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Snail's pace news crushed in high speed digital world

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: April 21, 2012

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So RIP Ceefax. Well, for most people the primitive, slow-motion but utterly addictive news service has bitten the dust already. Ceefax was sucked down the drain in the Westcountry, Wales and much of the country when the digital switchover arrived and the plug was pulled on analogue television. Now, though, millions of Londoners have seen it disappear. Suddenly, it becomes "news". Despite most of us mourning for many months.

Ok, mourning might be a touch strong. But Ceefax will be much-missed and fondly remembered. Built in the 1970s by engineers with time on their hands and unused parts of the broadcast spectrum to play with, this push-button news service was radical for its time. No longer did newspapers, television and radio have a stranglehold on when you consumed news, sport and whether. You could choose. In the age of rolling news, around every corner someone wants to tell you precisely what's happening, sometimes in excruciating detail, even if you're not particularly interested. But Ceefax wasn't like that. What it lacked in thrills and spills – pages turned at a glacial speed, annoying when page 8/32 boasted the one piece of team news that piqued your interest – it made up for with brevity. Ceefax was nothing if not to the point.

For sports fans, it was positively electrifying. On Saturday afternoons there would be quite a congregation praying at the altar of Ceefax. I remember being at my best friend's house at about the age of 10. Me, him, his brother and his Dad. Sports nuts to a man. Our allegiances varied. Manchester United (pre European dominance), Manchester City (pre Arabian billions), Newcastle United (who were lowly back then) and Workington Town (no change). One adult and three children rapt by a screen displaying scorelines, who scored and one other salient piece of information: if a player received a red card. Pages and pages of the stuff, but no more than these brutal facts. A goal for our respective teams – though in real-time it happened minutes earlier – was greeted with joy unconfined.

Cricket was more fascinating still. Many would argue – incorrectly – that nothing happens in cricket. It's boring. So "watching" county cricket through the medium of Ceefax – you're effectively just monitoring the scoreboard tick over – is as close as possible to watching paint dry without actually watching paint. I can assure you, however, that there is nothing more thrilling when this is the only resource for, say, Somerset v Yorkshire at the denouement of a season. You create your own little world, magical in its own way.

These tableaux look ancient now. A little sad, even. Contrast, if you will, with a Saturday afternoon in 2012. If you've never seen Sky Sports News' Soccer Saturday at work during the apex of the sporting week then, well, you're missing a spectacle. Whether it's good, bad or indifferent, I still don't know for sure. Put simply, you watch matches through the eyes of a panel of boorish, barely literate ex-pros who despite their huge success as players leave you feeling like you know less about the beautiful game than when you entered the room. Ceefax never did that, written as it was by trained journalists rather than former Arsenal midfielders looking for a segueway into how many medals they won. Soccer Saturday favours hysteria over detail, and we're all the poorer for it.

But you can see why the game was up for Ceefax. Indeed, it was a forerunner for the kind of on-demand services that have come to replace it. News is everywhere. The reason why Ceefax is disappearing is to give way for digital television and the 40-plus free-to-view stations it brings. Digital alone has at least two British-based 24-hour news stations, and countless more foreign ones. Newspapers have websites to access both breaking news and more comprehensive analysis, while organisations themselves – such as football clubs – can put the information out there themselves, and you can even get it on your mobile phone. Ceefax was once the market leader in an uncrowded market. Now it is overcrowded. Something had to give.

So goodbye page 201 (news), 301 (sport) and 401 (weather). You have been loved.

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