MEDIA: Terrestrial TV News - Setting the nation’s news agenda Terrestrial TV news programmes are under increasing pressure to perform from new digital channels, new technology and even the wrath of MPs.

News and current affairs television currently makes the news almost as often as it reports on it. ITV executives have been meeting with the Independent Television Commission this week to outline how they plan to halt the decline in news audiences. Politicians are screaming for the return of News At Ten, while advertisers - as represented by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising - are equally insistent that the current time slots work for them.

News and current affairs television currently makes the news almost

as often as it reports on it. ITV executives have been meeting with the

Independent Television Commission this week to outline how they plan to

halt the decline in news audiences. Politicians are screaming for the

return of News At Ten, while advertisers - as represented by the

Institute of Practitioners in Advertising - are equally insistent that

the current time slots work for them.



The ITV Network Centre is considering options, including shifting the

6.30pm bulletin with Trevor McDonald to 6pm, putting it head to head

with the BBC’s recently relaunched Six O’Clock News. The move would

provide a stronger lead in for regional bulletins at 6.30pm and help

address a drop in regional news audiences which has placed the network

under harsh regulator scrutiny.



Over in the current affairs camp, the BBC has decided to cut eight

episodes from the annual run of Panorama, which will be replaced by

dramas and one-off programme specials. The BBC’s news budgets, of

course, are now stretched across the BBC’s international news channel

BBC World, and the domestic news channel BBC News 24.



In a sense, this mirrors the pressure on all news organisations. News

competition now comes from satellite and cable, the web and even WAP

phones.



With the next generation of G3 phones able to carry highly-targeted,

live video streaming, this level of competition can only increase.



Viewer expectations place greater pressure on the programme editors and

journalists working for them. But, according to Tessa Curtis, chief

executive of Shandwick Broadcast and a former BBC business

correspondent, this has created more opportunities for PR people.



’When I was working in TV news about ten years ago, there was very

little competition for the terrestrial broadcasters, budgets were high

and consequently attitudes could be very high handed,’ says Curtis.



’Now there’s competition from all directions. At the same time budgets

have fallen and the interests of the audience have widened. Before there

was no interest in business and consumer stories on TV news, which meant

they wouldn’t give corporate PR people the time of day. Now things are

changing.



’The key is to understand how to build bridges between these very

different worlds because the need is there from the television

journalists. You just have to make sure you know how to talk to

them.’





ITV - Nigel Dacre



Position: Editor



Programme: Nightly News



Time: 6.30 pm



Average ratings: 5.4 million viewers (1999)



’Over the last three years we have been promoting three themes. The

first is competitive journalism, where we cover the biggest stories in

the most thorough way. The only way you can do that is by having a

reactive newsroom. Take Sierra Leone - the Government’s decision to send

in troops last Sunday was a faster reaction than many people

expected.



By Monday morning we had one team out there on the ground and by the end

of the day we had two teams, sending reports over satellite phones.



’The second is the breadth of our coverage. As well as the political and

international stories, people want consumer and health issues. Fifteen

years ago, all newsrooms had industrial correspondents, covering

strikes, but now stories such as mobile phone scares, food concerns and

personal finance scares have taken their place.



’The third is to build up trust between the viewer and the presenters

and reporters. Our 6.30 news has become far more focused than the old

News At Ten, where we would sometimes do News At Ten special

reports.



We’re now much harder on the news agenda of the day, although the

Nightly News does take a look ahead to the next day.’





CHANNEL 4 - Peter Barron



Position: Deputy editor



Programme: Channel 4 News



Time: 7pm



Average ratings: 900,000 viewers (1999)



’Channel 4 News is the broadsheet of the news programmes - we give more

space for comment, interviews, analysis and even humour. Most other

programmes obey the rules of TV news with an intro and a two-minute

package with a set-up shot then 20 seconds to camera. We try to break

those rules.



We take our inspiration from all of the TV around us - documentaries,

gameshows, and so on. That’s part and parcel of the way we set our

agenda.



’During the Rover crisis, for instance, we did a live show entirely from

a social club in Longbridge. When it came to the mobile phone auction,

we asked our readers to e-mail suggestions as to what Gordon Brown

should do with all that money. We’ve also taken a lead in business

reporting and the new economy and cover workplace issues in some

depth.



’Channel 4 has always had a reputation for its international coverage

and that’s still there. That’s not to say the other broadcasters ignore

it - ITV’s Sierra Leone coverage is brilliant. We like to think that

we’ll cover international stories if there are no Brits involved and put

everything into global context. Last year the Royal Television Society

gave us the news production award and home news award, so we must be

doing something right.’





CHANNEL 5 - Gary Rogers



Position: Editor



Programme: Channel 5 News



Time: 6pm Average ratings: 400,000 viewers (1999)



’Channel 5 News has to be distinctive because if we were just another

version of the ITV or BBC news there would be no reason to watch us. At

6pm our viewers are extremely busy and they have lots of different

sources of information available to them so we can’t be complacent.



’We try to follow a more populist agenda than our rivals. For instance

last Thursday night ITV led with Sierra Leone where they have a strong

team on the ground, the BBC led with the man who had been misdiagnosed

with throat cancer and we led with heart transplant girl Sally Slater’s

first appearance in front of the camera after her operation. It was a

decision that the Mirror took the following day. We like to follow

stories through, not just dump them half way, and we knew our audience

strongly identified with it when we began covering it.



’We also cover consumer issues very strongly. I know everyone says that

now, but as part of our coverage we like to give our viewers something

to take away. That may be three ways to avoid mobile phone cancer for

your kids or it may just be something with a bit of attitude and fun.

It’s important for the news programme to reflect the channel and Channel

5 has those edgy characteristics.’



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