Former Guardian deputy editor Ian Katz is bringing in some controversial changes to Newsnightby David Herman / December 12, 2013 / Leave a comment
What is going on at Newsnight? Reporters are departing and sharing their redundancy woes on Twitter. Paxman has grown a beard and looks thoroughly disaffected. Then there’s the general weirdness that pervades the programme, from Kirsty Wark dancing with zombies on the Halloween episode to Cheryl Cole’s tattoo and, of course, Russell Brand. It was striking that when Nelson Mandela died, the Ten O’Clock News special kept going on BBC1 with the News Channel taking over. Between them they provided a comprehensive coverage that Newsnight with its reliance on experts rolled out at short notice could not match.
The first flickers of trouble at Newsnight came over two years ago, when it was revealed in a damning report in The Guardian that ratings had dropped by a whopping 15 per cent in seven months with audience figures falling from 800,000 viewers per episode in 2010 to 680,000 in the summer of 2011. None of its presenters were pulling in ratings of much over 550,000, and with Paxman already in his 60s, this was a worrying prospect. The decline was first seen as part of a long-term industry trend—Newsnight was clearly failing to compete with the rolling news channels and the more serious analysis offered by the main bulletins. Who but the most dedicated news junkie would stay up for yet one more current affairs fix?
When disaster finally struck in October 2012 it was worse than anyone could have imagined. First there was the Savilegate debacle and then the false, and hugely damaging, allegations about Lord McAlpine a month later. Although more senior figures were responsible for the McAlpine fiasco, the editor, Peter Rippon, was the chief fall-guy for the initial crisis over Savile. The Pollard report concluded that there was “chaos and confusion” at the BBC over the shelved investigation into allegations that Jimmy Savile had sexually abused a number of vulnerable young girls. Newsnight‘s editor and deputy were replaced, the deputy head of news left the BBC and his boss, Helen Boaden, moved to BBC Radio.
It was clear by now that something needed to be done about Newsnight. Nobody was talking about axing it, but a fresh direction and more robust journalism was urgently required. In July 2013, the…