On 7 May the UK gasped in shock and horror as The Sun wilfully dropped a massive thin and crispy chicken pizza all over its front page. The story accompanying this rather unappetising spectacle was one which has been doing the rounds for years: Pizza Express use Halal chicken. The jury is still out as to whether the restaurant does or doesn't tell its customers it uses Halal meat. But suffice to say, chicken aside, The Sun isn't in line for a Pulitzer Prize for this one.
Now, I'm a vegan. I'm also an active animal rights person. And I'm an atheist. So I'm precisely the kind of person who should have sprinted down the road and leaped athletically onto the Outrage Bus (for local times and stopping points see: @Outrage_Bus). I hate the idea of Halal slaughter and I'm only marginally happier if the animal is stunned first. I also passionately believe that there should never be any exemptions in law for any form of religious belief. But for some reason my first thought was: this is a Drop the Dead Donkey story. An old story recycled. A 'banker'. How sad.
Newspapers need stories. They need...well...news! But the Halal meat story? Blimey, it's been around, in news terms, since Noah was a lad. And despite the screaming headline 'Halal Secret of Pizza Express', it's not a secret. Not even slightly secret. In 2010 the Daily Mail ran a story giving us a list of all the fast-food chains that use Halal meat. Many pizza joints have been using Halal products for a very long time and stories have been in almost all the papers over the last few years. Basically, Halal pizza is not news.
I'm getting increasing concerned about this spinning of old stories and the re-presenting of it as breaking news. It seems to be happening more and more. I can understand a slow news day; you do need a dead donkey to drop if something happens. And I know the desperate struggle journalists can face when there's just no actual news. I have journalist friends who ring me just before the daily Editorial meeting and say: 'What have you got, because I've got nothing'. I accept it's really hard to continually fill the pages when frankly there's nothing interesting to say.
But what really worries me is that while the pizza is splattered over the front page in all its Technicolor glory, a catastrophic earthquake or other disaster can struggle to make it into the News in Brief slot on page six. Let's take this week as an example. There were no earthquakes or disasters that could have headlined on 7 May but there were stories of significance. For example, are we really more concerned about Halal pizza than 200 young Nigerian schoolgirls potentially on their way into a human-trafficking nightmare? Do we care more about our food than thousands of Barclays' job losses? Is chicken more important than the recapture of a serial armed robber who was, for some inexplicable and eminently newsworthy reason, out shopping for the day from an open prison? I mean...really?
No obviously we're not more concerned about Halal meat. We care deeply about all these other stories. But all newspapers, not just The Sun, drive the news agenda. They chose what we see and tell us what's news. And sadly, at the moment, we still believe them. But this is changing and the newspapers know it. They're in transition and soon we may never see a dead pizza story again.
Many of us now use Twitter as our primary source of news. This is not news either. We've been using it in this way for at least the last couple of years. But the pace of change has accelerated massively over the last year. Every time I see a newspaper front page it always feels like old news now. There's an ongoing and huge debate around the future of print and I'm not going to get into it. But I know that the papers are feeling their way, testing and checking out the best approach to accommodate the way people get their news. Some will turn their focus towards investigative journalism and in-depth coverage - the two things that don't translate to Twitter; and others will relegate the print edition and follow the Daily Mail's rolling multi-story online template which has proved so successful for them. Or they'll find some other way of moving forward. But whatever they chose to do, I really hope it's not going to involve more dead pizzas than necessary.