The media is agog with the prospect of Russell Brand interviewing Ed Miliband on Brand’s The Trews YouTube channel. Whilst everyone acknowledges there is a circus element to the interview (which I think will go ok – they are both nerds) the tone of much of the coverage is ludicrously patronising to Brand’s medium – it sounds like 1950s parents being disparaging about pop music. One broadcaster was marveling that ‘we don’t know what time it will be published’ This tweet nicely sums up the absurdity:
— Lee Waters (@Amanwy) April 29, 2015
The denigration seems almost unconscious, which is more worrying given the huge challenges public service media in particular faces in getting to audiences through algorithmically distributed media as opposed to the trad. broadcast approach. Brand is using his own, completely free distribution outlet on YouTube to run rings around the hugely expensive trad media distribution channels. The viewing levels for his videos are impressively high many in the hundreds of thousands in a day – not yet of the scale of national TV news, but up there with a lot of radio news and newspapers. But also without the decades of brand establishment in an oligopoly market.
I have no time for Brand’s ‘don’t vote’ mantra but people are overlooking his attempts to use his star power to break up news conventions. In the intro video to his channel Brand describes Trews as:
‘a new frequency of truth…to bring down the structures of media that holds this frequency of consciousness together keeps us in cellular prisons of the mind’
Many middle, aged middle class people (like me) will be withering about this weird language but it is no less weird than the shipping forecast or indeed the language of almost any mainstream TV news or say Parliament or a court – they are all linguistically weird in different ways.
Brand demonstrates this with his utter demolition of a full American MSNBC TV news studio team by force of argument which remains one of the great pieces of broadcast TV.
Richard Ayoade’s demolishing of the entire news interview format on the excellent Channel4 news is another example of someone bringing modern internet values and approaches to this tired old formula. What Brand is doing is ‘of the internet’ in a way that the anchor sitting at a desk staring at a camera is ‘of television’. The technical capabilities of TV decades ago produced the anchor at desk format, the technical capabilities of the internet enabled the services that give us Trews. And internet services allow Trews to reach an audience with practically no expenditure and no regulation.
The future for broadcast news is to find these new ‘of the internet’ approaches to make and distribute their news – the future is probably more @eliothiggins (of Bellingcat) than it is @bbcnickrobinson. At a local level I marvel at @rtayloruk ‘s use of video and twitter to bring excruciating scrutiny to the police and crime commissioner in Cambridgeshire and then local councils. Richard’s efforts make the trad media like BBC Look East look asleep on the job. These of the internet approaches to news really challenge the orthodoxy (in this respect the BBC’s ‘Future of News‘ document recently was disappointing) but traditional broadcasters need to find ways to experiment and embrace radical internet- driven innovation, where the internet itself is a creative tool if they are to survive long term, not just some fiddling around the edges. Large scale commitment to ‘of the internet’ services must surely be at the heart of the BBC’s forthcoming Green Paper as they prepare for the next multi-annual year Royal Charter period.
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