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With the sun out and the air-conditioning in our media training studios on full blast, it’s clear we are heading rapidly towards silly season.
As everyone’s attention slowly turns to thoughts of their holiday destination or, like me, how you can possibly keep children occupied for six whole weeks, frivolous news comes to the fore.
This period, where ‘newsworthy’ seems to take on an altogether more ludicrous definition, often starts around Wimbledon and can blight our lives until September – though after a period of what feels like unrelenting bad news, it may bring some light relief this time around.
Silly season is a time when even the most obscure of pitches and story ideas can generate widespread coverage.
And we’ve decided to get in there early this year with a look back at some of our favourite silly season stories.
The woman wanting a dolphin as a midwife
If you picked up a copy of The Metro which had been casually discarded around a train carriage in the summer of 2015, you may have stumbled across the story of a woman who planned to give birth in the ocean with a dolphin as a midwife.
The story, which came complete with a warning from experts that wild animals may not be the right choice to help deliver a baby, featured a heavily pregnant Hawaiian woman.
She believed the experience would enhance the experience of labour and help the baby speak dolphin.
Victor Meldrew found in space
Arguably the most memorable of all silly season stories is the one which reported astronomers had found a constellation, which when the dots were joined, resembled sitcom character Victor Meldrew.
And before you have time to utter ‘I don’t believe it’, I should remind you this story was The Sun’s front page lead.
Could there be a more bizarre way to fill a quiet news day?
Rampaging crack addicted squirrels
It’s not compulsory for a story to include animals to generate silly season coverage, but it certainly helps.
Back in 2005 the South London Press reported that squirrels were terrorising Brixton after turning to crack because addicts were burying their stashes in gardens.
The Sun naturally made the story national, but it was perhaps more surprising The Guardian also opted to cover the story.
As residents spoke about squirrels with bloodshot eyes desperately digging up hidden supplies, one went further and suggested foxes were also becoming addicted.
A tail-wagging debate
Of course silly season isn’t just restricted to print media – television and radio stations can also suffer from this summer news lull.
Just last summer Sky News filled some of its 24 hour a day coverage with an Alan Partridge style item titled ‘Why do northern dogs tails wag more’ (although it should have been ‘less’ – but the accuracy is another matter).
No, I’m not making this up to fill the latest edition of this media training blog.
Do northern dogs have a less waggy tail then southerners?— Kay Burley (@KayBurley) August 2, 2016
Tune to @SkyNews next...
Northern dogs have less waggy tails than those in the South, a new study says. It's called "limber tail" https://t.co/wGvrXRVad2— Sky News (@SkyNews) August 2, 2016
The report was based on research from Edinburgh University which reported dogs in the north lose their wag because of the colder temperatures.
Journalist Kay Burley later took to Twitter to defend this important news story, telling critics to ‘get a life’.
Yes I know animals again. But animals are a staple of silly season. If it’s not the annual horror of a shark being spotted off the British coastline, it’s a skateboarding dog.
But one animal story which offered something a little different was one on the recreational activity of sheep in a quiet Welsh village.
The flock put Rydypandy on the map, with coverage in the Daily Mail, Telegraph, Mirror and USA Today of their cannabis fuelled activities.
The animals had stumbled across the remains of a cannabis factory and reportedly ate the class B drug before terrorising their home village.
Clearly this is a light-hearted blog, but if there is a media training lesson in this it is that all of these silly season stories have the U factor – they are all unusual.
This is a key element of what journalists look for in a story. On our media training courses we describe what makes something newsworthy through the acronym TRUTH. It means they are looking for something which is Topical, Relevant, Unusual, has an element of Trouble and Human interest.
While you may not be able to match the extreme degree of ‘unusual’ reached in the stories outlined above, it’s worth remembering journalists are always looking for a story which will surprise their audience and make them sit-up and take note.
I can’t wait to see what this year’s silly season brings.
Media First are media and communications training specialists with over 30 years of experience. We have a team of trainers, each with decades of experience working as journalists, presenters, communications coaches and media trainers.
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