Even at the very best of times, it’s tricky to find a solid, satisfying hour of television. Of course there are bright spots on TV schedules around the world but I’m still waiting for the launch of that clever device that will pull in all my favourite networks from around the world, delete all the rubbish and then assemble three-hour blocks of perfect primetime viewing. In the meantime I’m left with rolling news, box sets of DVDs and downloads of crime series from Scandinavia’s state broadcasters.
Most of the time the TVs in the office, and the one at home, are tuned to a news channel. While mornings belong to the radio (a mix of the World Service, Radio 4 and Sweden’s middle of the road music station Lugna Favoriter) late mornings through until very early morning belong to TV. I used to be able to wake up to CNN when it split its international broadcast between London and Berlin on weekday mornings but now there always seems to be a sport programme airing at the time I’d like to be getting a rundown of what happened in the world while I was asleep.
Bloomberg is good for a concise business round-up but it’s missing a proper jolt of more general news and I find the output from the BBC (in the UK) and Sky News to be a little too domestic to be useful – it’s for this reason that I end up tuning into the Revo radio sitting on the sideboard in the bedroom.
The problem for many in the business of running news channels is that they’re struggling to find new scheduling and revenue models and forgetting their core mission along the way. In the case of CNN they’ve put too much emphasis on personalities and feature programmes, so much so that it’s hard to find a balanced mix of stories from all corners of the world. On the BBC’s domestic service the editorial agenda seems to be driven by the latest government report that suddenly takes over not just all TV bulletins but also Radio 4, Radio 5 Live and the website.
The most recent offender was a report on obesity that looked at how tubby the UK would be in decades to come – as if this was somehow surprising let alone newsworthy. Spin the dial a little further and there’s not much out there. China’s news efforts aren’t exactly up to much. The Australians have potential to own English language news in Asia but it’s all a bit half-hearted and lacks passion. NHK World is constipated and needs to move into at least the late 20th century. And while Al Jazeera’s English service has excellent presentation and reporting it lacks any sense of warmth. The fact that most of its programming now comes from Doha might have something to do with it.
My ideal news channel would be a re-mix of formats past and present. In the morning I’d like an English language hybrid of the France 2’s Télématin mixed with MSNBC’s Morning Joe. At the newsdesk France 2’s Julien Benedetto could share newsreading responsibilities with the World Service’s Gaenor Howells and anchor duties could be shared by the BBC’s Gavin Esler and the FT’s Lucy Kellaway. The tone would be authoritative but friendly, fast and thorough. At noon I’d resurrect the CBC’s Midday, a programme that ran from the mid-1980s to about 2000, and give anchor responsibilities to the network’s current roving correspondent Nahlah Ayed. In the evenings main bulletins could be anchored by CNN’s Fionnuala Sweeney (currently wasted in her role in Atlanta), Sky’s Matt Barbet and Tim Marshall, CNN’s Max Foster and I’d pull Indira Naidoo (ex of the Australian network SBS) out of newsreading retirement and give her a flagship programme. In fact, the SBS approach to international news could serve as the perfect model for a new type of channel – maybe even a network with a Monocle “M” in the upper right-hand corner.
Anyone who caught the Hurricane Irene coverage at the end of August will know something’s gone very wrong in newsrooms all over the world. In the US it felt like many networks were trying to justify their very existence by attempting to demonstrate they were offering a valuable public service while also whipping the nation into a state of hysteria. Even the UK networks treated Irene like it was their very own hurricane and was posing a real threat to the British Isles. For three days the hurricane was afforded so much airtime (temporarily giving wall-to-wall Libyan coverage a breather) in the UK that one was almost lead to believe that it could blow off course sparing New York but obliterating London.
As if there isn’t enough drama in daily life and the world hasn’t seen enough natural catastrophes this year, it felt as though news executives in the US (and in many other corners of the world) wanted a proper calamity outside their own corner offices so they could throw all of their resources and star correspondents at it. Unfortunately for them the storm didn’t amount to quite the performer they were hoping for and revealed the very need for broadcasters to turn down the drama.
While we’re not investing in a farm of satellite dishes just yet, we are honing our mic techniques and starting to put our pair of audio studios at Midori House through their paces. Next month we’ll be sharing the full schedule for Monocle 24, offering a behind the scenes peek at our new facility and introducing you to some of the new voices who’ve taking up residence on Dorset Street. If you have any questions, comments or tips then drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more from our editor-in-chief, read his column in the FT Weekend.