Monday, August 22, 2011

How the BBC's Newsnight can recover

There's a useful debate over at The Observer on "Has Newsnight lost its way?" As anyone who's followed my tweets over the last year can tell, I'm pretty much with John Naughton's views. There are some good comments there too.

The guests are drawn from a narrow pool, often lacking the intellectual heft that a serious-minded analysis requires. Moreover, the discussions often seemed designed to generate heat rather than light, and they are far too short to allow proper elaboration and critical engagement. Meanwhile, Jeremy Paxman's interviews have become shallow lazy exercises in attention-seeking rudeness rather than the razor-sharp dissections they should be.

More broadly, this comment from Naughton is particularly telling:
"What was most striking about Newsnight's attempts to cover the recent unrest was the absence of any sign of intellectual curiosity."

Rather than dwell on the negatives though, I'd like to summarize my view of how Newsnight can recover:

1. Newsnight needs to sharpen its focus on what gets lost in the hubbub of 24 hour news. This means putting events into social and historical contexts, and worrying away at the kinds of questions that Naughton notes are missing: the hows, the whys, the shoulds. It means forensic analysis and not accepting simplistic answers.

2. The presenters and reporters need to be given time to do their jobs. Maitlis, Esler, Mason, Urban, and Watts are all good journalists. They are being let down by an agenda that is about grabbing attention rather than pursuing understanding. They need more time and a clearer mission.

3. Interviews need to be more subtle. The old-fashioned bombastic interviewing style of Paxman and Wark has had its day. It's time for careful questioning rather than trying to provoke gaffes.

4. The excellent Max Atkinson has noted a number of production mistakes that need to be stamped on. Examples include distracting graphics, silent speeches, and patchwork formats.

5. More intellectuals should be invited on, and they need to be given time to develop their views and to engage directly with each other. Lack of proper time for these discussions and too much interruption lead to superficial analysis.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

LonWon's 2011 Five Self-Denying Ordinances for the Arts

Blinkers by Alex E. Proimos which is a comically overinflated way of saying that I've decided to attempt to enhance my personal enjoyment of certain art forms by stopping doing certain things that have historically failed to enhance my enjoyment by much, or have actually diminished it.

1. No spoilers

Yes: previews in the press (especially the Radio Times), review programmes on radio (Saturday Review, Front Row), and review programmes on TV (The Review Show, The Culture Show) have all in their time served to ruin the unadulterated experience of TV, film, radio, theatre and novels. Enough. Enough. Enough.

Of course, there is still the problem of how to identify what to see, to hear, and to read. So these articles and programmes have their place. But I shall be preferring "Is it any good?" over "Why is this good (or bad)?", "What resonances did this have for me?", "How does this tap into the zeitgeist?", etc.

And Wittertainment is an exception, because I love the show in itself, and Kermode and Mayo are mostly good about spoilers. But again, the minute I decide this is a film I will see, I will skip ahead.

2. No opera or dance*

Yeah, sorry, I'm a neanderthal. But there we go. I've tried. And tried. But they do nothing for me.

* Unless strongly recommended by many people I trust, of course.

3. No horror or graphic violence*

I may be a neanderthal, but I'm also squeamish.

And inconsistent... I finally saw "Saving Private Ryan" and "Get Carter" recently, having put them
off for years because of the violence, and thought them both excellent. So see the footnote. There are always exceptions.

* Again, unless strongly recommended by many people I trust.

4. No interviews with actors, directors or writers

OK, this is more controversial. Many people's enjoyment of various art forms is strongly enhanced by behind-the-scenes insights into artists' intentions and experiences. Well, rarely for me, it seems. This'll be different for most other people, I would think.

5. No "making of" programmes

See (3).

Like spoilers and interviews, such programmes are invariably beguiling, especially about things I love or make me think. But experience has taught me that for my personal enjoyment it's best to stick with the products of creativity rather than the creative process.

Maybe I'll return to these 5 Self-Denying Ordinances for the Arts in a year's time, and realize how closed-minded they have made me. Or, like a typical bigot, I will remain smug in my self-constructed self-reinforcing tiny little world view forever.