This morning’s news of Benedict XVI was another blow to dead tree journalism. None of the papers could have hoped to carry anything but the most cursory news this morning for regular editions from their correspondents huddled in St Peter’s square, as it occured just before 3am Australian time, although the Daily Telegraph and Herald Sun both scrambled out late editions covering the announcement.

But you would have thought the papers’ internet editions would run with the news: amazingly, not. The Age “breaking news AM edition” email arrived in inboxes at 7am, with no hint of the momentous news from the Vatican. For the best, most immediate coverage, listeners had to shift to BBC World Service overnight, which was on the ball instantly. The Beeb interrupted regular programming just before 2am EST, crossing to religious affairs correspondent Jane Little in St Peters Square to report the white smoke, and staying there for the next two hours for the build-up to the announcement, Ratzinger’s appearance on the balcony, vox pops with pilgrims and groupies, and analysis of the events.

Meanwhile, ABC News Radio was sound asleep. The news network continued its Deutsche Welle current affairs show, which provided patchy coverage of the breaking news. While the German Pope was making his appearance, News Radio listers were treated to a jolly report about Peruvian folk music. Clearly the Germans weren’t expecting a Bavarian pope.

Most TV networks were slow to act. At 2.30am, Seven broke into its infomercial to take the live CNN feed. Someone woke up at Nine just in time to throw to Rome as Ratzinger made his appearance to the gathered masses. Over at Ten, meanwhile, viewers were treated to infomercials selling wonder beds and miracle acne cream.

As for the national broadcaster, the new Pope was a non-event. As the CNN cameras treated viewers to the sight of Australia’s cardinal George Pell soaking in the atmosphere from a Vatican balcony, the ABC continued blithely with its black-and-white WWII movies. Over at SBS, the test pattern reigned supreme.

So when CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer intoned: “A new pope, Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. A moving time in the Catholic church. And the whole world was watching,” he wasn’t speaking for everyone.

Peter Fray

Fetch your first 12 weeks for $12

Here at Crikey, we saw a mighty surge in subscribers throughout 2020. Your support has been nothing short of amazing — we couldn’t have got through this year like no other without you, our readers.

If you haven’t joined us yet, fetch your first 12 weeks for $12 and start 2021 with the journalism you need to navigate whatever lies ahead.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW