The Weird World Of TV News Speak

December 14, 2011

R.F.Wilson writes from London: Why is it that TV presenters and reporters use phrases like ‘gang culture’, ‘drug culture’, ‘gun culture’ and ‘knife culture’? What the hell does it all mean? Does ‘gang culture’ imply that groups of cultured gangsters go about lecturing people on the streets, stealing books from libraries and going to museums and theatres between robberies?

And what about ‘drug culture’? Is it about drug dealers selling dope in fancy plastic packages, with health warnings on them, and offering free counselling to addicts? As in: use dope sensibly, kids, and don’t overdose.

As for ‘gun culture’ and ‘knife culture’, it’s difficult even to imagine what all this could mean. Has it something to do with an ancient tradition of never leaving home without a gun or a knife? Or maybe it’s when one generation in the family passes a gun or a set of blood stained knives to another? ‘Here son,’ a father says to his shifty young offspring, ‘here’s a piece I carried when I was young. Shot some fine people from it, I did. Yeah, those were the days. We had no stop and search then mind you.’

I’ll tell you what these ‘cultures’ mean: it’s just a way to avoid offending all sorts of lowlifes who take it on themselves to claim discrimination and racial abuse the moment they get their butts kicked. Not to mention that this sort of rubbish appeal to gang members and drug dealers and hoodlums, who are given a status of ‘cultural movements’.

And another thing about news bulletins that I find weird: presenters saying things like, ‘We now go live to 10 Downing Street’ or ‘We go live to the White House’ or ‘We go live to Buckingham Palace’. What happens next is we see a reporter standing outside 10 Downing Street, the White House or Buckingham Palace, telling us stuff in real time. It’s not like these hacks have just been in to see the Prime Minister, the President or the Queen and then came out to tell us what they’ve been told. Oh no, they were standing outside all the time and had no hope of getting in. They know it and we know it – and yet the silly practice continues.

The correct way to say it would be: ‘And now we go live to our correspondent, who is standing outside 10 Downing Street (or White House or Buckingham Palace) and is going to tell us what he’s heard from the people on the inside.’ It doesn’t sound all that great, but at least it’s not misleading.

And what about the deep gratitude culture, if you pardon the expression, when news presenters thank reporters for every piece of information they produce? ‘Thank you very much,’ the presenter would say to a hack who has just done a two minute report of no major relevance. Or it might be: ‘Thank you very much indeed.’ Or, ‘Thank you, thank you very much indeed.’

They sound odd, these manifestations of gratitude, especially as the guys and girls who do the reporting get paid for it. It’s their job to report, for God’s sake, so a mere ‘thanks’ from the presenter would usually be quite enough.

And another thing: why do so many TV reporters appear so much in their reports? You know, talking to the camera, walking down the street among the crowd, standing and staring at something, nodding to a person whom they are interviewing. It’s not like they are extremely handsome, or dress in an exciting way, or say remarkable things all the time. No, most of them are actually very average looking – some are even very unattractive and sometimes bordering on the ugly side – and tend to say boring things. And yet, the coverage they get in their own reports is overwhelming.

I suggest that in order to make things more exciting all correspondents with an addiction to overexposure should open their reports with words like, ‘Today I’m wearing a beautiful pink shirt by Ralph Loran and stylish dark blue trousers by Ted Baker. My jacket is Hugo Boss and all my underwear, including the socks, comes from Armani. My shoes are by Gucci and my tie is Prada. I’m feeling confident and I’ll be presently interviewing some people, who, unlike me, don’t really matter.’

At least it would be more fun than just watching them walk the streets and stand there, nodding – nod, nod – while other people are talking.

Reporting about sports in general and football in particular has also become very irritating. What is all this stuff about injuries? How come TV sports commentators are so obsessed with injuries? What is so exciting about them? And who really cares? Injuries in football commentaries on TV have become overwhelming. You know how it happens: a sports commentator appears on the screen, eyes glowing with excitement, as if he’s going to tell us something very important. And then we learn that some footballer got injured in training and won’t be playing that day, or the next, or is doubtful for some crucial game in a week’s time. And then another name is mentioned and, guess what? He’ll be also out of action for a few days, or even weeks. And then comes another name, and another, and all of them, as it turns out, won’t be playing due to injuries.

What’s the big deal? So they won’t play for while. So what, where is the news in that?

And now for the flagship news bulletins, the ones that are shown at 6 and 10 o’clock in the evening. Why is it that the presenters on them are so pompous? Why do they think that other bulletins are not that important? Loosen up, I say to them. It’s just news. Besides, very few people understand what you are talking about anyway. A lot of them have an attention span of 5-year-olds, from all that junk food and reading crappy books.

And finally: why is it that some of the guests who are interviewed in news programmes are so boring? Why can’t they say something interesting? Is it asking too much of them to be entertaining? On and on they brag about their respective subjects, boring the life out of us.

Honestly, why can’t TV producers get some lively people as guests on the news bulletins? Who have a sense of humour and can slip in a joke or two? And smile a bit? But no, mostly boring ones come along. And yet, it’s so simple to be entertaining as a guest: get to the studio in advance, think of something witty to say and then go on air and say it.

Boredom culture – that’s what the problem is with guests on news programmes.

– End –