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Radio news: stale, unimaginative and out of date

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

Radio news used to be the first place we discovered what was happening in the world. The fact Britain had gone to war with Germany in 1939, was announced on the radio. Even the arrival of TV and rolling news channels didn't stop it being the fastest place to get news, because of the easier and more adaptable technology for sending and editing audio and the speed of turnaround. But the internet and then, significantly, social media, changed that. Many of us now know the news before we hear it on the radio. Awareness of what is happening in the world at any one time is far greater amongst consumers than it was before the likes of Twitter dominated our lives.

Despite this transformation of how we get news (and WHEN we get it) radio news bulletins are still the same as they were 40 years ago and longer. Much of the writing and structure is taught the same way as it was in the last century and the presentation of that news on radio in the UK has not adapted or progressed. Even with podcasts providing the opportunity to be more creative, the way news is presented on briefings is largely the same. It's still the inverted pyramid of big story to little story (or the awful 'and finally').

The choice of stories is also really limited. Often the agenda is decided by what news agencies are providing (PA Media feeds every UK news outlet) and what the main news channels are discussing. Newspapers still have a huge say on that agenda too, when readership has fallen dramatically in the last few decades. When there is so much important news out there, it is disappointing how little variation you will find across radio. The same few stories, written and presented the same way.

Why not do one story in detail each hour and guiding people to your website for other news? If there is a picture story, reference it in the news but encourage listeners to take a look on your social media channels. As radio becomes visualised more and more, perhaps that will force a change. But from the stations I see doing video 'radio' bulletins, they are simply poorly written and presented versions of the same thing. Why not have a newsreader do the news in a two-way style and have a conversation with the presenter about what the big story is (or stories are)? This way you can adapt the type of news for presenters or different audiences on stations. It doesn't have to be cheesy and done well it can be very effective. It would also have been a creative way to deal with the Liza Tarbuck issue on BBC Radio 2!

A commercial radio bulletin recently included the top line starting with "It's reported....." with the second line (of the same story) starting "It's understood....". I thought radio news was for facts, not speculation. The laziness of this writing and the lack of thought about what your words actually mean is the problem. The use of audio is also lazy. The three line structure of copy introducing someone speaking is still overused and underlines how a lack of creativity is the problem. Where is the use of sound from a story, dynamic soundbites - or opinion and reaction to a story, ensuring that you are giving the listener something new and fresh?

For newsreaders, the main issue will be time. On this site I have written about how being a 'newsreader' is a tough job, because it's actually 4 or 5 roles wrapped into one. But lack of time should not deter you from being creative. What should happen is that you invest your energy in the right way in the right places to make that news bulletin the best it can be. That means ensuring your content adds value. Lots of things will be a factor in whether a bulletin has value, but ensuring you are saying something new, fresh and insightful is key. Too often I hear stories that are more than 12 hours old on the radio. I wait patiently for the day that radio news is no longer full of the same tired cliches and formats that it's had for almost a century.


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