Friday, May 15, 2009


Before he left to join google, Newsnight's Peter Barron gave me this interview.

The write up goes as follows:
"With ad revenue in freefall, the BBC licence fee under severe pressure and online news sources rapidly expanding, this session will examine whether we need – or can any longer afford – journalism on the small screen".

The Chair of this debate, bringing together experts in the industry and academia at the university where I lecture in the 19th & 20th of May, is Nick Pollard, former Head of Sky News.

He's joined by:
  • Helen Boaden, Director of BBC News
  • Simon Bucks, Associate Editor, Sky News
  • Dorothy Byrne, Head of News and Current Affairs, Channel 4
  • Robin Elias, Managing Editor, ITN
My head of journalism, the principle organiser suggested he would like me to join the panel, logistics and events on the day allowing. He spotted something, that feeling perhaps he needed an outsider.

The Journalist Outsider
I'm the outsider. I'll explain.

Firstly, nothings broken! Producing a conference of this size with the said contacts is a herculean exercise in VIP contact management and value. Not least getting all your experts' diaries free on the day, so we'd want to be there. I'd like to be there.

There's also no doubting that between this august line-up the audience will be drawn a vision, a reality of broadcasting in the future, which will be deeply knowledgeable and insightful.

But you could also subscribe to McLuhan's notion of :
If you want to know about the water why ask a fish.

The panelists will be talking about TV journalism, so we're on diamond-hard Terra ferma.

But if there is a threat to TV News, if there is an alternative, if the net has something up its sleeve what do the alternatives have to say?

There are three broad threats to TV News: technological, creative, and financial. Though financial is a linked the two.

For the technological threat, shareware platforms, play out services such as the BBC iplayer and the rest, like many I have an informed view, but I'm not in the lab and wouldn't know how to calculate the ohms variance on a capacitor from writing code.

For that then I'm not the right person. If you follow my posts you'll know I'm passionate about videojournalism, multimedia and innovation, whether in the production process alone or its application to television.

I have worked in TV, know most of the panelists by sharing a stage with them at past conferences or worked for them, so like so many people could provide an intelligible view, but I'd easily defer to the MIT technologist or TV Execs calling their IT board level strategic meeting.

If 2005 was the apotheosis of heightened TV exec nerves (what is this thing with social networks?), 2009, despite the C.crunch is a more assured time for TV to take stock.

A Clearer TV Journalism Future?
How? Well in part most of the foresight technologies that threatened in 2005 are now here. New ones continue to emerge, but truthfully nothing is, or was as devastating as Youtube. Nothing appears to threaten that dominance and destabilise the present equilibrium.

Now everyone knows what everyone else knew back in 2005. Sky has rolled out an ambitiously successful web service, Channel 4's highly unique show is on the web, as is ITN's.

And the BBC has recently turned its newsroom into a multimedia one (an exclusive video interview and tour follows shortly with the BBC's head of Multimedia News, Mary Hockaday). Embed video is no longer a fad and then there's the Iplayer for good measure.

So like I said informed knowledge:
  • I worked under the chair of this session, Nick Pollard for a number of years and interviewed him recently.
  • Julian March Sky's supremo for their web manifestations showed me some of what he had planned at Sky way three years back. Simon Bucks I have met many times. Here he is inspecting my Sony A1 camera at an ONA meeting.
  • Some time back, I met with Robin Elias at ITN to assist in a programme I had in mind. I worked at ITN for a couple of months, and spent many good days of five years at Channel 4 News freelancing.

Six degrees there, connecting everyone, Not so an outside after all? But I am.

My Views
I have an onotological belief.

That whilst the web has been a major player and all the networks occupy the space, and the value of their content has not diminished in news terms.

In fact, as a jury member judging their output at this year's Royal television Society Awards for Broadcast Innovation I would say the bar has been raised. However my belief which qualitatively I'm exploring is that this is not it.

Bound by semiotics, with one eye on social behaviour, creatively there are horizons we could touch now to strengthen this thing called news. To that trend extrapolations, and various qualitative procedures yield something which my gut's been feeling.

Last year the BBC failed in its bid to launch local broadband networks to support its brand of videojournalism. The BBC will pitch again and I reckon win.

Video journalism offers, or at least should do, a new language of information enlightenment. It's value is not so much its speed, economics, or swift turnaround but as viewers will know from my magazine, something within the vein of rich media.

Videojournalism also allow for a levelling of the news agenda. Ti's the night of long so far in the UK with thinly sheathed knives out.

The mix of old journalism and the new
The Telegraph, a newspaper, has with good old fashion journalism demonstrated in sequel upon sequel the public's insatiable thirst for the story of the year, thus far: MPS expenses. This news could be strengthened further with quick turnaround vj docs, which would also broaden the agenda.

Incidentally is the word TV becoming redundant with this congealing of different bodies e.g newspapers online, Manchester Evening News, The Guardian?

TV News will stay, but I'm equally interested in how the web and Now journalists work in new discourses and news that has the value of that sweeping us at the moment. The death of regional newspapers, for which many TV outfits depend is in itself an issue.

On a train recently I over heard a passenger, an employee of a municipal council in South London lambast their uselessness. A prime territorial ground for journalism, fact gathering, and videojournalism, I thought.

The future of News is not so much that it won't be on TV, but that it will continue to attract viewers by the nature of what they cover and how.

Regional, closer-to-home TV will increasingly matter and the way we do it for TV does not necessarily make it work online. I guess that's what makes me an outsider.

Either way Journalism in Crisis at the university of Westminster, you should be there, Otherwise here's the link for viewing online on the 2 days and the blog from students.