Current affairs

Debate: What is the best source of news?

14 Jul 2022 | Written by By Carolyn O' Donnell and Paul Phillips


It could be said we are more informed than ever before. But does it matter how we get our news? After the recent tumultuous events in UK politics, we take a look at whether it’s better to get our news of the day from newspapers or broadcast news. Don’t forget to share your thoughts in the comments section!

First up, it’s Carolyn O’Donnell who enjoys the in-depth, considered analysis behind the latest stories…

Someone once told me that print was in my blood, so maybe I have a genetic bias towards newspapers. I was nudged along this path by an English teacher who said she hoped I wasn’t going to study all those “dull sciences” and that I should consider journalism instead. In the middle of a degree in some dull and not-so-dull sciences, I volunteered on the university newspaper. Among like-minded individuals who would spend entire afternoons arguing about fonts, I found an obsession for the next few decades. 

Years later, colleagues and I would ponder the emergence and the possibility of digital taking precedence over print. We knew it would happen, though not as fast as it did. People are buying far fewer newspapers today, but they’re still important. Even if I don’t buy a paper, I receive email roundups which give me the headlines because these are the result of many people’s efforts to curate and select the most important news of the day. A newspaper tells you in a moment what’s happening.

I’m a reader, and I learn visually so while a news report on TV gives me the basics of a story, often I want to know more. I want details, background, and that’s where print for me will always take precedence. As I’m busy, I don’t want to spend all afternoon listening to facts dribbling in when I can get a considered report summarising an incident. 

When the Prime Minister resigned on July 7, reports indicated the wording of BoJo’s letter was opaque, so I wanted to read it for myself. I turned to a newspaper so I could make up my own mind. With any major event, I can choose to read verbatim statements or take in the analysis of seasoned reporters who have spent years immersing themselves in key areas. 

With broadcasting, there’s less choice as you can only absorb what broadcasters elect to put out. One job I had was evaluating and updating rolling news bulletins and a few hours of watching any news channel soon tells you that for many stories it’s the same headlines repeated over and over again. 

Top broadcast journalists are very skilled of course, but if you really want to focus your thoughts there’s nothing like writing them down. Newspaper newsrooms have huge teams of smart, well-educated, dedicated people passionately devoted to getting the news out and getting it out right. No one goes into print journalism thinking they’re going to make a lot of money, because you don’t. Most of them do it because they love it. 

With print, facts must be considered and sorted before being committed to paper (or web page). You don’t get to be a political correspondent without spending years learning the ropes, gathering contacts, dealing with editors and adhering to strict criteria for accuracy and facts. There’s a rigorous system of checks and balances – news conferences, copy tasting, sub-editing, more editing, revising and proofing to make sure the reader is given the best and most informative version possible. 

Newspapers also have other functions. The Times, for example – where I was a senior journalist – is considered a newspaper of record as its reports are deemed accurate and authoritative. In years to come, you can look at an edition of The Times for any day and get an instant snapshot of what was happening in Britain and the world. The Times also worked with the Oxford English Dictionary to support the correct use of English, which meant a 200-page style guide, reports on updates and additions to the language, plus debates on issues such as the demise of the apostrophe. Maybe that isn’t the most topical of subjects, but it’s important if you care about our language. 

Lastly, newspapers are a feast for the mind. One of my favourite things is a leisurely Sunday breakfast with the papers and glossy supplements. Newspapers can be funny, too. The Sun isn’t always my first choice for information, but there’s no underestimating the intelligence with which it’s put together. I will never forget a 2006 headline that referenced both musical theatre and turmoil in East Asia with “How do you solve a problem like Korea?” A world without print journalism would be like a banquet without wine.

But what about seeing the whites of the eyes of the PM as he announces he’s resigning..? Paul Phillips tells us why he will always choose broadcast news over print…

I can’t remember the last time I bought a printed newspaper. I’m a news junkie but I just can’t see the point. They’re out of date as soon as they leave the presses. And all too many of them merely echo the perceived prejudices of their readership. 

Here’s a prime example: On Thursday morning (July 7th) a certain national newspaper had a front-page boldly stating that ‘Boris Stares Down The Mutiny.’ Yeah, right. If you read that at the breakfast table without looking at any broadcast media you may have believed it. If you had the telly or radio on you would have heard that the opposite was true; Johnson had agreed to resign. 

I do look at newspapers – but only the online versions. I subscribe to a few of them. I like my news served as warm as possible. I also like it served without a twist; I can make my own mind up, thanks very much. 

It’s why I have the radio on all day, regularly check the main TV news channels and trawl through online news sources. Who just said “get a life, Paul…?”

The power of watching events unfold before me is addictive and, cards on the table, is probably the result of having had a long career in national and international news broadcasting. 

Watching Prime Minister’s Questions on July 6th was gripping. It wasn’t so much what was being said as the body language of those in the chamber. A written report the next day might do its best to convey that but would struggle to substitute for the feeling of being ‘in the moment.’

It’s not just the live coverage. The best radio correspondents paint pictures with their words and use natural sound to gild their reports. The power of TV pictures coupled with brilliant writing should never be underestimated. The great exponents all have one thing in common; they describe what the pictures mean, not what can be seen.

I can’t think of a better example than Michael Buerk’s report about famine in Ethiopia in 1984. Over early morning images of starving people he used these sparse words; ‘A biblical famine, now, in the 20th century.’

His report was seen around the world and directly led to a global outpouring of sympathy and fundraising. Would a written report with photographs have had the same impact? 

Even though newspaper sales are dwindling they obviously have their place for those who are not digitally inclined. There’s also the e-readers v books debate. I get that some people prefer the physical feel of what they’re reading.

But for the latest news? Give me pictures and sound any day. Now, where’s that remote control?

So what’s your take on the news? Let us know in the comments if and how you like to keep up with what’s going on in the world.

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