|Radio four: getting off the news cycle
||[Jun. 8th, 2011|11:08 pm]
On Facebook some friends were discussing the harmful nature of the "news cycle" and overly combative journalism with specific reference to Radio Four's "Today Programme". The need to provide "balance" can lead to a badger-baiting style of interview where either a one-on-one interview is unnecessarily adversarial (the interviewer tries to provoke the interviewee into a mistake or saying something controversial) or two interviewees with contrasting viewpoints are egged on by an interviewer who does little more than hold their coats and repeat variations of "Are you going to let him get away with saying that eh Slugger?" Another problem is that the need to be "topical" can lead to shallow coverage of stories which are quickly dropped and no "in-depth" analysis of events is ever given.
How can we obtain balance, study topical matters in depth and hear from all sides of the argument? Can news provide balance without degenerating into an unseemly and non-educational squabble? Here's my solution for radio four morning news coverage.
Monday: The Today Programme -- government spokespeople, service providers and similar "people in charge" are invited to comment on everything which happened in the previous 24 hours. They are listened to with polite deference and occasionally prompted if they forget something. James Naughtie sits gagged in a corner.
Tuesday: The Yesterday Programme -- a carefully chosen selection of relevant people who disagree with statements in the previous programme are politely invited to put their point of view forward about what happened on Sunday or early Monday morning. Sarah Montague makes a sympathetic "hmm..." sort of noise throughout.
Wednesday: The Day Before Yesterday Programme -- A selection of people who aren't really relevant to the events of Sunday or early Monday morning but feel they can add meta-commentary (or merely want to be on the radio) are given air time to say what they will. Evan Davies tries but fails to show enthusiasm.
Thursday: Thoughts for the previous days -- A hastily assembled mixture of religious people (all from minor churches you haven't heard of) gather around Brian Redhead's grave and speak in earnest but soothing tones about how terribly confusing this week has been. Later atheists fulminate.
Friday: That was the week that was -- John Humphreys (who has been forced to listen to the previous four days' broadcasts and fed nothing but raw steak and whisky throughout) snorts cocaine, breaks the furniture and shouts wildly but incoherently. Guests from previous shows during the week are invited to get into a knife fight with him if they really want to prove their point.
This provides a complete mix of in-depth coverage while allowing presentation of all viewpoints and an opportunity for robust debate. I can see only one small problem: only news which occurs on Sunday or early Monday (at a pinch late Saturday) will get coverage. Possibly things which might be about to happen on Monday or early Tuesday could have some attention. The rest of the week would have to rely on other news sources. Really though is it worth sacrificing depth and quality of debate merely for wider coverage?