‘The helicopter lost track of Trump’: how the BBC News channel picked the wildest day for a revamp | Television

When’s a good day to revamp your rolling news channel? A soft relaunch of the 24-hour updates from BBC News ended up being piquantly timed: 3 April 2023 showcased the essence of an endless bulletin, for better or worse.

In a move that it says will “modernise the way we deliver the news – while addressing the financial challenges we face”, the Beeb has merged the BBC News channel, once known as News 24, with BBC World News, the international spin-off that previously provided updates on Japanese stock prices and Omani weather when lazily perused in a foreign hotel room. Although overseas viewers will still sometimes be shown different content, it will no longer be via a separate channel. Brits, meanwhile, who already saw simulcasts of the main BBC One news bulletins, will also now see Newsnight and, soon, a televised version of Nicky Campbell’s 5 Live show on weekday mornings.

Rolling news has always felt like an awkward fit for the BBC, an entry in the long list of things chipping away at the belief that its current affairs offering intrinsically carries more weight than crass commercial rivals. By its nature, rolling news is either rambling and slipshod, when coverage is improvised to react to breaking stories, or – if nothing is happening and it becomes a carousel of existing stories – repetitive and dull.

It was the latter until mid-afternoon on Monday, when one of the redecorated channel’s team of core presenters, Matthew Amroliwola, began to interview someone from the American Enterprise Institute about Finland joining Nato. Questions about whether the desperate need to fill hours of air time magnifies the BBC’s biases, because its instincts about who is invited to appear and who isn’t are indulged at greater length, were soon, however, in the dust. Halfway through the AEI wonk’s second sentence, Amroliwola cut her off. News had broken!

The revamped BBC News team, clockwise from top left: Lucy Hockings, Yalda Hakim, Christian Fraser, Sumi Somaskanda, Matthew Amroliwala and Maryam Moshiri.Pin
The revamped BBC News team, clockwise from top left: Lucy Hockings, Yalda Hakim, Christian Fraser, Sumi Somaskanda, Matthew Amroliwala and Maryam Moshiri. Photograph: BBC

The fresh pictures were from Florida, where Donald Trump had just left the garish comfort of Mar-a-Lago and headed for the airport, on his way to face criminal charges in New York. He is the first former US president to be indicted! This was big. But there and then, all there was to show us was wobbly footage of cars with blacked-out windows speeding down a highway. When a cameraman who had evidently been hanging out of a window suddenly leaned back in, inadvertently broadcasting a glimpse of an apartment interior to a global news audience, you could hear the distant sound of the documentary film-maker Adam Curtis right-clicking his mouse, saving this clip for use in a future film about 24-hour media’s spookiest anomalies.

Useful information was, however, absent. Instead, Amroliwola turned to on-the-ground reporter Barbara Plett Usher, who – as the normal scrolling captions were replaced with the special white-on-red “BREAKING” banner – gave the longest answers possible to the anchor’s questions, despite not knowing the answers to any of them, as they were about legal proceedings that had not yet begun. By the time footage of the cars gave way to even wobblier, constantly refocusing shots of what Amroliwola, eking out every second, referred to as “The. Jet. On. The. Tarmac,” Plett Usher had been speculating for a heroic 26 minutes. That used to be enough to update citizens on the entirety of world events, including sport and weather; now it’s how long it takes to say nothing over footage of nothing much. Still, Trump’s pilot did his bit by taking off at 5.59pm BST, allowing Amroliwola the neatest possible segue into the switchover to the 6pm news on BBC1.

There was the promise of further dynamism later on when, at 8pm, a supersized version of The Context debuted, its runtime doubled to two hours. This analysis show has a mid-Atlantic vibe, with pundits displayed peppily in vertical bands across the screen, US-style. It led, of course, with the Trump indictment. While live pictures showed the Donald touching down at La Guardia, galumphing down the steps of the aircraft and being whisked by car into central New York, topics for discussion included whether Trump would have a mugshot taken upon his arrest (unknown), whether cameras would be allowed in the courtroom (to be announced), how Trump’s lawyers would approach the case (wait and see), and what the long-term effects on the Republican party would be (hard to say).

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The panellists were happy to wang on infinitely and, even as the news helicopter lost track of Trump on FDR Drive and showed us the East River for a bit instead, Tom Peck of the Independent confirmed that this was still “a moment”. But The Context’s host, Christian Fraser, was having a moment of self-doubt. It was time to move on. “We have focused on the arrival of a flight and a motorcade going through Manhattan for the last hour,” Fraser said, apologetically.

He and his guests had actually been talking about it for an hour and 20 minutes without reaching any conclusions. But hey, why worry? That’s rolling news.

( Information from politico.com was used in this report. Also if you have any problem of this article or if you need to remove this articles, please email here and we will delete this immediately. [email protected] )

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