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The Calm After the Storm

Four bombs went off just a few hours before my plane landed at Heathrow on Thursday, so naturally the TV was switched on almost constantly at my sister’s London home during my day-and-a-half stopover as we tried to get news of what had just happened. True to form, England’s saturation coverage — whether on BBC, ITV or Sky — was thankfully subdued, certainly not like the understandably high-pitched days on end after 9/11, with constant access to heart-stopping, of-the-moment visuals and fevered network voices having to parse reams of unsubstantiated details instantaneously. That’s partly because of the quieter approach to televised news in general over here, but also because British networks had little to report, and little in the way of arresting video. In stark contrast to American news channels, even the tickers on the bottom of the screen were boring, staying clear of rumormongering. There simply wasn’t much to learn that first TV day before London dailies could bring an inky, photographically stark realism and measured journalistic literacy to what had happened. By evening, anchors were holding up the newspapers, revealing what had been reported inside, and spotlighting photojournalists’ heartbreaking, graphic pictures of some of the wounded. Reading the newspapers on camera is a common component of British TV news, and while it isn’t what we snarkily call “great TV,” it was responsible TV, calm in the face of a dearth of information. By avoiding a tailspin urgency, the dulcet, cautious tones of Britain’s newsmen and -women provided a service: letting us know something horrible had happened, not to panic, that people were on it, and that facts would come in due time.

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