Bad news for the broadcasters?

Television starts to tell a different story

Lawyer, teacher, doctor, journalist; all these were once regarded as the “noble” professions. More than just jobs, they were a vocation, requiring years of dedicated study and training. These days, though, while other professions still require advanced education and professional qualifications, it appears that anyone and everyone can be a journalist. And there’s no need for a pencil and notebook and a hundred words a minute shorthand: the only essentials are a smartphone and access to one or more of the social media platforms. See it, shoot it, post it – and it’s instantly out there for world to see. Globally, the voracious appetite for news has never been greater. Good news, bad news, headline news, trivial happenings or world-changing events, the smartphone ensures that someone is almost always on hand to record and report it. Most of these new “journalists” simply get lucky: right place, right time. But some have learned how to chase the news, trailing situations or people with the potential to hit the headlines. And while most of these online stories are not necessarily money-making, they can pay-off big time for the “reporter” in terms of raising their online profile. So where does all this leave the traditional news outlets? Printed newspapers have long seen a steady decline in readership, with many regional and local papers disappearing completely. Those remaining, as well as all the “nationals,” have mostly established online platforms, some of which are more widely read than their printed versions.

There are many who’ve always preferred to listen to, rather than watch the news, so as long as radio stations continue to feature news bulletins, they will have their audience. But television news, particularly scheduled broadcasts, could well be the biggest losers in the race to be first with the headlines. Despite spending small fortunes in getting reporting and technical crews to news hotspots around the planet, and despite using the most sophisticated, state-of-the-art equipment to bring reports to the screen, there is no guarantee that an individual with a smartphone won’t beat the very best news teams to a headline story. And even when they do grab an exclusive, only in the rarest of circumstances such as the death of Queen Elizabeth II will the major channels interrupt their published schedules. Which is perhaps why mainstream, scheduled television bulletins appear to be changing their approach. These days programmes such as the BBC’s Six O’clock News open with an “exclusive, extended special report” rather than the day’s major domestic or global event, which is already receiving blanket online coverage and may be changing by the moment. Until recently that “special report” is likely to have featured in current affairs programmes such as Panorama rather than the station’s flagship news bulletin. But the times, like the news, are ever changing, and in future we might become accustomed to watching more “exclusive special reports” on the television news while checking our phones for the most up to the minute stories.

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