Seven good reasons why TV news is here to stay

THERE IS a fashion for predicting the imminent death of traditional television news programmes.

The “blogger” is coming and Trevor McDonald, Kirsty Young (pictured) and co had better watch out.

Champions
of new media point to the falling audiences for television news and
claim that old style “linear” programmes – like newspapers – are
heading for the scrapheap.

Of course it’s true that multi-channel
competition means the terrestrial TV ratings are falling fast and news
programmes seem especially vulnerable.

Use of the BBC News website is growing at a phenomenal 30 per cent a year.

But does the explosion of digital choice really spell the death of the classic appointment-toview news programmes?

Why
would anyone wait to watch Channel 4 News at 7pm or the ITV News at
10.30pm when you can visit the BBC news website or press the red button
on Sky News interactive any time you want?

Why would you accept
someone else’s news priorities when the red button lets you choose
which stories you want to watch and in which order?

Why would anyone settle for the set menu when they can go à la carte?

Clearly
digital technology will change the way we consume news. The internet
opens the door to thousands of new news providers – anyone with a
computer can be a blogger.

Interactivity also allows the news viewer to interrogate the news provider and question their sources and their judgement.

It’s
a brave new world of almost limitless choice but despite all the
apparent advantages I think reports of the death of old-style TV news
are very premature.

Here are seven reasons why:

1. Sitting on the sofa watching a big TV screen is still the most
comfortable way to absorb the day’s national and international news. It
may only be a matter of time, but sitting at your computer screen is
not the same thing.

2. It’s wrong to measure the decline of terrestrial TV as a news
source exclusively by the audience figures of traditional TV news
programmes.

Research shows many viewers – especially women – get
a lot of their essential information from daytime talk shows and
breakfast TV.

3. There’s the matter of trust. Consumer surveys
tell us terrestrial TV is still the most trusted source of news and
it’s also easily the most heavily supervised and regulated.

Bloggers, in contrast, are entirely self-appointed and self-regulated and often politically motivated.

The
BBC, Sky and ITN are extremely well trusted brands and their websites –
especially the BBC’s – are superb, but not all news sites are so
reliable and some are chronically slow and inaccurate.

4.
Although the idea of selecting our own news agenda is seductive, it’s
not necessarily what we want or need. There are things that we get from
fixed point news programmes which cannot be easily replicated by
pick-and-mix interactive news.

5. Traditional news programmes
offer a guiding intelligence and context to all the day’s events – not
just your pre-selected bits. The running order, the treatment and
selection of stories gives a news show its own personality.

It’s
like subscribing to a human search engine whose judgement you trust and
whose basic values you share. You could just “Ask Jeeves” or “Google”
it, but on the other hand you might still prefer to have your news
presented by a human face like Huw Edwards or Kirsty Young.

6. In
a world of ever-expanding choice and information overload, we all
appreciate a little help in making sense of it all. TV shows that
advise you how to buy and sell property, decorate your home or garden
or even tell you how to dress are very popular.

7. Finally there’s the human desire to share information: the so-called “water cooler” effect.

People enjoy exchanging views on the big stories and issues of the day, whether it’s the tsunami or the general election.

Instead
of a million individuals browsing on their computers, TV still delivers
a communal news experience to several million viewers.

The
truth is that technology alone does not change news viewing habits: you
also have to look at the broader social context, which drives the way
we consume and make sense of information.

Radio news didn’t kill
off newspapers, TV news didn’t kill off radio news, and I don’t believe
interactive news delivered by computer or any other platform will kill
off TV news as we know it today.

If you think TV news has problems, spare a thought for the makers of reality TV shows – especially ones featuring celebrities.

A
great deal has been written about the shortcomings of ITV’s Celebrity
Love Island and disappointing audiences have been blamed on a number of
factors but boss Natalka Znak seemed to point the finger at the
half-hour format.

She said it needed the full hour and implied that if only there wasn’t ITV News at 10.30 all would be well.

This
comment brought back memories of the bad old days when ITV schedulers
constantly moaned about News at Ten interrupting feature films and
destroying the channel’s ratings and commercial prospects.

Actually
I think the reverse has been true and the producers of ITV News could
rightly complain about the effects of Celebrity Love Island on their
ratings.

In the week before Love Island the ITV News at 10.30
averaged 2.9 million viewers and a 19 per cent share of viewing. Since
it started, about a million viewers have deserted ITV’s late night
news. In the first three weeks after the show launched (excluding the
night of the Champion’s League Final) the ITV News at 10.30 averaged
just under two million viewers and a 12.5 per cent share of viewing.

A
fortnight ago it scored its worst ever rating: an audience of just 1.3
million and an eight per cent share. Abi Titmuss and friends have a lot
to answer for.

Chris Shaw is senior programme controller of Five Next week: Alex Thomson

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