That little blue Twitter bird ruffled feathers this week, or, to be more precise, a specific tweet from Ian Katz, the new editor of BBC TV’s Newsnight did.
He tweeted that Rachel Reeves , Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Newsnight interviewee, had been “boring snoring” when she appeared on the programme on Monday. Katz thought it was a private tweet; it wasn’t – thousands of followers could see it.
But blunder aside, did he have a point – was she boring?
To her credit she was relatively unflustered under cross-examination, sorry, questioning by Jeremy Paxman, who rightly challenged her various assertions about zero-hours contracts.
She used several techniques often taught in media training, such as “signposting” to flag up an important message, e.g. “The key thing is…”.
But her responses lacked what journalists call “colour”. There was no sense Reeves was in touch with real people. Yes, she mentioned her constituents in Leeds West, which might garner some votes at the next election, but how much better it would have been if she’d said, “When I was talking to a cleaner last week, she told me she couldn’t get a mortgage, because she’s on a zero-hours contract…” or “When I replied to a taxi driver’s email last week, after he wrote to say he was sick of not knowing how much he’d earn each month…”, she would have been so much more effective. Real. In touch. Personable.
Instead, she sounded like someone who read PPE at Oxford and has spent only 10 years in the “real world” before entering the House…which she has, it seems.
Reeves uttered generalisations and platitudes like a speak-your-weight machine. This had all the colour of a dish of cold semolina, all the excitement of 50 shades of magnolia.
Yet Reeves and her PR advisers were probably pleased with the performance – there were no major gaffes, nor the kind of meltdown that befell Tory minister Chloe Smith at the hands of pugilistic Paxman. But at least that interview last summer was oddly compelling, whereas Reeves gave us a “kettle moment,” when the nation prefers to head for a cuppa. No wonder Katz was unimpressed. Editors hate viewers switching over – worse still, switching off.
I’m pretty sure Reeves has had media training, but good media training is not about creating clone interviewees, who robotically churn out key messages. It’s about giving them the confidence to convey what’s important, but in a lively way that allows personality and passion to shine through.
After his comment Katz felt the need to smooth the ruffled feathers on Twitter and even included the hashtag apology “#Fail” after his twitter handle in Newsnight’s closing credits the following night.
Reeves is clearly clever and competent, but this was “boring snoring”. If she’s really bright, she’ll wake up to what truly works best to ensure a wasted prime-time interview becomes an entertaining and interesting performance.
Now that’s a vote winner.