Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Dear BBC, please get rid of the News Channel

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on July 1, 2009

It has tens of thousands of viewers, has won two RTS awards in the last 3 years, and is (according to its own branding) ‘Britain’s Most Watched News Channel’.

But, dear BBC,  you should scrap your 24 hour rolling news.

Now when I say that, I don’t mean close down transmitting, or make hundreds of people redundant, or pull out of the “race” for breaking news. I don’t even mean stop broadcasting news altogether.

It just seems in the growth of satellite news channels, which brought us  CNN and Sky News, and then Fox News, and then ITV News, which then closed down, and then Al-Jazeera…it just seems you have missed a trick.

What I want to see is a BBC News and Information Channel. Except with a better name than that, obviously.

With a whole channel dedicated to news, with 24 hours to fill,  how come fewer documentaries are produced? How come in order to find out about under reported stories from both the UK and abroad we have to turn to the internet? How come for some well thought out analysis of global events, you’re better off in the hands of Radio 4 or the World Service?

Because in the race with Sky News, the BBC News Channel fills its 24 hours with breaking news stories and following them as they develop, just like Sky News. And with that comes all the trappings and distortions of rolling news.

The pointless 2-ways from outside buildings where the newsreader clearly knows more about the story than the correspondent. The irrelevant updates on local, but gruesome crimes. The live broadcasting of police press conferences, of interest to hardly anyone. The parading of guest after guest after guest, each adding very little to the story. The over-reporting of PR news. And the speculation – oh, the speculation!

Click, Newswatch and Hardtalk are all well and good, but they are too few and far between. And you stick ’em on at 5am on a Sunday morning.

This race with Sky News (which, if it was an actual race in a stadium or something, would have about 15 spectators) has created a terrible distortion in news and facts, where both channels zoom in on a story to such an explosive magnitude, making it seem like the biggest most important disaster since some kind of climate change nuclear tsunami.

And, dear BBC, it really isn’t a race you need to win. Or even run in.

So how about this: a channel with short live news bulletins twice (or even four times an hour), with more 30 minute news bulletins, and the rest of the time filled with amazing documentaries, and great longer interviews with really interesting people, and some right-on analysis from all those clever correspondents. Hey, you’d have so much space to fill you could commission some riskier pieces from non-British journalists or young journalists. They might work, they might not, but it would be interesting.

You could whack more science and history on there. You might even get to be creative and dynamic.

But suddenly – breaking news! What do you do? It’s OK – if it’s not that important, there’s always the ticker at the bottom of the screen. And if it is important, then you can dip out of the programme for a bit. And if it is really important, then you can revert back to your news-channel ways.

We know you covet your “most watched news channel” crown, but come on BBC, the licence fee payers deserve more than this tit-for-tat war with Sky News, right?

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