Out of date—or up to it? Charlotte Runcie and Lucy Winkett discuss fake news, shouting at the radio—and whether it's time to turn off Todayby Prospect Team / September 17, 2018 / Leave a comment
Yes: Charlotte Runcie
Birdsong, coffee, sunlight streaming through the windows: these are all good things to wake up to in the morning. The Today programme on Radio 4, sadly, is not. I’m not the only one who thinks so. In the last year, Today has lost 800,000 listeners—over 10 per cent of its total. BBC bosses have attributed the ratings fall to a “stabilising period” after a hectic news year in 2017. But the problem goes deeper than that.
The Today programme used to be an essential part of the morning routine in any household keeping abreast of current affairs. Ten years ago, Today didn’t just report the news, it created it. The main interview slot at 8.10am was a place for political heavyweights, often including the prime minister, to face rigorous questioning on a key issue and set the tone for the day’s events.
But interviewees have wised up to Today’s famously aggressive tactics. Politicians now either don’t appear or are media-trained to sound tediously matey and reasonable. Brexit doesn’t help. It’s a giant topic that needs to be discussed, yet any Brexit coverage squeezed into a 10-minute interview slot feels inevitably like scratching the surface, explaining and solving nothing.
Worse still, when the BBC’s pay statistics were revealed, the gender gap on Today—where it emerged that John Humphrys was being paid almost four times as much as Sarah Montague—made the programme itself a story. Montague was reportedly “incandescent with rage” and has since left, and Humphrys volunteered for three separate pay cuts, but Today’s reputation had already been tainted. How can it hold politicians to high standards of fairness and equality when it has behaved as badly as the rest of them?
And don’t get me started on “Thought for the Day.”
No: Lucy Winkett
Of course I’m irritated by the Today programme sometimes. But that’s not a reason to tune out: it’s a reason to argue with it and invest in it as a serious journalistic endeavour. Of course I find myself yelling the equivalent of “put your specs on ref” as some business leader, media-trained to within…