Friday, February 12, 2010

TV News .. truth, trope and tiredness

We blithely watch the news unaware sometimes of what's being fed to us.

We might tutut - even roll out that oft-repeated phrase, "there's nothing on the News", yet we rarely if any question its convention of production, if not the content.

News - a pensioner - is still going strong. But look deeply and there are signs of the machinery at work, and like it or not, there's rust.

We've had a technological revolution, but not a social one in figuring how to bring to the viewer the era when news had us huddled in fascination, rather than derision.

A number of items caught my eye today.

Prime minister Gordon Brown's revelations on ITV was the coup for the beleaguered network and must have had BBC execs venting their spleen, for they were forced to run the other side's clip, such was the power of the PM showing a ne'er seen caring side.

The item was a stand alone one, but by the evening broadcast had transformed with a bolted on Tory leader David Cameron - showing us he too cared.

The mis en scene of his home provided a secondary level of semiotics; what you might call the an unwarranted connoted signifier. Hey people look at my crib, like it? Tory central office must have been working its socks off to get Cameron to gate crash Brown's quintessential moment.

Which is what you can't say for Labour, as within the same news bulletin, Cameron was shown in triumphant mode trying to give the SNP a kicking. We care and we'll listen...and well, A- level students probably now know how to let rhetoric work. Don't forget the pregnant pause at the end. There!

Haiti News
Matthew Price's stellar work reminds me of Fergal Keane in his challenging days. His reports from Haiti are devoid of cliche and replete with the subtleties and delicate touches of reportage that are a conversation rather than sometimes the foreign correspondents' heckle.

Elsewhere on a different channel, a young pop star, whose intentions may have been generous in flying to Haiti managed to arouse darker clouds over her visit.

There was a time when charity work could be done away from the glare of poptabulous headlights. Those days are numbered. Every pop star has a favourite charity for good or ill and airtime insidiously is now courted.

The conversation might have went something like this.
I really want to go to Haiti
manager: You can't it's too dangerous
But I'd like to help
manager:OK let me make a call
Minutes later
manager:PR says it'll handle everything
PR then rings News: If we go with a pop star will that interest you?
News: Oh yeah, when's the pop star going?
PR: I'll get back to you
News Diary pens in for future planning date of pop stars visit
News report delivers a favourable ( wouldn't have it any other way) report
Everybody is happy

As I was saying there was a time when discretion mattered. But that's not the fault of News is it? There had been a slide in TV News figures since the mid 90s which has now more or less leveled out.

Its hegemony, once within toe cap striking distance, has shown other news pretenders (web n 'all) a new set of heels.

There is a way of getting credibility in news if you're interested, but so long as alternative news source seek "get me rich (money/popularity) schemes", traditional news with its power base of contacts and brand loyalty will go on wupping online TV's ass.