Many of you who regularly read this blog may know that for most of my working life I've been involved in the media business.
And for most of my adult life, news has been something I've been involved in - listened to, watched, written, read out for listeners and viewers, reported on in studios and on locations, investigated news stories and chatted to people making the news for whatever reason. I'm one of those people who when I awake in the morning I automatically reach for the radio and switch on, to catch the latest headlines and commentary.
The news recently, of course, has been dominated by the coronavirus - news of numbers, deaths, hospitalisations, vaccines - it's been relentless. And I have to say, even though I am by my own admission a bit of a 'news junkie', it has all become a bit overwhelming.
Prior to this pandemic, of course, here in the UK our news programmes and headlines were dominated for many many many months by ... yes ... BREXIT! THAT also felt like a never-ending story!
With our current rolling TV news channels, it does sometimes feel like it's just a constant barrage of relentless facts, figures, analysis, comment. Often things appear to happen really really slowly, so hour on hour it's the same thing over and over and over again, with obvious clutching at proverbial straws to try to 'freshen up' the newslines being delivered.
I know that for a lot of people this past year, especially, has been quite depressing. A lot have simply stopped watching and listening to the news and have just 'switched off'. I've read comments from so many people who've said that they are just 'fed up' of hearing the same news lines and the same people talking about the same things. And I sort of get it.
The challenge to current news providers is always to try to keep people engaged, but there is something in the argument that some of the methods of modern news delivery are rather jaded.
You know what I'm talking about. 'Experts' and so-called 'correspondents' unpicking issues endlessly and telling us what they think about it all is one of my personal bug bears, I have to say. Having worked in the news for so long, I'm aware that to be an 'expert' in any particular area is something that often comes with much time and great effort. And I'm not sure these days that everyone who stands outside an important building spouting what they've probably just actually been told to say by their colleagues back in the newsroom are real 'experts'. It sort of diminishes the trust in 'specialists'.
One big challenge is how also to keep people engaged with the news without just delivering scary statistics and frighteners? That doesn't always work either. One way of making news come to 'life' is to turn to 'examples' of people who are living through it. But even that can get a bit jaded because often the stories are framed in the same way - sad looking person filmed doing something that doesn't really relate to what the story is about (making a cup of tea/pottering in the garden, walking in a field), a rather sad little interview with a serious looking reporter, followed by the sad person doing something also unrelated to the story (leafing through a book/looking pensively out of a window).
Part of the problem is that the person's story is always framed through the news story and by the 'line' that the reporter is aiming for, and in the time allotted to them ... usually a TV news story is all done and dusted and shoe-horned into under two minutes. Radio can allow more TIME to really explore a subject, but the truth is much of the news delivery these days feels rather rushed. SO many stories, all covered rather superficially and only really for the purpose of illustrating the top 'news line'.
The other thing that people have often asked me is why the 'news' is so often 'bad.' I've tried to explain in the past that actually it's because 'bad' stuff happens really quite infrequently, so that's why it's unusual and makes the news. But these days I'm not so convinced by my argument. Years ago there was a bit of a debate as to why 'good' news couldn't be more prominent in a bulletin. Especially on a 'slow' news day, why can't our news be full of 'good' news? People doing great things, people making a difference in their communities. And not just covered as your typical 'And Finally ...' story.
On BBC local radio at the moment there IS a move towards more 'good' community news stories. Some bulletins are featuring 'Make a Difference' stories which celebrates the brilliant people in our communities. It was part of what I did towards the end of my time at BBC Radio Jersey and it's a great development.
But sadly, I think I may have actually to create my own 'good news channel' if I want to hear more positive news stories. The mainstream news media DOES have challenges ahead, although how one fixes a broken model is another issue and one that will take more than my ramblings to sort out.
But why am I talking about this today?
Well it's because on this day - April 18th - in 1930, the BBC did have a very slow news day and something rather unusual happened.
It was before television, so this was radio news.
It was 8.45pm and all over Great Britain people tuned it for the radio news but instead heard the announcer simply say these words...
“Good evening. Today is Good Friday. There is no news.”
That was it. Then the rest of the 15-minute news segment was filled with some piano music.
Of course this was before the days of world media. And the BBC wasn't endowed with all the reporters and 'correspondents' we have today. In fact the BBC didn't create it's own news operation until 1934. It's really interesting to read about the early days of the BBC, when their news gathering was rather constrained by the demands of the newspaper publishers who feared that broadcast bulletins would damage sales.
In those early days of the BBC - after the first news bulletin in November 1922 - they weren't allow to broadcast news before 7pm and the British government didn't allow the BBC to have its own reporters. They relied on stories and copy from the wire services like Reuters, the Press Association, the Central News, and the Exchange Telegraph Company, whose ‘tape’ machines spewed out their stories into the BBC News Room. The BBC news teams then chose what stories to run and by all accounts, they were determined only to choose the best stories.
Obviously on April 18th 1930 there weren't enough good stories to make a bulletin!
I didn't grow up on this story ... it's something I learned about down the line. And I'm not sure that everyone who works for the BBC knows about it. Some are aware and think it's just rather quirky. Click here to listen to a more modern take on what happened that day.
Even on a 'slow' news day, this would never happen today. Imagine if we switched on the BBC news channels to hear 'Good morning, everyone, today there is no real news for us to talk about, at least not sensibly. So we're just going to enjoy a film or some cartoons, or listen to some great music'.
Now ... THAT would be an interesting News Day!