We have all heard of the expression “a no news day,” one of those days where not much happened news-wise. I usually enjoy those days because some news outlets will often report more quirky stories.
But what happens when there really is no news?
In 1930, the BBC was only about a decade old and had very specific goals. On April 18, 1930, the BBC announced that “there is no news” in their evening report.
The BBC’s news announcer had nothing to communicate. “There is no news,” was the script of the 20:45 news bulletin, before piano music was played for the rest of the 15-minute segment.
The wireless service then returned to broadcasting from the Queen’s Hall in Langham Place, London, where the Wagner opera Parsifal was being performed.
It was not like there wasn’t anything to report, but the BBC decided what was worth reporting on, and according to them, there was nothing newsworthy.
Ethan Zuckerman, the director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, indicates that other historical news sources tell us that at least two important things were going on. For one, the British government was apparently trying to respond to some allegations that had been printed in a newspaper the day before—and since the papers were taking the Good Friday holiday off, they might have tried to go on the radio. “It’s possible that Day of No News was a form of asserting press independence,” Zuckerman writes: “[They may have been saying] ‘We won’t be the mouthpiece for the government, and so no news for anyone.’”
For another, Surya Sen, a Bengali independence fighter, had successfully led a raid against a colonial police outpost in Chittagong. This time, technology foiled the story: Even if they had decided to report on this, “they couldn’t have gotten the news, as Sen’s forces cut the rail and telegraph lines,” Zuckerman points out.
In 1930, the BBC had only a rudimentary news service and did not yet have a separate News Department. Concerned that broadcast news would undermine their circulations, the British press worked hard to limit the news production capabilities of the new medium.
I think that it wouldn’t be bad to have “no news days” every now and again.