Martin Bell on the advance of the anchors: 'Farewell journalism, hello semaphore'

Former BBC correspondent Martin Bell has condemned the “advance of the anchors” and the “contagion of the two-way”, the practice whereby newsreaders interview correspondents.

Writing in the British Journalism Review he strikes a similar theme to that of former BBC staffer Michael Cole, writing in the current edition of Press Gazette magazine. Cole argued that BBC TV news has lost the art of telling stories with pictures – instead preferring to focus on reporters themselves.

Saying that the two-way started with ITN, Bell writes:

All they were doing was reworking their report for a second time, but without the benefit of pictures. The theory was that the newsreader, however marginally, was involved in the day’s events. The contagion of the two-way spread rapidly to Sky News and the BBC. I objected, but was overruled.

And he notes that BBC budget cuts may be a good thing, if they end “the expensive and wasteful practice of sending its presenters somewhere near the scene of a news event and pretending that this adds value and authenticity”.

Describing how TV journalism became a “performing art” Bell says:

Reporters were taught to walk and talk and wave their arms at the same time. One distinguished correspondent was told she had to acquire ‘a new set of hand signals’. Farewell journalism, hello semaphore.

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