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Get it off your chest

[Sent to BBC News 24. Really, letters to broadcasters, magazines etc should be written in green crayon, but I've found that only makes a mess of your monitor.]

At last! I've found a use for the “send us your emails” slot. Obviously none of this one will be read out on air, and I’m glad: I watch BBC news (and indeed pay for it) because I want to hear news from trained, halfway competent professionals, not just what struck Ted from Surbiton while he was sprawled on his sofa munching Doritos. If I want to hear unformed lumpen opinions from flatulent numpties I'll pop over to the pub. Please keep the news for people who have a clue what they're talking about.

Which ties in with what I’m actually mailing about—the lack of aforesaid news. “Tony Blair might shortly exit this building.” “We’re bringing you live shots of the podium where we expect the press conference to happen in the next five hours.” “We’ve sent our helicopter up in the hope it’ll find something to film before the fuel runs out.” “While we’re waiting for that delayed press conference to begin, here’s a shot of Steve, our vision mixer.”

For God’s sake put this stuff on another feed, even the actual live coverage of press conferences. That's what the digital multi-channel option is for. Please don’t clog the main channel with filler that doesn't count as information. There’s a million things going on around the world right now, none of which are illuminated by an unwavering shot of an empty podium or Downing Street from above. The countdown to the top of the hour features images of scalding beams of NEWS swooshing into TV Centre from correspondents sequestered all over the globe, which contrasts starkly with what often ends up happening during the day: someone told me (I couldn’t bear to sit through it myself) that one of the world cup press conferences was broadcast live for one and a half hours.

News 24 is far better at delivering news at night, when there are fewer distractions, and fewer people awake to speculate at us. Right now, though, I’m watching incredulously as reporters are sent all over the country to try and reach as many people as possible who don't know the first thing about Tony Blair’s intentions about staying in office. Fruitless speculation and pointless helicopter shots of Number 10 do not constitute news. Unless there are plans to change the channel's name to BBC Generally Arsing About 24, why not get on with telling us about other actual news—not just asides about the other couple of top headlines—and then let us know about Blair as soon as you actually know something? No?

I know, I know, that’s not what Sky News does. But some of us are very glad that you’re not Sky News. The Beeb is a different animal. The London bombings last year illustrated how it works: you’d go on to the Sky site first because they’d be first with any scrap of information they had, even if it turned out to be wildly wrong, and then you’d visit the BBC site, which would be more circumspect at first while it checked and verified, but—and this is the important bit—would then be utterly reliable on actual facts.

If it were down to me—and obviously it’s not, it’s all in the hands of people who can use phrases like “delivering outcomes” in cold blood—I’d urgently recommend focusing on the whole “facts” thing, and knock the speculation, the timewasting and the idiot emails on the head.

(I would also, while we’re at it, grab by the lapels and vigorously shake the person responsible for adding the headline to the “spinning world” graphic. “What the hell were you thinking?” is pretty much what I’d yell. “It’s the most crass, witless, unnecessary and potentially offensive thing a news programme has done since ITV played mournful music over slow-motion footage of 9/11.” The newsreader has just said what the headlines are. There is then no need for the words “GAZA DEATHS”, “MASSIVE FIRE”, “SPACE TOO SHORT FOR HEADLI” or whatever to go jauntily scrolling past. I switched on a month ago to see “LONDON BOMBS” as the main headline. “Oh God, not again,” I thought. But it wasn’t another round of incendiaries; instead, it was news about one of last year’s bombers. The headline isn’t just annoying, then, it can also be misleading. Someone’s clearly very proud of it, though, and I have to accept that no-one’s going to change it just because it’s a bad idea.)

On the plus side, the new text format is good, with the ticker far more legible in black and white and the imbecilic BREAKINGNEWSBREAKINGNEWSBREAKINGNEWS in a slightly narrower, less intrusive font. But please, especially in view of your insistence on the use of the phrase “Breaking News” every three damn minutes (honestly, if Sky News told you to jump off a cliff, etc), don’t just give us reporters telling us hopefully that someone important might turn up shortly, or people talking about what they think might one day happen. You can be so much better than that.



( 7 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 7th, 2006 03:01 pm (UTC)
Have you ever tried EuroNews? Begins to repeat itself quickly but has no newsreaders and reports more stories in fifteen minutes than the BBC does in one hour. Also has the sublime "no comment" section.
Sep. 7th, 2006 03:03 pm (UTC)
I haven't, but then I've got Freeview, not cable, which is where I'm guessing EuroNews is. What's the "no comment" thing? Do they go out and do vox pops where they actively prevent passers-by from having their say?
Sep. 7th, 2006 03:12 pm (UTC)
Then you don't get FoxNews either? Oh boy. Vicious.

"No comment" is just rawish footage. Not much editing. Usually of arab youths tearing down a barbed wire fence or of people crying in rubble. Like looking out a window if you live in Tower Hamlets.
Sep. 7th, 2006 03:23 pm (UTC)
My mate used to work for a company that shared a building with the short-lived cable channel Channel One. What I'm sure Channel one didn't realise was that any TV in the building could pick up all its feeds. The direct Reuters feed was hypnotic, and pretty much what you're describing: no comforting voiceover to put the images in context, just random, unexplained unpleasantness. We also got to see the presenters fucking up and redoing their pre-recorded segments, occasionally adjusting their underwear, sneaking a fag—and revealing their true voices—in between voiceovers, etc etc. Hours of fun.
Sep. 7th, 2006 04:23 pm (UTC)
"internetsdairy is going to comment on webofevil's post sometime in the next hour... We can see his computer there... No-one sat at the desk right now... There's the keyboard... Perhaps it'll type something itself? ... ... ... No.

"Well, it really has been the most extraordinary day on the internet, hasn't it?"
Sep. 7th, 2006 05:50 pm (UTC)
I am strictlytrue, and I endorse this message.
Sep. 11th, 2006 01:08 pm (UTC)
Couldn't agree more
I couldn't believe they stuck with the Blair story for over an hour and a half non-stop on Thursday, even switching the BBC World News feed to it too*. It got to the point where I was convinced even a nuclear explosion might get knocked down to the briefest of mentions on the ticker.

Gavin Whenman

* No doubt they got a couple of confused calls from people in Asia going "you call this shit news?"
( 7 comments — Leave a comment )

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