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16 January, 2006

News rolling over

The Guardian reports that the UK's main 'rolling news' TV channels, BBC News 24 and Sky News, have abysmal market shares: the average News 24 viewer watches nine minutes per week, the same as a typical Sky News viewer sees of that channel.  The suggestion is that web-based news reporting and presentation has rendered TV 'rolling news' obsolete.

The internet "... is faster, delivers instant depth and unrivalled interactivity". Additionally, and increasingly, the video content used by TV is simultaneously available to web editors. The only significant difference is presentational: a presenter sitting in a TV studio, speaking to a passive audience, and it seems the audience isn't listening. Conversely, web-based reporting can link through to supplementary material in a way even 'interactive' TV can't.

It's an interesting idea, though probably a little alarmist, but isn't to suggest that TV news itself is dead. Viewers still seem to value journalists' ability to analyse and contextualise current events rather than just report fragments of breaking news, and interviews with people of influence rather than merely uninformed eyewitnesses. Traditional news provision still has a role in these functions, though personally I think web-based news covers them too.

I scan the headlines at the BBC and Guardian websites, and read a few reports that catch my attention (though never editorials – I like the Guardian's reporting, but don't share its politics), but rarely watch TV news bulletins. However, I do acknowledge that TV has an advantage the web can't match: identifying unknown unknowns. Just occasionally, I watch Channel 4 News or Newsnight (very rarely the BBC1 News at Ten O'Clock and never ITV's News – that one's so dumbed-down it's offensive) and learn something new about a topic I wouldn't ordinarily have considered. One can't afford to get too insular, but user-led news provision on the web carries that risk.

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