Silly season is upon us…it’s that time of year when hard news dries up and reporters across the country find themselves covering stories that would not normally see the light of day.
These include such tales as sightings of black panthers, great white sharks in Cornwall and a couple seeing the image of Jesus in their baby’s ultrasound scan.
Now a journalism lecturer has launched a research project into “silly season” as he attempts to find out where the phrase came from and what it means to the average journalist.
Dr David Clarke, a former journalist at the Rotherham Advertiser, Sheffield Star and Yorkshire Post who is now head of journalism at Sheffield Hallam University, will carry out his research over the next two years and is calling on people across the industry to take part in his survey.
He told HTFP: “I am interested in the field of folklore. Every profession has its own folklore and journalists have all got their own stories and yarns they tell you but nobody really is taking these down for posterity.
“I want to know when the first time the silly season phrase was used and what kind of stories it included. Nobody has done any research on it. What I am trying to get at is what does the average journalist define as the silly season?
“Journalism is not just reporting hard news, it is about entertainment as well. I think a lot of people tend to do research on the more serious part of journalism but the entertainment part gets overlooked.”
David has so far been able to trace use of the silly season phrase back to the 1860s, when stories involved such things as serpents being seen at sea.
He added: “The silly season stories that used to come round every year are ones about escaped black panthers. Virtually every year as a journalist, you got sent out on that kind of story.
“I remember one man said a full-sized lion had come up to him and that sparked a full-scale police operation.”
His survey asks for examples of silly season stories and what impact the arrival of the internet has had on it.
To take part in the research, click here.