Media studies

3rd March 2000 at 00:00
THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX. CD-Rom, video, posters and ringbinder with photocopiable worksheets. Free to schools from Sky News. For further information contact Phil Evans or Stella Tooth at Sky News: 020 7053786 or 020 800 4289.

At the launch of Sky News in 1989, many commentators doubted the prospects of a service they felt would never match the standards of terrestrial television news.

Since which time, of course, Sky News has not only survived but also prospered handsomely, with some pundits observing that the newcomer's news coverage generally equals and sometimes even soars above the quality of its earth-bound rivals. Yet over a decade after its inception, Sky News still attracts only a small proportion of the potential audience for television news.

Judging by several sideswipes against the BBC in Thinking Outside the Box, this situation rather clouds life at Sky News. Not that these jibes are the main feature of a package that includes a CD-Rom, a video, two colourful posters and a ring binder with 10 photocopiable sections on topics such as regulation, technolog-ical developments and 24-hour scheduling. The CD-Rom covers the main attractions of the Sky News student website, an absorbing feature that further explores the routes by which the day's news reaches the television scree. A big production number, then, and one of certain value to teachers of A-level and BTec national media studies.

Probably the best component is the video. This tracks a news report on voice-activated robotic surgery that is modified throughout the day to take account of changes in audience preferences. Many important aspects of newsgathering are caught here: the need for the instant response, the constant lookout for a "humdinger story" and, not least, the preoccupation with the performance of the opposition.

These are precisely the emphases many teachers would wish for. Some, though, will be less pleased with the information sheets. Not that there's much wrong with the basics: the data on marketing, advertising and scheduling is impeccable. Nor is price a problem: it's free.

That said, a resource that claims to be suited to GCSE and GNVQ shouldn't contain phrases such as "explicitly addresses the economic discourse". Nor should arguments be presented as facts, as in the reference to the "'take it or leave it' approach to the viewer" supposedly adopted by terrestrial television in the 1980s, one of several cracks directed at the BBC in particular. Such digs make Sky look a bit jittery - ironic, really, when its television news service is anything but.

Laurence Alster

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