Kay Burley. Discuss.

Some say that journalism students should simply be taught how to ‘do’ journalism rather than spending time analysing or reflecting on it. On Saturday Sky’s Kay Burley showed why it’s not that simple – when she berated someone demonstrating in favour of electoral reform (skip to around 2 mins in):


This, and the copious other clips from a career history of walking a fine line (many say crossing it), are a goldmine for lecturers and journalism students – particularly when it comes to discussing broadcast journalism technique, ethics, and regulation.

It helps students to look at their own journalistic practice and ask: in trying to please my bosses or meet an idea of what makes ‘good television’, am I crossing a line? How do the likes of Jeremy Paxman manage to dig behind a story without losing impartiality, or becoming the story themselves (do they manage it?) What, indeed, is the purpose of journalism, and how does that carry through into my practice?

Journalism is easy. You don’t need to study it for 3 years to do it. You don’t need a piece of paper to practise it.

But professional journalism is also the exercise of power – “Power without responsibility,” as the quote has it (which continues: “the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages”). We expect to scrutinise politicians and hold them to certain ethical standards yet cry foul when the same scrutiny is applied to us. Studying journalism – while doing it – should be about accepting that responsibility and thinking about what it entails. And then doing it better.

So: Kay Burley. Discuss.


33 thoughts on “Kay Burley. Discuss.

  1. Toby

    Its all part of the bizarre state of TV at the moment where reality TV and News are starting to become one and the same. Whenever I see a story like this I can’t help but thin that The Day Today was the greatest premonition ever.

    Journalists shouldn’t become the subject of news if they want to be taken seriously as journalists, but when have any of Murdochs’ employees ever been bothered about serious news?

  2. Ben Harrow

    I think it’s quite a statement for any one journalist to think they can define how to ‘do’ journalism. To prepare for every topic and eventuality is impossible, and that is why we are taught to deal with journalism and prepare for change.

    Everything we do is public, similar to politicians, and whether or not scrutiny is deserved it will always be recieved because the mistakes are there for all to see and that is unavoidable.

    That therefore creates a responsibility to permanently work with best practice, simply because we owe it to ourselevs as journalists and people to do what we do well and represent ourselves well.

    I may have gone a roundabout way with this ‘answer’ (discussion), but since I am a student, scrutiny is what is going to mould us in the future; it’s always been a necessary part of our lives, and why should it stop when we shake off the title of student (if we haven’t already) and fully absorb the role of a professional.

  3. Annette

    It was quite a stunning performance on her part. She was barracking and browbeating – and highly repetitive by fixating on the percentage of people that had voted – meaning what exactly Kay? Voting for a hung parliament? Erm no Kay. If there’s a GCSE in logic she would get an F.The point is that now we are in a hung parliamet situation and options are being explored amongst the party leaders, the lib dems find themselves in a singular position to potentially influence the voting system. So all that’s happening here is people are exercising their democratic right to be vocal about it. Someone needs to take a chill pill.

  4. María Crespo

    Very interesting post (specially for someone living abroad).
    I’ve always thought that the most difficult thing about being a journalist is to always keep a critical thinking…the question is, can this be taught at University?

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  6. Ben Parker

    Watched that live – extraordinary bullying. Poor chirpy chap demonstrating for PR – for heaven’s sake – being treated like a nutter. Bizarre. She had got very cross at the noise the demo had made earlier during her stand-ups and then the studio refused to go to a commercial break so there was some unrelated chagrin I think…

  7. Myriadlife

    Does repetitive browbeating in this way suggest a lack of ability to ask properly critical questions? It sounded to me like she was having a bad day and taking it out on this poor young man who kept his cool very well. I always thought journos were there to extract information and impart it impartially, seems some have too much ego to do their job properly. Some, not all.

  8. Sarah Booker

    People protest because they have the right to protest. This sounded more like a heated street debate than a journalistic interview. Unfortunately Kate has fallen into the situation women can find themselves in, ie. sounding shrill.

  9. John Popham

    I think there cold be an argument here that Kay Burley is simply doing her job. She is employed by Rupert Murdoch who has thrown his weight behind the Conservative party. Most people in that party are opposed to electoral reform. KB is simply doing her employers’ bidding in seeking to belittle the case being put.

    Some interesting questions about ethics here, but people need to understand that journalists are often deliberately partisan. Sky News is gradually moving towards being the UK version of Fox News.

      1. John Popham

        I think it probably depends on how closely the journalist’s personal views coincide with those of the employer, and their conscience

      2. Richard Jones

        I have to strongly challenge both John’s statement that “Sky News is gradually moving towards being the UK version of Fox News” and Paul’s apparent agreement with that.

        Whatever the motivations of BSKYB, the notion that Sky News has a right-wing agenda is nonsense. I worked there for six years, in TV and then in radio. Not once did anybody tell me to write or say anything to further any sort of political or any other view. I never saw this happening to any of my colleagues, and I never heard about it happening either.

        During the first two years that I worked there, I wrote those info graphics on the lower third of the screen. I wrote them virtually in real time, and I was free to put them straight onto the air without anyone checking them (not even for spelling). I did this for some of the biggest events in our recent history, such as the Iraq War. If there had been any kind of conspiracy within Sky News to deliberately distort what was going on to further a particular political agenda, I would have to have known about it and been part of it. There wasn’t and I wasn’t.

        The broadcast news media in this country is, unlike newspapers, strictly regulated. It has to be fair, whether it’s Sky, the BBC or ITN. Sky is full of professional journalists who would never accept any kind of editorial interference, and to suggest otherwise is a serious personal criticism of everyone who works there, or who has worked there, including me.

        You might not like the style of Sky News. You might not like Kay Burley, and I agree she overstepped the mark on this occasion. (But then it’s live broadcasting, and I don’t think her actions were as serious as those of the man mentioned in the original post, Jeremy Paxman, when he and Matthew Parris outed Peter Mandelson on Newsnight.) But to casually link Sky to Fox or throw around statements about Sky’s alleged pro-Conservative bias, is lazy, as well as simply wrong.

      3. John Popham

        Richard, I’m just going on the evidence of what I see, and this incident, plus the distortion of poll results after the 2nd leaders’ debate are two examples I would cite.

        I would say it’s been a relatively recent thing. I always used to enjoy Sky News for its lack of bias

      4. Paul Bradshaw

        Thanks Richard – I’ve clarified the comment I made: I don’t agree that Sky is becoming Fox news, but rather agree that ‘the argument could be made that she is simply doing her job’.

  10. Andrew Brightwell

    I have no idea whether Burley is biased or not. But it strikes me that she doesn’t seem to know very much about the subject upon which she is attempting to hold the interview.
    The electorate didn’t choose a hung parliament, because voters make individual choices (I don’t remember us all meeting and deciding on who was going to vote for who). The protesters have a right to protest and the assumption that there will be change as a result of a coalition or any other deal is at least debatable (It is likely that less, rather than more legislation will make it to the statute whatever deal is struck between the parties).

    But, while Burley’s exasperation – and apparent ignorance – might upset lots of people, it could also strike a chord with many others. Sky isn’t playing to the galleries on the left, after all.

    As someone trying to learn more about interviewing, I don’t think I can get much from 24-hour news, anyway. It strikes me that Burley’s rolling news interviews aren’t there to inform the viewer, but to keep the viewer going. Rolling news is about sustaining interest, not about providing the viewer with sustenance. A little theatre, rather than a drab, if worthy discussion on the pros and cons of a proportional voting system therefore does more to serve her employer’s interests.

    I’m also struck by a far more banal observation. Over the last few days and hours journalists, politicians and many members of the public have been jumping to irrational, excitable conclusions, much like Burley. Mostly because they haven’t got enough sleep.

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  12. Phil Clark

    The problem with Kay is that she seems to decide on a line of questioning and simply doesn’t let go. Without listening to the answers or in any way developing the conversation. A TV interview has to be a conversation and a good TV journalists needs to be responsive and flexible, depending on what answers are given. Kay Burley is not a good TV journalist.

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  14. Padraig McKeon

    Was the ‘barracking’ pre-determined or was it a response to an interviewee who had very little to say for himself and who gave the impression in his body language that he expected to get an easy hearing as he was campaigning for something that might now seem self evident. The interview only got tough 2.15 in when the guy still hadn’t given a decent response but still managed to maintain a cheesy smile. Strip away the prejudices that we might have either about the subject matter, the network or the person involved and we see one of these every day.

    1. Richard Jones

      “After months of biased pro-Tory reporting they must be really, really angry that they are not in yet.”


      I refer you to my comment above.

      On the Boulton/Campbell point, it might be useful to fill in a bit of background. The fact is they simply don’t like each other very much. Boulton was always highly regarded by New Labour (he is now married to Tony Blair’s former aide, Anji Hunter), and was offered Campbell’s job after the 2001 election, which he turned down because he either didn’t fancy it or because they weren’t offering enough money, depending on what you believe.

      During that campaign, Sky and Boulton in particular angered Campbell by breaking the story of John Prescott punching that bloke who threw an egg at him, and repeatedly running the footage. It seems Campbell never forgave Boulton for both this and for being lined up for his job, and so they’ve not really got on ever since. On election night, Boulton squared off against Campbell and Ed Balls during Sky’s live coverage after they’d levelled this ‘Boulton is pro-Tory’ slur at him during this election campaign.

      I’d say both Boulton and Burley went too far in the incidents which have been highlighted. But it’s live telly, everyone’s a bit over-excited and tired, I’d argue these things sometimes happen. I don’t really see how this can be extrapolated into a pro-Conservative conspiracy.

      If the argument runs that Sky News is pro-Tory because Boulton is a Tory (I don’t know what his personal politics are, although he says that he hasn’t voted in an election since 1979), then you could similarly argue that the BBC is pro-Tory because Nick Robinson and Andrew Neil are sympathetic to the Tories, which they have been in their past careers (Robinson as head of the Young Conservatives, Neil as editor of the Tory-supporting Sunday Times for 13 years). But I’d say such an argument would be nonsense. In my opinion those past views can’t be detected in the reporting/presenting of Robinson and Neil, and I’d give Boulton the same credit.

      1. Richard Jones

        I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on this one.

        As I explained in my first comment, during my six years of working there (2002-08) I never experienced any pressure to change my journalism to give a particular view, and never heard of this happening to any of my colleagues. By suggesting otherwise, and apparently without any evidence beyond the odd clip culled from YouTube, you are making a pretty serious allegation about the professional standards of all the journalists that work at Sky News, or have worked there in the recent past, including me.

        So, you’re going to have to forgive me for not agreeing with you.

  15. Julio Romo

    It’s been some time since Kay Burley was a journalist. Today her job focuses more on that new genre ‘journa-tainment.’

    Her holier than thou on-camera attitude is what in my opinion’s made people disenfranchaised with journalism.

    While I am not advocating that she has or should have a duty to strike a balance between two arguments I do believe that on many ocassions, especially during the recent UK election, she has strayed from journalism towards tribal news reporting.

  16. Gillian Kalter

    I have watched Sky News for the last 20 years and I never got the feeling that its bias was obvious, until this election. Apart from the Kay Burley and Adam Boulton unseemly behaviour, the language that Sky News used was biased, e.g. the Conservatives were “meeting* but the cabinet was in a “huddle” giving an impression of something seedy, Sky News journalists using the word “sqatting” in Number 10 as fact rather than as a comment on newspaper headlines. I have made more complaints during the last week than I have for years. I noticed that Alan Boulton’s colleagues rallied round after his disgraceful behaviour as if he still had any credibility – in doing so, a lot of “decent” Sky journalists have lost their own credibility in my eyes. Finally, the BSkyB response to my complaint about Kay Burley, while expressing regret that the rigorous exchange with Mr Babbs was too harsh for my liking, contained the following: “it was right that we challenged that case robustly on air, as we always do”. I noticed that the BBC was not without bias as Andrew Neil lost his temper with Neil Kinnock live on DP. Again, calm guests, irate interviewer. It was not a pretty sight.

  17. ella fitzanders

    personally, i believe that poetry is far more interesting than journalism. while journalism is a technical necessity, check this out:


    i found this blog when surfing the web. she’s incredible – just turned 15, a genius. she’s in the process of publishing two books, one poetry, and one a novella. AND she’s been called the “voice of her generation.” no one knows about her site, it’s totally legitimate. comment on her stuff, it’s indescribable.

    1. Jack

      Bella is indeed a great writer.
      Heads up for anyone that searches for heart on paper in Google, you might end up at my domain. I registered it not knowing that the name already (semi) existed.


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