+++BREAKING NEWS+++ Time for “slow news”?

BBC1 Newsflash logo from black and white TVThere was a time when news of the death of the King took months to percolate through to all parts of the realm. Some villages heard the news when a random horse rider came through after taking a wrong turning. I like to think that some villagers in some instances didn’t hear about the death of the King until his successor had also died, but perhaps that is fanciful.

Nowadays the death of the head of state is plastered all over all types of media at breakfast, dinner and tea for months.

Have we lost sight of the point of news? Can we learn more from BBC Radio Four’s “From our own correspondent” than we can from watching 24 hour news channels?

This very point was raised by the outgoing head of BBC radio, Helen Boaden at an Italian media conference.

Ms Boaden, a 34 year BBC veteran who was their Head of News, said:

Before news channels existed, if a scheduled programme was interrupted to go to the newsroom, you knew it was a matter of importance. Now, the big strapline ‘breaking news’ can cover a multitude of ordinary fare, from light plane crashes in the United States to the latest Olympic gold medal to a small hurricane in North London which knocked over some signposts. I worry about the direction in which we’re going.

(I should say, as Michael Fish told me, that it is impossible to have a hurricane in North London. It’s something to do with the sea temperatures, I seem to remember.)

It is conceivable that we have lost some of our sense of perspective. But, then again, I suppose we can all vote with our fingers and simply not watch such channels.

Due to a bit of incompetent travel planning by yours truly, I ended up listening to the BBC World Service at 4am on Thursday morning. “Newsday” was the programme. Now there was radio that sounded modern and informal while being serious where needed. The presenters sounded distinctly unfossilised. It is such programming which is a credit to the BBC and this country.

And there wasn’t a “breaking news” interruption to be found.

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is currently taking a break from his role as one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

Read more by or more about or .
This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • 24 news belongs to the genre known as “cheap television”. The budget can only manage so many serious/in depth interviews. With 24 hour news you can always fill space with phone-ins or journalists talking to one another. As with much of life, even if you don’t expect a precise answer from anyone it is always worth asking yourself “How much did this cost?” about any television programme. The number of participants and the list of credits can give you some idea..

  • Phil Beesley 1st Oct '16 - 1:55pm

    Take a break and turn your phone and tablet off for news. It isn’t impossible.

    On a summer holiday this year, I picked up a copy of The Times at an airport. I read the ratings for contenders for leadership of the Conservative Party; by the time the plane landed, two contenders had metaphorically stabbed the other and a third had fallen on her sword; by the time I arrived at home, Theresa May was party leader in waiting.

    Slow news is good? How about slow commentary? The two ideals would benefit from the same consideration: we may not have enough facts to say anything sensible.

    Do we have patience to allow events to settle before creating a news story or commentary or personal judgement? They’re things we should all consider.

  • Barry Snelson 1st Oct '16 - 5:33pm

    I recognise your regular sales pitch for the BBC and have a different view, but putting that to oneside there is much to think about in what you say.
    Firstly, I worry about the ‘twitterisation’ of news and the issues that are the underlying triggers being lost. Lazy journalists, or those under pressure ask “What’s trending?” rather than “What’s going on?”. No journo wants to be on the wrong side of a social media storm, so the storm sets the narrative (often in minutes) and woe betide any commentator who says the ‘narrative’ got the wrong end of the stick, in the first place.
    Secondly, our current politicians seem nothing like those of my long past youth. I know you’ll sarcastically claim that even nostalgia isn’t as good as it used to be, but rose tinted specs or not, political discourse seems to be about politician’s careers and personalities and no longer the issues we need to get our heads round. Politicians have encouraged this and most seem walking self promotion vehicles not courageous individuals willing to stick out their necks for the good of us all. So politics has moved into ‘X-factor’ territory with “whose performance will wow the juges this week?” rather than “Which of them knows what to do next?”.
    Finally, I think the BBC itself is part of the problem. No news feed should set itself up as the repository of all truth and that’s the mantle the BBC tries to wear. Again in my youth it was limited and honest and news came from a range of newspapers as well which added depth and balance. There must be a demand for the spoken word radio but the multi billion BBC can take all that audience with its financial muscle. I have long believed that if we imagine it wasn’t there (just try) then there wouldn’t be exclusively pop music channels but lots of new news and debate providers which could reach the light of day and better inform us all.
    This is the future anyway as Bands IV and V are released for mobile use and everyone will set their own RSS feeds and the BBC “Big Brother” screen will be consigned to history.

  • Richard Underhill 1st Oct '16 - 7:45pm

    As a recent broadcast showed the Met Office as made huge strides since Michael Fish made his famous forecast. We remember it well, a row of trees all came down blocking the road. Electricity was cut off. One large tree came down overnight in our garden, fortunately missing the house.
    BBC coverage of the weather is much better than ITV or Channel 4, 5. Two large budget cuts have been imposed on the BBC by George Osborne. We wait to see what the new cheaper contract will provide.

  • We do need a news rethink. There is so much to broadcasting other than ‘news’. Programmes which deliver depth, nuance and proper background are far better than 24/7 news bulletins. A lot of the problem is down to the journalists’ own perception of what news is. And their inability to be able to remove themselves from the hamster’s wheel of hype upon hype, negativity upon negativity. Everything is also aporoached cynically. We go from gloom to more gloom and no one sits back to work out what that actually does to our psyche. More outlets has not meant more choice and variety – everything is so homogenised. No one is given space to ask the huge questions about how we live our lives today. There’s no space for alternative narratives which challenge the prevailing narrative which often these days becomes a thin line between the political correspondent telling you ‘news’ and it in turn really being propoganda that’s pumped out over and over. The power of the narrative is massive – look at the character assassination of Nick Clegg. It’s time for a total rethink, for more variety, more depth, more nuance and less assumptions. People will carp but what about the cutbacks, well tbh that’s really baloney. It takes only courage to plough a different agenda not lots of cash. Until someone takes that courage our broadcast journalism save for great though provoking radio and TV docs and series will remain broken. Some journos are realising slowly that Brexit coverage left a lot to be desired, may be theyve finally had their wake up call and will recognise their responsibility in our democracy. People say don’t shoot the messenger, well if we don’t at least challenge the messenger and its ways now, coupled with the social media echo chamber, I really fear for the future shape of debate and discourse.


  • Paul, I agree. I think it is almost irresponsible as the public is influenced and could loose sight of what is really important. The education system doesn’t help. Just to cheer you up, My mate in Manhattan listens to Radio 4 all the time, saying we are SO much more intelligent over here. but is that saying much???

  • Richard Underhill 2nd Oct '16 - 11:47am

    Phil Beesley: The Tories could have speeded up their leadership election if they had used the Single Transferable Vote, which was part of their system when Margaret Thatcher was succeeded by John Major.
    To her regret it also included a provision that an incumbent leader did not win with 50% of the vote. 55% was needed, so she was persuaded to resign, in tears.
    For that she could thank a previous Tory leader – Alex Douglas-Home.

  • I believe in the theory of slow news, and the shallow nature of 24 hour news is never satisfying, and yet it is addictive, and hard to ignore. I often kick myself for wasting my time watching the news cycle repeat without informing me of anything new. I have learned to ignore the documentaries that are broadcast very soon after a major incident, promising to reveal everything that has happened.

    I also like the idea of reading proper newspapers, but it is true they are so often out of date by the time you get them. What I need to remind myself is that if something is worth knowing, it’s usually fine to learn about it 24 or even 168 hours after it happened. That way, the irrelevant noise can be ignored – although sometimes the noise informs the end result. You could be satisfied to know that May ended up the new Prime Minister, but the way in which her rivals removed themselves from the race was interesting.

  • Sadie Smith 2nd Oct '16 - 5:13pm

    We do need slower and better news.
    We may have a selection of 24hour channels, at times they will all be covering the same story, with what look like the same pictures but a different speaker.
    A US friend and I have also been bemoaning the shortage of statesmen.
    The second may be hastened by the first.
    There is good thoughtful stuff, mostly on the radio.
    None of the general context improves politics. But the post vote changes could have been done more slowly as well as better reported.

  • Simon Banks 2nd Oct '16 - 6:26pm

    It does worry me that we so often want instant replies, instant effects. I wonder how often an account of an unusual experience would be more thoughtful if told when the person returned home, rather than being posted immediately on the smartphone. A constant bombardment of immediate news comes of necessity with very little thought. On the other hand, it pushes newspapers and other traditional media towards being more about analysis.

    Instant news does have advantages. In the times Paul describes, news could get distorted into toxic rumour as it spread. Instant misrepresentation can be instantly challenged. Remember too the Battle of New Orleans, fought with heavy British casualties after peace has been agreed!

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Katharine Pindar
    My good friend David Raw's comments on this, yesterday and today, are apposite as ever. I was pleased that you gave the JRF quote, David, because they are indee...
  • Charley HastedCharley Hasted
    @Elizabeth We aren't tory-lite or labour-lite though. We're Liberals and it's past time we remembered that the way we're going to win seats AND keep them is ...
  • David Raw
    "Naturally eugenics takes things a little further and screens the prospective parents and permits only those with ‘desireable’ tracts to inter-breed". Wh...
  • Tristan Ward
    Meanwhile: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-61557064...
  • Barry Lofty
    Sorry " most certainly "!...