Friday, September 4, 2009

Jon Snow comes to town

2009 09 04_0394 JON SNOW, the  newscaster from Channel 4, was the lively and engaging guest speaker at The Institute for International and European Affairs on North Great Georges Street this lunchtime about developments in media.  He was on his way to Electric Picnic Art and Music Festival at Stradbally.

Snow has been the familiar face on television news broadcasts since 1976.  He grew up in Sussex and, as a child, lived at Ardingly School, where his father was then headmaster  who later became a bishop.  Like many of a certain age, Jon Snow’s first memory of television was the BBC broadcast of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in June 1953. The splendour of that event is remembered for the the distorted reception of the pioneering television broadcast than for the event itself.  Snow regaled his audience with a story concerning a distinguished looking elderly gentleman who attended his local church when Snow was a few years older.  One day his father introduced the man to him as, none other, than Harold Macmillan, Prime Minister, whose home at Birch Grove was nearby.  Macmillan told him that he was a Conservative politician “who runs the country” and did young Snow understand what a prime minister did to which he responded “are you married to the Queen?”

To use his own words, Jon Snow’s career in media extends from the ‘stone age’ to the ‘digital age’.  It began when a bulky, awkward  video camera functioned, without sound, and operated for approximately one minute was the primary tool of a television reporter.  It was possible back in the 1970’s to spend up to three days preparing a report in some far-flung location and to ask a passenger scheduled to fly to London to bring the unprocessed film back to ITN.

The transnational media battle of the mid 1980’s often centred on a televisions service being able to monopolise one of the two satellite services available at that time.  This is precisely what happened when the shuttle Discovery crashed off Cape Canaveral on 28 January 1986 when ITN commandeered the satellite service and BBC did not.

Nowadays, every report is required instantly leaving much less opportunity for both consideration and verification.  There is less on-the-spot reporting and the consequence of this diminished authenticity has been to impede the sense of trust that is cultivated between reporter and audience.  Today,  it is possible to stitch a story from a diversity of sources while being desk bound.  24-hour news television has also altered the news dissemination business.

The internet has had a transformative influence on news and in many respects has democratised it as blogs proliferate and primary information becomes much more widely accessible. But this trend intensifies the requirement for excellent content with a unique perspective.  It is no longer possible to publish material that remains unchallenged.

Snow compared the current state of digital media to a pair of towers that a tight-rope walker is seeking to traverse.  One tower comprises excellent content but without the capacity of yielding a monetary return yet while the other tower comprises elements that are capable of making profit – such as Google, eBay, Yahoo and their counterparts.

Blogging, of course, has reintroduced the personal footprint of a story and I would commends Snow’s Channel 4 blog, called Snowblog to you.

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