I’m turning into a grumpy old man and I’m blaming the news.
In the 28 years I’ve worked in radio, the style of commercial radio news has changed beyond recognition. Some might say it has “dumbed-down”, but I was dumb-struck that our national commercial radio news service led this morning’s bulletins with the death of Whitney’s daughter.
I accept that news values, like language and grammar, continually shift. I also understand that news can be considered to be whatever interests and engages the intended recipient of that content. Using that argument, if the only “topical” content I consume is my friends’ Facebook selfie updates or cat pics, then that is my “news”. That’s why Mark Zuckerberg called it a “newsfeed”.
But with IRN/SKY, we’re talking about content being provided for the entire nation. They reach 26 million listeners. And if you apply the “relevant and relatable” test to the sad death of Bobbi Kristina, I just can’t see why it was the most important story in the UK this morning.
Tragic as it was, how many people would have been really affected or engaged by the news? The median age in the UK is now 40. I’d wager that if you did a vox-pop of 40-year olds and asked them to share their memories of Bobbi and recount the impact she made on their lives, you wouldn’t return to the studio with much audio. And you’d possibly be in breach of your Ofcom speech quota if you were banking on it for your content mintage.
5 Live and Radio 2 didn’t lead with what was, in my view, a showbiz story. So why did IRN?
I emailed to ask. And I’m impressed that Editor Tim Molloy responded to my Meldrew-esque, moany email. He didn’t have to reply to a station which boasts more Puffins than people in its patch . And we’re hardly hard-news heaven. I will happily lead with a cat-stuck-up-a-tree story. But Tim did take time to reply.
Tim said IRN/Sky News Radio’s “remit is to provide a bulletin of national and international news stories and this story is also very relevant to the commercial radio audience we primarily serve”.
I think we’ll have to agree to disagree over the word “relevant”.
I expect that it must be a challenge compiling their one-size-fits-all commercial radio news broadcast. TV news allows the luxury of a defined demographic. Imagine trying to blend the Channel 4, Channel 5 and ITV bulletins into one bulletin. You would please nobody. But without wanting to sound like the re-incarnated spirit of Lord Reith, gossip feeds and churnalism sites are just a few clicks from any device. So do we need showbiz content leading our national radio news bully? Are we at risk of jeopardizing commercial radio’s credibility as a news source?
A bit of depth surely need not be dull.
I accept that I am turning into an old grump. Chief Constables are looking younger. And I still can’t get over the fact that there’s a minister called Amber. But I don’t think my specs are rose-tinted.
I would not want to revisit the days when commercial radio aired lengthy and worthy bulletins. But I do think we need to provide our punters with some useful information and sometimes help them reach conclusions and form opinion. And I’d rather our national bulletins led with the activities of the MP for Witney, UK rather than the relatives of Whitney, USA.
Keri Jones is Managing Director at Radio Scilly
The opinions in this article do not necessarily represent those of RadioToday.