It's 6.50pm. I've only just finished wailing at what I've just read on Twitter.
Tim Marshall has left Sky News.
I only have ten minutes to write this before I go out so forgive the typing... This is top of the head stuff.
This might sound hyperbolic (or just utter bollocks) but Tim Marshall was the last good reason to watch Sky News. He was one of the older crew who were around in the days when Sky News was a serious news operation. He never looked at home in the new rolling reality of their current 15 minute repeat and rinse coverage that never penetrates into the thicker fabric of the news. I regretted the day that Sky News started to boast about 'the headlines every fifteen minutes'. I never understood why they thought it was somehow commendable that they believed we might forget the news agenda every quarter of an hour. In reality, it meant that they never had time to get their fingernails dirty. They cheapened their output by repeating the same script every 900 seconds. It largely became unwatchable.
Marshall always stood apart from that reductive approach to the news. He would always explain things in interesting ways. He'd educate me like I've not been educated since I stopped sitting on my PhD supervisor's sofa at university and drinking his horrendous Turkish coffee. Tim Marshall explained why things weren't black or white. He understood the world's grey zones; where politics merged with tribal customs and the 'truth' wasn't easily summed up in a neat headline. Sky News can still hold its own but only during specially selected events when some chief in the News International hierarchy gives the go-ahead to pump resources into coverage. When bad things happen, Sky News are great. Between those times, the coverage is thin, vapid, lacking substance. In other words: lacking everything that Tim Marshall brought to their glassy table.
I'd noticed he'd gone missing months ago. I think I'd secretly hoped the BBC has hired him. He is the closest thing I've ever seen to John Simpson and, in my book, there's no greater praise. He always was Simpson's heir. I'm not sure what had happened. Marshall's role had been taken by lesser journalists who lack his key quality. That quality was hesitation and pause. It was the way he'd suck on his teeth and would reply 'well, not really' when asked what sounded like a simple question. Lesser journalists tend to say 'Yes, that's absolutely right, Kay' and repeat some easy to memorise formula. Tim Marshall would often wince when asked something straightforward. 'They're not of that tribe,' he'd reply or proffer a 'that's not strictly true' before launching into an enlightening run down of regional allegiances.
I watch very little Sky News these days. My loyalty has shifted to the BBC who have commendably discovered the more relaxed style that Sky News had made their own in the days of the great Bob Friend. It's now Sky News who have become the 'professional' news channel, with everything cut to fit seamlessly between the ads. There's no hair out of place, no autocue missed. Yet it's precisely that spontaneous quality which the true news obsessive tends to cherish. It's what I miss the most.
I hold onto a distant hope that Tim Marshall will reappear on our screens. I know he'd find a natural home at the BBC and I hope (probably without much hope) that he'll eventually turn up on News 24. The fact that the BBC has become a natural home to Andrew Neil is proof that they cherish character, intelligence, and (a broad phrase but I'll use it) a kind of humanism that is so much better that the so-called professionalism you see everywhere else on TV as well as in life.
And that, I guess, is what I want from TV news. I'd like a channel that's the living embodiment of myself. It would be like this blog: random, full of humour (I hope), occasional (forgivable) rants, and a general willingness to understand a confusing and complicated world without falling into the trap of dogma or ideology.
To put it another way: my favourite night of the week is the night when I watch 'This Week with Andrew Neil' and follow it up with Bill Maher's 'Real Time' which I'll have found online. There's no show on British TV remotely like 'Real Time', though 'This Week' comes the closest. It's edgy, sometimes shocking, abrasive, argumentative, enlightening, unstructured, and compelling viewing. It's filled with intelligent people disagreeing and arguing and it's everything that intelligent TV should be. In an ideal world, that would be the stuff of my ideal news channel. It would the window onto a real newsroom, filled with non-photogenic journalists eating fast food whilst hammering out stories. It wouldn't break for ads to sell us TV channels we don't want. News wouldn't be an 'add on' to the sports and movie channels. It would be the pride of its network. It would take pride in being the best. It would stay with an interview for as long as the expert would be willing to keep talking. It would simplify but only in order to build on that explanation to further our knowledge. It wouldn't patronise us by repeating the same thing every fifteen minutes. It would assume we can wait for the top of the hour when it would present the updated headlines before continuing its debate with the audience. It would be pretty much like BBC News 24 is now but with some added Andrew Neil, plenty of Lyse Doucet, and a good deal of Tim Marshall.
I can't believe Tim Marshall has left Sky News and there's still only seven hits on my new website. I'm going to as poor as a computer programmer as I'm penniless as a writer and cartoonist. What an utterly crap day.
[Update 19/2/2015: We have to be grateful for small mercies. Tim Marshall has launched his own website. It's pretty good.]