BBC 24-Hour News Service: Fast, friendly and even a little furious
Tuesday 11 November 1997
The BBC launched its 24-hour news service on Sunday. Glenda Cooper liked its informal style, didn't mind its self-conscious funkiness and relished its speed and accessibility
There is nothing that makes me tear my hair out more than waiting to find out what's happening in the world. It drives me nuts when the next news programme isn't on for a couple of hours, or clashes with a film - or indeed if you come home late you can't find out until tomorrow morning.
So I've always been a big fan of the concept of 24-hour news - or as the BBC has it, the Now O'Clock News. Particularly when it's teamed with Gavin Essler in his shirt sleeves. Last night I was sold on it.
While Channel 4 deny that their decision to look again at their flagship news programme is anything to do with Channel 5, obviously News 24 don't feel the same way.
Here in News 24 world we have anchors Gavin and Sarah Montague (poached from Sky) chatting, Huw Evans the political correspondent making jokes about William Hague, sports presenters perched nonchalantly on their desks, and excitable weathermen like Dan Corbett to tell us about Hurricane Rick (nowhere near Britain just now but you don't want to make the same mistake as Michael Fish).
News 24 has a difficult task - it has the full weight of the BBC Mission on its shoulders while trying to appeal to the 20-second attention span culture. And this was often how it came across - split between the formal (portentous music; Krishnan Guru Murthy et al telling us how wonderful News 24 was and how lucky they were to work for it) and the self-consciously funky (look at us! we're young! we're alternative! our weatherman does a Storm Watch!).
As for the set of News 24 I was reminded of nothing so much as the revamped British Airways logos - nothing too British, a lot of ecumenical suns and stars. But the colours were striking and the newsroom in the background gave the impression of busyness. Of course I have to admit that I did spend large amounts of time watching (and hoping) that someone would fall over, start a fight or come in inappropriately dressed. But they didn't. Worse luck. And technically it worked, there were fewer glitches than feared and nothing too cringeworthy - pretty good for a launch.
The agenda did come across as less than alternative yesterday - top story Iraq, followed by the Tories/CBI rift followed by the Queen Mother at the Remembrance Day parade. But then launching a news service on a Sunday was always going to be slightly artificial in that realistically there isn't much news about.
I think it works. I liked it. News was treated seriously and explained as well as being quick and accessible. The great advantage that the BBC has, as it constantly reminded us, is that it has more correspondents - 250 in total - around the world - and yesterday it seemed determined to call on all of them. Within the first hour and a half we had gone live to Amman, Massachusetts and Washington. There had also been round-ups from Tokyo, Moscow, Canada and Manila to give more of a world view than News 24's competitors. Sky News did try to bounce back with an exclusive interview with Louise Woodward's parents but watching both Sky and CNN last night they seemed cosier and safer than News 24.
To be honest, I can't imagine watching News 24 for a full evening's viewing - there are only so many times I can watch the same story. But I don't think it's going to work like that anyway. It's the sort of thing that you dip into to find out what's going on very quickly - and it succeeds admirably in doing that.
"The old news is going gay/And going showbiz down White City way" sang Richard Baker. That was in 1969 when news moved from Alexandra Palace to central London. That clip shown last night at the launch of the channel showed that fear about the way news is presented is nothing new. In answer to its critics, News 24 is to be congratulated that it wasn't until 7.26 - nearly two hours after launch - that anyone mentioned the Spice Girls.
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