Media technology – radio gets it right where newspapers fail

I’ve worked in the media since 1970 – a bit longer if you include editing the school magazine – and I am always surprised at how technology has advanced, but not as much as the ability of some media professionals to get the most out of it, while others fall under its weight.
This week I was interviewed by BBC Radio Leicester about a pre-season friendly football match I had a hand in setting up. It was Kirby Muxloe FC, 45 years old and now playing in the United Counties League (a long way into non-league status, but still eligible for the FA Cup), versus Crewe Alexandra, 128 years old and the nursery for numerous international footballers. I was expecting the full, formal interview situation, and when the mike was thrust in my face I just knew it would be a disaster.
The setting was a particularly noisy Stamford Arms – my local in Groby – and the occasion was a chat with a mate, Ady Dayman, who is a presenter on Radio Leicester as well as being the gardening supremo. After a pint and half he took out a microphone and pointed it at me: not too close; attached to no recording equipment; and, in my opinion, capturing the sounds of banter and bar as much as anything I’d have to say.
The result, broadcast on Ady’s Saturday Breakfast Show a couple of days later, was amazing. I could hear everything he asked and I said as clear as if it were in a studio, but in the background were the sounds of a busy pub. Ady captured atmosphere and clarity – just like you get when you’re having a normal chat in a pub anywhere.
I’d like to think that the interview’s success was a technological marvel, but it wasn’t: just like any communications equipment since Caxton’s first press, it was the skill of the professional holding the microphone that achieved the right result.
My own work involved newspapers, and here technology has also had a huge impact. The difference is that Ady Dayman was trained by his employer and has the skilled back-up to produce exceptional results. Local newspapers, however, are inexorably dying and it’s not the journalists’ fault. Almost disappeared are the talented sub-editors who took hastily tapped out words and turned them in grammatically correct stories on the printed page. These guys knew the reporter and they knew the area: sadly, sub-editors, if they are employed at all, are remote and distant. They have no knowledge of where the story is based, who the person is who’s written it, or what subtleties of the English language have been used to convey emotion, atmosphere, cynicism or wit. The result is often erroneous, possibly libellous or, if not, flat and boring.
Congratulations to Ady and his equally talented colleagues for combining the latest technology with human, learned skill. I love newspapers: it’s just incredibly sad to see them misused and abused by those who run the industry and the profession.

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