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Published: Wednesday, 4/27/2011

Media scrambling for wedding tidbits

BY MACKENZIE CARPENTER
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE
Photo media journalists crowd around the car belonging to Kate Middleton as she leaves her London home in this file photo. Photo media journalists crowd around the car belonging to Kate Middleton as she leaves her London home in this file photo.
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LONDON -- Dame Edna was there, nibbling pink cupcakes, weaving through the cavernous gilded rooms and telling Jay Leno's Tonight Show crew she knew where Kate Middleton and Prince William were going on their honeymoon.

Where?

"Libya."

Perhaps you had to be there, but at a party for the international print media last night at the grand Lancaster House -- a former palace in this city's West End -- the guests were laughing at Barry Humphries' famous comic character, queuing up to interview royal biographer Hugo Vickers, sipping Laurent-Perrier champagne, and scarfing up the free canapes (they are journalists, after all).

Elsewhere, as the media presence here builds to an estimated 8,000 people -- the BBC alone has deployed 850 -- it's been tension city.

"It's been a bad day," sighed Jane Thompson, a program director at ITN, which provides programming for ITV, one of Britain's top three television networks. Her team has settled in the sprawling plywood and glass structure for the broadcast media -- painted a tasteful green with no network insignias on it -- directly across from Buckingham Palace.

"We had a rehearsal today that didn't go well," mainly for technical reasons, she said, but Ms. Thompson, a veteran who has organized coverage of many royal occasions, including the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, is keeping her cool.

"This, however, is pretty much bigger than anything else we've ever done. It's such a huge, feel-good story, even though an awful lot of people here aren't as interested in it as the foreign media."

All last week, camera crews, many with foreign accents, were shooting royal wedding-themed stories, mostly in the parks near Buckingham Palace and Westminster Abbey, for overseas media clients.

"It's good for business, and that's why we love the royals," said Marwan Khafaji, who was working that day for ARD, a German television channel. "I know a fellow from NBC here in London who's told me he's been working every day since the engagement was announced." Just behind the palace at the Goring Hotel Monday, where Ms. Middleton will spend the night before her wedding, media from Canada and New Zealand were interviewing each other, while a few paparazzi watched in amusement.

"You should go check out the lunatics camping out near the procession," said one cameraman who gave only his first name as Jack. "John Loughrey will be there. He's a bit of a nutter."

Sure enough, the papers reported yesterday that "superfan" Mr. Loughrey, a 56-year-old assistant chef from Wandsworth known for camping out at all sorts of royal occasions -- including the inquests into Diana's death -- had staked out his turf in front of Westminster Abbey, equipped with two sleeping bags and wearing a T-shirt proclaiming that "Diana Would Be Proud."

If the story about Mr. Loughrey seemed a bit of a stretch news-wise, that's because the media have pretty much covered every angle of the upcoming nuptials and are running out of things to write about.

How desperate are they? The Guardian reported Tuesday that Kate and William, penguins at the National Aquarium, are engaged to be married on Friday, the same day as the royal wedding.

"They love each other very deeply," said aquarium communications director Gareth West, the paper reported.

The palace is trying to keep up with the insatiable demands of new media, feeding out tidbits every day. There's a royally sanctioned YouTube channel, the Queen has a Facebook page, and Buckingham Palace is on Twitter.

Still, nobody knows anything, said Tim Walker, a columnist with the Telegraph. A recent scandal over a tabloid paper hacking the cell phones of Prince William and other celebrities -- and the promise of an upcoming trial -- has muted the coverage somewhat.

"Since the phone-hacking scandal, there has not been a decent royal story for a long time," Mr. Walker said. ,

To fill the potential pauses on the air during the big day, foreign networks have been busy trying to line up London "experts" to provide commentary.

Some, such as Katie Nicholl, who writes for the Mail on Sunday, are rumored to be pulling in six-figure pay for their services.

Mr. Walker said he got a call from one international network that wanted him on their set all day -- for free. "I told them 700 pounds, please, and never heard from them again.

"Nobody's got it really sorted out. What you have is a chorus of howler monkeys who are paid almost nothing. Everyone is desperately trying to pretend they know something when they really don't."

Maria Puente, a veteran USA Today reporter who will be covering the wedding, said her newspaper has sent five people to London, "which may seem small and insignificant by comparison, but no matter how much a Bigfoot media person you might be, no one is getting inside the royal wedding, no one is getting an 'exclusive' with the royal couple, no one is going to be chatting with the bride about shoes and frocks on the morning shows.

"When you're just an ant crawling along the Mall, it's hard to escape the feeling that you could get a better, bird's eye view of what's going on by staying at home and covering it from your desktop TV."

"And, of course," Ms. Puente added, "It's going to rain on the wedding day. Otherwise, it's a grand time to be in London."

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Mackenzie Carpenter is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.

Contact Mackenzie Carpenter at: mcarpenter@post-gazette.com.



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