Here’s a game for you. I play it all the time when I’m watching the news channels. You know there are virtually always two people who read the news together? Well try to concentrate all your attentions on whichever one isn’t actually reading the news at the time. Whenever the camera pans back showing the two of them focus intently on the ‘non-reader’.
It’s hilarious. They look like sombre-faced idiots, extras at a funeral, the people in the background of your holiday snaps unwittingly caught on film while chewing on a sandwich or walking purposefully past the houses of parliament.
I love playing the game. I play it all the time. I play it when they have people on to interview or when their reporters are out picking up vox-pops from members of the public stupid enough to let their opinions be aired. Any news piece where there are non-speaking parts become brilliant unwitting testimony.
I’ve started playing it everywhere now. When I’m watching any tv programme I’m focused on the background checking out non speakers. Extras in sitcoms and soaps are good ones. Standing around looking awkward because they need to be in shot to provide atmosphere but know they’ve not got anything to add. Sad faced aspiring actors hoping to get spotted. Real life Gervaises. Or the goggling crowds of voyeurs gathering at the scene of a disaster caught by the camera laughing at jokes with friends while reporters sombrely run through casualties. Now even when I’m looking at random photos I scan for gawpers who may have been caught up in some foolishness or other.
But what’s all this got to do with news? Well it’s pointless isn’t it! What is the point of them? Sitting there mutely, nodding sagely at camera four trying to convey a sense of gravitas. Are they supposed to be mime artists visually summing up the tone while the person speaking gives the detail? Try turning the sound down and working out if the story is good news or bad news from the non-speakers expression. I’m surprised they don’t pull little boo-hoo faces at the camera and rub their eyes when something sad happens. How else can they be explained? Is it to help their voices? Will they go hoarse if left to read on their own? Something else too. They’re nearly all men with women aren’t they? Why is that?
I’ll tell you why. One upon a time, when news was news and sitcoms were racist, we only ever needed one person, man or woman, to read it out. News is, by definition a description of unfolding events.
News on non-news channels still only needs one reader. If you want news magazines or documentaries or user driven content then fuck off to newsnight or question time or whatever for your analysis fix.
Me? I want one person telling me what’s happening in neutral tones with the help of the odd report from the field of wherever news is happening. THAT IS NEWS!
But when you’re belching out news all day long on dedicated channels. The same news, on 15 minute loops (as sky news often proudly proclaims, as though there is kudos to be had in a 24 hour news station dumbing the world down to 15 mins including ad breaks, which equates to 96 repetitions a day!) can get a bit boring.
So what do you do. Well, we live in a hugely diverse and globalised world with events taking place at breakneck pace everywhere. Why not be even-handed, not Eurocentric and report MORE and BETTER news.
Nope. I’ll tell you what you do. You bring in a couple of presenters of opposite sexes who report alternate stories and occasionally laugh at each other to create some ‘chemistry’. People will wonder ‘will they won’t they! Do they don’t they?’ and it will disguise the abject 15 minute repetition being run.
Then we’ll go a step further! We can bring outsiders into the studio and we can ask them questions allowing them to generally state the obvious. Maybe the audience will think there’s a threesome in the offing? Tell you what. We’ll drown a single story in reporters who will ask members of the public what they think and we’ll have a veritable roman orgy of intrigue.
This is the laziness of it. You don’t need someone holding your hand to read a story. It just ‘looks’ better. Having someone in the studio to talk to is great if they are actually adding any value but they aren’t really. In 9 cases out of 10 they’re just there to mix up the aesthetic a little. Listen carefully to what they say. It’s either really obvious or it’s nothing that couldn’t have been said by a newsreader anyway. Like I say, if you want value added guests then go watch a chat show or a review show like newsnight.
Reporting from the field I agree with, but sending people out to interview the public?!? I mean why ask them what they think? Surely you should be telling them what’s happening not asking them to tell their peers what to think just so you can throw out a dragnet of knee-jerk onto the airwaves in the hope of snagging some emotionally stunted agreement.
Faced with the prospect of running a 24/7 news service you can see how news producers balked. They had to find more content, probably on a limited budget, and retain viewers too. They could have tried new angles, varied reporting, proper investigative journalism a more global and non-western-centric agenda. But they didn’t.
Instead they pulled out every cheap trick in the book to retain the attention of viewers as they condensed world news into a 15 minute loop so dumbed down that dumbo the dumbest dummie in dumbville could watch it, and wonder to himself if the presenters ever went for a drink together off-air.