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Friday, March 5, 1999 Published at 22:36 GMT


Battle of the bulletins

The loss of News at Ten signals a new approach to news broadcasting

By BBC Media Correspondent Torin Douglas

After more than 30 years, ITV's News at Ten has disappeared from the nation's daily TV schedule.

Nick Higham reports: "The end of an era"
Despite opposition, the bulletin that made household names of Sir Alistair Burnett and Trevor McDonald has been dropped to allow ITV to show films without interruption and other programmes at 10pm.

From Monday, the main ITV news will be at 6.30pm and the switch has prompted not only its fair share of criticism but a battle of the bulletins too.

Many politicians - and others - have criticised its passing as a sign that ITV is abandoning serious programmes in the heart of the evening.

Viewers' choice

ITV's Chief Executive Richard Eyre strongly denies this, saying viewers prefer their news in the early evening.

"The problem with the News at Ten was not to do with the programme it was to do with the scheduling," he says.

[ image: Viewers did not stay to watch Trevor McDonald]
Viewers did not stay to watch Trevor McDonald
"Ten o'clock at night was not, it appeared, a good time in the late 1990s to schedule a news programme and the reason we know that is because a quarter to a third of the viewers we inherited from 9.30pm to 10pm were switching off ITV at 10pm."

Not surprisingly, News at Ten's demise has prompted lots of activity from rival channels.

Sky News and the BBC's 24-hour cable and digital channel, News 24, are both launching new programmes to plug the gap left by News at Ten. But the real news battleground will be the early evening, in the hour from 6pm to 7pm.

Media Correspondent Torin Douglas: The ratings race has begun
The BBC's Six O'clock News will now face competition not just from ITV's new 6.30pm bulletin with Trevor McDonald, but a head-on challenge from regional ITV bulletins and Channel 5 News, which is moving to 6pm.

Channel 5 News may not have many viewers but it has influenced rival broadcasters with its colourful set, more accessible tone and stories about fashion and pop. Now every news programme is getting a new look - including Channel 4 News and Newsnight.

Style and substance

The TV critic of the Financial Times Christopher Dunkley thinks it has all gone too far.

"We are perpetually told about and sidetracked on to the colour of the walls, the type of studio floor or whether the presenter is standing up or sitting down and people seem to forget that if you are really interested in the news none of that matters," he says.

But it seems not everyone is interested in the news - or not the way it has been given to them until now.

[ image: Newsnight' s newlook logo]
Newsnight' s newlook logo
Later this spring, the BBC Six O'Clock News will also be relaunched with a new set and presenter. The BBC's head of news programmes Richard Clemmow says the changes are not just cosmetic.

"Our changes are to do with the stories themselves: the storytelling being as clear as possible, the range of our journalism being as comprehensive as possible and, above all, helping people understand why the things we tell them matter," says Mr Clemmow.

The head of Sky News, Nick Pollard, an old News at Ten hand, says broadcasters no longer see news as being handed down on tablets of stone but there are dangers in giving viewers only what they want.

"There has always been an honourable tradition in television news, as in newspapers, of telling people things you really feel they need to know even if they are not particularly keen on hearing about them," he explains.

But ITN's Chief Executive Stuart Purvis insists standards can be maintained, while targeting bulletins more directly at, say an upmarket audience, or younger viewers.

"I don't call that dumbing down but being more professional and more focused about reaching and connecting with audiences rather than expecting that there is one kind of news that works for everyone," he says.

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