The Times – TV news is panto for the hard of thinking, by Chris Addison

They talk in the kind of tabloidese that merely belittles its readers when printed in a redtop paper but when used as spoken communication between one living creature and another sounds downright insane. This irritation is exacerbated by the presenters only being able to adopt two tones of voice:

The first is the kind employed by overly patient care nurses breaking bad news to patients of impenetrable senility and deafness — so much so, that you half expect the news anchors to offer you a mug of cocoa at the end of the programme. This has the effect of making all news story sound as though you had better make your peace with your loved ones, set your affairs in order and check the Book of Revelation for the the evening’s programme of events. The second tone, reserved for entertainment stories, is the kind of knowing, matey, verbal smirk that would aggravate the Dalai Lama into inviting you to step outside.

The programme’s greatest and most worrying sin, however, is the astonishing propensity of those involved to editorialise. As a rule of thumb, I believe that the word “evil” should only appear in news bulletins in the context of the reporting of direct quotes, or with the word “Knievel” immediately after it. It has no place in headlines. Perhaps they use the word “evil” to alleviate our busy schedules by making all our moral judgments for us, or perhaps they simply don’t trust us to understand that car-bomb attacks in busy marketplaces are to be deplored, but either way they are lucky that we haven’t marched up Gray’s Inn Road to ITN with flaming torches and an indefatigable sense of righteousness.

The source of the problem is the belief held by the television industry that programmes must be accessible to everyone. This in itself is not a terrible idea, although it often results in television with the consistency and charm of a bladder full of porridge. However, when combined with another, albeit unspoken, belief — that the public at large have the attention span and understanding of a particularly difficult toddler — it is deadly to news programming. The whole thing becomes a pantomime for the hard of thinking.

Amen, brother!

Correspondents “interact” with fatuous computer-generated graphics for visual interest and open their reports as though they were pitching a novel to Dan Brown’s publisher (“This morning dawned like any other for the villagers of Todmorden. But only two miles away a broken-hearted father-of-three had finally snapped . . ”).


Worst of all, though, is the constant whining for us to get in touch. Is there any more futile phrase in English than “text us your views”? We don’t have time for this. Seriously, ITV news isn’t long enough to tell us what’s happening in the world as it is, so the last thing we need is to waste time exploring Geoff from Grimsby’s idiosyncratic take on the petrol crisis. “Text us your views,” indeed. I say, if you can adequately express your views on, say, the crisis in the Middle East in less than the 180-character maximum of a text message, you don’t deserve a vote.

I don’t remember if I ever shared this rant, but when we had that big windstorm the other month, and people even in swanky neighborhoods inside the city were out of power for weeks and idiots were dying in the suburbs because they set up their gas generators inside their kids’ bedrooms or whatever, I actually tuned into the local news (sort of: I used their online video clips, but those were taken from their newscast), thinking that in a crisis like this there may actually be some information of a useful sort imparted to those of us depending on them for that knowledge, and what did they do? They went down to Lake Union to interview some woman — at length — over what she’d done to tie down her boat.

In retrospect you might think they’d have done a weather report, then perhaps interviewed a doctor — or some other depository of knowledge — on the relative wisdom of setting up a gas generator outside the house.

See, I didn’t know that woman, I don’t have a boat and if I did I hardly would think that tying it down is the most important news element to the approaching storm, but apparently to keep us interested — in the approaching storm — they had to waste precious minutes of their 22-minute time slot to get the input of someone the rest of us monkeys would identify with.

What can you do about it? Get your news from the net instead. That’ll teach them. Such abandonment is, of course, exactly what the new-style news bulletins are trying to prevent, but for me at least they have failed. There are only so many times you can grit your teeth as your intelligence is insulted, and, perhaps more importantly, there are only so many times you can stomach paying a man to come to get your dinner out of your carpet.