Yesterday's TV news was headlined by a story about a teenage girl who had been found dying from knife wounds in the lift of her Southwark apartment block.
It achieved its prominence because it had been co-opted into the story arc about teenage gangs and knife crime. We were shown a montage of the faces of earlier victims, shocked neighbours were filmed saying the things shocked neighbours always say, experts were interviewed.
Today it emerged that the police have arrested a man in his 30s; the girl had met him at church and he'd been stalking her.
Still a horrible waste of life, but nothing to do with gang culture or teenagers carrying knives. This was a completely different kind of crime.
So how about a story arc on the dangers to the public posed by immature, middle-aged men? Naah- not at all what the punters want to hear.
When middle-aged men commit crime (which they're doing all the time) it's always a one off. Whereas when teenagers commit crime, it's part of a horrifying trend. Oh my god, the kids are turning feral. The End Times are upon us.
The news is another kind of soap opera. Story lines are fixed in advance. Teenage knife crime is a nice little goer- so every story that feeds the paranoia is hoiked out of the middle pages of the regional press (where it would normally cause a mild flutter) and promoted to the headlines. The public is led to believe (what is almost certainly untrue) that a sudden epidemic of viciousness is making the streets unsafe, hard pressed journalists and their editors get to lie back and let the stream they've unleashed carry them, wise heads nod and offer nostrums, and no-one has to do any real investigating or think outside their comfort zone.