OPINION | TV News doesn't need futuristic sets, it needs a total makeover
Over the past few days, I’ve twice been reminded about how old fashioned television news is.
First, my Twitter timeline revealed to me a picture of my former newspaper colleague Chris Reason doing a stand-up report for the Channel 7 news in the streets of Hanoi wearing a suit that probably cost six times the average monthly wage in Vietnam.
Fair enough if he’d been at the dinner table, on in the meeting room, with Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, but he wasn’t. He was standing on the side of the street.
I tweeted in reply: “No offence at all to Chris, who does a great job, but isn't it time to ditch the suits? Why is it that people on the TV news dress in a way that few of us ever do in real life? How many men, apart from reporters, politicians and undertakers, even own a suit these days?”
The next day, the team from TV Blackbox were tweeting about the new “set of the future” on the Channel 10 news, pointing to a post about this spectacular piece of studio furniture that was somehow going to do something for the commercial network whose ratings figures, just the previous day, were almost half that of the ABC.
So, I tweeted: “Perhaps there is no ‘set of the future’. Perhaps news will come from where it happens, not from the contrived and detached scenario of well-dressed, well-spoken, well-paid people in a studio.”
And the more I think about it, the more I am warming to the idea that television, which has given us so much over the decades, has failed miserably in updating the way it presents the news and, by association, reflects the lives we lead.
I don't care if it lights up, farts, spins or explodes into fireworks, the new Channel 10 thing is still just a variation of the studio set they’ve been using in television since the 1950s.
Back then, maybe, just maybe, it made sense to hear an authoritative version of the day’s events from a man in a suit sitting behind a desk. I guess some people had bosses who worse suits and sat behind a desk, and were well respected.
Back in the day, the equipment needed to broadcast a news bulletin was heavy, inflexible and had to be close enough to be physically connected to the tower that transmitted the television signal.
But now, men (and now women) sitting behind desks -- or occasionally stepping out from behind them to point to a big screen -- have very little to do with the way we exchange information with each other in real life.
The desk is redundant, as is the studio it sits in. And, dare I say it, so are some of the presenters -- unless they can bring some genuine journalistic skills to the party.
I note that, in an attempt to reinvent the tonight-show format, US comedian Conan O'Brien has just ditched his desk and other accoutrements of the genre. And, separately, he has launched a Netflix series where he does his shtick from real locations around the world.
It may fail, but at least he’s recognised the absurdity of the convention where the guests are in loungechairs but the host is behind a desk. That's a really weird thing that has mever happened outside of s TV studio (except, I think, on a Seinfeld episode).
Closer to home, The Latest on Channel 7 still has Michael Usher studio-bound, but at least he’s sometimes “throwing” to reporters in the field covering real events in real time. (Or at least he was the last time I saw the show.)
To me this is much more satisfying than a “live cross” during the 5pm or 6pm news to a reporter who is standing like a goose outside a courtroom four hours after something happened there.
Early in the day, Sunrise has a set that opens up to a window showing us what’s going on in Sydney’s Martin Place (except when there’s something going on in Martin Place that Channel Seven doesn’t want you to see).
These ideas -- the latter decades old -- are more futuristic than having a sexy, hi-tech piece of furniture in a studio located in a nuclear bunker somewhere where nothing ever happens. (It’s even more absurd for those regional viewers whose “local” newsreaders are based in an entirely different state.)
TV news is under threat from possibilities opened up by technologies made possible by the internet. It doesn't need the “set from the future” or the services of a good tailor, it needs people with the right mindset to harness those technologies to gather and present stories in a way that’s relevant to the way we live.
The future of TV news has more to do with real journalists chasing down stories as they happen, using their training, their instincts and their access to resources, including old-fashioned contacts and social media, to deliver the best possible service to the greatest possible number of people. And that, in my opinion, is where the money should be spent.