'News at Ten' takes a turn towards the tabloids

INDEPENDENT Television News is becoming increasingly 'tabloid', according to television viewers and media researchers who say the independent company is shifting its news priorities down market.

ITN is fighting to boost ratings for its early evening bulletins in competition with the BBC while adjusting to tighter budgets as a new independent news production company after decades of being owned by ITV corporations.

A three-week study of the news by the Independent on Sunday shows ITN emphasising crime and human interest stories and carrying fewer foreign and political stories than the BBC.

ITN also gives greater priority to sport, leading one of its bulletins, for example, on the death of racing driver Roland Ratzenberger on the day the BBC led with the first result in the South African elections.

News at Ten wins in the evening, consistently gaining 52 per cent of the combined nightly news audience. It has 7.18 million viewers, according to the most recent Broadcast/BARB figures. Trevor McDonald, the New at Ten anchorman, is the most popular presenter, 22 per cent ahead of his nearest rivals, Martyn Lewis and Michael Buerk, according to the pollster Gallup.

But ITN's 5.40pm bulletin trails some 2 million behind the BBC's 6pm audience (most recent figures 6.04 million, Broadcast/BARB). Early evening news is important to TV controllers who hope it will influence viewers' choice of channel for the rest of the evening.

An examination of ITN's output compared with the BBC news over recent weeks reveals the services are moving further apart. The most striking difference is in how they view foreign stories. In the last three weeks ITN's 5.40pm programme has carried 18 major foreign stories. The BBC, by contrast, has carried 50. Even allowing for the fact that the BBC 6pm programme is 10 minutes longer, the difference is marked. The BBC led roughly one bulletin a week with a major foreign story. So did ITN - but only if you include the return of alleged armed robber Ronnie Knight from Spain.

And despite its shorter bulletins ITN carried 25 crime stories to the BBC's 22. In the same period the BBC covered 34 major political stories to ITN's 24.

The survey echoes a study carried out by Steve Barnett, of the Henley Centre and the Broadcasting Research Unit, last September. It showed the BBC, on average, devoted more time to each story; carried twice as much foreign news as ITN; and devoted a smaller proportion of its time to the one big story of the week.

Mr Barnett said: 'Our study showed at least partial indications that news values were diverging. That process seems to be continuing, both in terms of running orders and proportion of foreign stories.'

According to ITN sources, it is no coincidence that this trend coincides with the first year of the company's new chief executive David Gordon, formerly chief executive of The Economist. His appointment a year ago came at a crucial time. TV companies were buying each other up around the country and ITN was slashing costs with a wave of redundancies.

His tenure has seen a widening of the gap in news priorities between the BBC and ITN national news as they battle for ratings. ITN increasingly concentrates on UK-based crime, human interest and health stories with foreign affairs moved down the list of priorities.

Mr Gordon is sensitive to suggestions that ITN's coverage fails to match the quality of the BBC's, pointing out that News at Ten has the highest ratings, that ITN reporters consistently come up with major exclusives and that ITN won a raft of awards last year, including two Emmys in the US.

David Mannion, ITN's editor of programmes, said he was trying to produce programmes that are both popular and of high quality: 'The question of foreign stories is quite complex. What is a foreign story? If we do one then it has to be in a way that people can relate to. Ayrton Senna's death was a foreign story, but on the day it was a very important one for our viewers. Europe - is that a foreign story? The art is remembering first of all we are playing to a British audience. They are interested in the world outside, but we have a duty to include issues relevant to people's lives.'

ITN's greatest strength lies in its rapid reactions as big stories break. One ITN insider said it left the BBC 'floundering in the dust' on the morning of John Smith's death. 'The BBC had a terrible, terrible morning. We did the story, covered it fully. By the time the BBC started to catch up we had wrapped it all up.'

The BBC's power lies in its worldwide news-gathering network, which gives it a massive advantage on foreign stories. Last week it announced it had set up a new arm, BBC Worldwide, with Pearson, the media group, to sell news and entertainment via satellite to Europe.

John Morrison, editor of the Six O'Clock News, said his audience was slightly older than the average BBC1 viewer, very loyal and vociferous. He was not worried by ITN's more accessible approach. 'I wouldn't criticise ITN. They're bloody good, particularly on the big story. But our approach is more 'broadsheet', particularly in the early evening. ITN clearly operates to a different set of news priorities. ITV is there to deliver eyeballs to the advertisers. But if that is their approach it isn't working, because we are consistently two million viewers ahead.'

Jocelyn Hay, chairman of the Voice of the Listener and Viewer consumer group, said that ITN's changing priorities were influencing those at the BBC: 'I think both channels are showing a greater tendency to feature the more sensational, emotional, personal stories. There appears to be a bandwagon effect when something really horrific happens. Everyone flogs it to death and issues that have a more profound, long- term effect are given less coverage.'

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Sport
Brendan Rodgers is confident that Sterling will put pen to paper on a new deal at Anfield
footballLIVE: Follow all the latest from tonight's Capital One quarter-finals
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn
Rebranding Christmas: More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence

Rebranding Christmas

More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence. They are missing the point, and we all need to grow up
A Greek island - yours for the price of a London flat

A sun-kissed island - yours for the price of a London flat

Cash-strapped Greeks are selling off their slices of paradise
Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

New system means that evergreen songs could top the festive charts
Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence

Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys

He is a musician of wondrous oddity. He is on a perpetual quest to seek the lost tribes of the Welsh diaspora. Just don't ask Gruff Rhys if he's a national treasure...