Why news at breakfast really does matter

At the time it was a pioneering moment. Broadcasting news and having journalists report on national, international and regional stories. It is difficult to think of waking up without some programme providing an early morning dose of headlines and information. There was a time, however. Today, the market for breakfast television is greater than ever before. The consequence is a decline in viewers of early morning television journalism.

Our busier way of life, the increasing demands of work and economy, and demanding childcare has confidently led to dwindle in the number of viewers who want news at breakfast. It’s very much a subconscious thing. Automatically, many households head straight to a news programme. Ensuring children and pets are fed and cleaned, getting to school and work on time are the tasks that become mundane and routine. Journalism and news are simply background to the lifestyle that so many lead and it can become very easy to either avoid news or simply take these programmes for granted.

In its greater and younger life, ITV’s breakfast offering, GMTV, managed to inform, entertain and connect with the millions of loyal viewers who regularly watched the award winning programme. Today, it’s successor, Daybreak, averages less than one million viewers a day. A sharp decline. Even before ITV took full control of its breakfast content, journalism on GMTV wasn’t groundbreaking. Reports were short, often gimmicky and a bit ‘cheap’ compared to other options. However, as it attracted an overwhelmingly large audience, politicians ensured GMTV was a regular for any interview. Although not having a strong journalistic background, the connection and rapport between presenters and audience paved the way for interviews that were truthful, honest and audience orientated. Perhaps tacky around the edges, but the balances between news, celebrity and real lives made GMTV somewhat the must watch breakfast programme. An understated and less pompous approach to journalism which clearly is what the audience wanted.

The demise of GMTV was partly down to its own making. Accusations of fraud and misleading viewers in competitions led many of its loyal and regular viewers away. The demise of the programme had begun. At the same time, the BBC’s traditional hard news approach to early morning viewers was about to change.

BBC Breakfast

BBC Breakfast

When it comes to searching for reliable news, business and regional news updates, viewers seem to intuitively choose the BBC over other rivals. It was the ‘beeb’ who began the breakfast phenomena in 1983. Soon, the format changed to desk based news, attracting a substantially smaller audience than the more family orientated GMTV. It could, therefore, be presumed that even back in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, perceptions of news and hard journalism were ‘boring’, similar to some modern day ideas. Today, the BBC’s Breakfast programme captures little over 1.5 million viewers compared to ITV’s Daybreak 700,000. The programme is now completely sofa based and mixes viewer interest with the news and sport headlines until 8:30 when the focus shifts to entertainment and culture.

To me, there is something universally exciting, exhilarating and attractive about waking up to an unexpected breaking news story. Certainly the moment I heard about Michael Jackson’s death via BBC News or the rescue of the Chilean miners are amongst the stories that represent the absolute need for news at breakfast time. However, as numbers for programmes such as Breakfast, Daybreak and Sunrise all fall short of past lives, the facts show a change in the way we, as viewers, receive our news.

Viewer habits have certainly changed considerably. Gone are days of national newspapers over cereal, in are the days of watching virtually anything on TV. Given the increased demand of work and childcare, there is much criticism of television journalism in the early morning. Clearly BBC Breakfast proves to be a successful formula of news and entertainment (with a mix of light hearted features) yet there was much scepticism when the programme left London bound for Media City, Salford. Some suggest the quality of the programme has deteriorated and it is true that there is less ‘newsier’ content than in years gone by, however the overall feel of the morning programme feels identical, if not better and stronger, than when it was homed in the Capital. The idea in bringing in less news and more features represents viewer interests. It may feel like endless padding to fill the programme with content, but it is a more friendly approach to journalism that viewers want. The One Show represents a popular magazine programme with some journalistic content; it seems many of our breakfast providers want to follow this route in hope of attracting a large audience, at times forgetting the real reason behind their own early morning programmes.

For many, the news represents a dark outlook, at times bias, and at others completely downbeat. Yet if we consider it a bit more, the news often shapes the day that will follow. Morning conversations, in work or elsewhere, relate to what the days news agenda is built of. The news, of which we all have opinion, not only builds our days, but often shape our lives. Certainly for those like me, aspiring journalists, breakfast news programmes provide a strong base for experienced and new talent.

As rumours circulate that ITV could be about to once again revamp its breakfast output, it’s hard not to think about the alternatives to core news and journalism at such an early hour. The slide in ratings is more to do with a tarnished brand rather than the formula and content of the programme; ITV has become the provider of light entertainment held together with a small amount of news. Perhaps that is the problem. For those who don’t choose to watch the comedy offering on Channel 4, or digital news on Sky, there is not much else to offer. ITV’s timeslots can often change and are regularly governed by advert breaks, breaking traditions of regular news in a regular timeslot. Unfortunately, the commercial broadcaster doesn’t offer enough journalism to keep an audience interested. Regional news is less than three minutes an hour and the programme has often been dubbed ‘gossip-break’ given the lack of real, credible news. At breakfast, the BBC still remains the strong and professional broadcaster, despite criticisms of bias and unfair representations.

That’s not to say ITV should give up. Its output on the national ITV News is, at times, more balanced and in depth than the BBC. Investigative journalism has governed the ITN newsroom in recent months and the quality of journalists, presenters and editors has grown significantly. A programme with the content of what ITV has built up would be a real rival to other news providers.

Breakfast television is more a psychology subject. Questions need to be asked about what viewers expect, how long viewers can stay interested and what type of journalism they are after. To simply give up on breakfast journalism would be a tragedy. Yes, early morning news is not made up of the brand leading investigative reports, but why should it be. At that time of the morning, a summarising description of what is happening around the globe is enough. A viewer can feed on what they have learnt for an entire day.

Look at radio journalism and its increased popularity. The Chris Evans Breakfast show on BBC Radio 2 attracts more viewers than both BBC1 and ITV combined. His show, a mixture of magazine, interest and interviews, strikes a core balance amongst those early morning drivers. Further evidence of a shift in lifestyle. News summaries every half hour are just the right length for the average listener and the Evans approach of news commentary certainly gains a laugh in places and applause in others. It is perhaps a clear perception that radio journalism is more popular, if not more accessible, than television journalism. Chris Evans’ lighter approach to the news must be a ratings winner, again showing that viewers do want a mixture in their media content.

Subconsciously, news has become a part of day-to-day life. Notifications on social media and mobile telephones alert the breaking headlines. Conversation on national and local radio often integrate news and information. In the 21st century, it is difficult to escape from any kind of journalism.

Whatever a viewer thinks about breakfast journalism and whether news should be shown or heard over tea and toast, for many the first connection of the day is the news at breakfast. It is a live broadcast in the sense that the news breaks as the programme airs. The energy and trepidation of the journalists that bring the headlines is all too apparent. As many strive to strike the right balance, for many the news at any time of the day is a must avoid. Yet, consider how empty a day would feel without a burst of information on world events. Breakfast journalism matters.

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Full retirement for TV stalwart

Gordon Burns will retire from TV and radio tomorrow.

Gordon Burns will retire from TV and radio tomorrow.

He has been the face of The Krypton Factor, North West Tonight and the voice of Sunday morning radio. Now, after a career spanning four decades, Gordon Burns is bowing out of TV and radio for good.

The 71 year old had already “semi-retired” in 2011, standing down from presenting duties on BBC One’s North West Tonight after fifteen years in the anchors chair. In that same year, the presenter with strong Northern Irish roots, made a move into local radio, hosting a weekly topical programme on BBC Radio Manchester and BBC Radio Lancashire. A mix of news reviews, easy listening music and an excellent calibre of guests has made the programme popular with Sunday morning listeners for two years.

On Twitter, Gordon announced that tomorrow’s programme would be his last. I asked him whether it would be the last we see of him on screen and on the radio in the North West. His reply was a simple “probably” adding that he “has so many other things to do“, explaining that he believed “time was running out“.

Burns’ career began in the 1960’s when he started working for the Belfast Telegraph before moving into TV news to front UTV’s nightly news programme. He was one of the journalists centred with reporting on the Northern Ireland Troubles. He later made a switch to Manchester, fronting regional programme Granada Reports before landing the job as host of the The Krypton Factor, a role that made him a household name across the country. Burns returned to his roots as a journalist and broadcaster when he took up the role as anchor of North West Tonight in 1997. It was a move that proved popular with viewers, with the BBC programme winning numerous awards and Gordon himself winning Broadcaster of the Year at the Royal Television Society Awards.

Above all, Gordon has always made the relationship between him and the viewer a personal one. His warmth, charisma and professionalism created a personality and fan base that many journalists and broadcasters can only dream of.

Listeners can hear the last ever Gordon Burns show on BBC Radio Manchester and BBC Radio Lancashire from 9am on Sunday 14th July and on the BBC iPlayer shortly afterwards.

Why Costa is the real winner at Media City

A refreshing backdrop for Media City UK.

A refreshing backdrop for Media City UK.

It has been just over two years since the start of the march to the Media City UK in Salford. The first BBC departments moved from London to the North West in February 2010, followed by the remaining departments in the following months and years. The BBC move is complete and Media City now homes ITV Granada, The University of Salford, children’s programmes and soon the new Coronation Street. But from what I can gather, a chain of a popular coffee shop franchise is the real winner.

Whenever you think of Media City, you don’t automatically consider the huge scale the project has actually been. Many might think the ‘beeb’ paid a few builders to erect some fancy buildings and moved in within a few months. Wrong. The site, on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal, had been derelict since the closure of the dockyards in the early 1980’s. Peel Holdings bought the plot of land and did no more. In 2003, the BBC announced it was considering moving crucial departments away from London to Manchester. Talks began about constructing a new “media village” in collaboration with ITV Granada, the North West’s strand of ITV. A number of possible new sites were considered, but it was Salford Quays was chosen. The area, over years, has seen considerable development; The Lowry Centre, office blocks and museums had already started to revive the former industrial setting.

The move to Salford was confirmed in 2006. Around 1,800 jobs would be relocated, according to the then BBC Director General, Mark Thompson. Construction on the new site began in 2007, with the announcement in the same year that departments including BBC Sport, CBBC, Radio Five Live and BBC Breakfast would all make the journey to the northern capital.

I have had the pleasure of visiting the attractive site. Media City UK boasts buildings that house the production departments of key BBC programmes, whilst The Studios contain several high definition studios and the BBC’s Philharmonic Orchestra. Other buildings include modern apartments, flexible office space for media and creative industries and The Orange Tower which houses The University of Salford and ITV. The site is very impressive. The architecture and abstract design of the buildings is quite an eye-opener. The ‘airy’ and open feel of the village is very different to the brick and mortar that once occupied Oxford Road in the heart of Manchester. The “media village” feels iconic and a part of new media history. But it is easy to see why people don’t appreciate the site.

Some residents have objected to the site being built, whilst others have relished in its good fortune. Some jobs have been created over the years including in the construction of the site, whilst inside the companies that now occupy the buildings, jobs have been offered for local residents and apprenticeship schemes to aid to the young members of the Salford community. However, a recent committee hearing told how just 39 new recruits out of 350 jobs going were from the Salford area. Whilst this news may cause an upset between the media complex and local residents, it is clear that Media City is more than just a hub housing some of the nations best known programmes. It is a vital organ for the regenerated Salford community. Since it’s construction and opening, Media City has brought a new wave of tourists to the former docks; the sector seeing a boost in visitors for the seventh consecutive year. But whilst the construction has been fairly speedy, the cost of relocating existing staff has angered licence fee payers.

The recent closure of the BBC’s iconic Television Centre was reported as being a part of huge savings for corporation. Departments including BBC News and radio moved to the New Broadcasting House in Central London, whilst other departments had moved to Salford, Glasgow and Cardiff, amongst other areas. The Public Accounts Committee recently grilled BBC executives about the cost of the relocation for the core departments. The top bosses at the beeb continue to insist that the entire project came in under budget, but there are still questions over the relocation packages offered to staff, some of which had to move home from London to the Northern region. BBC trustee Anthony Fry admitted that there would be “raised eyebrows” over the pay of £1million to just 11 staff, whilst the cost of relocation for around 900 staff had nearly toppled £25million. Whilst it may have been a cheaper option to move North, it is clear that the cost to the licence fee payer is great and it’s unlikely that the packages paid out will be repaid in a couple of years.

Tony Morris and Lucy Meacock look above Media City in the Granada Reports studio.

Tony Morris and Lucy Meacock look above Media City in the Granada Reports studio.

But what about programmes themselves. Do they feel any different? No. Whilst ITV’s Granada Reports is now broadcast from a new state of the art studio in The Orange Tower, the programme still feels like it should – a regional news programme, with a live backdrop of the piazza and canal at Media City. Production at ITV is completed on the seven floors that the corporation occupies in the building, so content is unlikely to feel any different. Even the new Coronation Street set, currently being built within the complex is an exact replica of the former set in Quay Street. Viewers won’t notice a difference. Over at the BBC, just a few hundred yards away, the story is very much the same. BBC Sport broadcasts from a new newsroom with no onscreen indication that it is close to Manchester city centre. Nor does Match of the Day, broadcast from Quay House, which feels more like an evolution of the previous theme. CBBC and Cbeebies feel identical to the previous studios, as does BBC Breakfast which could still be confused as to being in London. As for radio, surely nobody would notice the difference? For viewers, content remains the same, high quality broadcasts that have always been provided. The base for the actual production teams is now just in a new location. Costing less than operating from the heart of London. Good move.

The BBC has made a good deal in suggesting a “media village” collaboration because it’s one of a kind in the UK. The cost has run into millions and to the average viewer they won’t even notice the difference. Bu the setting, atmosphere and entire surroundings of Media City feel pleasant and vibrant. Media and creativity at its highest level. The build probably has been worth it. Even on my first visit I was taken back by the grand scale of the buildings and the knowledge of what was being produced and what will be produced in the future. Media City is more than what meets the eye. It is a community bridge and an environment for learning and development. What is certain is that thousands of tourists will continue to flock, year in year out, to visit the complex.

Costa Coffee hosts tourists and staff alike.

Costa Coffee hosts tourists and staff alike.

But out of all of the names who are on site, there is only one winner. Costa Coffee. A small branch squeezed between the BBC buildings and The Studios. For the visitors, studio audiences and tourists, the branch is ideal for a snack or drink to break the day. For the staff of Media City, including journalists, presenters and production staff, the shop is a way of getting out of the office for a light refreshment. And on the odd occasion, you may just spot some famous faces having a coffee before filming. An ideal location for an ideal chain to bring tourists, enthusiasts and professionals all into one place. A mirror reflection of what Media City UK stands for.

PROFILE: David Dimbleby

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In the world of news and current affairs, past and present, there has always been one man who presides over national events – jubilees, funerals, weddings, general elections and so on. That man is David Dimbleby.

Born in 1938, Dimbleby was born into a family of journalists and broadcasters. His father, Richard, was one of the most recognisable figures in the broadcasting industry. Today, David, and brother, Jonathan, remain at the centre of national events.

David joined the BBC as a news reporter in Bristol during the 1960’s. Some of the programmes and films that he was a part of became the heart of intense debate between the BBC and the political parties, in particular the Labour Party, during a documentary which is claimed to have ridiculed the opposition. He later became the presenter of Panorama – one of the BBC’s longest running programmes, using the best investigative journalism to uncover truth and investigations into many a topic, including governments, economies, war crisis’ and famine on a global scale. David’s father had previously presented the programme.

Since 1979, David Dimbleby has been the face of one the most exciting nights in broadcasting – Election Night. The long running, overnight coverage, often broadcasting well into the following day has been presented by Dimbleby successfully over the past seven General Elections. His knowledge, passion and interest certainly comes across in his stark interviews with political leaders and journalists bringing the results. Dimbleby has lived through many previous elections and governments and uses his own experiences of leaders and parties gone by to provide a very personal yet professional approach in the huge 12+ hour broadcast.

David Dimbleby stands over the BBC's Election Night studio.

David Dimbleby stands over the BBC’s Election Night studio.

As well as the famous Election Night coverage, David Dimbleby is also known as a national broadcaster, presenting and commentating on national events. In the past these have included The Trooping the Colour, State Opening of Parliament, Funerals of Princess Diana and The Queen Mother and anchoring the Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002. He will return in providing coverage of the funeral of Baroness Thatcher on Wednesday 17th April 2013. His knowledge of royalty, governments and the changes society has undergone makes him the ideal choice for covering the events which bring viewers to a collective halt and broadcasting to the millions of viewers in the UK and accross the globe.

Today, he is best known for his role as the anchor, presenter and chairman of the BBC’s flagship debate programme, Question Time. He has been in this role since 1994 and 19 years on, his command is still apparent on the panel and feared by many politicians. Dimbleby’s nature as a political broadcaster and as a man of outstanding knowledge allows him to question the politicians, often using evidence to contradict what a member of the panel has said. David describes himself as the “chairman” and often reminds the panel that he is in charge. He presents himself as supportive to the audience who ask the question through his further interrogation. One thing which is admirable in this role is the balance that Dimbleby provides. His attitude of respecting the speaker in turn for respect of him is what makes the show flow so well. “Dimblebot”, as he is known to many fans on Twitter, allows the speaker to have their say and prevent other panel members from interrupting or breaking the ‘house rules’. It is Dimbleby’s comradeship which has made Question Time one of the most watched and recognisable political programmes on television.

Bouncing off his extraordinary relationship with British politics, he hosted the BBC’s first ever live Election TV Debate in 2010 where the three main party leaders stood shoulder to shoulder in persuading the public why they should vote for them. It was an exciting month on the election campaign, and as chief anchor, Dimbleby once again proved why he is one of the most recognisable and respectable faces in British Broadcasting.

David Dimbleby has been at the centre of historic events for over fifty years. His intellect, knowledge and passion for journalism and broadcasting is what comes across most in his respectable and professional presentation. In recent years, there has been a shunt of Dimbleby, in particular The Diamond Jubilee celebrations in 2012. David, however, will remain at the heart of future political events, general elections and hopefully the national events that follow in the future.

PROFILE: Sir Trevor McDonald

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He is quite possibly the most recognisable face in British television news. The word ‘retirement’ is not one to be used when it comes to Sir Trevor McDonald. There are many people who inspire me when it comes to journalism and a career in the media. Sir Trevor is at the top of that list.

McDonald made history by becoming the first black newsreader in the UK, presenting with Independent Television News –ITN. His career, though, began in Trinidad during the 1960’s before producing programmes for BBC Radio. It wasn’t until the early 1970’s that Trevor became a general news reporter for ITN, later becoming a sports correspondent and further developing as an expert in international politics.

When it came to presenting news programmes, Sir Trevor worked for a short time with Channel 4 News, before working on the Early Evening News and ultimately presenting the flagship News at Ten and weekday late news between the late 1980’s and 2005. Ask anybody about their first thoughts when they think of News at Ten and Sir Trevor McDonald will be a part of that.
In 2005, Sir Trevor retired for the first time, however continued to host Tonight with Trevor McDonald, a weekly documentary series investigating an individual news and current affairs topic every week. However, in 2008, the return of the News to ten o’clock also saw the then 68 year old return to prime time news, before his second retirement within the year.

Following his retirement from news altogether, Sir Trevor ventured into documentary making with productions including The Secret Caribbean and The Mighty Mississippi. His courteous attitude and genuine passion for other people’s cultures and views provided a real insight into parts of the world through different eyes. The most recent project Trevor has worked on was a ratings success for ITV.

Inside Death Row was broadcast in January 2013 and followed Sir Trevor McDonald investigating the so called “death row” in the United States – a high detention security prison with the most violent inmates on the waiting list for the death penalty. In interviews beforehand, McDonald, now 73, stated how he disagreed with the death penalty, yet the documentary was an eye opening and insightful look at a system unfamiliar in Britain. The way in which McDonald conducted himself in his interviews with prison inmates and staff did, to some extent, show how he felt toward the system, however the genuine interest and passion for investigative journalism also counter balanced with allowing the inmates and staff to have their say. It was the genuine character of Sir Trevor McDonald which provided the success for ITV, a reliable and enthusiastic journalist, providing an unbiased and open minded approach to other world systems.

As a professional and as a man, Sir Trevor McDonald, was and still remains a heartbeat of British news. His famous tone of voice, powerful and instantly recognisable, has sometimes been the butt of jokes. He has interviewed figures including heads of states, including presidents, prime ministers and ordinary people at the centre of extraordinary news. His passionate, caring and professional approach comes across in a way that shows Sir Trevor to be worthy of his knighthood for services to broadcasting. A genuine thirst for news and journalism is what Sir Trevor stands for and his career and character is one to aspire to.

Have we seen the best of Top Gear ?

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Top Gear line up: Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.

Top Gear line up: Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.

I will always openly admit that my favourite programme on television is Top Gear. The mix of laughter, cars and genuine passion and interest for what the three presenters do is what appeals to me most. Hosted by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, “New Top Gear”, as they call it, began in October 2002. Ten years on, Top Gear remains the most watched car programme in the world with over 300 million viewers and remains one of the, if not the, most successful and most watched show on British television. But in recent years, the numbers of shows per series has decreased dramatically, and the content of the show has moved away from the original ethos of Top Gear. So have we really seen the best of Top Gear?

When considering what to write in this blog, I originally thought it would be a simple answer of yes, however, the latest series of the programme, broadcast in early 2013, has shown how the quality of the show remains one of the highest on British TV. Stunning camera shots, specialist filming of high performance vehicles and interesting yet quirky items have seen Top Gear deliver highly on their changed priorities – more expensive and powerful cars are reviewed over ‘sensible’ cars for the average motorist.

The early editions of the new format of Top Gear did reflect some of the content of the old format. Informative and factual reviews of cars such as the Citreon Berlingo and Land Rover Discovery made the car reviews, whilst the new interests of the modern viewer wanted excitement and power. This came in the form of more focus on power cars such as the Lamborghini Murcielago and Pagani Zonda. The new format is studio based, unlike the previous, and features new additions such as lap times with The Stig, and a new interview feature – A Star in a Reasonably Priced Car. These segments revived Top Gear from what was a struggling motoring programme into a show that boasts immense commercial success.

It was around series 4 when Top Gear moved to film new and exciting challenges such as the legendary Aston Martin versus a train to Monte Carlo and the cars playing football – a feature which still recurs today. In the latest series’ of Top Gear, there has been a shift from the review of sensible, everyday cars, to longer films about supercars and the challenges the presenters face from the producers. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I always defend the programme when people claim ‘they don’t do normal cars’. That’s not because they’re not interested in them. The audience has changed. Younger viewers want excitement and high-octane thrills. An insight into the power of a Ferrari is likely to be preferred over reviews of a bog standard Vauxhall.

In 2007, Top Gear moved into another new era, as some of the one hour programmes became dedicated to one single challenge. These often consist of buying a certain type of car for less than a given budget and then driving them through rough terrain, encountering a number of difficulties. The rapport of the presenters, the character of the cars chosen and the obscene challenges faced are what have and continue to bring in the millions of viewers who tune in on a Sunday night.

I can’t, however, feel comfortable that Top Gear will go from strength to strength. The legendary films that Top Gear has produced – the trip to the North Pole, the American special and Bugatti Veyron race across Europe are items that viewers will not forget and that brings a very high standard to future productions. It’s simple – some but not all of the films following such stand out years for Top Gear have not been matched.

At points, there is some question about the spontaneity of events. The caravan holiday antics where a tourer was set on fire, for instance, was set up, yet was presented very realistically. The idea of some features purposely being scripted for laughs seems rather disappointing to any viewer, especially when the show was so spontaneous in earlier editions.

It must be commended that the show does have a proven track record of success. No other programme has ever been as commercially successful as Top Gear and probably no other programme will be. The recent 19th series of the programme finished alongside two “Best of Top Gears” – a regular look back the highlights at the end of the series. The stand out feature from this series was the quality of the films. Yes, Top Gear might not film as many reports as previous series’ but the quality of what is produced is above and beyond an ordinary motoring programme. The two-part special featuring the presenters travelling to find the source of the River Nile was possibly the greatest Top Gear adventure yet. The trip felt fresh, alive and exciting. The presenters were genuinely passionate about their quest to find what they had been challenged with. And with the usual combination of bickering, bantering and boyishness, the show was a ratings success for the BBC.

Some of the ideas have felt a little strained, almost as if Top Gear executives are running out of ideas. However, if Top Gear are going to do less shows per year, the overall quality of series 19 would be welcomed any day.

Yes, Top Gear has been on air, in its current format, for over ten years now. And yes, it does feel that the top of the hill has been reached in terms of its features. I will always be an avid and loyal viewer to Top Gear whatever happens. Lots of people will moan about how the show has moved from its roots to focussing just on fast super cars. My argument is that Top Gear is a reflection of its audience. An audience which has developed and changed with the years.

Awarding Jeremy Clarkson a special recognition award in 2007, Sir Trevor McDonald claimed: “He has helped create a niche show for enthusiasts into a must see show for millions of fans.” Not many programmes can boast of that success.

‘Breaking News’ – The snow is back.

ITV News presenters Mary Nightingale and Alastair Stewart bring us the latest on the snow.

ITV News presenters Mary Nightingale and Alastair Stewart bring us the latest on the snow.

British news has once again been dominated by the old trouble maker herself, the weather. Again. But is it really necessary for this same old story about travel disruption, power cuts and how we are coping in the “freezing conditions” to have the worthy of nearly half the air time of an evening news bulletin? I think not.

There is a clear argument for the reports on the weather, keeping viewers informed with any disruption to their travels and whether or not their kid’s school is closed. But surely this kind of news can be kept for a short update within a local news bulletin. News of how many schools have been closed in Wales and Northern Ireland is most irrelevant to a viewer in Newcastle. There is an art of recycling when it comes to weather news reports. The standard procedure applies as follows: Top headline about snow; travel disruption because of the snow; how people have been “battling the elements”; a warning from police not to travel; and of course, the question everyone wants to know – is more on the way? I guarantee if you watch a news bulletin on a ‘snow day’ this procedure or near abouts will be the one that dominates.

When it comes to reporting on the snowy conditions and “treacherous driving conditions”, there is an element of shock. That shock, however, is that the expense of other motorists. For instance, a common report on the travel disruption begins with scenes of motorways around the country which appear dangerous and un-driveable. But then follows the repeated phrase, “a number of accidents…” which then leads into footage of cars off the road, often in ditches, recognising how very dangerous the roads are. Sometimes there will be dramatic footage from a camera phone showing a car, sometimes a bus, sliding in icy surfaces. Very shocking. But then again, why would any driver be so careless to pass through icy conditions and put their own lives at risk? The ordinary viewer, who hasn’t ventured out because of the cold, voices their opinions within the family – “stupid”, “idiot”, “why didn’t they stay at home” – So whilst the reports do highlight the somewhat incompetence of drivers who ignore previous warnings, they highlight the danger on the roads, underlying the message of the danger in the snow and NOT TO TRAVEL..(unless absolutely 100% vital, of course).

Another regular feature which appears on ‘snow day’ news programmes is the art of crossing from the cosy and warm newsroom to the arctic like conditions of the Lake District, Glasgow, Belfast, Buxton, Cornwall and Cardiff (not always used), in the traditional ‘sweep’ around the country to get the wider picture. Mainly so a viewer in the south can comment on how much snow they have had compared to the North. Then follows the ‘Live OB’ – the Outside Broadcast. “Lets cross to Cumbria and get the latest from there…” proclaims the newsreader and then follows one of the single most depressing shots for anyone who wants to be a part of news – one of the country’s brilliant TV journalists, used to battling court room dramas and breaking news, stands freezing, covered in snow and red-faced, in a farmer’s field. There has to be some admiration for these reporters who brave the conditions to bring us the details of what is happening. Although, quite a lot of the time, the closures, conditions and power cuts that are being experienced in Scotland are quite the same to those in Cardiff. It is an endless ‘arctic circle’.

At one time, it used to be a novelty to have a news bulletin dedicated to the ‘chaos’ that the snow has brought. Nowadays, with climate change and differences to our weather patterns, snow is bedding down more regular. Where I live, between Liverpool and Manchester, there have been around four different snowfalls in the past six months! Despite that the same reports and information surface – Don’t travel unless necessary; check with your tour operator; stay indoors; check on your neighbours. Compare that to the United States where snow drifts are vast and we look like a country that can’t cope with the white stuff. The news is supposed to be an operation that provides the latest new news. Although each snowfall is new the news that surrounds it is far from that.

So don’t forget to take care in the snow and of course, in the words of great journalists and presenters, “don’t travel if it’s not essential.”