FEATURE BROADCAST NEWS
Reports from the global village
From Ted Turner’s worldwide ambitions for his CNN network down to the most parochial news show, Channel 4’s Whose News? season goes beyond the media myths. examining how satellite technology threatens to make news junkies of us all. Eddie Gibb contrasts two very different news presenters — one American, one British — and (right) goes behind the scenes of Scotland‘s most popular regional news programme.
Countdown to the news
‘llow did you feel about the death of your mother." Yes. they still ask questions like that on local news programmes. and none barges in with the banal question better than Yorkshire 'l‘elevision‘s (‘a/endar team.
Channel 4‘s choice of ('a/endar as the subject for its fly-in-the-newsroom series Deadline is an interesting one. In the television news business. Calendar is regarded as one of the last bastions of the ‘sofa' style of presentation which dispenses with tl‘e newsreader's desk and paper shufﬂing routine in favour of a comfy chat. This documentary has the air of the big boys from the national media looking down their noses at Calendar‘s diet of crime and human interest stories.
But the main reason for choosing Calendar was surely its presenter Richard Whiteley. He’s not a man with (IM'I'V’s infatnous ‘li-factor‘.
go down in out-take history as the stoic presenter who. choosing to disregard the old showbiz maxim about working with children and animals. found himself with a determined ferret clamped onto his finger.)
‘News is a lot of angst.‘ says Whiteley. ‘They are bulletins on through the day and the sum total of what they do is worry people: that’s terrible. she‘s missing. he‘s murdered. this factory’s closing down." The more news there is. the more it adds to the anxiety quotient of people‘s lives.’
Ca/endar does its best to minimise the angst. by balancing stories about mugged pensioners with a succession of lighter items. There‘s a 'l'hat's Life feel to this show as reporters flit about from consumer-testing a new brand of cheese in at Leeds shopping centre to showcasing a singing dog. And back in the studio. seamlessly knitting together these instantly forgettable stories. is Whiteley. One minute he‘s chatting to The Street‘s Ivy Tilsley about her collagen- enhanced pout and the next he‘s snuggling up to political bruiser Dennis Skinner.
l’axo he ain‘t. but Whiteley is Calendar -— warm. cuddly. unthreatening. He‘s a guy you
perhaps. but Whiteley is a well-kent face could invite into the lounge for a cup of tea and throughout Britain as the question-master on not have to worry about putting out the best (‘ountt/own. He is also the archetypal very nice china. J " man. as the queues of blue—rinsed ladies outside Deadline starts on 'l’hursday 2U il-lare/t at 9pm on Calendar man: Richard Whiteley in the Yorkshire newsroom the ('otmtdown studio testilied. (Whiteley will (‘hanne/J.
The grainy Super-8 images of John F. Kennedy‘s skull disintegrating while Jackie clawed her way out of the limo are now firmly linked to that ‘I remember where l was’ memory. But the film footage came later: at the time. the defining moment was Walter Cronkite’s tearful announcement live on air. ‘From Dallas. Texas, the flash — apparently official — President Kennedy died at lpm Central Standard Time. two o’clock Eastern Standard Time — some 38 minutes ago.’ There followed one of the most moving moments in television history. as this giant among newsmen battled between his professional duty to keep the show rolling and his evident private anguish. After several long seconds during which he rubbed his eyes and fiddled with his glasses, Cronkite regained enough composure to continue. With hindsight it was a turning point for television news as presentation started to dominate content. Cronkite was the grandfather of today’s
anchors, a breed who have now comprehensively hi-jacked American television news. and whose influence is increasingly apparent on British news programmes. (When News at Ten was
relaunched. Trevor McDonald was recast ﬁrmly in the mould of an American anchor.) ln
1980. when the much-loved Cronkite handed over to the urbane Dan Rather. the young buck’s deal with CBS was rumoured to be worth $22 million. Now it’s Rather who is the
elder statesmen. as younger stars thrust themselves to the fore. (‘ronkitc clearly regrets the cult of
personality that he was. unwittingly. partly responsible for injecting into the news. But whereas Cronkite’s style was about integrity and gravitas. news anchors are now hired for their dental work and skin tones. They even have agents.
‘If you don’t have good eyes then you’re not going to be an anchor that I like.’ says one of movers and shakers in the anchor-grooming business. ‘If you have an upper lip that totally covers your upper teeth I get very. very uncomfortable with that kind of feature.’
Cronkite responds by saying: ‘There’s nothing wrong with being a newsreader — it‘s an honourable profession. Just don’t call yourself ajournalist.’ U
Naked News starts on 23 March at 9pm. The fourth episode is about news anchors in America.
12 The List 10-23 Mar 1995