Credit: Courtesy Shirish Kulkarni

Shirish Kulkarni is an award-winning freelance journalist, with 25 years' experience working in a number of the UK's major broadcast newsrooms. He is currently carrying out research into news storytelling, in partnership with BBC News Labs and Cardiff University's JOMEC. You can read more about his research on Medium or on Twitter.

I do not watch the news.

I am a TV journalist with 25 years’ experience working for all the UK’s major news broadcasters, and I don’t watch the news. That is a problem for our industry, but mostly it is a problem with our industry.

When I do, occasionally, watch a news programme I rarely come away feeling I am better informed, I do not feel better equipped to engage with civil society and I do not feel like I understand the forces shaping the world better. These are the basics of journalism, and we are manifestly failing to live up to them.

What my 25 years in newsrooms has taught me is that the intended audience in the minds of many journalists is just other journalists, not the viewers we are supposed to be here to serve. That has to change.

If I, a TV journalist, find TV news impossible to stomach, how do we expect anyone else to watch what we do?

That is why I was so pleased to win funding to research and develop new forms of storytelling from Clwstwr, an innovation programme for the South Wales screen sector.

We are failing on many levels and there must be a better way of telling our stories.

To help figure that out, and to get different perspectives, I have largely spoken to people from outside the industry – games designers, comedians, puppeteers, YouTubers, storytellers of all kinds – to try to get a handle on what it is about stories that helps them really connect and engage.

They have come up with lots of unique and interesting things from their own experiences, but what has really struck me is how often they have said exactly the same things. I have set out some of the common themes below:


We provide a very specific kind of content, largely borne of journalistic orthodoxy, but often not very useful in helping our viewers understand the big questions or policy trade-offs that lie at the heart of civic society.

This was something the comedian, Rob Newman, highlighted. For example, the interactive content around the budget often focusses on how much we, as individuals, would be better or worse off. Baldly reeling off stock market figures at the end of bulletins does not tell us anything about the economy. Share prices going up is not necessarily good for us.

Our wellbeing is not measured only in monetary terms - we may care more about trade-offs between defence and education spending, for example. We are never given that wider context.

The voice we are using is old-fashioned and formulaic and desperately needs to change if we are going to continue to connect and engage.


Our news coverage prioritises 'breaking' or at least 'moving' events, but often to the detriment of context, analysis or understanding.

Philip Pullman, in "Daemon Voices", his book on storytelling, talks about how he never uses the present tense, because all it offers is a vertical slice through a horizontal life. Sure, there are obvious 'on the day' stories, but we can do better at providing more holistic context – both before and after the 'point of crisis'.

Climate change YouTuber Dr Adam Levy (Climate Adam) told me how, as a scientist he cannot understand a new paper meaningfully unless it is put into a wider context of what has come before or the work that might follow.

As journalists, we need to better understand this, rather than being obsessed with the easy one-shot hit.


We know that viewers are withdrawing from the news, often because it makes them feel helpless and hopeless. We need to provide them with a gateway to agency, some way in which they can get involved or feel like they can make a difference in the world. This came up in every single one of my research interviews.

That might just be by showing them stories of individuals or communities who are making the world better, or even providing creative calls to action. Emotional processing cannot just take place on Twitter or Facebook, we should be showing that there are different approaches and signposting different ways in which users can engage with the world.


The voice we are using is old-fashioned and formulaic and desperately needs to change if we are going to continue to connect and engage.

I watched one of the UK’s flagship news programmes with a group of young people at the Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team in Swansea. It was a chastening experience because there was little in the programme that would ever be of interest or value to them, and it felt like they were being talked down to. Changing voice is not about doing 'yoof' news. I truly believe there is a way of communicating in a more accessible way which will be better for all viewers.


Emotional storytelling is a buzz-phrase in journalism at the moment, and at first sight seems to be a shortcut to engagement: present affecting, personal stories that connect at an emotional level, and the viewers will come running. However, there are inherent dangers in this approach.

Individual stories are, by definition, not necessarily the best way of explaining a complex, general problem. Similarly, because viewers increasingly come to us with pre-formed and stubborn views, that does not mean we should go chasing them by going down the road of opinion and comment, as broadcasters are increasingly doing.

This is short-termist and wildly misguided. When facts are under attack, we should not abandon them, we should cling to them even more tightly.


Innovating in storytelling is not just about telling stories differently, it is about telling different stories. I endured 20 years of eye-rolling in London newsrooms whenever I pitched a story about or from Wales. That is before you get onto issues of even deeper structural inequality.

A Sky News colleague once told me: "You don’t get racism anymore". Aside from the personal shock, it is culturally alarming if journalists - who decide what makes news and what the public hear about the world – think that racism is not an issue.

It is no good 'black-washing' newsrooms with interns who can help you get stories on knife crime.Newsrooms need to really start listening to different voices and reflecting their experiences.


We are hardwired for stories. At an evolutionary level, we need to hear them to help us learn about how to navigate the world. We love once-upon-a-time tales, but news stories are told in an entirely different way from traditional stories.

The inverted pyramid style tells us almost everything we need to know in the headline. Why then are we surprised when viewers only watch or read our story for 10 seconds? As Jonathan Gottschall, author of "The Storytelling Animal" pointed out to me, this narrative style annihilates our natural sense of curiosity and makes it almost impossible to provide context.

Can we tell stories in a more subtle, nuanced way that guides the viewer in a more natural, compelling and engaging way?

Ultimately, the public service, civic value of what we do has to be at the root of broadcast or mobile news. We need our stories to reflect the world better and help viewers understand the context in which we are living, to help us all make better decisions.

To do that, we need to tell our stories better.

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