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Week one down...

Rome Hartman | 10:59 UK time, Monday, 8 October 2007

At the end of our first week on the air with a new program - BBC World News America - a few brief observations:

BBC World logo• I'm STILL having trouble with the differences in production lingo and acronyms between the BBC and my previous experience in American TV. My current favourite is a term I find in today's line-up: "FooC." Say it out loud, and it sounds sort of nasty. It's not... it's actually short for 'From Our Own Correspondent'. I've learned that's a venerable BBC radio program, and we're trying a television version of it.

• I've also learned that the confusion over slang runs in both directions. In a meeting earlier this week, I referred to a story as "a pig in a poke." Some of my British colleagues looked at me with the same blank stare they've been seeing from ME. You'll have to go to Google to find the actual derivation, but it basically means "it is what it is," or "there's nothing to be done about it." I guess the same can be said for our occasional linguistic dis-connects.

• A vignette from today: Our program's chief engineer and videotape engineer Charlie Wilson popped his head in and said "the roundtable discussion... it runs eight-and-a-half minutes." "Fine," was my response. Then he and I looked at each other and burst into laughter. That's because until recently, both Charlie and I worked for the same 30 minute-long American news broadcast, and we couldn't have gotten anything that ran even half that length into the broadcast at the point of a gun! Don't get me wrong... I love it, but it does take some getting used to producing a program with a different pace and at a different length.

• An American television critic commenting on our new program asked the following very good question in his column this week: "If 'BBC World News America' is intended to be world news for American audiences, why, we wonder, are metric measurements used? And if this is supposed to be news for American consumption, why does the very-British staff refer to "America" as if it were a distant Colonial outpost?" The answer is that though our program(me) IS aimed at an American audience, it also airs around the planet on BBC World, and we need and value BOTH sets of viewers.

• It's good to have a week under our belt, and I'm really proud of everyone who has worked so hard to make the new program happen, from the big bosses in London down to the pizza deliveryman (the receipts will show up on my next expense report). But as my old boss at CBS used to say, "You're only as good as your next program.


  • 1.
  • At 12:24 PM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • Jonathan wrote:

'A pig in a poke' is not an uncommon expression in England, although I do not recognise Rome's explanation of the meaning. Perhaps that is the reason for the blank stares.

'Poke' is an obsolete term for a bag. The phrase refers to the old practice of purchasing a young pig at market whereby a prudent purchaser would ensure they sighted the pig to avoid being 'sold a pup' instead. Hence to buy a pig in a poke is to make a risky purchase without inspecting an item beforehand.

  • 2.
  • At 01:28 PM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • Dave McK. wrote:

Here's an thought for BBC America... Why not give Bill Maher and Ron Paul some air-time so that the Fox-News watchers who accidentally stray toward reality a little more, might see a balanced, sensible and well mannered debate on issues that matter, as opposed to rampant sensationalism and misdirection on issues that are simply a device to create and mould public perception and opinon.
Or, better still, give Bill Maher or Christopher Hitchins a John-Stewart-daily-show-esque news slot from which you can begin the slowing of the creeping mediocrity surrounding most of your competition. If you can infuse news with a little humour, even if its leftist irony and sarcasm, then you've already won more hearts, minds and viewers then sensationalised news stories can procure..
..just a thought, since i was bored and i didn't know there was a BBC america (until now). One thing i would note though, and perhaps this is overly cynical even for me, but i've such low expectations of the American public (after the 2004 election) that i doubt too many will actually watch you. Unless of course you too will peddle hyper-realised, mis-informed stories about arab nations like Iran being a threat to world peace. If indeed i am wrong, i would assume that you'll probably get more viewers from outwith the USA than you will from within, if voter-apathy and modern culture is any sort of an indication. This is because i think the American public appear to be less interested in the foriegn policy of their own country, then everyone else in the world is... why? Because they're the only ones not affected by it. Yet (unless you count 9/11). Were America controlled democratically by everyone who is NOT a U.S. citizen, then we might all be living in a more peaceful world.

Best of luck though, if you can educate just one voter it'll be worth it! Perhaps you could begin by running a series of programmes on Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution... that'd be a good start!

  • 3.
  • At 02:52 PM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

You survived your first week on American TV, congratulations. Britspeak or American slang, metric units or english units, Pizza with pepperoni or takeaway curry, BBC will always be seen as an alien presence in the United States and will be regarded that way. About the closest anyone came to making us think he was "one of us" was Vladimir Posner. Uncle Vlad as I liked to call him spoke American English without the slightest trace of a foreign accent and his slight speech impediment made him all the more human and endearing...until you listened to what he had to say. Then it was obvious he was an agent of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. There was no disguising it. You can call yourselves BBC World News America or Mom's Apple Pie but you will ALWAYS come across as British. BTW, as for the lack of commonality of the languages, A Dutch architect who was trained in the UK and works in the TV industry in New York City was hired by someone in the firm I was working for in New Jersey to design a special television studio. His drawings may have made sense to those contractors in NYC who were already familiar with his terminology but they were worthless to us and our own contractors until he came in personally to translate them into terminology we understood. Britspeak is not The American Language and as your WHYS crew finds out time and again (at the potential risk of their lives during their broadcast from Harlem) our culture is also entirely different with its own paradigms. Alistair Cooke spent most of his lifetime trying to explain America to Britain and failed. I'm starting to think it's a hopless task. Your perspective on the news may be interesting as a contrast to the the spectrum of the American media's but it can never truly align itself to Americans' way of thinking just as the converse would be equally true. How many Brits don't find something at least slightly wrong with reports by CNN whose political positions are often closer to mainstream Britain's than other American networks?

  • 4.
  • At 03:15 PM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • Martin wrote:

Maybe it's worth noting that USians are even more determined to ignore that their country is officially metric than the British are.

Now I just need to figure out a way to watch this program from the UK.

  • 5.
  • At 03:32 PM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • Martin wrote:

Maybe it's worth noting that USians are even more determined to ignore that their country is officially metric than the British are.

Now I just need to figure out a way to watch this program from the UK.

  • 6.
  • At 06:22 PM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Jonathan #1
Buying a pig in a poke in Americanese means you bought something that is worthless...and were likely tricked into it, "snookered."

Dave McK #2
Reality is a matter of perspective. To someone confined to a relatively small area, their perspective that the earth is flat seems logical and reasonable (The Flat Earth Society was a British invention, not American but that's besides the point.) BBC gives Americans a different perspective from what they normally get but whatever you think of Fox News or its competitors, BBC is ANYTHING BUT fair and balanced. By the standards of mainstream America, BBC is prejudiced against America in every way and against Israel as well. Almost everything we see and hear from BBC appears to us to be put through this filter which seems more in line with what we think of as mainstream continental Europe's views, not even mainstream Britain's. This is one pig in a poke most Americans will take with a grain of salt.

It may be hard for Brits and other Europeans to understand this but the American Revolution was more than just a rejection of British political rule, it resulted in a rejection of almost everything about perspective on life as Europeans saw it. Even our language rejected Britain's, Noah Webster and Samuel Johnson writing two different dictionaries of the English language.

So BBC has tried to enter the American media market first with rebroadcasts on NPR stations across the country, then with BBC World nightly news and now with this new idea. It would be interesting to see what kind of ratings it gets. American privately owned broadcasters often live or die on ratings. BTW, I will give you the benefit of the doubt in assuming that in comparing BBC's quality of news coverage with the American media's you are probably familiar with, its the most common outlets such as Fox, CNN, MSNBC, etc. you are aware of and not its best such as PBS and C-Span. By that comparison, BBC comes in a very poor second IMO.

Were the US controlled by everyone who is not American, then the US as we know it would not exist. For a world view, look at the cackling geese from 200 nations at the UN General Assembly. Of course just because half the UK wants to give away control over its government and every aspect of life to outsiders in the EU doesn't mean Americans would do the same. That's what I'm talking about when I say perspective. The UK sat passively by while Nazi Germany armed itself hoping against hope that everything would be OK. And much of the UK and Europe learned NOTHING from the lesson it got. Americans don't see it that way when someone who says the world should exist without their country and seems to be trying to build an atom bomb to bring that about. The only question right now between the US and Iran is when will the war come and how much destruction will it wreck? Go hide under your bed, maybe the missiles will fly harmlessly over your head because the radioactive fallout sure won't.

Martin #4,5
Sometime in the late 1960s, early 1970s someone in America got the dumb idea of converting from English to metric units. It never fully caught on and many if not most things made and sold in America are specified in English dimensions. But the metric system is required for most scientific activities, many imports, and even some domestic products. Socket wrenches therefore are usually sold with both sets in the same package. In 2000, two Mars explorers crashed into Mars because one subcontractor was referring to quantities using one system and another using the other with neither specifying what dimensions they were talking about. Us (we) "USers" as you put it as opposed to those (you) "Themers." Has a ring to it.

  • 7.
  • At 10:18 PM on 08 Oct 2007,
  • Ian wrote:


I've not yet seen it myself but I see from the listings the part of BBC World News America is shown on BBC News 24 at 00.30 BST.

  • 8.
  • At 05:05 PM on 09 Oct 2007,
  • Geoffrey Roberts wrote:

Perhaps it is worth noting that in Britain we spell it as "programme". It doesn't matter if you are quoting what an American said, we spell it with two Ms and an E at the end.

Considering that the BBC World Service is funded by the UK taxpayer and has a remit to educate, you should demonstrate your responsibility on a British-financed web site to spell in accordance to British English.

Many Americans will watch BBC News even if you use British terms, British spellings on captions etc; you don't - and shouldn't - need to alter the programme for Americans. They will watch BBC precisely because it is British. If you call yourself British, but Americanise everything you will fail on both levels:
- Offering something different to the American media
- Being British
Especially as these are your USP (as the Americans call it).

Just a thought?

  • 9.
  • At 11:49 AM on 10 Oct 2007,
  • Cam wrote:

Who really cares? Investigate something worthwhile that people are definitely interested in....Refer to the number of comments in the editors blog and get some clue as to what people are really interested in. After all isn't this a ratings game? Sounds like John Pilger is one of the few real jornalists left in this world as via his independent research he puts all the 'professional' journalists to shame.
Tally-ho chaps....

  • 10.
  • At 03:03 PM on 10 Oct 2007,
  • Chad Henshaw wrote:

@ Number 8 (Geoffrey Roberts).

BBC World/BBC America and the World service are not the same thing. BBC World and BBC America are Commercial ventures, ie: They are supposed to be self funding by showing commercials. The World Service is considered "Foriegn Aid", and is paid for by the taxpayer via the FCO.

  • 11.
  • At 04:15 PM on 10 Oct 2007,
  • Bedd Gelert wrote:

Of course one shouldn't buy a 'pig in a poke', but one should never 'look a gift horse in the mouth'.

I absolutely agree with previous correspondents about the hideous 'Americanisms' on the BBC website.

They have even started to refer to films as 'movies'. Ugghhh. Stop it. At once.

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