In 1940 you got 15 minutes of foreign news a week

I was talking to my Dad the other night about what news looked like when he was young.

He said they didn’t have a radio or a television, and the paper wasn’t delivered.

“Only milk and bread were delivered in those days,” he said. The butcher and grocer would deliver if you called in your order. But not newspapers.

The only foreign news he saw was in the news reels shown at the “2 o’clocks” on a Saturday afternoon.

“Half the news you got was at the movies, and that was the first thing you knew about what was going on in London or wherever.

“I didn’t go for that though, I mostly went for the serials and things like that. They used to have some pretty good serials back in those days. (The Lone Ranger was a hit.)

“They had about 15 or 20 minutes of news but then you’d get straight into the good stuff. That was the only news you used to get.”

I couldn’t find any news reels that I could embed here, but NZ On Screen has some and the British Pathe has some.

What interests me is how different our sensibility is now about how much news we need in a day.

Dad grew up with 15 minutes of foreign news a week. Now we have foreign news round the clock. We have all kinds of news round the clock. Does it make life better?

Pneumatic story delivery in newsrooms

Pneumatic Tubes in the NZ Herald newsroom

A piece of nostalgia from the NZ Herald Manual of Journalism 1967. The use of pneumatic tubes to move’ copy’, or stories, around various departments in news organisations were before my time. What a shame; they look cracking.

Country Calendar still hits the mark

Country Calendar must be one of the few New Zealand media institutions that truly count as ‘iconic’. The weekly programme, which casts light on NZ farming, hasn’t looked back since its launch in 1966 and the current theme tune must be one of the most readily identifiable sounds for any Kiwi.

This clip gives a glimpse of what the programme used to look, and sound, like.

It’s gone on to become one of the longest-running TV programmes anywhere in the world and still ranks in the top 10 for viewing figures each week, according to the TVNZ website, with those viewers being both urban and rural and numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

That’s no mean feat. Someone somewhere must be doing something right.

In a talk at Wintec’s Media Bites function in 2008, Frank Torley, then executive producer of Country Calendar, offered the following about the show’s success:

“I don’t know… I’d like to believe that the New Zealand public recognises quality.

“The beginning of that process is research. If anybody says ‘Why is Country Calendar successful?’ — research, research, research. Keep doing it, find the story. What is the story, what are the people like, what else can we do?

“Having diagnosed, if you like, this is a good story, then we are the spoilt brats I suppose in so far as they do give us the budget to enable us to put the time and effort into making the programme.

“From the time of ‘here’s a story idea’ to ‘let’s go and shoot it’, may take a period of two or three weeks while we really look at it and make sure it all works.

“We then don’t leave it to chance, we do have it mapped out. We write up those research notes so the producer can get a decent handle on the story and not just airy fairy ‘oh, yeah, I reckon it’ll work’. It’s got to work, and it’s got to be seen to work.

“And then comes a treatment so that you’ve got an outline. Planning, if you like. PPPPP as our production manager calls it. Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance.

“And then we are given the opportunity to spend the time and …we get the wonderful co-operation of getting top cameramen and sound recordists.”


Bring back Dougal Stevenson

Every now and then I get an urge to create a Facebook group or something to campaign to bring back Dougal Stevenson. He was a TV newsreader in my youth, one of several with similar qualities.

Dougal Stevenson didn’t smile and joke with an attractive sidekick to let me know when the story was light, or grimace to let me know the story was serious, or banter with a cheeky weather presenter or get matey with the sports guy (and pretend to know about sport).

He just read the news, dispassionately, from a piece of paper while two or three images were displayed behind him. More please.

Here he is:

Thanks to CedricRusty for bringing Dougal Stevenson to YouTube.