I left mainstream journalism in 1986 after my then editor told me I needed to make a story more ‘entertaining’. It was covering a hit and run accident. This followed hot on the heels of another run-in with my editor: I’d refused to interview parents whose family home had burned down.
I believed then that traditional published media was on a slippery slope, trying to retain (let alone win) readers with tasteless sensationalism … even at a local level. It is sad that local papers are just mere shadows of their once great selves. Inevitable? Probably. Times have changed, but many media outlets have not helped in the dumbing-down and devaluing of news.
That obsession with sensationalism – making the news ‘entertaining’ – now plagues our broadcast news. I stopped watching the BBC news this year. It seems a lot of others did too. Presenters over journalists. Entertainment over substance. Glitz over investigation. I turned to ITN for broadcast news. Now, I fear, I shall switch off altogether.
In reporting on so much – be it politics, the economy, foreign affairs – opinion and supposition is the order of the day. Fact seems a very distant relative.
Just as traditional ‘paid for’ newspapers lost the battle with freebies in the 1980s, so our broadcast media has lost – to online. Free, readily available & instant. Online news trumps the late evening broadcasters at every turn. I can’t recall the last story featured on the late news that wasn’t ‘broken’ many hours before, be it on Twitter or other channels.
I still buy newspapers. Why? The genuine reason? Apart from a courtesy glance at the headlines, it is to light the fire. 85p lasts for a few days ‘neath the kindling.
The BBC’s News at 10 is still the most watched news broadcast in the U.K. But it attracts fewer than 4m viewers … a steady year on year fall. The figures in November 2016 showed around 3.5m tuning into the Beeb’s ‘flagship’ news programme, more than a million drop in 12 months. As for ITN? They’ve thrown in the towel. In 2017, the iconic 10 o’clock ‘bongs’ will be bounced to 1030. Their viewing figures are now below 3m … and ‘entertainment’ is replacing it. David Walliams is the celeb that will host a new ITV show that – temporarily at least – will replace the news at 10.
As a journalist, I welcome it.
The news has moved – and so have those who consume it. We now get our news how and when we want. News and entertainment don’t mix. The banal and increasingly ridiculous attempts by supposedly serious news broadcasters to make the news more ‘watchable’ have been proved to fail, proved to deliver something that we, as consumers of news, do not like.
Thirty years ago, I decided to leave the newspaper that trained me as I didn’t think you could – or should – make a hit and run accident ‘more entertaining’. And asking anyone how they ‘feel’ after a tragic occurrence is at best ignorant and at worst offensive.
I’m not saying ‘I told you so’ as today’s media world is unrecogniseable from 1986. But the fact remains: news is news. Entertainment is entertainment. I welcome the distillation – and I’m glad our multi-channel world now allows us a real choice.
This Blog was first published on Huffington Post