For anyone involved in newsgathering, hearing from leading journalists the nature of the news we will see on our televisions in the future was an opportunity not be missed.
The Media Society event Will We Have News For You? brought together five journalists from public and commercial broadcasters to discuss the future of regional news. The panelists involved in the discussion at BBC Television Centre, were:
Nick Pollard (Former Head of Sky News in the Chair)
Mary Hockaday (Head Multi-media Newsroom, The BBC)
Jonathan Munro (Deputy Editor and Director of Newsgathering, ITV News)
Jonathan Levy (Editor General Election Sky News )
Stephen Cole (Presenter Al Jazeera English)
Having recently made the transition from print journalist to broadcasting researcher, I was very interested in panelists’ views on the sector I’d worked in for most of my career. Al Jazeera’s Stephen Cole said daily newspapers usually set the agenda. Yet other panelists said they sometimes follow up tabloid exclusives, only to find very little truth in them.
Sky’s Jonathan Levy made the point that people turn to TV news for its authority – they trust it. Television journalists, he said, operate to “a different set of rules”. He observed how print journalists reporting on a story often huddle together to come up with a line. Broadcasters have “less of a lobby mentality”, he claimed.
Now, the lobby mentality is not an alien concept to me – I’ve seen the chumminess of the overwhelmingly middle-aged and male newspaper journalists at events (though I can’t confirm whether or not they huddle together and agree a line). However, it’s not an approach I recognise from the “trade” magazine sector.
In my sector, we tend to keep our cards close to our chests and if we end up running a story on the same angle, then that’s life. In practice we usually end up with different angles as our publications’ success comes down to how in tune we are with our readerships’ demands.
From my observations of television reporters at work, they have a finite amount of time to get their story – no time for huddles. Obviously, pictures are the most important thing for them. So important, that one of the panelists said a broadcasting exclusive is not necessarily about breaking a story. Very often it’s about exclusive pictures or exclusive interviews.
But Stephen Cole argues that more exclusives of their own are needed in television. He describes television news as a “parasite on newspapers”, yet he admits that the broadcasting sector has a “slightly snooty” view of Fleet Street.
As I discussed afterwards with two of the panelists, many of the best television reporters were former print journalists. There are even some with a background in specialist magazines, such as Newsnight’s Paul Mason, the former editor of a computing magazine.
Many of the pioneers of television journalists also came from a newspaper background. The first newsreaders were actors, before ITN brought in journalists to give a new authority and rigour to television news. The rest, as they say, is history.
In just 20 years we’ve seen the introduction of rolling news, video journalism and cross-platform working. So what will be the next innovation in television news? And where will it come from?
My guess is the broadcaster who will make this innovation probably doesn’t exist at the moment. In fact, it probably won’t be a broadcaster either, or at least not a broadcaster in the traditional sense.