Never been a better time to be in TV news

In the age of broadband, podcasts and texts, how can the small screen hope to keep up? In fact, says the new head of Sky News John Ryley, the future's bright
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The Independent Online

Big news always seems to break when I start a new job. Black Monday, 19 October 1987, when the London stock market crashed, was my first day as a BBC News trainee. I joined News at Ten at ITN as Romania's President Ceausescu faced a firing squad in December 1989; and on 15 July 2006 I became the head of Sky News as Israeli forces bombed Hizbollah's headquarters in Beirut.

My first three days at the BBC were spent slowly learning shorthand; the last three at Sky I've spent immersed in video news podcasts. In between, I have made and watched many hours of television news - in newsrooms, in the field and in control rooms - fixed bulletins, rolling news, election specials on public service and commercial channels. Watched too much television, my children would say. And despite the many hours of viewing I still can't predict with 100 per cent certainty what the future holds for television news. It's very tempting to recall what the Chinese leader Chou En-Lai said about the French Revolution, and argue that "it is too early to say" what impact the internet and new media will have on 24-hour news channels. Tempting but blithe and blinkered because the internet is made for breaking news.

Some media watchers believe the internet's speed and immediacy will destroy 24-hour news channels. They are missing a trick. Twenty-four-hour news and the internet are not mutually exclusive. Both rolling news and on-demand news will grow. And here's why: if we, or the BBC, were just to run a news channel on its own it might end up being bypassed. But all of us are pushing aggressively as we can to supply customers with bespoke content via the technology of their choice at a time of their choice.

We are putting out broadband news services, online offerings and news to mobile phones. Sky, the BBC and, to some extent, ITN are in a very good place to exploit the market because we have masses of content sitting on servers so it can be sent out on different platforms. If you want a service of 20 video clips either sent by broadband to your PC or fired to your mobile, then it's likely to come from the 24-hour news channels. We create masses of material every day which is currently used and often seen only once; but in news, anything can be made into anything else and reused on new platforms.

The growth of new media offers business and money-making opportunities. Mobile phones are a vital new outlet: tens of thousands of subscribers are paying to see a package featuring live streaming of Sky News. Independent researchers tell us we're the largest commercial news provider broadcasting to phones. And in sharp contrast to broadcast TV, news is more popular with mobile consumers than most big-name entertainment channels. Sky intends to continue leading the way in breaking news - especially when it comes to new media.

Over the next five years it is our biggest opportunity. The channel is committed to a spirit of innovation hour by hour, day by day, and adopts an entrepreneurial mindset. The Sky News website is going to be radically overhauled so it becomes a world-class, richer site for breaking news and information that will encourage you to find out more about what is going on in the world.

We already take the iPod generation seriously, having broadcast the UK's first video news podcasts, and will continue to make full use of the opportunities broadband presents big time.

Broadband is changing Britain's media landscape. The growth in broadband access, with its high-speed web connection and its interactivity, makes it an ideal platform for television news. News consumers can now access the most startling moving news pictures gathered from around the world, put into context and explained by a team of experienced professionals. Newspapers can't achieve that. But we can. Television journalists can take the best of what print journalists have traditionally done - using space to provide analysis and context - and do it faster. And the advertising can be tailored and targeted to make money out of the audience.

Sky News customers know that we are only a heartbeat away from breaking news. For example, our coverage of the alleged terror plot demonstrated the speed of our coverage. We were seven long minutes ahead of BBC News 24 to report the plan to blow up passenger aircraft in mid-flight over the Atlantic, and followed it up quickly with the sharp analysis of our crime correspondent, Martin Brunt.

As head of Sky News, I want to enhance our reputation for offering world-class breaking news; to build on Sky News' reputation as an on-demand new media organisation, and to develop our exceptional talent on screen and off it. People need to view Sky News as a brand that offers dynamic news content on television, radio and internet across a variety of platforms, however and wherever they want it.

A brand is a promise. Our promise is to be first with breaking news and we strive to keep that promise. But there needs to be more to Sky News than breaking news and a flashy strap. The driving force, the dynamo, is information-rich, hard news and argument presented in an innovative way. We will put an even greater emphasis on the pursuit of original journalism and programming: put simply in a sentence, this means giving viewers information they didn't know beforehand, hearing opinions they haven't heard before, and putting questions to people whose answers will make news.

The best of our journalistic enterprise and ambition will be spread across all our platforms including Five News which Sky produces. To help to deliver more original journalism we've given our specialist correspondents dedicated producers. They'll focus on the environment, security, terror and immigration, areas that in the coming years are at the epicentre of Britain's news. Sky News' specialists are expected to tell original stories that will set the news agenda.

We'll look at the story count too. We'll shoot "big game, not rabbits" - fewer stories in more depth. Some days only three or four stories might dominate. Our coverage will incorporate debates, discussion, argument that is complemented by online and by Sky News Active. This requires imagination and depth of understanding. Technology is shaping the world of communication and creating new opportunities for us all - journalist and non-journalist. Our viewers won't just watch the big stories and issues of the day - they'll contribute material and share their views.

As communication becomes more personal and less paternalistic, the technologies and roles will merge. A highlight of the past seven weeks has been watching two women living on different sides of the Lebanese-Israeli border debating their views on the conflict via their live webcams from their homes on our new 8pm show, Sky News with Martin Stanford. Expect to see more of this - hard argument and discussion, hard views aired, shared and tested.

Sky has some superb broadcast journalists and I take very seriously the need to develop their talents. I am committed to pushing young journalists before their time into challenging roles: we've just appointed 27-year- old Mehdi Hassan to a key job on our breakfast show, Sunrise. Sky needs people with panache, journalists with original ideas, who have a vision for the way news and current affairs are reported in the 21st century.

The competition we face from other news organisations, such as the BBC and ITN, is tough. Peter Horrocks, the head of BBC TV News, has made News 24 into a serious, if rather solid and stolid player. As News 24 has vastly more resources and is lavishly funded via the licence fee, it punches hard - but so do we. It was Sky News' compact but on-the-ball political team that had the big political scoop that the Prime Minister's adviser, Lord Levy, had been arrested.

Our Middle East and Asian tsunami coverage demonstrated that we match and exceed them on an international stage. The BBC has copied almost all of the innovations we've pioneered in 24-hour news and I look forward to seeing them introduce some of their own.

We're living and working in a very different communications and information habitat to the one that existed in 1989 when the channel began. We are very committed to our core business - breaking news - but the drive to get closer to our customers, to offer them editorial analysis and depth goes on and we will always innovate, experiment and take risks.

Since I began in journalism I've been lucky enough to work in teams - on some for a short time, on some for a long time - that have been led by heavy hitters of the media industry: Jonathan Marland, Roy Saatchi, Kevin Marsh, David Aaronovitch, Mark Thompson, Dave Mannion, Nick Pollard and Dawn Airey. They understand that you have to take big risks to achieve anything really significant.

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