THE BLOG

The Radio News Bulletin - Time To Change The Menu?

11/10/2016 16:07

For more than 20 years I have been presenting and reading the news on U.K. Radio. During that time there have been dramatic changes to broadcasting and interaction with listeners. Whether this has been the internet's arrival, the expanded use of mobile phones or improved computers - technology and innovation has impacted radio and what we do in our job everyday.

Not everything has been beneficial. I am bound to grumble in my middle age about laziness brought on by the speed at which we can do things. I often feel that presenting talent has not only faded because of the increased demand to be 'liner' readers but also because the energy of the studio has been lost. Before computers took over, the studio environment was mad. Records, paper, carts all over the place, as the 'DJ' furiously looked to keep on air. Now it's just a press of a button and it's all done for you. The 'on the edge' feel to a show is gone and often that means bland and dull presenting.

One area where technology has helped greatly is in the newsroom. Long gone are the days of mountains of tape flying around as edits are made. At my first radio station, which claimed to be the first fully computerised station in the U.K., the news team dwindled from 5 to 2 over the first few years as it became clear that editing and recording on computer sped the processes up.

But given all the changes of the last two decades, the news bulletin itself and how it sounds has remained unaltered. Bulletins vary in length and pace, but the premise remains the same. Lead story, serious story, less serious story, medium story, light story and then some sport. In his book, How To Make Great Radio, David Lloyd points this out, saying that the delivery in terms of voice has changed but the use of a menu of stories has been the same for around 100 years.

In the fast moving world of social media do we need to rethink how the bulletin is done? After all, very few people under the age of 25, will think to themselves 'what's going on in the world? Oh yes I'll wait forty minutes for the next bulletin on (radio station of choice)'.

Innovation in terms of bulletin style has been lacking over the years, with the odd change in writing style or content but most of the time it hasn't worked. One commercial broadcaster tried to speak directly to its audience with 'you know that man arrested for murder last week - he's been in court today' style scripts. Horrific.

A menu selection of stories seems very linear in a digital age. There are surely ways to refocus the 'bulletin' or perhaps lose that label altogether. To its credit, the BBC's Newsbeat has tried to sound fresh and connect with a younger audience through looking at bigger stories in more detail and in innovative ways. But that creativity is rare.

I'm sure many audiences still like that collection of stories in a sensible order and flow but for some stations shaking that up would be interesting and might create the opportunity to more greatly integrate with online and social media. This could mean having just one main story and directing people to an online version of news with more stories or more detail, images, video etc. Perhaps there will come a time when you record dozens of stories into a news system and the listener selects what their 'targeted' bulletin will contain. Effectively each listener would get a personalised news summary. It's not impossible but I can hear news readers and producers thinking their work is already treadmill enough, without having to record dozens more stories to give people a choice. One thing is for sure, in a hundred years from now, the radio bulletin as we know it now will not exist. I hope radio does though.

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