Where Janet met Ozzy: the jungle and the break-in

Reality TV renders the nation unusually united in its viewing behaviour
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The Independent Online

One week, two celebrity stories: the jungle and the break-in. Ant and Dec and Ozzy. One ignored by the broadsheet/compact press; one given lavish treatment. It used to be so easy, when we had a stratified press: the broadsheets did their serious issues thing and the tabloids had a quite different agenda. Never the twain met.

One week, two celebrity stories: the jungle and the break-in. Ant and Dec and Ozzy. One ignored by the broadsheet/compact press; one given lavish treatment. It used to be so easy, when we had a stratified press: the broadsheets did their serious issues thing and the tabloids had a quite different agenda. Never the twain met.

Rumble, bumble or, as some seem to hope, tumble in the jungle, we have reached that point in the year when I'm a Celebrity... is on our television screens. It is as seasonal as mince pies, and as harmless. Millions watch it and read about it, and it provides an outlet for the lofty and the grumpy. Everybody is served.

The fragmentation of the television experience in the digital age - when a vast choice of channels means there is no longer a community of viewers talking about last night's TV because they all watched something different - is suspended momentarily. Britain comes together regardless of intellect, social background or income, for two forms of TV entertainment, football and the higher-profile reality shows. The pecking order was made clear on Tuesday when ITV had to delay I'm a Celeb's starting time by 45 minutes to allow Manchester United to complete their European game. Sir Alex still rules.

While the dumbing-down debate continues in critical circles, it is these days a rather arbitrary matter. Those once-upon-a-time days of broadsheet editors denying their readers access to the stories "everybody" was talking about are long gone. Diana changed all that. So while the broadsheet/compact daily papers have more or less ignored I'm a... (apart from an anticipatory feature from Janet Street-Porter in The Independent - we'll come to JSP later) they have published hundreds of words over the past week about Ozzy Osbourne's fearless battle with the burglar. The Times even puffed its Ozzy coverage on the front page.

Strangely I find I'm a Celebrity... more engaging in the newspapers than on television. Spared the cheeky blandness of Ant and Dec and the grindingly, tediously slow pace of the "reality" unfolding on screen, plus a healthy injection of tabloid bile, the reporting of the manufactured television event is quite entertaining, making the "celebrities" a bit more interesting than they are.

Which brings us to JSP, the first newspaper representative to enter the jungle, and a former editor of this paper. She is not exactly sponsored, but she is there. We are used to reporters taking part in events they might be covering, being part of the story, like the London Marathon, round-the-world voyages or the Monte Carlo rally. You could call it reality reporting. But the jungle takes it a stage on. Future developments of this form of participatory journalism are frightening to contemplate.

Given JSP's inexplicable desire to be there it would be perverse of her paper to ignore the fact. Throughout her very public career she has always been a love-her or loathe-her, larger-than-life figure - dare one say, a bit of a celebrity? She cannot complain, and I'm sure won't, when she gets what she so often dishes out - abuse. Actually she has received quite a good press among the tabloids. Amanda Platell in the Daily Mail said that Street-Porter was shedding "not only her dignity but also her reputation in the name of trash entertainment" but there was a different view on the opposite page. Jaci Stephen's Jungle Watch column bemoaned the most "boring, introspective, unentertaining group of women assembled in one place at any one time". But Stephen went on: "With the exception of Janet Street-Porter, who has guts (as shown by her encounter with the snakes), a brain and the confidence to tell people when they are being complete nerds, there is no one to make me feel proud of being female."

The Times carried the following headline on its parliamentary sketch last Tuesday: "They are MPs, not celebrities ... get them out of here". Presumably the paper assumed its readers would twig, despite the fact that the jungle show was being ignored elsewhere in The Times.

And the best piece of the week was Craig Brown's column in The Daily Telegraph suggesting ways in which I'm a... would have to develop to sustain interest. It was very funny, but depended on readers' awareness of activities unreported in the paper.

It's difficult staying serious in the age of mass popular culture.

Peter Cole is professor of journalism at the University of Sheffield


The brass neck

One of the few stories Piers Morgan told a big bash last week that he did not recycle in the following day's Evening Standard concerned the moment he was sacked as editor of the Mirror earlier this year. At the British Society of Magazine Editors' annual awards, he recalled how his boss Sly Bailey had called him in and said she had good news and bad news. The bad news? "You're sacked." The good news? "That's a very nice tie you are wearing."

Bloop of the week

Thursday's Belfast News Letter carried a major (by local standards) sports story under the headline "Swifts book final berth", and a report of the cliffhanging football match between Linfield Swifts and Glentoran II, which the Swifts won 2-1. According to the gripping opening paragraph, the Swifts had "set up a gripping Christmas morning final with Bangor following last night's victory over arch rivals Glentoran". It even named the goal scorers: Clegg and Dunlop had successfully found the net for the Swifts. Only one problem: the score was the other way about, and it was Glentoran who won 2-1. The BBC picked up the story from the News Letter the next morning and bookmakers across Northern Ireland actually paid out on it. It was left to The Belfast Telegraph to squash the Christmas hopes of poor Swifts supporters.

House of spin

Lord (Philip) Gould, Tony Blair's polling guru, has put his large north London home on the market for £1.4m. It's in one of the loveliest squares in Camden Town (wife Gail Rebuck, head of Random House and the most powerful woman in British publishing, is said to have only tolerated life north of Hyde Park while her daughters attended the local state school.) One prospective purchaser who arrived chez Gould found he was having to share the great man's attention with the ousted spin-doctor Alastair Campbell. What can the two of them been up to?

Thinking person's paper

Those clever people at The Guardian took the Daily Mirror to task last week for thinking that when Boris Johnson said that "all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds", he was citing the French philosopher, Leibniz. "Any self-respecting know-all will tell you it was Voltaire, not Leibniz" the Guardian's Media Monkey crowed. But the Mirror was not wrong. True, in Voltaire's Candide, his character Dr Pangloss speaks those words, but as any self-respecting know-all will tell you, Pangloss was based on Leibniz, who had indeed sought to prove that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. So if it's accurate information on 18th-century French philosophers you're after, throw away your Guardian - the Mirror is the paper you can trust.