News on television is the greatest journalistic adventure of our time. Every day the television journalist has open to him new and revolutionary methods of carrying out the time-honoured task of getting the news — and getting it to the public.
In the place of the typewriter and the still camera he can use film and live television to let the public see for themselves events as they happen, or as they have recently happened. He can, too, by skilful interviewing, bring the public face to face with the men and women who make news. Under the direct and candid eye of the camera these people, whether they are the great of the land or just ordinary folk who get into the news once in a lifetime, can be seen and studied and understood directly and intimately instead of at secondhand through the descriptions of writers, artists or commentators.
This — and the many other methods and techniques which television has developed — are great gains for journalism and a great stimulus to it.
The men and women of ATV’s Midlands News Department and their counterparts the Independent Television News — ITN — can claim to have been very much in the forefront of the fight to create this new journalism.
On the seventh and eighth floors of Television House (a building which housed the Air Ministry during the Battle of Britain) ITN has its newsroom and its offices, its camera workshops and storerooms, its film processing and editing rooms, and a compact news studio fitted with the most modern equipment. Midlands News has a similar set-up in Birmingham.
On September 22nd, 1955, when ITV first went on the air, one major innovation had already been developed—the newscaster system. Under this, the news is presented not by readers but by newscasters — that is, by men of personality and authority. They are not just “personalities”. They are, above all, working television journalists whose authority stems from professional experience and skill, and who do their share of gathering and writing the news, as well as presenting it.
Television writing must, of course, match the story. The big stories must be written with force and authority; the lighter stories with gaiety and ease. And ITN newscasters seek whenever possible a “tailpiece” — some light, unusual, witty item with which to round off the bulletin.
The news which you see on your screens is made up of four components. These are:
- Direct “live” news, where the news is shown in pictures as it happens. (This can be done by an outside broadcast, or by a studio interview.)
- News on film or recorded on videotape.
- News in words, read or spoken by the newscaster, reporter, or commentator.
- News in diagrams, maps, animated designs and still pictures.
In direct “live” news, television is seen at its peak as a reporting medium. Outside broadcast cameras, stationed in this country, or with their pictures relayed from abroad by the Eurovision link, have been used to put news on the air at the very moment when it is occurring. This system has been used many times to present on-the-spot reports of rescue teams at work at air crashes and other disasters. When the Prime Minister returned from his tour of Africa, his speech at London Airport was carried directly into an early evening bulletin. In the 1959 General Election the returning officers in key constituencies gave, through live broadcasting, the news of the voting in their areas direct to millions of viewers at the same instant as they gave it to the crowds round their Town Halls. Home scenes such as traffic jams on Bank Holidays, the sit-down demonstrations in London’s Trafalgar Square, and the public’s reaction to Budget changes, have been broadcast directly into the news bulletins.
Studio interviews, in which people in the news are questioned in the studio, form an essential part of this live component. They have provided many memorable news moments: Miss Vivien Leigh telling her own story of how she interrupted the House of Lords to protest against the demolition of the St. James’s Theatre; Derek Ibbotson, just arrived from the White City and still in his track suit, watching a film of himself breaking the four-minute mile and then talking of how it felt to do so; Sir Edmund Hilary and Sherpa Tensing talking of the Himalayas; even a runaway monkey which had boarded a bus and the bus conductor who had found him riding on the top deck. Such people in the studio, all very much alive, made television news which in its turn was alive and vivid.
Recordings of live broadcasts rank at the top of the second component of television news — news on film or on videotape. One tremendous news moment after another has been caught and recorded from live broadcasts. Colonel Glenn in his gleaming space-suit climbing into the capsule at Cape Canaveral; Mr. Krushchev reporting to the Russian people after Vienna; Angela Mortimer giving Britain its first Wimbledon victory’ since pre-war; the Derby, followed yard by yard to the finishing post — these and many other news occasions have been captured by the videotape recorder and brought to the screen in news bulletins.
But though the outside broadcast cameras are supreme on the big, predictable occasion, they still take second place to film for day-to-day news coverage.
A foremost tool of the television journalist remains the 16mm. film camera. Small, highly mobile, highly reliable, able to record the sound as well as the sight of an event, these cameras have become the television reporters’ notebook. From its own staff of cameramen in London and Manchester and Glasgow, in Paris and Rome; from its freelance cameramen throughout the British Isles and in more than fifty countries overseas; from the cameramen of the regional news rooms of ITV companies — like Midlands News — and from the newsfilm service of the Columbia Broadcasting System of America, thousands of feet of film pour into the film department of ITN every day of the year.
In addition to the daily news bulletins, ITN staff are also responsible for producing “Roving Report”, a weekly programme dealing with news items and topics of interest from all over the world, and “Dateline”, a late-night review of important events.
When the film cameras can capture the very moment an event takes place they produce news of remarkable power. “See it happen on ITN” was a slogan from the early days of Independent Television.
Very many of these happenings have been breathtaking in their immediacy. Suez, with British tanks rumbling through the dusty streets on their way towards the Delta; a long column of Russian tanks in Hungary, filmed as they thundered remorselessly towards Budapest to crush the rising there; the American landing-craft heading for the Lebanese beaches in 1958, the ramps coming down and the US Marines storming ashore on to the beaches, crowded only a moment before with holidaymakers; Mr. Krushchev pounding a desk with his shoe at the United Nations, or wisecracking with reporters from a Fifth Avenue balcony; seamen being hauled ashore in a breeches buoy from a ship wrecked on the Scottish coast; the catch which gave Hampshire the county cricket championship; messengers sprinting from the Royal Exchange after a bank rate change; the crowd pelting the ground with bottles at the end of the first West Indies v. MCC test in Trinidad… these have been moments when film has brought the news to life
— the true alchemy of television.