MEDIA: New look news programmes need a new-style PR attack

It’s a fact of media life that products have to keep changing, or they will die. That’s the imperative which lies behind this week’s revamp of Newsnight and Channel 4 News, which both unveiled their new looks on Monday.

It’s a fact of media life that products have to keep changing, or

they will die. That’s the imperative which lies behind this week’s

revamp of Newsnight and Channel 4 News, which both unveiled their new

looks on Monday.



Fresh sets, new graphics, Channel 4 reporters as personalities. Editors

should be encouraged, within the bounds of what is in keeping with their

programme, to experiment with whatever it takes to keep the largest

possible audience watching. But they need more support.



For it is also the case that serious TV programmes like these must use

such makeovers to market themselves to new viewers. In fact, their whole

approach to publicity in an expansionary digital age where there are

distractions on all media fronts, needs shaking up. Their PR people need

to adopt the relentless determination to gain attention shown by the

promoters of pop-docs and soaps - with the aim of drawing attention to

the special qualities of analysis and top class information they are

offering.



It is the nature of news that exclusives on a hot subject, for example,

cannot be advertised long in advance, but a great deal more could be

done to remind viewers to switch on and check out what a hot programme

is up to.



Rereading the BBC’s ’News: The Future’ document, on which its current

policy is based, I was appalled to note that, under marketing, it simply

proposed better trailing and signposting, and the growth of interactive

exchanges - such as poster sites and direct mail - with viewers. It’s a

pressing cause for concern that news and regular current affairs strands

and the publicity machines that serve them are poor at boosting them as

’must watch’ programmes.



This need to proclaim your value has become even more critical in the

past few months because 1998 was dominated by a stream of negatives

which needs to be reversed, fast. The row over which BBC presenters

would front its main bulletins was protracted and silly. The decision to

axe News at Ten carried the clear message that mainstream ITV news

services only deserve the periphery of prime time television. Even the

much admired, but little watched, Channel 5 News, whose techniques, such

as stand-up presenters, are being widely copied in the revamps, found

itself hauled out of its established 8.30pm slot and dumped at 7pm.



So, while there’s a lot hanging on the current changes (it’s already

clear that Channel 4 News is the one to watch because it is much freer

to innovate than the BBC), the next few months will be crucial in seeing

whether television news and current affairs can restore its image. ITV

has the biggest challenge: to back ITN’s replacement programmes at

6.30pm and 11pm, and the much hyped Sixty Minutes current affairs show,

to the hilt. Nothing less will do.



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