Trevor McDonald: I wouldn’t be comfortable with today's chatty News at Ten
“I’m glad what I did was fairly straight. I’m not sure how capable or comfortable I’d be about expressing too much of my own view. I always felt that the News was the thing. You were just the guy who brought it in"
Longstanding News at Ten presenter Trevor McDonald says he would not feel “comfortable” with the new conversational style adopted by his old programme.
The newscaster, who stepped down as an ITN anchor after more than 30 years with the company in 2005, said that he prefers the “straight” delivery he gave the programme which has been revamped with a new informal style under the guise of current lead anchor Tom Bradby.
The new-look News at Ten was relaunched last autumn in a bid to mark it out from its BBC rival. It dispensed with the didactic, starchy delivery of the traditional newsreader with a warmer, more colloquial conversation with the viewer.
Bradby frequently peppers the bulletin with wry sometimes personal observations, such as once describing an American special forces raid as “pretty amazing”.
Asked whether delivering the news in a "straight" fashion as opposed to the chatty style of Bradby, McDonald told the Media Masters podcast: “I’m glad what I did was fairly straight. I’m not sure how capable or comfortable I’d be about expressing too much of my own view. I always felt that the News was the thing. You were just the guy who brought it in.
“What was interesting was what was in ‘the bag’. But I don’t blame people for trying to get a new individualistic style. There is a huge amount of it out there, people are trying to mark themselves out by doing something a little differently.”
McDonald, who was with News at Ten between 1992 and 1999 before going on to present The ITV Evening News and Tonight with Trevor McDonald, also takes aim at “gladiatorial" interviews given by the likes of Jeremy Paxman and John Humphrys.
“I never quite saw the point about being overtly hostile. I always thought you could use language. The English language is enormously rich. I always thought you could sharpen your questions by the words you used without making too much of a fuss about being hostile. I thought in some cases it was counter-productive and there were some cases where you sit back and just let people talk.
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“Sometimes you have to be sharp with politicians who’s learned the art of evasion.
“I’m very loath to criticise. I find a lot of the gladiatorial style a little uncomfortable. And then the main question is at the end, what do you get? Do you manage by adopting this style to extract more information from somebody than you normally would. I’m not always sure.”
He also says that he now withdraws his assertion frequently made to colleagues on the programme that is newsreading is a job anyone could do.
“I used to annoy some of my colleagues by saying you could train a monkey to read the news. I withdraw that now, you do need some qualities to be able to do it.
“You have to be different to stand out. I find it very difficult to criticise people for trying to find a different style.”
McDonald is also clear in his interview that the need to provide balance in the news is a form of “tyranny”, adding that that TV news programmes should question some assertions.
These include the claims by members of the Brexit campaign that the cost to the UK of being in the EU is £350m a week – a figure which is hotly disputed because of the rebate enjoyed by the UK and other countries.
“It’s what I call the tyranny of wanting to be balanced,” he says. “Take the EU and the arguments about whether to stay or leave. I know what motivates this.
“Somebody says we pay £350m every week into the EU and somebody else says that’s rubbish, we do not. Somebody say is we exit the EU we could have an argument about joining the single market. Other people say it’s not true. What are the facts?
“How difficult will it be to do this? I think we can get too exercised about giving both views and forgetting that maybe at the same time you have to guide the listener to what’s really happening.
“You have to have a responsibility to the audience to try to say well, I’m not quite sure about this £350m a week. I don’t know where that [figure] comes from. But if you just give both views then we’re no further on [in understanding].
“You’re doing a very noble thing giving both views. You’re doing what the BBC calls balance. I think sometimes you need somebody to say, well, this is not true
“Or President Assad says he doesn’t barrel-bomb people - this is not true. This is a challenge for journalists and none of this is easy.”