OPINION: Radio remains one of the most powerful of all media when it comes to keeping us informed. It is the only medium on earth that possesses the capacity to become a “theatre of the mind”.
But, more and more stations are starting to produce news bulletins by rote instead of bulletins of relevance.
And the area in which they are pretty much all falling down is when actuality is added.
This is using recorded or live interviews with commentators, analysts, victims, politicians and business people.
What has become of increasing annoyance to me is that radio news editors are now using actuality for the sake of actuality – I presume just to give the bulletin a bit of spark.
Typical of this abuse of actuality is when the newsreader reports on a story and then plays actuality of someone saying precisely the same thing.
For example this extract from a news bulletin last week:
Newsreader: “A taxi overturned outside Beaufort West this morning when the driver apparently lost control on a bend. Two passengers and the driver were killed and six others seriously injured – we cross now to the chief traffic officer for the Western Cape…”
“Chief traffic officer for the Western Cape: “A taxi overturned outside of Beaufort West this morning when the driver apparently lost control on a bend. Two passengers and the driver were killed and six other seriously injured:”
I am not kidding, it was verbatim repetition.
It’s becoming rife on radio and if you don’t believe me just listen carefully to the next news bulletin.
What’s worse is this is also starting to creep into television news.
The whole point of actuality inserts is to provide something the newsreader is not able to do. It’s that simple.
Frankly, these irrelevant sound bites are becoming in increasingly annoying particularly when cellphones are used and interference makes hearing what is being said something of a mission.
Once again, what one is looking at here is a decline in the standard of journalism in this country. No apparent training or mentoring, just allowing newcomers to mimic those who came before them and to follow a litany of unwritten riles such as using as much actuality as possible.
Interestingly, the first actuality used in news bulletins in South Africa was in 1963 on Springbok Radio’s ‘News at 1pm’ on Sundays.
It was the brainchild of the doyen of radio news editors at the SABC at the time, Brian Chilvers, who was particularly fussy about the quality and relevance of the actuality he included.
As a journalist working at United Press International and supplying foreign news to the SABC, I was involved in the first and all subsequent news bulletins providing actually sourced from UPI network of worldwide correspondents.
Never once did Chilvers use the telephone, which was pretty ropey in terms of overseas calls in those days. But, I have to say it had a lot better in sound quality than some of the cellphone actuality we get these days.
Chilvers studied the art of actuality by doing his homework and researching habits, rules and protocols from all over the world.
There are still rules and protocols for actually inserts today, but very few news editors on radio and a few on TV, seem to know what they are.
One would think that the onslaught against mass media by online news would get some of our radio and TV stations to wake up and notice the inanity of some of their bulletins.
Until then, have fun listening to radio news bulletins happily repeating themselves in different voices.
Something they should to bear in mind is that this country has some excellent news readers and they should be allowed to communicate without having their dulcet tones interfered with by dodgy telephone connections and people of all races, religions, businesses and political persuasions who are linguistically challenged to the point of incoherence.
Follow Chris Moerdyk on Twitter @chrismoerdyk.
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