Helen Boaden speaks up for 'slow news' as she steps down after 34 years at the BBC

Helen Boaden

Outgoing BBC director of radio Helen Boaden has said she values “slow news” and questioned whether the media does enough to “explain and explore” in today’s fast-paced environment.

Boaden announced on Friday that she will be retiring from the corporation after 34 years of service in March and leaving her current role as director of radio at the end of this month.

She will be replaced by James Purnell as director for radio and education.

In a speech prepared for the Prix Italia festival, published in the Independent, Boaden said: “I am both curious about and thrilled by digital technology. But I am old enough and wise enough to know that nothing comes without a cost.

“To be frank, I worry about the direction in which we’re going. By ‘we’, by the way, I mean my profession, our profession – the media generally – not the BBC in particular.

“It seems to me that the media can sometimes rush very fast in order to stand still. Some of this is inherent in a particular medium.”

She added: “I feel very fortunate that I have spent most of that career enjoying the benefits of digital technology professionally and as a consumer. I could not live without it.

“But today in a world of fast, I am unapologetically speaking up for the virtues of slow.

“Slow Journalism which is engaging and dynamic of course but embodies impartiality, accuracy, expertise and evidence; the things which take time and resource.”

Boaden moved to her current role in the wake of the Jimmy Savile scandal, having been the BBC’s director of news at the time Newsnight spiked allegations of child abuse against the presenter.

She offered to resign when ITV later exposed Savile as a paedophile, saying at the time is was “not because I suppressed journalism, but as head of news I felt we had made a bad mistake, we missed a story [and] it was on my watch”.

BBC Director-General Tony Hall said Boaden had been a “champion for our audiences” and an “unerring instinct for what is right for them”.

“Helen speaks for public service broadcasting so eloquently and persuasively,” he added. “We owe her an enormous debt of gratitude. The BBC had been Helen’s life’s work and we shall miss her.”

In a statement, Boaden said: “The last few years running BBC Radio, with all its creativity, innovation and sheer fun, have been especially productive and happy.

“I am very proud that my final job at the BBC has been director of the radio division.

“I may be leaving but I shall always root for the BBC and its amazing teams who provide the very best education, information and entertainment, as well as useful and inventive technology.”

Boaden will be responsible for myBBC, the BBC’s major digital project, after stepping down from her current role in October.

She will also lead the BBC’s contribution to Hull City of Culture and in Spring is set to take up a Harvard Fellowship.

The BBC has said it will also be recruiting a new director of radio, within Purnell’s team, to give creative leadership and focus.

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