I’ve Seen That Movie Too

As the ABC mulls the falling ratings for its flagship 730 current affairs show, it might want to consider whether the problem isn’t so much the presenter or the physical set or the stories – but the conventional television narratives that have become so hackneyed that no-one can be bothered paying attention anymore.

A typical 730 pre-recorded package includes obligatory slow-mos (to differentiate straight news from current affairs), self-consciously portentous music (Ride of the Valkyries for smart-arse reporters smelling the Canberra napalm), ritual set-up shots (man works into a room, flicks through a report, picks up phone), recycled B-roll (story about trade – container ships; story about financial markets – men stare at Bloomberg terminals; story about consumption – waist-high shots of people in the mall carrying bags).

A typical 730 political interview involves Chris Ullman playing cat-and-mouse with an over-media-coached politician, trained to avoid saying anything mildly surprising or interesting – as long as he/she doesn’t make the dreaded “gaffe”. It’s like Kabuki theatre, it is so formulaic.

The wonder is this creative bankruptcy continues at a time when visual/digital journalists have never had such exciting new tools at their disposal. On that score, the ABC’s brilliant young team at Hungry Beast show how to tell stories visually without resorting to television cliche.
Against that vivid comparison, the cul-de-sac of traditional TV news and current affairs narratives look very tired indeed – a moving wallpaper of heavily ritualized forms, cut and pasted together by droning reporters  seeking to appear arch and slightly detached for an audience that watches more out of habit than desire.

Guardian media critic Charlie Booker shows how the sausages are made here:

12 thoughts on “I’ve Seen That Movie Too

  1. Dumbing down 730report does seem to have happened. I have not done a count, but I think they try to have more stories or interviews PER show than when Kerry ran things. Thus dumbing down. Toolman being a Bolt doesn`t help.

  2. “And this is a lighthouse keeper being beheaded by a laser beam”

    Classic stuff. I'd already seen it some time ago, but still found myself laughing all over again.

  3. Mr D., now you know I'm not one to complain, but the media's insistence in asking philosophical question to celebrities, comedians and politicians is completely wrong.

    If I wanted comedy, I ask an comedian.
    If I want meal advice I'll ask a Masterchef.
    If I want science advice I'll ask a scientist
    If I want to know what to think I'll ask Mr Bolt.

    But for shows that discuss philosophical points not to include philosophers shows the low brows drivel that they are.

    I suspect that a philosopher will call them out for their bullshit and they wont. like. that.

    Thanks Mr D. for giving me the forum to get this off my chest.

  4. Losing Kerry was a big blow – he added a lot to the show as a presenter. Although Leigh Sales is pretty good, Chris Uhlmann is dreadful (about as bad a Tony Jones at interviews), and the fall-back presenter (the lateline woman?) is missing something that makes you want to listen to what she says. I've barely watched it since the name change and Kerry left.

    But I think ultimately the world they report has also become stale – Australian politics has fallen in a hole (and Australian political reporting even further – they seem more interested in talking about themselves), the world stories are focussed too much on the USA, the financial stories are tiring, and the rest of the stories they choose to report in the little time left have become a bit too light-weight.

  5. Tony Jones is a good interviewer who's wasted presenting that rubbish lightweight Q&A show.

    Agree entirely with the second sentiment, however – both Federal politics and political coverage have become awfully stale, repetitive and self-referential. It's difficult to believe anyone who isn't a complete political tragic is paying attention any more.

  6. Cynical me thinks the ABC board will let actual investigative journalism die off and replace it with lightweight 24h news spin cycle and/or TodayTonight clone.

    This story ends with privatisation.

  7. While I pretty much agree with all this, Uhlmann actually distinguished himself the other night when he interviewed Joe Hockey (by comparison, I mean).

    It's almost as though he remembered he was a journalist. He nearly gave Hockey a hard time.

  8. Watching the tributes to Paul Lockyer and his colleagues last night and the celebration of his life and work I wondered how much soul searching there might be amongst other journalists about the quality of today's news reporting.

  9. The ABC is good at disaster reporting and often plays an important public service in its coverage of regional and rural news that purely bottom-line focused broadcasters would never bother to tackle.

    My beef here is more over the forms and structures of television reporting, which haven't really changed at all in four decades. The three-par intro from the presenter, followed by 2-3 minute package, filled with a couple of grabs, a stand-up and stock overlay often get in the way of the story.

  10. TV is a fundamentally flawed medium for in depth discussion and analysis that relies on words being said (so ipso facto inferior for interviews). Radio (not just broadcast, but any voice data) is much better for that, doesn't require idiotic filler pictures, vastly cheaper, much faster at getting info out, and allows much more creativity. But radio doesn't fit with the “TV station” paradigm, although that does't matter much because TV stations as we know them are not long for this world.

  11. It's not just the forms and structures – although you have described wonderfully vividly in this post just how stale those format tropes have become.

    Hungry Beast has some cute and creative approaches to production, but it doesn't add much meaning to the story, and sometimes actually distracts. Plus, their story selection is pretty lacklustre – too often it is just stuff that was in the US longform news media several months earlier.

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