Sky News Raw: a meta live stream of a newsroom? What a mad gamble

At 9:46 this morning, Sky News ate itself. During the morning editorial meeting, broadcast live to the nation under the vaguely ridiculous banner of Sky News Raw, an editor looked up from her pile of papers and sighed “Should we do a piece about Sky News Raw?”

There followed some back and forth, right there on Sky News Raw, about whether or not Sky News should indeed do a piece about Sky News Raw. The matter was then discussed of the broadcaster best positioned to do it. A name was mooted, and the woman shook her head. “He can’t do a piece on Sky News Raw because he’s currently doing Sky News Raw,” she mumbled as a million different realities crashed into each other and imploded behind her.

If – to quote the great sage Matt Goss – CNN is the thinking man’s reality show, then Sky News Raw has to qualify as Einstein’s Big Brother. For one day only, to mark the channel’s 30th anniversary, the entire workings of the channel have been exposed to the world. We, the viewers, get to watch all the backstage shenanigans of Sky News as they happen.

All day long, as Sky News fills its day with the usual cobblers – a slick cocktail of essential breaking news and aggressively non-essential Jon Culshaw interviews – cameras are showing us how the sausage is made. We have eavesdropped on staff meetings. We’ve watched reporters on location hurriedly run over their lines before they linked live to the studio. We have seen people in the gallery feed lines to Adam Boulton, just like Holly Hunter in Broadcast News if Holly Hunter in Broadcast News primarily existed to seamlessly line up a selection of heavy-handed satirical cartoons from that morning’s papers.

One of the big stories of the day, the editors decided this morning, was Liam Neeson’s bizarre decision to tell everyone that he wanted to randomly murder a black person once. This threw everyone for a loop. By the time the story would air, it’d be over a day old. How could they move the story on? Should they find someone to defend him? Perhaps they could do a viewer poll: one editor suggested “Have you ever had an angry racist thought?” as the question to put to the country.

In moments like this, you were struck by what a mad gamble this whole thing is. News as we know it – especially broadcast news – is a finished product. What we read and watch and hear is the result of countless meetings like this, batted back and forth until all the bad ideas have been shaken out. To watch people actively lobbing bad ideas into the mix (and hopefully being rejected; the poll hadn’t run at time of writing) feels incredibly cavalier of Sky, especially in an age when social media is so quick to condemn missteps like this.

Nevertheless I’m pleased it exists, if only because it has showed how absolutely bored everyone who works for Sky News is. Everywhere – the newsroom, the gallery, the studio floor – is packed with glum-looking people mundanely going about their jobs. In fairness, this is true of all other news channels and all other newsrooms and most other offices. I, for one, have found this boredom incredibly reassuring.

Unlike Twitter, where every microscopic news story explodes on impact like a meteor shower, Sky News Raw showed us how calmly events are absorbed and redistributed in the real world. It is actually quite soothing. If it was a subscription channel, sign me up. Watching people silently stare at screens with pens in their mouths is apparently an unbelievably peaceful thing to do.

In fact, I think I prefer Sky News Raw to Sky News itself. At all times, in the top right of the screen, there is a muted feed of the actual Sky News output. Compared to the gentle ebb and flow of the backstage news gathering, it looks like a circus; a dumb, brightly-coloured procession of talking heads scowling and jabbing at absolutely nothing just to fill time. It is, for want of a better word, a distraction.

So please Sky News, keep this experiment going. I’d watch regularly if you did, if only because it makes me happy that you’ve continued the grand newsroom tradition of installing overdesigned yet wildly impractical seating wherever possible.

Now if anyone needs me, I’ll be watching Sky News Raw to see if this review of Sky News Raw gets mentioned on Sky News Raw.

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