Martin Bell on TV news anchors

Enjoyed this 2011  post from Martin Bell about the history of TV anchors at the BBC.

In due course TV journalism became a performing art. The BBC’s Vin Ray, an experienced hand who secretly admired the old ways while defending the new, described it as “being in the moment”. There was actually a style coach. Reporters were taught to walk and talk and wave their arms at the same time. One distinguished correspondent was told she had to acquire “a new set of hand signals”. Farewell journalism, hello semaphore.

Then the carpenters moved in. Presenters’ platforms were built on hotel rooftops, in green zones, outside military bases and even in the gardens of the broadcasters’ own bureaux. At that point the anchors descended in all their vainglory, fronting news programmes (or parts of them) from what appeared to be, but seldom was, the scene of the action. They applied make-up and lip gloss and even hairspray – and that was just the men.

A new breed of subanchor appeared. Tom would announce the news from London, then pass the ball to Dick on his platform, who in turn would throw it to Harry, who was doing the actual reporting. Harry, the lowest paid and best informed of the three, would aspire to be a Dick and ultimately a Tom.

With the advent of rolling news, which usually shows more than it knows, the outcome of all these proliferations was not so much news as newsak – the appearance without the reality. It was expensive, too. Anchors and subanchors don’t travel at the back of the plane. There was also the question of what did they actually know? Journalists in the field, tethered to their platforms and satellite uplinks, used to be described in the trade as “dish monkeys”; but they were not paid peanuts.

He’s suggests the BBC might start its next round of cuts with unnecessary talking heads in the field.