Another story about the news! What does this mean?

Very little.

I have a buddy who works in journalism, technically. It’s something that is taking a battering, as the way news is delivered is changing and yada yada. Complex subject, I’m too dim to offer a good opinion.

What I do know is that modern newspapers – in this country are 300% hot garbage. Absolutely the worst.

[Feed the Newsbeast to generate content]

What few journalists and other employees remained at Generic Daily Newspaper all felt very nervous.

They had been summoned to the communal canteen that had served them and half a dozen other publications until those had been bought up and literally liquidated some months before. It seemed far too big now, and far too empty. The journalists shuffled their feet, none daring to ask why they were there in case they heard an answer that happened to be true. They’d been working in the news business so long that most had developed allergies to the truth long ago. That marked them out as veterans, however much they might try to overcome it.

Their shuffling tailed off as a distant ringing eventually resolved itself into a closer ringing, and one that was approaching as well. The ceremonial bells that preceded the owners of the Generic Daily Newspaper. It was said to ward off evil spirits, but the practicality of this was questionable given the amount of spirits that tormented them daily. The bells also served marvelously as an early-warning system for people about to have to deal with the owners. The journalists girded their loins, for what good it would do them.

Borne into the canteen by a team of grunting, sweating, zero-hour contract, benefit-shorn temp workers the two brothers who owned the newspaper seemed distinctly bored with being there. Riding atop an opulent palanquin one was too obese to see past his chin and was spread unevenly across three seats locked together. He was eating, though what he was eating was unclear. Whatever it was it squealed before it disappeared into his gullet. It squealed on the way down, too; chewing was for the poor.

His brother – razor-thin – was busily driving golf balls at anything that presented itself as an entertaining target, most commonly the backs of the temp’s heads. The temps bore it with remarkable dignity, though the livid looking lumps on their nude scalps spoke to their torment. Or something. The thin brother took particular delight in glancing shots off the lumps.

The palanquin was carried up to the journalists and set down on legs before them, the sweating tempts gratefully resting their shoulders as the brothers reluctantly brought their attention down onto the mere mortals before them.

“There have been grumblings about the recent structural changes to your working environment. Our agents have brought these grumblings back to us, and we have heard your complaints!”

This filled all the journalists with fear and suspicion. Typically, whenever anyone up the chain ever heard anyone complaining it usually ended badly for everyone involved whether they’d complained or not. It didn’t even matter if their complaints were legitimate; their working conditions had been incredibly chaotic ever since their newspaper had been bought up and metaphorically torn to shreds. They’d seen their staffing levels dwindle and the noose of editorial control tighten on their output day by day. Many had lost hope.

“We are pleased to inform you that there shall be no more changes to your working environment,” said the larger brother before hefting his goblet of wine and taking a draught. He kept drinking for a solid five minutes or so, during which the employees – elated at this announcement – did their best not to celebrate just yet. They didn’t want to be premature. They were right to be cautious.

Finishing his mighty swig he set the goblet aside and smacked his lips. He then completed his sentence properly.

“After these last changes. Which is to say, no further changes after the final, significant changes we are going to put into force today. I would have said that all at once, but I got thirsty.”

He took another swig following this, his thirst still not quenched.

“Bring in the Newsbeast!” he then  roared, speckling those gathered before him with phlegm and bits of food and drops of wine. Expensive food and wine, mind; they’d have to pay for that later. The phlegm was gratis but still a better class than the journalists were used to.

A nearby door burst open and yet more temps came in, these all hauling on thick chains which led back to quite possibly the single-most horrendous looking beast anyone present had ever clapped eyes on – and that was even including the owner brothers.

Slithering forward on a bloated belly as its stubby, useless legs waggled in the air leaving behind it a trail of slime pungent enough to be smelt from clear across the room. The Newsbeast drooled and snuffled, its bulbous head swept from side to side, a multitude of milky eyes rolling in their sockets but seeing nothing. The employees, duly horrified, stumbled backwards and several fell over one another.

“Behold the Newsbeast! This grotesque affront to nature and decency is the final word in news production! Simply feed it with a rich swill of suffering and hear-say and it will produce the finest, choicest morsels of news for the public to consume! Human influence need never tarnish journalism again! With its tact and its nuance!”

Both brothers spat in unison at this last sentence, the mere idea disgusting them to the core. Journalism was a business! Human expertise, experience and warmth had no place in such a venture and should be stamped out without mercy. This was a worldview they had hewed to their entire lives and it had never steered them wrong, as far as they were concerned.

“Demonstrate feeding the Newsbeast!” The thin brother said, clapping his hands.

A handful of the temps who’d led the Newsbeast in broke off from the main pack and dragged in a cast-iron trough. It was heavy with slop and some of it splashed out onto the floor as they carried it. It did not look appetising.

Sticking a great ladle into the trough one of the temps scooped out a steaming load and gingerly brought it up in front of the Newsbeast’s face. It stopped looking around as several of its nostrils twitched, drooling mouth opening wide as it groped blindly for the source of the smell.

Actually feeding the ladle in between its jaws was an unusually delicate task and took more time than anyone watching would have expected. It happened though, and the Newsbeast made a horrible sound of satisfaction. This lasted a second or so before the satisfaction became unmistakable agony, and the main body of the Newsbeast began to quiver. Around it, the temps in charge of feeding it put on elbow-length gloves.

The Newsbeast defecated. Loudly, and in great abundance. The initial emission had the same force and effect as a shotgun shell and one unlucky temp was killed. The others – wisely – had stood back. It got less violent after that but no less odious. A pile soon formed, and it was for this that they had needed gloves. Rooting around inside the pile the temps eventually brought forth several lumps that had been hidden within it – the aforementioned ‘choice morsels’ no doubt.

These were put into a basket and taken away, as was the Newsbeast now that it’s demonstration was over. What remained of the pile was not cleaned up, nor was it likely to be at any point in the near future. The journalists were collectively appalled to the point of being completely silent.

“So, we’ll need maybe three or so of you to do this. Volunteers?” The large brother said, smiling and looking for hands that he expected to shoot up. They did not.

One journalists recovered enough to take a stand. Remembering they had a spine they took one step forward and declared in loud, clear voice:

“We cannot abide this! You have gone too far sirs, we say too far!

This was precisely the wrong thing to say. Both brother’s faces turned to thunder almost in perfect unison.

“Your contracts compel you!” The thin brother said, holding up a fistful of contracts. He selected one at random and slashed it with a straight razor he produced from one of his brother’s folds. A journalist let out of a screech and collapsed as a vicious bloody gash opened up across their body, staining their shirt with blood. Contracts had that effect on people nowadays. It was a legal thing.

“You had a chance to volunteer and you squandered it! Now you shall be chosen at random!” Screeched the thin brother, yanking three of the contracts out in no particular order and then tossing the rest up into the air where they burst into flames apropos of nothing.

“To ash!” He declared triumphantly as the journalists linked to the contracts now blazing also went up, screaming in agony. The three who had been chosen fled only to find their exits blocked by the burly, disinterested temps.

“Sorry mate,” the temps said, dragging them off to their newly assigned office space to feed the Newsbeast. Forever. In many ways, their screams were even worse.

“Make sure that ash gets mixed into the news-swill. I think it’ll add pep,” the large brother said to the temp sweeping up the ash. The temp grunted.

“Ooh, that’s a great idea,” the thin brother said. He wished he’d thought of it. He’d spend the next month wishing he’d thought of it and silently cursing his brother for doing it instead of him. Theirs was a healthy relationship, they thought.

Business concluded, the palanquin was hoisted up again and carried from the room, heralded once again by the spirit-scattering bell.

“I make that lunch don’t you?” The large brother asked, bellies rumbling.

It was nine in the morning.

END

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