The idea we have a choice is only an illusion. The multiplicity of channels trying to provide a twenty-four hour rolling news service, with each channel having increasingly finite resources, means that each channel will cover the same stories, that much of the world’s news will never be heard. Major news stories in Africa will hardly be noticed in Europe or North America. British channels will cover every detail of this autumn’s presidential election in the United States and will hardly notice significant electoral contests in Europe.
It was not always thus. There was a moment, at about twenty past ten each night, when the newsreader on ITV’s News at Ten would say, “And now for the other news.”
No matter what the story of the day had been, there would be a round up of other news items. The other news would provide some variety, some reminder that the world was not uniform. Sometimes there was even an unlikely story from some corner of the world that would provide a moment of amusement. Sometimes the oddball stories were a welcome change after whatever gloom had filled the programme up until that point.
After “the other news”, there would be the weather and the local news. Then there would be real variety. ITV was an amalgam of local channels and Somerset was in an area where channels overlapped. HTV in Bristol and Westward in Plymouth would have distinctively local programming. Current affairs, magazine items, local history, there was a sense of the channel being rooted in its community.
The local distinctiveness extended further than the programming. HTV had Michael St John, a legendary continuity announcer, whose approach ran directly contrary to those who regarded their appearance on television as conferring them with some special status. St John made television personal, he gave it a distinctly human touch. Whether it was ad libbing, fluffing the time check, or once having a “drunken” teddy bear sitting in the announcer’s seat in a Christmas comedy tape, he was an unmistakable presence – or his voice was, he never appeared on camera.
Michael St John once introduced a news bulletin with the words, “And now it’s the news which is going to report on some kind of kerfuffle or other and some people are going to get jolly annoyed about that.” He would be a refreshing presence among the anodyne, packaged programmes that now fill the schedules.