Dreaming of the perfect newsroom

The Dream Team I’ve worked with and competed against so many
brilliant journalists and programme makers over the past four decades
of television news, that choosing just a few is virtually impossible.
(It would be easier to choose a ‘nightmare team’ of people who
shouldn’t be let anywhere near a newsroom, but I believe in letting
bygones be bygones).

In my own career, I had two ‘dream teams’.
As editor of the BBC’s Newsnight from 1985-7, I had Tim Orchard, Mark
Thompson, Jana Bennett, Tim Gardam and Peter Horrocks among its
producers; John Tusa and Peter Snow among its presenters; Will Hutton
and Vincent Hanna as reporters; and wonderful talent right through the
staff list.

As editor-in-chief of ITN from 1995 to 2002, I again
had great producers (Nigel Dacre, Sara Nathan, Jim Gray, Bill Dunlop,
Chris Shaw); fine presenters and reporters; and so much ability and
commitment everywhere in the organisation – from journalists to
technicians – that the viewer never noticed what cost-cutting by the
broadcasters was doing to our news budgets.

But this one is an
imaginary dream team, drawn from competitors as well as colleagues,
rivals as well as friends, whose careers span – and tell – the history
of television news over the past 40 years.

Management Editor –
David Nicholas As editor, I would choose David Nicholas – an
inspirational leader. David made News at Ten into an iconic programme,
based on the belief that the mass audience who watched television had
every much a right to highquality news as anyone else.

He also fought uncompromisingly for journalistic independence, arguing “if we’re not independent we’re no use to anyone”.

Managing
editor – Helen Boaden Running a modern news organisation is a huge
managerial challenge: multiple outlets; different formats; lots of
talented, committed, tough-minded (and occasionally paranoid) people.

Helen
Boaden, currently director of BBC News, now probably the world’s
biggest and best news operation, is both a very fine journalist and a
brilliant manager – the two don’t always go together.

Newsdesk
Head of newsgathering – Chris Cramer Chris Cramer is now the formidable
president of CNN International, but he was a fearsome force of nature
in the BBC newsroom, playing a major role as head of newsgathering in
making the BBC fully competitive with ITN after some years of coming
second. His bark was always worse than his bite – thoughtful and
generous behind the expletives – and he is now a tireless and committed
campaigner for better safety standards in the media.

Home news
editor – Dave Mannion Dave Mannion was the ITN news editor who
persuaded Margaret Thatcher to put a camera in her car on election
night in 1983. I can still remember the impact it had on the night – I
was working for the competition! A great motivator – his sharp news
judgements are still in evidence in ITV News, where he’s
editor-in-chief.

Foreign news editor – Sue Inglish A foreign
editor needs to combine an encyclopaedic knowledge and understanding of
the world with great people skills. Sue Inglish is now the head of BBC
political programmes, but was a magnificent foreign editor of Channel 4
News during some of the biggest international stories of the 1980s and
1990s. She persuaded Radovan Karadzic to let Ian Williams and Penny
Marshall into Northern Bosnia in 1992 – their report on Omarska and
Trnopolje camps was the result.

Programme editors Bulletins
editor – Ron Neil For the flagship bulletins, Ron Neil, the former head
of BBC News, was the best programme editor I ever worked with – he knew
perfectly what would appeal to a mainstream audience on Nationwide; he
was a great editor of Newsnight during the Falklands and a fine judge
of what is right – and what is wrong – in journalistic standards. Under
Ron, the BBC came to match ITN at what ITN had always been best at –
serious journalism with a popular touch.

News channel editor –
Nick Pollard For the 24-hour news channel, the editor would be Nick
Pollard, head of Sky News. He has had a great run, taking Sky from its
slightly shaky start to its current strong position. The competition is
closing in on him now, but there isn’t anything about handling breaking
news that he doesn’t know.

Special events editor – Stewart Purvis
Before he became ITN’s chief executive, Stewart was simply the best
news producer of his generation – his coverage of the Iranian Embassy
siege showed how live news events, brilliantly handled, could be
compelling television.

Newscasters Sir Trevor McDonald Many
newscasters have built a strong relationship with the television
audience. But none have ever come close to Trevor McDonald in ratings
of trust, credibility and integrity.

Broadcast news will not be the same when he retires.

Kirsty
Young And to make connections with the younger audience, which finds
the traditional format a turn-off, I would have Kirsty Young. On Five
News she pioneered the new presenting techniques that have been copied
more or less everywhere – but she still does it best.

Reporters
Among a host of great reporters and specialist editors, I would
certainly want: Charles Wheeler, whose toughminded, independent
journalism from around the world has been a key part of the BBC’s
reputation for integrity and impartiality for the last 40 years.

Kate
Adie, whose vivid and brave reporting of some of the most dramatic
stories of our time BBC viewers still remember, long after everything
else in those bulletins has faded from memory.

Christiane
Amanpour, who has reported with passion, courage and engagement from
some of the world’s most horrible conflicts for CNN.

Elinor Goodman, political editor of Channel Four News, for two decades of scoops and the ability to make politics engaging.

Evan
Davis, BBC economics editor, because television news has always
struggled with making economics comprehensible – but he succeeds.

Martin
Bashir, because his brilliant exclusives (Princess Diana for the BBC,
Michael Jackson for ITV) attract audiences of 15-20 million, and
catapult broadcast journalism to the top of the ratings.

Behind the scenes: camera crews, editors, engineers, graphics, studio The editorial ‘dream team’ is only part of the team.

Nothing
gets to the viewer without the crews shooting and editing, engineers
getting the pictures back and graphics and studio teams putting the
programme out. Their high standards have been the bedrock of UK
television journalism and will continue to be so – whoever is in the
editor’s chair.

Richard Tait, director, Centre for Journalism Studies, Cardiff University

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