The rise of live news and the two-way convention: Evaluating the value of journalistic interventionism
When television began all broadcasting was live (Marriott 2007). Without the ability to record a programme in advance or pre-edit material, when audiences turned on the TV set they were sharing the experience of watching television in ‘real time’ (Crisell 2012). As technology improved, gradually television schedules began to be ﬁlled by pre-ﬁlmed programming, such as soap operas or game shows. Into the 21st century, live broadcasting continues to be a prominent part of television culture. But in popular programming it tends to be reserved for particular types of television programming, including breakfast shows, sporting events and weather bulletins. Or, on special occasions – to mark an anniversary, say, or celebrate a season ﬁnale – programmes are broadcast in ‘real time’, using the novelty of liveness to deliver a tension and edginess. In the last season of The West Wing, for example, a live episode of a televised presidential debate was broadcast, a ﬁctional attempt to recreate the ‘real time’ political pressure candidates face in reality. News, however, is a distinctive television genre (Ellis 2000), driven by a
long-standing editorial aim of delivering the latest news headlines. Indeed, Ofcom – the commercial regulator of UK television news – requires broadcasters to air news live and only in exceptional circumstances to pre-record bulletins.1 Television news, in other words, is almost always presented in a live format so it has the potential to deliver the latest news or break news ‘on air’. Famously, for example, news about the shooting of US President John F. Kennedy in 1962 interrupted the routine schedule of the US networks. Or, more recently, US networks captured the terrorist attacks in 2001 live when a second plane crashed into the Twin Towers. But these atypical moments do not represent the routine day-to-day delivery
of news in ﬁxed time bulletins. As Chapter 1 explained, the evening bulletin – the object of study in this book – increasingly relied on pre-edited conventions as television news matured from the 1960s onwards. For technology allowed pre-ﬁlmed packages to be juxtaposed with the presentation of live news in a studio format. By the 1990s it was the norm for evening bulletins to dedicate
most of its coverage to pre-edited material. This was empirically conﬁrmed in Chapter 2, where approximately 90-95 per cent of BBC and ITV bulletins in 1991/2 were reliant on edited packages to convey the day’s news. Into the new millennium, however, pre-packaged news reduced and live reporting was enhanced both in volume and prominence (see Chapter 2). This was not due to any major breaking stories – say, a terrorist attack – but an editorial shift in routinely conveying news live principally by way of the two-way convention. As Chapter 3 explored further, the most striking use of live two-way reporting was in the world of politics, with journalists spending more airtime interpreting the day’s events. As a consequence, television bulletins were less informed by political actors and more dependent on journalists routinely acting as sources. The cross-national study of UK, US and Norwegian television news – in Chapter 4 – suggested that live and interpretive political reporting shaped bulletins to diﬀerent degrees based not only on the characteristics of diﬀerent media systems but the broader inﬂuence of 24-hour news culture. In short, in over 60 years of television’s history, liveness has moved from
being a technological necessity to a broadcasting novelty, with more recent years witnessing a resurgence in live television news reporting. Post-millennium it appears the accepted norm for evening bulletins to convey news in live conventions and for journalists to adopt a more interventionist style of political journalism. The aim of this chapter is to therefore put the rise of the live two-way
convention under closer empirical scrutiny and to consider the more interventionist role journalists have adopted in the reporting of politics. As the previous three chapters have argued, recent decades have witnessed what can be characterized as a mediatization of news – strikingly so in political reporting – where journalists more actively shape news stories, speaking for and about political actors. But while previous chapters have painted a broad quantitative picture about the rise and value of live two-way conventions, it is now necessary to consider more qualitatively the diﬀerent ways in which the use of this convention shapes routine political reporting. The chapter will ﬁrst begin by engaging with debates focused on understanding broadcast talk, where scholars close textually interpret the discourses shaping television news conventions and practices.