All entries for Thursday 25 January 2007

January 25, 2007

Huw says political 'argy bargy' is a gigantic switchoff

I’ve just met Professor1 Huw Edwards (right). Lovely man. But he’s worried.

The audience is changing. We need to know what the audience thinks and why they may or may not be watching.

Because while big news stories like the Suffolk Murders get big ratings (the same audience as big stories got in the 1980s), there’s been a large general decline in TV News watching.

Huw Edwards, speaking at Cardiff Journalism School, 25th January 2007Since 2001 there’s been a drop of 16% in the number of 16-34 year olds watching BBC News bulletins. It’s been worse on other channels and no, they haven’t all been going online.

By 2012, if current trends continue, only around two-thirds of the UK will see any BBC News. It’s currently over 80% each week.

Huw’s worried because the licence fee – which pays his wages – depends on the BBC being seen by as many people who pay for it as possible. If they stop watching, people will wonder what they’re paying for.

Another worry – for politicians, and for me as a budding political journalist – is that the public are fed up with what Huw called “political argy-bargy”. It’s a “gigantic switchoff”. And yet that’s what political reporting seems to have become. Because we care about ‘human interest’ stories. So Gordon Brown’s home life is more interesting than his five economic tests. And yet we hate seeing stories about him and Blair having a tussle. Hmm…

Audiences are fickle. And so Huw’s message was that if you watch the news and think “Why are they doing that!?”, then the answer is that it’s because – often – that’s how you want it. Their very expensive research says so.

Listen to some of what Huw had to say (1m10):

1 Professor? Yup, that’s right. He was in Cardiff to give his inaugural lecture as a Professor in the Journalism School.

Bad news for Doughty Street?

But it’s not all good news for the mainstream media either…

Research by OFCOM suggests that there’s little demand for services like 18 Doughty Street which have a deliberate bias.

Preliminary figures suggest somewhere in the region of 95% of people want their news and current affairs broadcasting to be impartial. 18 Doughty Street’s stated aim is to show the news and offer debate with a right-wing slant to it.

Trust in news

I understand the report will also show some interesting figures about trust in various news sources. While trust in BBC News, ITV News and especially Channel 4 News has fallen since 2002, the people’s trust in The Sun and Sky News has risen quite quickly.

Meanwhile, people say they’re fed-up of ‘celebrity’ news, but do actually like entertainment stories. Interestingly, people think there’s too much politics in the news, and would prefer to see more local stories.

And while television and radio tends to divide people according to their ethnic group (radio seems to be particularly bad at serving Asian audiences), newspapers are actually viewed as positively by Asian and Black people as the population as a whole.

18 Doughty StreetOne of the report’s authors, Ian Hargreaves, also thinks that while news websites are getting bigger audiences (27%), the internet might not be an adequate substitute for traditional sources, such as newspapers and television.

Radio in decline?

Finally, radio as a major source of news is in decline – perhaps surprisingly – falling from 59% to 52%. It’ll be interesting to see whether the commercial radio industry take this as a sign they need to invest more in news, or whether they see the trend as a reason to spend less.

All of the figures are preliminary and OFCOM will release its full report later in 2007.

The full report is due out later in the year.

The knives are out for Reid

Is it the beginning of the end for the Home Secretary?

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