On 17th November this year, Richard Baker died. His name may not be known to you but you will know his work. Baker was the first ever British news broadcaster, starting in July 1954. The former army mine-sweeper went on the present the BBC news until 1982 when he transferred to radio.
The old school news presenter is often portrayed in a similar way, the monotone voice, the posh accent and the stiff glare into the camera. All of this can be traced back to Baker. But he was also very self aware of the oddness of his job and manner, going as far as to appear three times on Monty Pythons Flying Circus. But is this legacy under threat in an age where facts are highly politicized?
The phenomenon of the openly political yet well respected news anchor is really an American one. Back in the 1960s CBS News correspondent Walter Cronkite was the man Americans turned to for the truth. This was a time when politicians were not trusted and people had grown weary of what they saw as government propaganda. Perhaps this has now come around full circle. In Cronkite, the American people saw a media personality who they trusted beyond any politician. While this level of interest and engagement with news readers is a clear positive, there are many negatives to an overtly personal form of news broadcasting.
The TV news anchor has always been a source of both humour and scorn in the UK
We live in an era where facts are politicized. There is no more truth to a situation. Distrust in the mainstream media, peddled by Trump and the Right in general, has led to many seeking out information online from within their bubble. Here the dominant personalities are king. So much so that their audiences believe regardless of how illogical or downright idiotic it is. TV news journalism must be careful not to replicate this style.
The TV news anchor has always been a source of both humour and scorn in the UK. Yes there are undoubtedly issues around regional accent, racial diversity and gender pay that need to be addressed, but we should be thankful that our BBC news readers remain fairly monotone and interchangeable. The alternative is personality led news and people are far too willing to message from the medium. Like in America, they will tune in to see the partisan ranting of their favourite commentator rather than receive the actual news from a source that can be seen as largely objective.
The BBC is a public institution that we should be proud of. It is also one that is constantly under threat from those who would see information distribution in the hands of those who will parrot their ideologies and disguise it as news. Still, it is perhaps a sign of the public’s enduring respect and trust in TV news that even now in the era of social media and loud-mouthed online pundits that the British public still come back to the BBC every day as their main and most trusted source of information. The legacy of Richard Baker lives on.
Last modified: 12th February 2019