Behind The Screen: The Secret To Television News Reading:

Cameraman capturing live shooting of news reader in television studio.




Do you know how to pronounce the name of “Shrewsbury”, the market town in the English county of Shropshire? If you’re not sure and really want to find out, the Oxford Guide to BBC diction provides the answer: “Shrohz-buh-ri”. This is unlikely to be at the top of your list of priorities – unless you have ambitions for a career as a BBC newsreader, in which case you’ll need to become familiar with most of the 16,000 words and names which are covered in the Guide.

As the Daily Mail has pointed out, for the BBC, it’s not what you say but how you say it that is particularly important. Other examples from the Guide are: The Dutch painter Van Gogh – “Van Gokh” (definitely not the Americanised version, “Van Goh”!), the Swiss city Basle – “Bahl”, the Harry Potter author J.K.Rowling – “Roh-Ling” and the Chelsea FC owner Roman Abramovich – “Ruh-Mahn Ab-Ruh-Moh-Vitch”.

There are of course other skills and qualities that you’ll need to possess if you want to present the prime-time “News At Ten” programme. For a start, in the opinion of the website, you should have a bold personality, there’s no room for camera fright and you need to be presentable at all times when you’re “live on air”. Furthermore, while you’re reading the news, you must “aim at grasping the viewers attention so that they stay with that channel”.

Above all, in this technological age, you’ll have to be capable of following what’s on the Autocue, as using notes written on a piece of paper is simply not how it’s done anymore (unless the equipment breaks down). That means, emphasises the former BBC News 24 presenter, Maxine Mawhinney, understanding the running order of the scripts, being clear about how the words will appear on the prompt screen and “telling the story rather than reading it”. That way, you’ll look and sound assured.

Smiling and speaking to the camera as a friend is essential, according to and you must keep your head, neck and shoulders relaxed: “If you lock your head into a rigid position, only your eyes can move to read the text. If the camera is fairly close it’s very obvious you are reading and it reduces your credibility”. They also advise asking the autocue operator to set the font size to suit your eyesight: “The bigger the font, the fewer words on the screen, so the less chance you have of seeing what’s next. Too small, and you’ll be struggling to read accurately”.

The Autocue company’s website states that they have been the exclusive provider of teleprompting services to all BBC News programmes for more than 20 years. The units they use are the “Master Series 12” which have the “highest brightness monitors so that the text can be easily read under bright studio lighting”. They’re mounted on robotic cameras which are constantly moving around, so they need to be as lightweight as possible. There’s a “cue-light” which changes colour when the camera is “live on-air” so the presenter knows which one to look at.

The former presenter of BBC2’s “Newsnight” and current host of the channel’s “University Challenge” programme, Jeremy Paxman, is however unimpressed by any of this. As quoted by the Daily Mail’s Media Editor, Paul Revoir, on 4th March, he’s declared that “any idiot” can read the news and has excoriated “vain reporters” who (in his view) are more interested in being on television than “letting the story tell itself”. He’s also portrayed the BBC as being “full of boring people doing dull jobs and pretending they’re important”.

Paxman’s claims (as observed by the Guardian columnist Tim Dowling, on 17th March, after unsuccessfully attempting to operate a teleprompter himself) were immediately challenged by one of the BBC’s current newsreaders, Reeta Chakrabarti, on the basis that she writes a lot of what she reads out: “These aren’t someone else’s words”.

Nonetheless, there was support for Paxman, notably in the Spectator magazine on 9th March, from Robin Aitken, a former BBC journalist and author of “How and Why The BBC Distorts The News To Promote A Liberal Agenda”. The hard work in TV news, he insists, is done by reporters and producers and the technical crews, while the newsreader “spends their day in planning meetings and make-up parlours being pampered and flattered before taking their place in the spotlight”.

Aitken dismisses reading from an autocue as “a skill many people could master after a morning’s tuition”. He also contends that no-one with pretensions to being thought politically aware now relies on BBC news bulletins as their main source of information. This is contradicted by a recent Ofcom survey that has revealed BBC 1 continues to rank highest in this category. By contrast,the number of people in the UK getting news from social media and Google Search has declined, with just 35% of those questioned who regularly use this way of finding out what’s happening saying they consider it trustworthy. Facebook was seen as the least trustworthy (32%) and Twitter the most (39%).

Filed under: Media | Posted on May 5th, 2021 by Colin D Gordon

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