Who's in line to be 24's fact controller?

IN DODGE CITY they knew what it was to mosey on down.

Moseying
was when cowboys stepped out proudly, but pointlessly, before getting
drilled by a Colt 45. In BBC News they’re just discovering the more
modern and more complex expression – ‘Roger Moseying’. This means your
ex-boss is a proud, but pointless cowboy who gets a great new job,
while you get hit with a P45.

In fairness, no one’s been
black-bagged just yet. But while former TV news boss and wheeler dealer
Mosey is unpacking his golf clubs over at BBC Sport, it’s taken his
successor Peter Horrocks just weeks to demonstrate how much needed
doing in the news division. Helen Boaden’s appointee has moved quickly
and decisively to fill the leadership vacuum and turn things around.

Boaden’s
been under pressure to cut costs ever since she became overall news
supremo last September. With an exec MBA from Wharton, she’s less
interested in internal politics and more concerned with serious
management. Now she has Horrocks onside, her strategy is clear. With
News 24 as the TV output engine, Horrocks can look hard at the double
staffing on bespoke programmes. Where extra headcount doesn’t bring
extra value, Boaden can get the savings she needs and Horrocks can make
the news leaner and meaner.

As a plan it has the great merit of making a lot of sense.

There’s
just one thing missing. Who can turn a strategy document into a living,
breathing TV channel with a sense of purpose and spine of steel?
That’ll be the job spec for the new controller of News 24.

Judging
by the swift action so far, Boaden and Horrocks aren’t going to hang
around making an appointment. So whom will they be looking at to fill
the key command that will dictate the way BBC TV news responds to the
next big story?

John Ryley
In
the Guinness Book of Records for wearing the same clothes since 1989,
Sky’s executive editor makes Columbo look like Laurence Llewellyn
Bowen. The 40-something news junkie is probably the most talented
editorial executive of his generation.

If Boaden and Horrocks
want someone to combine strategic grasp with tactical nous in newsrooms
and galleries, then Ryley is the outstanding choice. Nick Pollard’s
lieutenant was a BBC News trainee and producer back when Mark Thompson
was editing programmes.

He served on News at Ten in its glory
days, before heading down the A4 for Osterley. Populist, but with an
intellectual intensity and serious streak that would sit easily at the
BBC, Ryley commands respect across the industry.

Teamed with Jon
Williams on newsgathering, the BBC would have the kind of operational
leadership that could leave rivals eating Auntie’s dust. But can they
afford him?

The Murdochs keep hold of their talent with the kind
of remuneration package that a public service provider might struggle
to match.

Jon Williams
The leading internal candidate.

Crop-haired
and razor-creased, the BBC’s TV newsgathering editor used to have a
reputation as a hard man who could make an onion burst into tears. Like
Ryley, a former BBC trainee, he was a high-flying regional boss in
Leeds when he too decided that leaving was the best way of getting
ahead. He helped reshape the face of news presentation as one of the
creative forces behind the launch of ITN’s Five News. Returning to
White City, he became Jay Hunt’s enforcer on the Six. Now a senior
exec, Williams has toned down the tough stuff. He’s built a formidable
reputation turning around home news at the Beeb, and gained new
responsibilities along the way. As comfortable in the corridors and
coffee bars of TV Centre as he is in the newsroom, the only drawback
would be replacing him at a time when his mastery of BBC operations
could pay dividends on a re-energised News 24.

Mark Popescu
Currently editorial director of News 24, word has it that Horrocks told him: “Good news – your job’s getting upgraded.

Bad news – the ad goes in the paper tomorrow”. The past will be weighing heavily on the former News at Ten editor.

Capable
and decent, Popeye, as he’s universally known, is in fact being lined
up to take a bullet for Roger Mosey, the man who made inertia a news
value.

Michael Brunson’s former producer has sharp news sense,
but now finds himself taking the rap for delivering exactly the safe,
reliable product his former boss ordered.

Craig Oliver
This
is probably a job too early for Channel 3 News’s head of network
programmes. Oliver is a career ITN man, who arrived at Gray’s Inn Road
as a graduate trainee. Earmarked for high office early on, he’s moved
around the company, helping launch Five with Jon Williams, and
outputting Channel 4 News.

But ITV News is his natural habitat
and he knows he’s an important part of their succession planning. His
reputation may extend to White City, but the problem for Boaden and
Horrocks will be his lack of BBC experience. Whatever its merits,
conventional wisdom at the Beeb has it that while ITN is a good passing
berth for corporation high fliers, senior management have to have spent
some time inside the Ministry of Broadcasting.

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