English news and television

I stumbled on an interesting article about the English press through the “Editors’ Blog” on the BBC website. The big news is how the English media outlets are making inroads into the US readership and viewership. I guess I was an early adopter; long before I considered a move to the UK, I was a regular BBC reader and eventually also a Guardian reader (on the web of course). I was equally a fan of the Sydney (Aus.) Morning Herald–it was sensible news in the English language that I was seeking, regardless of physical location. I’ve had an Economist subscription for many years, long before I had even visited England. My cravings for a non-American perspective amplified during the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and there was very little for the intelligent skeptic in the American media.

The disconcerting truth for me has been in the difference between what I perceived of English television and newspapers from a US perspective versus what I actually found here. I do not read English newspapers regularly nor do I have a television (much to the chagrin of the enforcement agency sending me regular warnings about not having paid the TV License fee). In fact, I stay away from both forms of the media after seeing them here live, and I now fully rely on the internet for information. Having lived in both places, I’m quite interested in what sort of newscast the BBC would air in the US versus what it airs here–to me this is the main difference that drives the American perception of goodness in the British media. It’s all about selective transmission.

I religiously watched BBC America in the US, and was a huge fan of Waking the Dead (yes, of course I had a massive crush on Trevor Eve) and I loved “Trust” with Robson Green and Sarah Parish. Yet, when I actually started to spend time in the UK, I did not find anything like this on actual British television, and in my early days here saw only re-runs of CSI and badly-staged reality TV. (I will never be able to purge from my consciousness the train-wreck that was a show featuring live plastic surgery.) The BBC America channel works because it boils down the broadcasts of the many BBC channels in the UK and the world into a single channel.

I find television news in the UK to be quite different from in the US, although I find myself at a loss for words on how to describe the differences. As with all of England, men’s suits are louder. Certainly there is less of a local flavor in the reporting, less human-interest, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. The US tends to bury the world news in a time-slot when only senior citizens and house-wives/house-husbands are available to watch it and that’s a shame. I think America would be a very different place if the world news aired at 10 or 11 pm instead of the local fluff. Perhaps the rising star of the British news media in the US is simply a back-lash against the local reporting, and the fact that it’s British has very little to do with it. But most importantly, if the best of the American news aired in a single 30 minute slot each day, including stories from all the cable outlets, we might think more of the American media. If all of the best American television was available on a single channel, we might think as much of the US production values as people do of their UK counterparts.

Bottom line, we are spoiled by choice. When you import only a selection, you are bound to get a subset that is both a better and different view of the whole. Only the best things make it across the Atlantic–in either direction.

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One response to “English news and television

  1. Whilst (sic) living in the US, I was constantly frustrated by the lack of incisive questioning by local news reporters. On brief visits to the UK, I was exhilarated by Paxman’s insistent and contrarian questioning of British politicians on Newsnight. Strangely, after moving to the UK, I found myself increasingly exasperated by this style of interviewing; it tends to catch minor hypocrisy and Orwellian misuse of language, but can fall short of getting at the truth in important matters.

    In the end, good news (in the journalistic sense), for me, comes in various flavo(u)rs. For a more reflective style of print journalism than the Economist’s (admittedly excellent) brief essays, I like the New Yorker. For TV interviews in a gentler but no less revealing vein than Paxman’s, I like Charlie Rose on PBS (check out his interviews of Obama, Bush, and yes, Paxman on Google Video). The grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side, but the flora does differ.

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