read, i.e. all hell is coming to Tory land.
I have little idea of how a modern newspaper works, perhaps the Editor (or that day’s editor) sets a tone for their take on a story, so every article has to follow that line. There was a bit of a stir recently when the well-respected previous Editor of the Times left quite abruptly (reportedly pushed), so you would think they would want to step carefully and avoid claims of change in direction.
There is one last odd thing, with four articles all following a line of Tory disquiet and homes BULLDOZED you would think the Times take is clear.
It’s only then I noticed their leader:
The official Times opinion is: HS2 is a good thing.
Is this a sign of glowing editorial independence in the newsroom, with budding journalists free to form their own views, or simply that the leader writers at one end of the room don’t like talking to the transport geeks at the other. Who can tell?