It’s been good to see a lively discussion about the changes to the BBC News at Six and Ten.
It may seem banal to say this but some like them, some are constructively critical and some don’t like them at all.
As I’ve said before, it’s generally a good idea to wait a few weeks before passing judgement while things settle, though initial impressions can be positive or negative and last.
But what about those people who are being overwhelmingly critical? Perhaps they would like to see the presenter remain seated far more? Or maybe they think there is too much gimmickry?
Let’s take on this argument directly and start by taking an extreme example of the alternative.
In March 1976, the BBC News had a back to basics relaunch. Almost all unnecessary illustration seemed to be considered a frivolous indulgence. The entire bulletin was presented to a single camera without even an inset.
If there were no pictures to illustrate the story, it was acceptable for the newsreader or a reporter to simply talk straight to camera for a protracted length of time.
Of course these were the days before computer graphics and electronic news gathering. But by then television was a mature medium and not radio with pictures. Graphics and pictures were an accepted part of television storytelling, just as now.
However it could be argued that the simple art of effectively reading a well written script was a perfectly clear and efficient way of presenting the news – free of gimmickry or what some used to call the tyranny of pictures.
Can these arguments be applied today?
Well first, it should never be impossible to illustrate a story now – cameras can get almost anywhere, pictures can be sent back readily and mobile phone footage can be genuinely effective too when properly used.
But there are stories which involve analysis, context data and so on – either delivered by the presenter in their cue or by the reporter. Often graphics are needed to bring these stories to life and make difficult things clearer.
Should they be delivered by a seated presenter taking over graphics out of vision? Or can a variety of visual techniques be adopted? These are all techniques which other programmes might use – so why not news?
Following on from this, does a presenter standing up lose authority? Well it’s been common for 20 years to do this, even if it’s now being seen more on BBC News than before.
The biggest argument against the changes though might be that some find particular graphics or the style of a particular link distracting.
That suggests, however, that the technique adopted may not have been appropriate for the individual story or that the individual link was badly conceived or produced. It doesn’t mean it was wrong in principle.
Producers, presenters, reporters and editors do sometimes need to discuss whether an individual story was told as well as possible.
But to suggest simply standing up, interacting with graphics or indeed having complex graphics in the first place is wrong is to hark back to the past.
What though if some viewers simply believe that “less is more” and want visual simplicity? That can only be discovered through trial and error.
News presentation has evolved a lot over the decades. Otherwise we’d be living in an age of newsreels or announcers reading scripts written by others.
It’s important also to try to understand why styles of presentation continue to evolve. If a programme goes too far and alienates its audience through change. the pendulum can swing back.
If it should turn out that BBC News viewers would prefer to see more of the presenter sitting down, then changes to the format can be made quietly and subtly.
But my own feeling remains that the changes to the Six and Ten are changes for the better and are here to stay.
PICTURED: Huw Edwards pictured on the new BBC News set. COPYRIGHT: BBC.