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    Rolling TV news has now become a hopeless way to stay informed

    Last week, a well-known name in the media – a former senior ITN, SKY and BBC official, in other words, someone who knows the news business inside out – told me that 24-hour news channels are their day. In fact, the last time he watched BBC News or SKY to find out what was going on was the same day as me; June 24, 2023: When Wagner boss Yevgeny Prigozhin seemed set to stage a coup and overthrow Vladimir Putin. And before that? None of us could remember.

    The fact is, unless something potentially earth-shattering happens, virtually no one watches constant news channels. If you look at the viewing figures for a channel like BBC News (the station that used to be called BBC News 24), they are woefully low. Overall, the station manages to reach just over 1 percent of the available audience; for SKY this figure is even lower – about 0.78%.

    There are days when the audience of any channel is difficult to measure. Which begs the question; Why, in a time of falling income and lack of resources, are these news channels still operating? Who are they for? What is their purpose? They begin to resemble dinosaur canals; huge whales washed ashore by technological progress and changing consumer tastes.

    Rolling news as a concept originated in the US in the 1980s – by the early 1990s it looked like the future. CNN, the cable news network, was a pioneer and achieved amazing success in those early years. In 1991, during the first Gulf War, journalist Peter Arnett was able to bring home live footage of the first American bombs and missiles falling on Baghdad.

    Two years later, CNN was again live from the scene as the Russian parliament was besieged by tanks manned by opponents of Boris Yeltsin. The rest of the television news industry decided they wanted in on the action, too. Rupert Murdoch's SKY News launched in 1989, and in 1997 the BBC finally launched News 24. The future of news seemed to be decided, and it was… continuous. But at the same time, the Internet had come of age: the availability of news online would undermine those news channels.

    CNN used to have a motto: “Give us 30 minutes and we'll give you the world.” The promise was that within half an hour of viewing you would learn all the important news of the day. Half an hour: who needs that these days? All it takes is a couple of minutes of browsing major news websites or viewing your own personalized news feed.

    It turns out that the regular news channels don't give us the news fast enough. You often have to wait half an hour or more for the story you're interested in to appear, and these days, any big event will appear on the Internet faster than on TV. It makes you wonder who actually watches current news: in my mind's eye, I see harried executives in functional hotel rooms with nothing to do before dinner slumped in front of BBC News. Or reducing the number of people without Internet access.

    Rupert Murdoch's SKY News launched in 1989. Photo: Bloomberg/Peter Foley

    News channels don't even come into their own when a really big story breaks. When the late Queen Elizabeth II died on September 8, 2022, the BBC cleared the schedule and handed the story over to its most popular channel, BBC1. This left the news channel in the strange position of providing alternative coverage of the same story to the BBC.

    Until a year ago, the BBC effectively operated two rolling news channels – one for domestic audiences and the other, BBC World, aimed at international audiences. The two measures were combined last year in a cost-saving move, but this is bound to prompt BBC management to consider further “cost savings”.

    The BBC's latest annual report cost the news channel £66 million – money that could undoubtedly be put to better use elsewhere, such as buying the rights to show larger sporting events – an area in which the BBC has been retreating for a while now. for many years.

    There was a time when the BBC's news output was relatively modest: three main television news bulletins, a few current affairs programs and a radio news service with programs such as Today and The World in One. The volume of news has increased significantly over the last four decades, but is anyone really better informed?

    Out of curiosity, I turned on BBC News the other day and one of the main headlines was the latest discoveries. some report from the Care Quality Commission. Watching it, I thought, who needs such information? It was empty news: reports on the actions of government ministers, quangos, some political squabbles and some crime reporting. There are literally dozens of news channels around the world that broadcast this kind of material non-stop – Tower of Babel, for example, offering low-level information to a largely indifferent audience.

    Never underestimate the power of institutional inertia; in an organization like the BBC, once something is created, it stays there simply because it is there. It takes an effort of executive imagination to shed the dead weight of past practice. Rental news was once the future, now it's a relic. It's time to think again.

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