A sobering experience

Is this the beginning of the end for tabloid-style TV news? Let's hope so

<strong>Ten O'Clock New

So, the BBC news operation has a £550,000 new look. Was it really worth it? The main innovation is a spinning-globe logo in red and white stripes. At least, I presume it's a globe. I was a little tipsy the evening that the new look "went live" and, as I draped myself soddenly in front of the Ten O'Clock News, it looked to me more like a pool ball than our wretched and abused planet (older, colour-blind viewers may even have mistaken its appearance for the return of Crown Green Bowls to prime time).

Whatever. Such cosmetic adjustments are the outward face of a big reorganisation of news at the BBC: more than 450 staff will be lost over five years and, for the first time, radio, television and internet journalists will sit beside one another, working closely across every "platform". Money will be saved, efficiency improved and Huw Edwards, the main presenter of the Ten O'Clock News, will - or so I read - have only half an hour in which to rehearse his lines rather than three hours.

Huw Edwards. It's a sign, surely, of the irredeemable direness of ITV's News at Ten that the BBC programme regularly pulls in more than twice its audience (4.8 million viewers to ITV's 2.2 million) even though the programme is presented by the sullen-looking Edwards and, thanks to the credit crunch, despite being increasingly hampered by the stretched vowels and mangled consonants of Robert "Smarty-Pants" Peston, the BBC business editor. Imagine what the ratings would be if Fiona Bruce was given the job of presenting this bulletin, or if Stephanie Flanders, the BBC economics editor, on whom I have a major crush - strictly intellectual, of course - elbowed Peston out of the way.

The only people left watching ITV would be Sir Trevor's wife, Julie Etchingham's mum and Prince Harry (it's my hunch that HRH Mahiki and his bro are more likely to go for loud bongs than pool balls: aren't they supposed to be rather fond of Tom Bradby, the ITN political editor with the baby-bottom cheeks?). At which point, someone would be duty bound to turn off all the lights on set on the grounds that their effect on global warming was greater, and more pointless, even than that of the Rolling Stones' last tour.

It's hard to explain why exactly News at Ten is so unwatchable. Obviously, there's Sir Trevor, whose unpoetic delivery almost matches Peston's for weirdness. But Etchingham, poached from Sky, is perfectly competent, if bland. The aforementioned Bradby is excellent, especially when he's doing analysis to camera; he resists hyperbole and hamminess with every fibre of his posh soul, which is a wholly good thing. No, the problem is not with staff, but with tone: the straining for excitement, the desire to tease and titillate, the patronising way it explains complicated matters such as science or mortgages to us dumbos. The word I'm looking for, I guess, is tabloid.

When ITV reclaimed the 10pm slot three months ago, I worried that, in order to compete, the BBC would go the same route. We started hearing the word "exclusive" more often, and there were more pointless outside broadcasts, featuring Edwards standing white-faced and anoraked beneath an arc light (I despise these: presenting from the Zimbabwean border rather than inside Zimbabwe is, in reality, no different from presenting from London, and presenting from Praia da Luz is just plain sick). But things have calmed down now - even if Nick Robinson can be somewhat excitable, especially when he has been drinking frothy coffees with naughty backbenchers.

There is something pleasingly safe about the BBC's reporters. I'm not talking about its stars so much as its infantry; I'm not talking gravitas so much as diligence. You feel instinctively that the likes of Richard Bilton and Adam Mynott have worked hard to bring their reports to you. The success of the Ten O'Clock News gives me hope: that we are finally tiring of tabloid values; that the shouting match that is the multimedia age is leading us, slowly, to crave sobriety, to be grateful for considered and judicious editing.

Journalists everywhere, take note. Though this isn't to say, of course, that I don't admire Fiona and Stephanie's natty blazers very much indeed.

Pick of the week

Grand Designs Live
4 May, 8.05pm, Channel 4
New series of the only property show that deserves to survive the economic crisis.
The South Bank Show
4 May, 10.50pm, ITV1
Melvyn Bragg meets Liza Minnelli.
Women in Black
May, 7.30pm, BBC2
Amani Zain, a British Muslim, looks at women’s fashion in Yemen.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 05 May 2008 issue of the New Statesman, High-street robbery