Five News

Tuesday, February 1, 2005 by

Each time I happen to see Five News, Kirsty Young seems to have moved further away from the studio desk.

The news desk was once the primary signifier of television current affairs, a rigid patriarchal barrier emanating stasis and control, as well as implying the parallel unseen phantasy world of the newsreader’s repressed below-the-waist existence.

But from the first Channel 5 transmissions back in 1997, the move from rear to front of Formica represented a paradigm shift in tabloid TV news presentation. In a pose of studied informality the newscaster leant a buttock upon the lip of the console, knee calibrated at the designated angle and script held adroitly over her midriff as she summarised the latest terrorist attack or political scandal.

This could be read as an effort to make the news more accessible, as if to say to the passing viewer, “we won’t let this piece of old furniture come between you and the stories that matter.” There is also the possibility that the calculated visibility of Kirsty Young’s immaculately trousered figure might make the news especially “accessible” to a certain sort of middle-aged male viewer whose finger might otherwise be poised on the five button of the remote control slightly later in the evening.

This is not to cast aspersions on Ms Young, whose journalistic delivery is far more measured and authoritative than, for example, the noddingly sentimental Trevor McDonald, or the bumbling Peter Sissons; and it must be noted that five’s stand-up news routine has since been copied by its rivals, who have been compelled to display their own bodies, of both genders, to increased dramatic effect.

The ITV Evening News beams its presenters into CGI environments resembling a high-tech theatre of Shock and Awe; but they still insert themselves behind a mirrored slab at intervals, demonstrating a self-reflexive tension between anchorage and mobility. Even the more grown-up Channel Four News (like ITV, an ITN production) utilises the walkabout and cinematic “stand and pan” styles in its introductions and trailers, generating an up-to-the-minute, news-in-action mise-en-scene for the dynamic Jon Snow (still more tranquil than his cousin Peter, a pioneer of physical newscasting whose machine gun enunciation and gestural excess made him appear, even from behind the desk, to act out the very energy of news itself). Only the BBC apparently feel obliged to uphold the symbolic order by keeping its newsreaders bolted down behind their public service workstations.

Possibly in an attempt to neutralise the emotional side-effects of the news, the newsreader is drifting ever further into a transitional non-place. S/he might sometimes be positioned in the vague vicinity of a panel, as if the production team wished to be free from this official prop but were contractually obliged to keep it in shot; and in a recent Five News update I noticed that the desk-space had been dispensed with entirely, Young standing in what appeared to be a Perspex alcove between floors, as if she had not quite made it downstairs in time for the bulletin.

Presumably this is part of the channel’s ongoing (and now Sky-produced) project to make “news on the move” for what it imagines to be its multi-tasking target audience. By moving the broadcaster into ever more obscure corners of the studio perhaps they aim to open the viewer’s mind to hitherto hidden perspectives on the events of the day.

One wonders how far this displacement can go; will the presenter soon be reading the autocue from the office corridor or the studio car park? The result, of course, is that the news itself will seem ever more ephemeral, like some sort of impromptu corporate catch-up between cappuccinos. And finally, as anticipated by the transparent architecture of the postmodern news studio, will the future viewer really “see” any news at all?


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