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News broken

On Saturday 18 July the BBC news channel broke some news. It’s worth reproducing the exact wording of its report:

… Mark Worthington reporting there from Belfast. And just as I was talking to Mark, there was some breaking news coming in from the Tour de France. We’re hearing from the French police via Reuters News Agency that one person has died in an accident involving a motorcycle on the Tour de France. I’ve only got this one line at the moment. As soon as I get some more I will bring it to you, because of course the Tour de France itself is bicycles but there are usually motorcycle cavalcades alongside it. I’ve no other detail other than the fact that one person has died, involved in an accident with a motorcycle on the Tour de France, coming from French police. We’ll bring you some more as we get it.
At that moment, what was the point in sharing that lonely floating fact? Who had benefited from those words being spoken? Were the family of the person killed at all better off? Hopefully, they did not learn of their loved one’s death in this manner because they had already been contacted. If they had, though, why was the person’s identity not being released to the media? What’s more, the families of everyone else at the Tour de France had definitely not benefited; without the salient fact of who exactly had been killed, they all suddenly had good reason to panic.

Fans of the Tour de France did not benefit. If the accident had caused the race to be held up, then avid fans already knew about it; if it had not, they didn’t need to know any more details than the rest of us did. And it would be fruitless for even the most defensive journalist at this point to start citing the national interest. So what would it have cost the BBC to have waited a while until it had an actual story to tell?

The only beneficiary from the BBC news channel broadcasting these words was the BBC news channel. On someone’s computer in the office there will be a little chart that displays the number of times that they have broken a story before Sky News. It might not be official—it may not feature the BBC logo or conform to its brand identity guidelines—but it will exist. As a gauge of performance it is worthless, but increasingly it seems to be the only one that the channel pays attention to.

It used to be the case that in some drastic event—in my direct experience, the events of 7/7 and their hastily conceived and mismanaged tribute, 21/7—you would visit Sky News first to hear whatever wild frothing speculation was being sprayed about, and then after a bit you would go to the Beeb to find out what was actually going on. Once, it was Sky that could be relied on to yelp uselessly that “Baroness Butler-Sloss is presumably in her 70s. Certainly of some age, anyway”; now, in its haste to be first to jump on an unidentified death, the BBC is reporting that “the Tour de France itself is bicycles”. There is no intrinsic value to broadcasting an embryo of a story like the one above except, like some maladjusted teenage YouTube commenter, to be able to log it as “First!”.

Now that BBC News has abandoned its post, I find I can no longer rely on it to the same extent. It has fled from the very thing that made it valuable. This tendency, to use an incongruous example, echoes the BBC’s inexplicable decision to abandon its basic Top of the Pops format in favour of a CD:UK clone while CD:UK still existed, which led to TOTP’s speedy demise. Are these decisions being made by the exact same people?

For what it’s worth (£0), I’d like to see BBC News split into three separate channels:

* BBC News for actual news

* BBC News Live for those interminable shots of press conference platforms with no-one on them, shots of doors out of which someone at some point is due to emerge, overhead shots of nothing happening and so on, interspersed with constant unconfirmed “Breaking News” banners

* BBC Have Your Say 24 so that helpful viewer comments from Basil in Altringham or whoever can be safely and permanently quarantined away from actual news items
As it stands, the BBC is fixated on breaking news to a damaging degree. In fact, its very concept of “breaking news” has been utterly degraded; the most footling development becomes a screaming newsflash, as in this banner from its news site on Saturday following the death of the Briton who for a month had been the world’s oldest man:



( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jul. 20th, 2009 11:19 am (UTC)
BBC news has gone to shit. The only watchable news programme* is Channel 4. Everything else gets a two-shoe rating. *clonk* *clonk*

* I refer to the nine o'clock news and the six o'clock news, not to things like Newsnight, which are still sometimes very good when they rein in the urge to make crucifixion porn, much as I enjoy watching people writhe on the cross of Paxman.

Edited at 2009-07-20 11:20 am (UTC)
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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