The changing face of television news

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.

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3 thoughts on “The changing face of television news

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  2. Richard says:

    Jonathan is right to say that there is less of a huddle/lobby mentality in TV news than in newspapers. But the desire to produce journalism primarily to cover your own back still exists, although it sometimes manifests itself in different ways.

    If, say, the BBC starts running a particular exclusive story at the top of its bulletins, the senior producer on duty at Sky would almost certainly order his/her team to try to stand the story up and get something on air about it quickly. Even if that producer didn’t think the story was exciting at all, they would still do that for fear of getting the dreaded phone call from one of the bosses watching at home, demanding to know why the BBC had a story that Sky didn’t. The point is that the story isn’t a ‘good’ story on its own merits, it only becomes a ‘good’ story because a rival is running with it. It’s not a lobby mentality in the same way as newspaper journalists often operate, but it amounts to the same thing.

    • rosieniven says:

      Thanks for the comment Richard.

      It would be interesting to see whether this results in coverage that adds to a story, rather than simply replicates it. For example, would Sky insist on only covering the story if it could move it on or dig out an exclusive interviewee? I would hope that this would be the case.

      It’s interesting how social networking and new media has influenced a different approach to the stories that rival publications break. The old mantra that if you can’t be the best link to the best. I’ve seen journalists, say, writing for the Guardian tweet articles from the Telegraph. You wouldn’t have predicted a few years ago that journalists would be sharing the scoops of others.

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