Slow and steady wins the race.
In this era of short attention spans and 24-hour news, the
BBC2's Newsnight is like news Prozac. And it's time Americans
The hour-long daily program, not to be confused with CNN's
NewsNight, features in-depth analytical news and interviews,
with a focus on politics and world news.
Its format is like a drug, soothing news-weary brains so
often overwhelmed by hyperactive infotainment. Newsnight gives
UK viewers a dose of calm, reasoned information that is hard
to find in America.
Each segment on the show runs for about 6 minutes, in contrast
to the 1- to 2-minute packages aired on US network and cable
By virtue of its format (long) and content (national, world
news), you'd be hard pressed to find commercially-driven American
news organizations investing in a show like this. But I think
that's a mistake.
While Newsnight may have American equivalents like Dateline
or Newshour, the show is distinct from U.S. shows in its long
format and popular viewership.
Newsnight is also smarter, more sleek and refreshingly mainstream.
The show is broadcast during a core news slot on weeknights
at 10:30 p.m. It is carried by BBC2, the country's second-most
watched network station. And it averages a million viewers
a night, although this is sadly decreasing in the digital
Nevertheless, Newsnight's slot firmly debunks the American
notion that intelligent news shows have to be buried into
Sunday morning timeslots. Newsnight is smart news for the
America's most revered broadcasters are known for their feistiness
and intelligence, but the best reporters become anchors, or
what the Brits aptly call "newsreaders."
Behind the desk, American anchors are talented reporters
who become mere "newsreaders." They sit and read
a teleprompter and can only shine during key interviews or
special live coverage. But British presenters on shows like
Newsnight are more free to exercise their reporting abilities.
A show like Newsnight gives presenters the time and editorial
freedom to ask hard-hitting questions and delve into issues
without relying on 15-second vox pops.
Paxman, Newsnight's most famous presenter, once spent the
majority of an interview with a government minister repeating
the words "answer the question" when the politician
tried to deflect his query.
Paxman's blunt style and sometimes uncomfortable interruptions,
while impolite, have made him one of the UK's best and most
feared interviewers. Paxman doesn't play the game, and doesn't
treat a Prime Minister or head of state with the same reverence
that a US reporter would have to treat the President.
Some might say that awkwardness during television interviews
is a bad thing, but in Paxman's case they make for damn good,
if not superior, television than the highly orchestrated interviews
we see at home.
Newsnight's packages are structured to give multiple angles,
not just two opposing points of view as is commonly done at
home. Complex issues are explored and explained, not dumbed
down to a few soundbites.
Last week, Newsnight led with 20 minutes of bombing coverage,
which is to be expected. But the real shocker was its second
major topic for the night: tensions between the US and China.
The coverage of Chinese company Cnooc's controversial bid
to buy Unocal was so comprehensive, it stunned me.
Despite the fact that the major players in the story were
two countries other than the UK, a British news show carried
6-minute analysis of the Chinese economy, currency revaluation
and U.S. congressional opposition to Chinese exports.
Imagine my surprise when the comprehensive 6-minute piece
was followed up with another 6-minute segment, a satellite
interview with James Woolsey, former US CIA director. Interviews
of high-profile foreign officials are rare, or practically
non-existent in America, and usually confined to heads of
Twelve minutes of an hour-long news show devoted to two foreign
countries is unheard of at home. In comparison, I doubt a
story about Britain's recent spat with the European Union
over agricultural reform would hardly get the same airplay,
because it would be deemed irrelevant.
Newsnight's format proves that international issues can be
"packaged" as what they are: newsworthy.
To watch Newsnight reports, visit: