Can any fool read the news? Tim Dowling finds out | The news on TV

The phrases preserve rising, white in opposition to a darkish blue background, and I preserve saying them, sometimes mispronouncing them. All the whereas I’m aware of the incontrovertible fact that someplace behind the phrases there’s a digital camera. Very quickly I lose all sense of what I’m saying. I’m simply studying on for pricey life.

In March, Jeremy Paxman dismissed the artwork of newsreading as “an occupation for an articulated swimsuit”, claiming that “any fool” may read an Autocue. Final week, the BBC presenter Reeta Chakrabarti took him to job. “I’ve written plenty of what I’m studying out,” she instructed the Radio Occasions. “These aren’t another person’s phrases.”

She added: “Possibly ‘any fool’ can do that, however I feel it’s a talent.” That is what I intend to search out out – writing phrases is one factor, however how onerous is it to read an Autocue?

The system I’m utilizing belongs to the Guardian, and the story I’m reciting – about modifications to Ukip’s management – displays, greater than anything, the final time someone used this explicit machine. I’m wearing what I think about to be knowledgeable newsreader’s uniform: darkish jacket, sober tie, no trousers. Why would you want them? In case of fireplace?

The letters on the prompter (Autocue is a model title) glow in the dim environment. The sheet of paper in my hand is clean; the pen I’m holding is for present. I’m fully dependent on the scrolling display.

Tim Dowling struggles with the teleprompter. {Photograph}: David Levene/The Guardian

I instantly encounter an issue I had not anticipated: I run out of phrases. Pausing awkwardly till extra swim into view, I realise too late that the phrasing of what had gone earlier than was, in gentle of this new info, fully improper.

In keeping with the BBC’s enterprise editor, Simon Jack, I’d made a basic newbie’s error. “There are only some phrases on the Autocue at any given time,” he warned, “so you could be cognisant of getting to duck in any explicit phrasing route”. In different phrases, if you happen to don’t know the place the sentence is heading, you possibly can find yourself sounding silly. There’s a cursor about three-fifths of the means up the display to point the line you ought to be studying – permitting room to see what’s coming subsequent, however I’ve sprinted proper to the backside, leaving myself excessive and dry.

“Quite a lot of it relies upon on the particular person doing the Autocue rolling,” Jack stated. “You need a good Autocue curler, as a result of in the event that they bounce forward or don’t sustain you may be stranded. That makes you look silly.” For his half Jack leans extra in the direction of Chakrabarti’s evaluation than Paxman’s. “You might get somebody from a bus cease they usually may read it out loud for positive, however they wouldn’t final lengthy. Their inexperience can be revealed fairly rapidly.”

The teleprompter (additionally initially a trademark) dates to 1950, however the first “in the lens” prompter was developed by Jess Oppenheimer, the producer of the I Love Lucy present, who licensed the patent to Autocue in 1955. Its fundamental innovation was an angled glass display, permitting the mirrored phrases to be seen by the performer however not by the digital camera behind it. As you read you seemed down the barrel of the lens, creating the phantasm you have been talking on to your viewers, unprompted. Again then the script was printed on a paper scroll. Now it’s liable to be on an iPad, however the mirror association is the similar.

Jack first encountered an Autocue 11 years in the past, on the BBC Breakfast set. “I didn’t discover it notably troublesome,” he stated, “other than the incontrovertible fact that since you’re not the fundamental presenter, the Autocue curler doesn’t actually care that a lot”. At all times, he instructed me, be good to the rollers. “It has been recognized for individuals, as an act of revenge on their final day, to only form of sort in some gobbledegook for the presenter to read out.”

‘I’m wearing what I think about to be knowledgeable newsreader’s uniform: darkish jacket, sober tie, no trousers.’ {Photograph}: David Levene/The Guardian

Autocue sabotage, as featured in the movie Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, reinforces the concept of newsreaders as automatons who will helplessly recite no matter is put in entrance of them. In actuality most presenters are diligent about modifying their copy for sense, tempo and phrasing.

Nonetheless, the calls for of the newsroom typically result in last-minute edits. “Generally the story will change between the time it’s written and going on air,” stated Jack. “Then you definitely get some junior producer typing in stuff and if that’s improper the presenters go a bit mad.”

I can affirm it doesn’t take a lot of an error to unseat the novice reader. I’ve switched to a narrative about area exploration which, complicated as it’s, can be plagued by typos. Underneath stress, even an “it’s” when it ought to be “its” can destroy your momentum. If this have been my job, I’d be throwing issues.

Lastly, I’m stopped in my tracks by this sentence: “Elon Musk says he desires to die on Mars, however not on impression.” If I didn’t understand how way back the script was written, I’d suspect that somebody someplace had it in for me.

In reply to Paxman’s rivalry that any fool can read an Autocue, I supply this unscientific, anecdotal and wholly irrefutable proof: I do know of not less than one fool who can’t.

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