Thursday, March 1, 2012

I've had enough of Paxman

Watching Newsnight yesterday, something snapped.

I (and others) moan endlessly on Twitter about how dumbed down Newsnight has become, and about how lazy Jeremy Paxman's interviewing has become. Rather than dwelling on the negatives, I even tried to make some positive suggestions for helping Newsnight recover.

But I've had enough. Paxman is typically aggressive, provocative and rude. Sometimes smugly and smilingly condescending. And he almost always falls back on a small repertoire of tricks, such as "How can you say that when... [Report X has said something different]?", "Oh come off it!", "Do you agree with [ally Y] when he says...?", "Which is it: Yes or no?"

It's true that there are times when this style can help cut through flannel. But it's becoming overused and all too often reduces political discussion to something only slightly more grown-up than the Jeremy Kyle Show. A more clinical, well-briefed, forensic technique can actually help bring out weaknesses or implications of arguments that interviewees hadn't even considered. Think Andrew Neil at his best.

It's not just that Paxman's interviewing style is dated: He's also a particularly poor chair of discussions involving more than a few people. He fails to hide his contempt for particular people, parties and arguments. And he often seems unable to move on from trivial or superficial matters to the substance of an issue.

It doesn't have to be like this. I recently caught Channel 4 News for the first time in a long while (I'm not often available to watch television in the early evening) and the contrast with Newsnight was huge. Considered, probing, responsive. Everything Newsnight isn't, and should be. I also think Radio 4's The World at One and The World Tonight also get the journalism spot-on (although, again, I don't catch them as much as I'd like).

But Newsnight has always been the pre-eminent current affairs programme, so it has been hard to come to terms with its decline. It still holds a sway over many in politics, but I've come to believe that the trashing of serious discussion in favour of pantomime is doing our political discourse no favours.

To bolster my resolve, here are some Paxo moments of the past few years:

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