Bong ... here is the news, over and over again

There is so much news that it all washes over us, like an aural and visual diarrhoea
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The Independent Online

The volume of news beamed out to us via the airwaves increases daily. Last week ITN launched a 24-hour digital channel, following CNN, BBC News 24 and BSkyB. If you turn on the radio at 8am it's possible to hear dozens of versions of the national news headlines by flicking through the BBC's national channels and then cruising through the myriad local stations.

The volume of news beamed out to us via the airwaves increases daily. Last week ITN launched a 24-hour digital channel, following CNN, BBC News 24 and BSkyB. If you turn on the radio at 8am it's possible to hear dozens of versions of the national news headlines by flicking through the BBC's national channels and then cruising through the myriad local stations.

Interviewed on Ian Payne's show on Radio 5 Live this week, I dared to suggest that perhaps there was some over-manning or duplicity of effort involved. Before I could log on to the BBC website for yet another version of the headlines, I was inundated with e-mails and messages from BBC top brass claiming that all these bulletins were carefully crafted for the very different audiences each channel attracts. I was derided in another broadsheet, which pointed out that readers of the Times and the Sun have very different agendas. They do and so do we. But the BBC is the only public service broadcaster in Britain and in order to retain its remit as the voice of the nation, it needs to retain an identifiable brand.

Do listeners to Radio 1 and Radio 5 Live really require different versions of the national news? By offering listeners news for pop fans that is different to news for Today listeners, the BBC isn't capitalising on its strength, which is to brand one set of national news headlines delivered in its own style. Is the audience for Radio 1 so stupid that it would prefer news that leads with Robbie Williams and Geri Halliwell's holiday in the south of France? I accept that local stations should follow the main news with customised local bulletins, but we need a more streamlined approach to national and international news at key points in the day.

In the future, as these digital TV channels with rolling news every 30 or 15 minutes increase their audiences, what will be the future for television news? Setting up BBC News 24 and the ITN News Channel has been extremely expensive. At the same time ITV is deeply reluctant to reinstate News at Ten and alter its current entertainment-based evening schedule. It's no secret the BBC wants to move its main evening news to 10pm so that it too can concentrate on comedy and drama to build a bigger audience throughout the evening.

Over the next year or so, WAP phones will become far more widespread, offering news headlines whenever people want them. So will there be any audience at all for evening news on BBC or ITV, as we gradually become accustomed to having so many choices? We will be able to tune into news exactly when we want. And somewhere down the line BBC1 and ITV will be showing news produced by their digital channels in order to cut costs, and there will be one bulletin on each channel per evening.

Now BSkyB is said to be bidding for the contract to supply news to ITV, hoping to oust ITN. Again, producing Sky News is an expensive business and in order to bring costs down, its owners will have to sell their product to as many outlets as possible. At the moment we have a surfeit of news providers - can the British audience really sustain all these services? Is our appetite for news going to increase to the detriment of other viewing and listening? After all, there are only a finite amount of hours in the day. And in the end there is always the worry that news somehow washes over us like an aural and visual diarrhoea.

So I make my plea to the powers that be at Broadcasting House. Simplify the way you present news to us, don't offer us patronising variations of the same thing, and strengthen your brand and our loyalty in the process.

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