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Glitz, glamour and pzazz

Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 16:30 UK time, Tuesday, 26 August 2008

I've been to a fair few British political party conferences in my time. But I've never seen a delegate wearing a blue and yellow hen on his head - at least not when sober before 9pm.

Radio 1 logoIf you want glitz - glamour - pzazz and you're into politics, you can't beat the American version. The scale and colour alone is "awesome" if you'll pardon the pun.

There was Michelle Obama embracing the children on stage as adoring delegates cheered the roof off at the Democratic National Convention. I know, I know; you may well hate all of this. But of course, like all good political journalism you have to look longer and dig deeper than the brightly buffed PR machine.

That's why we're working very hard to bring the US election to Radio 1's 11 million listeners in an accessible, engaging and relevant way.

Coverage of US Elections runs the risk of veering between two extremes: mind numbingly detailed, "in" and frankly dull - or so superficial it's useless.

Michelle Obama and childrenI would argue this is a fascinating story which if done well can engage even the politically disaffected Britons. I don't need to explain to editors' blog readers why it's a good story: you're reading this because you are more interested in the mechanics of editorial priorities and arguments than most people.

Of course this is a big story: arguably the most important story in the world. But arguments like that don't engage all listeners by any means: if we get our tone and dosage wrong we will end up boring people.

Our correspondent Iain Mackenzie is in Denver to cover the Democrats' convention. You can read his latest work here - including a picture of the aforementioned hen. On air, you can hear him daily this week bringing us the latest news from the convention while we use our online space for a more reflective, diary feel.

You can hear interviews not broadcast on the radio - again demonstrating that in a multimedia world radio and its online sister sites can add depth and range to coverage, not replicate it.

Next week, it's the turn of the Grand Old Party, the Republicans - meeting in MInneapolis-St Paul. Our reporter Sima Kotecha will be there to continue and expand our coverage as the US election run-in gathers pace towards November's mighty climax.

Already we've covered the story far more, and in far greater depth, than any previous US Election in Newsbeat's 35 year history and we're promising our audience even more along with some very special election programmes.


  • Comment number 1.

    At one level I think it is good that Radio One is trying to "engage its listeners in politics", but why the US elections for heavens sakes?

    I would imagine that many of your listeners wouldn't know who the present president is, or be able to point to Washington on a map. Better they be able to "engage" with our increasingly distant and unrepresentative UK political scene surely; or is the writer assuming that the gloss and dross is worthier or our attention than the deep and fundamental flaws in US democracy?

    How far do we need to dumb life down before we become satisfied - is an IQ of zero a worthy component of the master plan or will the writer be happy when we all answer a question in a predictable and robotic fashion?

  • Comment number 2.

    Most notable media issue so far? - Obama worship.

    Ten items about Obama for everyone about er, er...what's his name? Oops, it's not in your article

    I spoke to someone yesterday who thought Obama had beaten Clinton to become president - she had never heard of McCain.

    Personally, I have never heard McCain speak on British news.

    I don't have much of an opinion on who should win - but should you not have some sort of impartiality / equal coverage?

  • Comment number 3.

    Anyone who does not understand why the US election is vitally important to the World is not equipped to think about international affairs.

    Have any of our journalists been able to coax out an issue- somewhere, anywhere, an issue- rather comments about personalites and presentations?

  • Comment number 4.

    You have to laugh! "Already we've covered the story far more", yes, but what story? The love-fest of Obama worship at the BBC is incredible to behold. All balance seems to have disappeared. Last week, the BBC web-site thought the most important story in the world, the main story on its front page, was 'Obama thinking of naming running mate'.

    It's amazing to behold the gushing adulation across the BBCs output.

  • Comment number 5.

    The BBC seem fast to champion minority groups or what they see as "brave new world". Well the Democrats gave us either a female presidential hopeful or a black presidential hopeful. They couldn't help but seduce the BBC could they?

    Meanwhile perhaps the better of the two candidates - McCain - receives absolutely no publicity at all.

    Will the BBC be explaining the delights of vote rigging to Radio One listeners if Obama does not win? And just how will you spice that one up?

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    I would imagine the focus on the Democratic candidate is because the article is about the Democratic National Convention, which has just taken place. There is mention of the Republican convention, however it would be difficult for the author to provide much detail about what happened there or what McCain did or said, since it hasn't actually happened yet!

    Anyway, the only Obama who actually gets a mention in the article is Michelle Obama.

  • Comment number 8.

    I see the comments here have already started to fill up with the same old kneejerk whingeing about BBC bias. What utter opportunistic rubbish.

    The fact that the Obama love-fest has also squeezed out McCain on the hardly-liberal ITV News and Sky News is evidence of their liberal bias too, I suppose?

    And I guess the fact that all the UK's mainstream national newspapers (predominantly conservative, remember) have focussed on Obama way more than McCain over the last 12 months goes to prove their liberal bias too?

    Damn those pesky bastions of liberalism, the Daily Telegraph and the Murdoch titles....!

    I mean, it's not as if his candidacy might be garnering more headlines due to being genuinely more newsworthy or anything, is it?

    It's not like there was any story to be had in the long and bitter battle between Obama and the former First Lady and first female presidential candidate, is it? It's not like the prospect of the first non-white President is anything new... it's not like it's attracted its own share of negative stories, like Reverend Wright or Michelle Obama's 'unpatriotic' comment... it's not like his campaign has been any different to that of any other presidential candidate over the years, now, is it?

    As usual, folks, why let the facts get in the way of a spot of BBC bashing?

    I'm only surprised no-one here has yet sought to blame it all on "NuLab" and "political correctness". Only a matter of time I guess.

    Oh by the way... *whispers*... there's a Democrat convention on at the moment, and McCain's convention hasn't yet started - it's NEXT week.

  • Comment number 9.


    We are NOT talking news channels here - we are talking about the BBC engaging its great "unwashed" in politics and conveniently choosing Obama for its target audience. We are talking dumbed down bite sized, eat with your wild music, chunks of US politics that just happens to feature a black African-American.

    Whether it smacks of Democratic bias is not the core issue - it is question of just what Radio One is seeking to achieve and why they trying it on with US politics. Perhaps when 90% of UK voters aged 18 to 25 years actually record their choice in the next general election Radio One can claim a triumph - but I will not be holding my breath.

  • Comment number 10.

    @pongabit (#9)

    The BBC is not "conveniently choosing Obama for its target audience", it's choosing the US election. Big difference. Perhaps you missed this, towards the end of Rod's piece:

    "Next week, it's the turn of the Grand Old Party, the Republicans - meeting in Minneapolis-St Paul. Our reporter Sima Kotecha will be there to continue and expand our coverage..."

    If your argument is along the lines of "then why not cover the British elections to the same degree, or why not previous US elections" (the implication being that this one, as you say, "just happens to feature a black African-American") - well, I certainly recall plenty of election coverage on Newsbeat at the time of the last UK elections, even though they were much less exciting in and of themselves (for various reasons).

    As for past US elections - which I recall Newsbeat also covered, though perhaps not to the same degree - like it or not, post 9/11, and particularly in the internet age, the world has shrunk considerably. Young people feel and live that reality more than anyone, and it shows: today they're much more politicised on world affairs than they were when I was growing up. It's no surprise whatsoever that this US election season will be receiving more coverage than previous US elections, even those of 4-8 years ago. Almost all commentators of all political colours agree that, with the state of the world at the moment, the outcome of these elections will be more profound than of any recent US election, though both sides will argue that point for very different reasons of course!

    One of the common complaints from young people is that politics is boring. You have to admit that the US elections this year have been compelling, from the primaries all the way to the upcoming big one. It's only natural that its audience reach has stretched wider, and that Newsbeat has chosen to cover it in more depth than usual.

    And yes, with the heavyweight roles played by both Hillary and Obama, this whole journey having NOT been dominated by yet another bunch of rich white men is bound to be 'a' factor that has made it more interesting (and feel more relevant) to the great many listeners who - shock horror - are not white or not male. Your mistake, I feel, is in automatically assuming that this must have been THE factor. As if there's a simple causation between the "politically correct" BBC/Newsbeat, and the presence of a black candidate.

    Let's wait for next week's Republican convention. If Newsbeat decides that Amy Winehouse is more important that week, I'll certainly agree with you. But until then, I really see no point in being cynical about the BBC's efforts here.
  • Comment number 11.


    Politicised youngsters? You cannot get a fag paper between the politics of the so called left centre and right centre that dominates world politics at the current time. That is why politics IS boring - no more polemic; no more left way or right way. But hey, guess what? Now we have a black politician who has a realistic chance of becoming US president - now ain't that kewl???

    Forget the political content let's concentrate on the personalities, the presentation at the conventions, the superficiality of it all. Yep, youngsters will certainly fall for that one given that is what they have been brought up on.

    Sure, Radio One will cover both conventions. Sure BBC will be at the party conferences in October in the UK. So what? It still isn't enlivening politics or educating youngsters as to why it is so important to have choices and make them.

    The most interesting things to come out of the 2004 election were the question marks about the voting machinery, just as the most interesting thing in 2000 was whether Bush actually won. Were the USA transported into the middle of Africa the UN would be crying foul and that would be worth reporting on Radio One. But of course the UN doesn't recognise the landslide elections in South Ossetia - again a much more interesting event than a silly convention in the USA.

    We live, whether you see it or not, in an age of manufactured news, manipulated news, and media giants masquerading as purveyors of the truth - that is why our youngsters are so anaemic when it comes to understanding politics and what Radio One are doing is not going to change that one little bit.

  • Comment number 12.

    Hi. Ive not read all of these comments, but i assume that they r well reasoned like the rest of this blogoid. I was all for Obama, until i heard him speak yesterday, then i thought that i heard something in his voice that i dont trust. Am i the only one who thinks this?

  • Comment number 13.


    It sounds like we're arguing different points. My complaint is with those using the large amount of Obama coverage as an excuse to launch yet another sneer at the BBC for its so-called liberal bias and political correctness, the inference here being that Obama is not white, and the BBC is obsessed with (to quote one individual on Have Your Say) "darkies" and pandering to minorities, hence the BBC is wetting itself in excitement about the whole thing.

    I think I've already pointed out why this argument falls flat, and why I see it as no more than the opportunistic rambling of the usual crowd who believe all the reactionary uninformed blather and spite they get spoon-fed from their Daily Wail/Current Bun/Daily Diana/etc.

    The points you're making are valid, but stretch much wider, and they could just as easily be aimed at the media (and politics) in general.

  • Comment number 14.

    The Democrat and the Republican parties are going all out to outshine the other. That explains the glitz and glamour and their desire to create lasting impressions that will sway voters come November. The hats, costumes reflected the party atmosphere. Of couse there is something to celebrate: the formal choice of Presidential and Vice-Presidential contenders with their respective programmes offers real hope after 8 years of Republican inertia.
    The BBC has tried to steer a fine line offering a balnced approach to reporting and analysis on the elections. Of course all eyes are on the Presidential electios. One cannot ignore the United States: the power the US President wields has immense influence on all other nations. When the USA sneezes the rest of the world catches a cold. How true. That is why the choice of a new President is compulsory viewing.

  • Comment number 15.

    to In_for_me

    What's your real problem? It took USA 140 years after the American Civil War to bring out a serious presidential candidate from a non-white minority race.

    In places like South Africa, Zimbabwe, etc any person can be a leader as long as he is black and not white. Of course there is the requisite election by popular vote.

    Where I am domiciled, the Chinese is a majority race but since independence the minority races are over-represented among those detained without trial.

    If you can have your UK Top Twenty for your pop songs. Why can you not have the same for current affairs programmes. Dumbing down or up is just your taste preference of the presentation. It does not invalidate BBC's choice of topic of the moment. Like they say in my country if you don't like it, you either switch off the switch or switch of the brain.

  • Comment number 16.

    Hi. I am just waiting for when Britain will have its first pakistani pm!

  • Comment number 17.

    Just think, all this coverage will happen again next week for McCain’s convention.

    Perhaps PBS in the U.S. will return the favour by covering our election next time?

  • Comment number 18.

    No it's not "the most important story in the world'.
    China's treatment of Tibet since the 1950s is the most important story in the world.

  • Comment number 19.

    You just wait until the Repubicans put the Nativity Sceen on stage in Minnnasota. They will bring Mary Cheney onstage as the Virgin Mother, after all, "she has never known a man." Self Righteous Sara of the Palins will be there holding the Pope of the People and War Hero, John McCain second only to George W. Bush is sprouting patriotic platitudes and having God to bless America, will all be on stage.

    There will be enough put out about Christian love and why we should all hate our fellow Americans who are not Christians, straight and who do not see the Tribulation coming as soon as Jerusalem filled with Jews and they are destroy for apstasy.

    McCain will smile and say in that scary soft voice of his, We are all Mericans or he might even say, We are all Georgians again, and that is terrorfying because they lost to the Russians.

    Pomp and circustances as the Imperial President George W. the First and first Lady Laura, Grandpa H.W. Bush and Ma Bush all smile with the Bush Twins for a final photo Op. All will wave and all will say those dreded words: GOD BLESS AMERICA!

    If God ain't tired, I am. God every 4 years is too much.

  • Comment number 20.

    I don't really know why I am bothering to write in this space, quite simply, I have read all the BBC blog guidelines, and ensure that whatever I type shows deferrence to the other bloggers, never contains bad language or profanity against any religion. I never use racist or sexist language and am not abusive.
    I do regularly rail against the BRITISH Broadcasting Corps obsession with America, when Brits pay for the BBC to exist, whilst US citizens do not pay a license fee and receive our radio and internet services for free, and get our tv programmes on PBS. I don'r begrudge this, I just get fed up with Britain receiving poor quality programming and having our domestic issues being treated as foreign affairs, and coming second behind US reporting.
    In the UK, we are not given the choice over whether to pay for the BBC or not; if you own any equipment that could be used to receive a tv signal, you must have a TV license and pay for the BBC. I myself watch less than 1 hour of BBC tv a week, though over 25 hours of other tv channels funded by advertising. I no longer listen to BBC radio (the new BBC7 is just a repeat of the 'Light Programme' in 1953 - Tony Hancock, the Goons, Jimmy Edwards, and heaven knows who the other now-dead people are). I still have to pay every month.
    Despite my only sin being to state a good case against the BBC. less than a quarter of my comments get passed the moderators - the rest disappear into the ether. There is not even the decency of a number, with 'Comment by EmaMel not printed due to moderation issues', nor the comment being published, where other readers and bloggers could have the option to complain and have my comments removed if they caused any offense - though I seriously doubt they would, as they have all complied entirely with the guidelines.
    I guess this comment will also somehow cease to have ever existed, without even a footnote to the time and effort spend contributing, formulating and typing it.

  • Comment number 21.


  • Comment number 22.

    I hope everyone enjoy the glitz and glamour of the awards show....


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