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Sally Reardon

Sally Reardon

B.A. (Camberwell), M.A. (Birkbeck)

Position: PhD Student


Telephone: +44 (0)29 208 75688

Location: Room 1.24, Bute Building

PhD Research

Live television news: Why is it done and does anybody care?

The project aims to look at the following two questions with regard to the growth of live TV news:

  1. Where has this imperative to be live come from and how has it become the new newsroom norm?
  2. Does the audience care? In fact does it even notice?

Over the last decade or so the amount of news being broadcast on terrestrial channels as well as the development of rolling 24-hour news has grown enormously. In the UK over 50 percent of households now have access to multi-channel television. The multi-channel packages all include at least three 24-hour news stations, all putting out a mixture of edited reports, live coverage, expert comment and roundups of the day's events. The audience may be small compared to the terrestrial channels' main bulletins but it is growing. And viewing figures swell during developing stories such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq when people wanted to keep tabs on the lastest from the front. Where terrestrial bulletins provide a daily roundup of the news, rolling news stations can give the viewer minute by minute commentary on events as they unfold. Much of this coverage is increasingly based round the 'live'. This takes two forms: 1. An event such as a ceremony, a press conference, a vote in parliament. 2. The 'live' two-way either with a reporter or with an interested party or expert on the relevant story. Channels make particular use of the 'live' cross to their man/woman on the spot for the lastest update on events.

This live coverage has been made possible largely by the huge advances in technology, with cheaper and faster delivery and the capability of going 'live' with events for relatively small outlay. Over the last few years the development of small satellite trucks then of the 'backback' journalist has meant the 'live' has become very easy to make happen.

As with all news - being first with a story is what counts. As more than one editor has often remarked - first is first, second is nowhere. Being live should mean the news arrives with the viewer as fast as it happens. Therefore, it has become the new newsroom lore that to be first means being live. And a live event can be privileged over an event we can only see recorded.

However, the notion that because it is live it is important is problematic. There has been much criticism of this sort of coverage. The reporter in the field may actually know less than those in the studio. During the Bosnian war reporters complained about not being able to chase the story as they were required to stand at the 'live' position for an hourly cross to the studio. Also, during the 2003 invasion of Iraq, journalists embedded with the military may have had a good view of the particular bit of a battle their unit was fighting - but no information about how the war was going. Audience research undertaken indicates that although there is extensive coverage of the conflict in the Middle East including plentiful use of the 'live' cross to correspondents in the field, the audience is still very confused as to who is doing what to whom.

Inspite of the criticisms, newsrooms still seem confident that live coverage is the way forward, even though little audience research is carried out by television companies as to whether the viewer actually wants or even identifies that events are being broadcast live.

The proposed research would take the form of three sections.

  1. A history of the rise of the 'live'. This part of the project would be a look at the history of live television news, the development of the technology which has made it possible, and a look at the different forms it takes within a news programme.
  2. Practioners. A series of one-on-one interviews with news practioners to discuss what they think about the live coverage and in what direction they think the news is moving. They would be asked about what they think the audience gets from this sort of coverage. The transcripts of the interviews would then be looked at using discourse analysis. This seeks to identify the discourse around a subject and the linguistic patterns employed to explain it. With these interviews I would hope to be able to pinpoint the main themes around live coverage and its growing prevalence.
  3. Audience reactions. Much is made in newsrooms of putting out pictures live, but what does the audience think of it? Do they even notice what is live and what is recorded? The third element in the project would use small focus groups to watch a number of bulletins. Participants would be asked to identify which parts of the programmes were live and which recorded. Groups would then be encouraged to discuss the different elements with regard to whether they found the live or the recorded packages more interesting or informative as a viewer.

From these three elements I hope to begin to build up a picture of how live coverage is viewedby practioners and their audiences. The research may also show how closely practioners' perception of their audience matches their audience's preferences.

Supervisor: Professor Justin Lewis


1994 - to the present: Television journalist for Reuters Television, Sky News and Associated Press Television News.


Teaching Assistant for the BA in the modules History of Mass Communications and Media and the Public Sphere.