Wednesday, August 01, 2007

News Jiffy

The standard of news delivery in Britain appears to be in freefall. It's becoming increasingly irritating in both its televisual and print formats, but for the moment I'll stick to just laying into the news broadcasters. Aside from the most obvious and distressing trends in TV news presentation, such as the rampant dumbing-down of content, lack of real information, and a continual increase in employment of silly graphics to drive home basic points (like Gordon Brown riding a camel to illustrate he'd 'got the hump' with Tony Blair), there are other real and pressing concerns regarding news broadcasting.

It took me long enough to deal with the idea that the BBC News studio doesn't really exist and Huw Edwards and Sophie Raworth are just sitting before a green screen. You'd expect such shenanigans from ITV, of course, but when your public service broadcaster turns to virtual backdrops it warrants a shake of the head. Secondly, the recent obsession with allowing newsreaders licence to leave their seat and roam around studios is deeply regrettable. When I'm being told about a potential resolution on peacekeeping forces in Darfur I want to be told by someone who is seated at all times, and whose legs and hands I can not see. The sight of ITV News' Nicholas Owen parading and flaunting himself around a semi-circular virtual dancefloor serves to lighten the gravity of bloodshed in Sudan and is monumentally inappropriate.

Having dealt with some of the aesthetic crimes, we can move on to the auditory concerns of news, i.e. what these people somehow credited with the task of newsgiving are actually saying. When the impregnable Andrew Marr left his post as BBC Political Editor he was replaced with a man who seems to be of the impression that none of his viewers have ever watched a news broadcast before: Nick Robinson. The man who condescends and wears gimmicky glasses for a living. He pauses and emphasises to such a degree that you wonder if he himself really knows what he's on about when he's standing outside Number 10. Worse still, he seems to emphasise the wrong words, which is dangerous and causes confusion (I mean 'causes confusion'). Any self-respecting correspondent doing a live link should offer their words in a straight-laced and pallid manner. They should speak in a way that doesn't distract the viewer from absorbing the facts. Lindsey Hilsum of Channel 4 News has got the right idea in this respect.

Hilsum, a veteran of warzone reportage, also excels in her content. She begins by offering up the bones of the story, and then gradually fleshes it out with background information without resorting to sensationalist and emotive eyewitness accounts. Too many correspondents are eager to tell you how they feel about things. I was listening to the podcast of Radio 4's From Our Own Correspondents today and reliable old hand John Simpson, the man who'd have you believe he single-handedly liberated Kabul from Taliban rule (and who would doubt him?), had this to say:

I've never been a great one for the kind of reporting that tells you how the journalist feels when something terrible happens. It seems to me that we need news reporters to be crisp, accurate and unexcitable, like ambulance crews. And you certainly don't want an ambulance man leaning over you and telling you how he feels about your injuries.
Absobloodylutely Simpson. Those of us who recall seeing Philippa Forrester break down in tears while covering the solar eclipse of August 1999 for the BBC will appreciate what the man is saying. As someone who is generally quite afraid of public displays of emotion, it wasn't nice to have to watch her trying to describe how it felt to be there. Honestly, you leave these people to their own initiative and they crumble... that's the lesson here. If news presentation keeps encouraging individual anecdotes and emotion-bulletins from our correspondents, the day will come when even the great bastions of present-day reportage like 'Scud stud' Rageh Omar, loveable news pixie Jeremy Bowen and, heaven forbid, Lindsey Hilsum are all dabbing their cheeks live on camera.

Next week: Weathermen.

12 Comments:

Blogger Dan said...

It's got to a stage where the news now looks like it is parodying 'The Day Today', were broadcasters capable of such post-modern irony (as people who sit around too much call it, I think).

The graphics used often comprise some of the best visual comedy now on television. Last night, the BBC led with the shock story that capitalist multinational airlines had been price-fixing to increase profits.

Their report featured a giant email screen to depict a whistle-blowing message they had received. In the giant ‘To:’ box a URL rather than an email address was given. If I call this slapdash then slapdash might jump out of the dictionary and sue me, so I’ll just tut a bit, shake my head, and say “bloody typical”.

August 02, 2007 9:13 am  
Blogger Paddy said...

I'd say the word slapdash was created for damning such reckless errors as that you've depicted. And it's very sad if our compensation culture has really reached a stage whereby dictionary entries are able to file lawsuits against us. The dictionary will soon take us over - although you'd probably like that.

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