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Pinging news

I often hear people complaining about notifications from the BBC News app and whether they really represent ‘breaking news’. I don’t use the BBC News app, just the website, and most of the notifications on my phone are turned off, so I don’t spend much time thinking about this. But perhaps I should.

On Tuesday, the FT’s Stephen Bush wrote about the impact of these push notifications on people’s awareness of policies and how this may become more salient in the forthcoming general election. I was surprised to learn that the decisions on which stories get push notifications are ‘made by comparatively low-ranking journalists, certainly compared with the six and the 10 o’clock news.’

But then, I’ve frequently been surprised by the BBC’s willingness to downplay or delegate its most crucial role. The editorial decisions taken by BBC News about what matters in the world—what it puts at the top of its news bulletins, what gets the big slot on the website homepage, what it sends notifications about—are among the most significant decisions anyone in the organisation makes. Yet, too often, the decision is ceded to others: parroting the front pages of openly biased newspapers or perverting the news agenda to promote its own programmes are two common sins. It’s rare to log on to the BBC News website on a Sunday morning and for the ‘top story’ not to be that their political discussion programme is on the air: that’s not news.

This is also reflected in much of the marketing BBC News undertakes: the focus is regularly on ‘news that matters to you‘. But it ought to be the exact opposite of that: the BBC ought to be the source of the news that matters to all of us. The organisation should cherish and embrace its unique position in directing the national conversation. It should talk to us about it.

In the third episode of Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom, anchor Will McAvoy gives an on-air speech which includes these words:

From this moment on, we’ll be deciding what goes on our air and how it’s presented to you based on the simple truth that nothing is more important to a democracy than a well-informed electorate.

We’ll endeavour to put information in a broader context because we know that very little news is born at the moment it comes across our wire.

We’ll be the champion of facts and the mortal enemy of innuendo, speculation, hyperbole and nonsense. We’re not waiters in a restaurant serving the stories you asked for, just the way you like them prepared. Nor are we computers dispensing only the facts because news is only useful in the context of humanity.

You may ask: who are we to make these decisions?

We are Mackenzie McHale and myself. Ms McHale is our Executive Producer. She marshalls the resources of over 100 reporters, producers, analysts, and technicians, and her credentials are readily available. I’m Newsnight’s managing editor and make the final decision on everything seen and heard on this programme.

Who are we to make these decisions? We’re the media elite.

I’d love to see that kind of confidence and pluck from BBC News.

This post was filed under: Media, , , , , .

The cinema and me

There are many, many things in this world that I know very little about, a fair proportion of which are things that you probably know quite a lot about. One area in which I’m woefully lacking in even rudimentary knowledge is cinema… as you may have noticed over the last two decades of this blog.

I can’t remember the last year when I read less than 52 books (averaging one a week). Yet, in my thirty-eight years, I suspect I’ve seen fewer than 52 films at the cinema in total. In 2023 to date, I’ve seen three. I wrote ropey reviews for each of them: Tár, The Laureate and Barbie. If watching a film while a live orchestra performs the score counts, I can add City Lights to this list too… but I expect that cinema purists would cringe at the very notion.

My knowledge of film stars is essentially non-existent. I’m one of those irritating people who exclaims “who?!” as Graham Norton lists his guests of the week… or I would be, if I ever watched his chat show, which I don’t, because I don’t know who anyone on it is. I stream films a little, but probably not substantially more than I see in the cinema, and I entirely understand the argument that productions made for the big screen are best seen there.

I’m not anti-cinema. I’m essentially ambivalent: I don’t think I’ve seen enough of it to have a well-formed opinion. I’m not even sure why I’ve seen so little. I might plead a lack of time if, nine years ago, I hadn’t made a big thing about no-one ever having time to do anything.

As there’s little as satisfying in life as filling a knowledge gap, I’ve decided to take drastic action. I’m going to follow the Stephen Bush mantra:

I think in general, beyond screening out some genres that aren’t for you — I never watch horror or anything involving fixing or racing cars — just going to whatever’s on is a pretty good way of having, at the least, a not-terrible time.

I’m going to make an effort to go to the cinema more often, and just see whatever. This might be a terrible idea, and I might give up on it after about a fortnight. Alternatively, if I’m not bored out of my skull or finding ways to avoid the flicks, then trying to see 52 films in a year might become a ‘thing’ for 2024.

This post is really my way of saying… there might be some unexpected film reviews coming up.

Watch this space.

The image at the top of this post was generated by Midjourney.

This post was filed under: Film, Post-a-day 2023, .

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