Review: Newswipe 1×1

Too much Brooker?

Charlie Brooker in Newswipe

In the UK: Wednesdays, 10.30pm, BBC4

I think it’s fair enough to say we do loves a bit of Charlie Brooker round here. I think it’s fair to say that’s quite a common feeling.

But I think it’s also fair to say that he’s spreading himself a bit thin. He’s writing two columns for The Guardian a week; he’s on Have I Got News For You every so often; he’s got his regular Screenwipe show on BBC4; he’s got an upcoming TV reviews show for Channel 4; he’s just finished making Dead Set for E4.

Phew. That’s a lot.

Now he’s doing Newswipe for BBC4, in which he tries to tell you the news of the week, but really – as the show’s title suggests – is really just Screenwipe but dedicated to TV news.

And it’s really not very good. See? Spread too thin.

If you’ve ever watched Screenwipe, you’ll know pretty much what Newswipe is going to be like. It’s got Charlie’s pieces to camera from his flat, where he talks to the TV and the viewer while passing scathing comments on clips. It’s got a guest poet. It’s got a guest reporter. It has a guest expert. It has various members of Zeppotron’s production staff doubling as actors. It has a “… of the week” that takes the piss. And it has various mini-documentaries where Charlie explains some aspects of TV production.

So far, so familiar.

Some of this is very good. Charlie makes some very valid points about TV news; his guest expert, Nick Davies of Flat Earth News fame is knowledgeable and made equally good points; and Charlie’s various scathing comments are funny in the standard Brooker way.

Some of this is very bad, however. The guest reporter’s slot was so bad, I wasn’t sure if she’d come in drunk or not to film it; and the poet wasn’t funny (he never is on Screenwipe either). So I ended up winding through some of it, because I couldn’t be bothered to sit through it.

More to the point, this doesn’t so much feel like a news programme as a news review programme. There isn’t much that’s actually news. Where Brooker tries to give news, it’s only in the context of what news programmes did and didn’t do, which – and I know I’m on shaky ground here – isn’t so much reporting or news gathering as, erm, blogging.

There doesn’t appear to be any real attempt to bring new news and where it tries to do news analysis, it feels even more insubstantial than the news programmes it ridicules. While no one would be any the wiser for Five’s explanation of the credit crunch with trains, all anyone’s the wiser about thanks to Newswipe is that Five isn’t good at credit crunch explanations – and the reasons why Five isn’t good at credit crunch explanations. Good for media types, probably not so good for everyone else.

So this would have been great as a one-episode special of Screenwipe, but do I really want six weeks (or whatever) of Charlie Brooker just pointing out that news programmes are a bit silly and shallow at times? Probably not.

Still, Screenwipe evolved from its first episode so maybe Newswipe will find its feet in a few episodes’ time – or by its second series. Otherwise, we’re going to have to accept there is such a thing as too much Charlie Brooker.

Here’s a trailer and a clip for your enjoyment. You can watch the whole episode on the iPlayer and on YouTube too, if you hunt around a bit.

  • Gordon

    I thought newswipe was meant to be a review of the news and how the news is delivered and not a news programme but I maybe wrong as I actually watched the program and wasn’t “winding through” bits of it.
    Sure there were duller parts but the stories about pr news manipulation, the large demonstration in northern ireland and the effects of reporting school shootings made up for them.
    It seems that you just came up with the “brooker spreading himself too thin” theme and went with that irrespective of what the program actually was like. You’re applying your biased position on what happened……is this a very subtle dig at the news programs then?

  • MediumRob

    “I thought newswipe was meant to be a review of the news and how the news is delivered and not a news programme but I maybe wrong as I actually watched the program and wasn’t “winding through” bits of it.”
    Well, there were the obvious attempts to explain the news, rather than just review the news programmes, in the credit crunch bit, for example, or his take on the Pope’s claiming that condoms increased the chances of AIDS. We also have this interview:
    MG: So you’re reviewing the format as opposed to the stories?
    CB: We will be covering those topics… but I’m looking at how it’s shown to us, if you see what I mean?
    MG: You did something similar on Screenwipe with the Madeleine McCann thing… is it going to be like that?
    CB: That kind of area… but we will be explaining the stories as well I hope. I suppose the main difference between what we’re doing and say, for want of a better term, a Radio 4 political satire, is that they know what they’re talking about whereas I come from a position where… I think I’m like most people… I’m not actually very well informed…
    “It seems that you just came up with the “brooker spreading himself too thin” theme and went with that irrespective of what the program actually was like.”
    Actually, I watched it then went with the theme. If I’d have liked it, I’d have gone with “And yet despite doing all that already, he still gives us something great like Newswipe”. Intros – your flexible friends.
    “You’re applying your biased position on what happened……is this a very subtle dig at the news programs then?”
    I’m not actually sure what you mean by that? Biased in the sense of wanting to hate it from the outset? Biased as in anti-Brooker bias? Biased about what?
    As I say at the beginning, “I think it’s fair enough to say we do loves a bit of Charlie Brooker round here.”, I have a Charlie Brooker tag for stories, and his Screen Burn column is in my blogroll, so it’s definitely not anti-Brooker bias.

  • bob

    For some reason it has been pulled from iPlayer and actually disappeared from my downloads. Huh.

  • Anonymous

    To say Tim Key (“the poet”) isn’t funny is just massively incorrect.

  • Prove it.

  • Tuppence

    “More to the point, this doesn’t so much feel like a news programme as a news review programme. There isn’t much that’s actually news. Where Brooker tries to give news, it’s only in the context of what news programmes did and didn’t do, which – and I know I’m on shaky ground here – isn’t so much reporting or news gathering as, erm, blogging.”
    ..which is apropos of nothing. If it’s a little too bloggy for you, it’s still a bloody good blog.
    As for the Danielle Ward (for that was her name) slot being very bad, it wasn’t great but it was a small fraction of the show.
    To make up for it, as Gordon Said, the bits on PR news manipulation, the Ireland demonstrations and the school shootings made up for it. He is showing where the news has manipulated us and thus enables us to make a better personal, questioning judgement on the news. This is a talent everyone needs to learn.
    There’s nothing quite like this on TV. The only unfortunate point is that those who watch this kind of thing are already pretty well informed about the way TV works and how unscrupulous the media can be. It still nonetheless has a dramatic impact seeing it articulated on TV. Those who should be learning about how we are mere metaphorical pawns are instead sitting inured in front of some pap on ITV1.
    We all *know* what’s been happening on the news. Those who can’t understand it probably aren’t watching BBC4. But what did you want? Newswipe as an investigative journalism programme? Showing the bits of the news the mainstream media don’t? It has to be funny as well, you realise. Otherwise, it would simply be a TV version of The Economist.
    It does rather seem that because newswipe didn’t quite do what you wanted, you are unable to like it…and have attributed this failure to meet your expectations on Charlie spreading himself too thin.

  • MediumRob

    Three words: The Daily Show. Although hopefully without so many reports from out in the field.
    I’m just not finding Newswipe that funny or informative. Normally, I’m confident in Charlie’s abilities so I’m charitably attributing it to his trying to do to much. If it’s for some other reason (eg he’s losing it), do let me know what it is since apparently you and Gordon can both read minds.

  • Tuppence

    In the mind reading race between me and my old chum Gordon, I seem to be winning! ~#Go tuppence#~.
    I say this as you indeed confirm my hitherto wild theory that you attributed Charlie’s failure to meet your expectations (ie inform or amuse you) on spreading himself too thin (“trying too much”). Thanks for confirming!
    Anyway, even the Daily Show has to refer to other media, to create the framework in which it works. I’m not sure Charlie was trying to do a Daily Show style thing, or he would have done a Daily Show type of thing. He seems to be doing a bit of news reporting (a la the McCann story from Screenwipe), but he seems to be doing his usual how the media works, which is his raison d’etre. Episodes two and three have also been excellent, in my mind (and we do know I read minds).
    Trouble with the Daily show for me is I find Jon Stewart’s delivery too much for an entire show. Very shouty. And it is, in reality, showing bits of news followed by a joke. Rinse and repeat. For a better example you could have used, I have some other words for you (4, I think) “The Saturday Night Armistice”.

  • bob

    “The only unfortunate point is that those who watch this kind of thing are already pretty well informed about the way TV works and how unscrupulous the media can be.”
    Exactly which is why it comes across as self-congratulatory to me.
    The Daily Show in my opinion is fairly self-congratulatory too. It screams “we’re so clever to be laughing at these news clips” and the reports from the field are often dire. But then… then there are the interviews which are sometimes just to flog books but often quite effective at discussing real issues. And the occasional serious piece.
    I think it is the fact that the DS can do real journalism that makes it important. Charlie Brooker hasn’t shown much real journalism. He might though… But at the moment it is still Harry Hill’s tv burp for people who watch bbc4 just based on the news.

  • MediumRob

    “I say this as you indeed confirm my hitherto wild theory that you attributed Charlie’s failure to meet your expectations (ie inform or amuse you) on spreading himself too thin (“trying too much”). Thanks for confirming!”
    Are you saying I shouldn’t have expected him to inform or amuse me? What should I have been expecting him to do? Or are you saying I should watch it even if I don’t like it or don’t get anything from it?
    “Episodes two and three have also been excellent, in my mind (and we do know I read minds).”
    You’re reading your own mind? Do you get feedback loops?

  • Tuppence

    When you (correctly) said I could read minds, I assumed you were referring to the final line of my first post. Not sure where else I’ve exhibited Matt Parkman like qualities.
    As it is, one should judge a show based on that show, not on preconceptions (not that I’m saying you have any). But if you liked Screenwipe (did you?) then Newswipe should theoretically create the same enjoyment. Funnily enough you said that this would’ve been great as a one-episode special of Screenwipe, which of course they already did. I guess there is such a rich field of things to discuss (and the Screenwipe news special was so damn good) that it was on this basis a Newswipe series was commissioned.
    PS: To Bob. You need to define “journalism” if you’re going to use it in such a context. Also, I don’t think Newswipe exhibits much self-congratulation – Brooker is fairly humble.
    No…It’s the mainstream news and media in general that have an almost complete stranglehold over what we view and are the smug, hypocritical, self-congratulatory ones of this sorry tale. (“its the Sun wot won it”, etc, etc ad nauseam)
    […And with that statement the irony meter shoots off the scale].
    PPS: Feedback loops are tricky. But reading my own mind is useful when I’m lying to myself.

  • MediumRob

    “As it is, one should judge a show based on that show, not on preconceptions (not that I’m saying you have any). But if you liked Screenwipe (did you?) then Newswipe should theoretically create the same enjoyment.”
    You can search for the previous reviews using the magic search box at the top. But I thought the first series was uneven and it’s been great more or less ever since, except when the guests (especially the poet) have been a bit rubbish.
    My only real preconceptions for Newswipe were
    a) it would be a bit like Screenwipe (from the title)
    b) it would have Charlie Brooker in it, being Charlie Brookery
    c) I would entertained and/or educated
    When Charlie does his thing, the show can be good, although I don’t find him talking about news to be as insightful or as entertaining as when he’s talking about TV in general.
    I enjoyed Adam Curtis’s bit last night, but generally, I’m just find it a bit tepid compared to Screenwipe and in terms of just keeping my interest. I’ve seen just about everything on it before – mainly through the Daily Show – so I’m not finding it adds much.

  • Jobe

    Tim Key the poet won the best show award at the edinburgh fringe.
    So in critical terms he’s pretty funny.

  • Jobe

    Tim Key the poet won the best show award at the edinburgh fringe.
    So in critical terms he’s pretty funny.

  • Unfortunately, no matter how many times I’ve seen him on Newswipe, he’s never once made me laugh. Maybe he’s better live or when dealing with issues other than the news.