Fox News’s Star Trek-esque ‘news deck’, unveiled this week as the future of TV news, has taken a slap from all and sundry. Ludicrous … Absurd … Ridiculous… and those are some of the kinder adjectives.
Naturally, Jon Stewart piled in saying it looked “like an Apple Genius Bar had an orgasm, spawning the world’s most ridiculous iPads”, while News.com.au in Australia wondered: “Has Fox News shrunk its staff?”
The video below shows the anchor Shep Smith introducing the world to the Fox ‘news deck’ with its 38ft video wall and “information specialists” working at ‘giant iPads’ or “Big Area Touchscreens” (BATS), which do make them seem laughably tiny by comparison. And there is more than just a touch of Star Trek about it, with Smith like some cross-breed of Spock and Captain Kirk, all commandingly syrupy inflections and android-like presentation.
While it’s tempting to dismiss it as just more Fox News hyperbole, there could be method in its madness, according to James Rodgers, a former BBC foreign correspondent and now lecturer in Journalism at City University London, writing in The Conversation.
He says it fulfils the growing imperative for TV news to “stand out” in a multi-channel environment.
“As a journalism lecturer, I constantly explain to my students that distinctiveness is more important than ever. Your audience has an ever-growing number of alternatives.
“This need for novelty will inevitably involve, from time to time, change for the sake of change, and style’s triumph over content. Fox’s trick on this occasion has been to stand out, and get talked about – even at the risk of amusing some of those they intended to impress.”
I am all in favour of standing out, but not if you stand out like a bit of an idiot. While there is an outside chance that Fox has taken an Armstrong-like step into a Minority Report future of television news delivery – weirdly, designed by the same people who created the system for the Tom Cruise film – it’s going to take more than a showy newsroom to stop the haemmorhaging of viewers to nimble, social TV and video news outlets. Which I’m sure Fox is well aware of – and if they’re not, surely their 1.4m wide iPad portals into the future will show them. Personally, I want the news presented clearly without gimmicks and can do without the jazz hands.