The team behind Scotland’s new dedicated TV news hour The Nine, which aired for the first time last night, has hired new correspondents in Westminster and Brussels to help it cover all “shades of opinion” on Brexit.
The BBC’s new £32m BBC Scotland channel launched on Sunday. Its nightly 9pm news bulletin is presented by Rebecca Curran and ex-ITV journalist Martin Geissler, who are part of a 15-strong editorial team.
Overall, 80 journalists have been hired to bolster up the BBC’s newsgathering in Scotland with the channel’s launch, with roles based across the nation, including in its smaller cities.
This recruitment drive means The Nine can delve deeper into Brexit, Gary Smith, BBC Scotland’s head of news and current affairs, told Press Gazette.
“Brexit is not just the in or out, leave or remain thing,” Smith said.
“There are huge numbers of shades of opinion in between the two extremes. There are all sorts of different variations that people think they might like to happen on that.
“We’ve got to make sure we touch on all these different voices.”
Former BBC Radio Kent political reporter Rajdeep Sandu is The Nine’s Westminster correspondent and ex-Victoria Derbyshire programme senior reporter Jean Mackenzie is its Brussels-based Europe correspondent.
The BBC’s Holyrood-based political team has also been scaled up.
‘Through Scotland’s eyes’
Smith said The Nine would be “very different” from the current TV news offering in Scotland.
Until now, Scottish BBC One viewers would be shown half-an-hour of UK-wide news at 6pm and 10pm before Reporting Scotland gave them the news and weather for Scotland.
This could mean they were shown stories focusing on English healthcare or education issues that were irrelevant, given these policy areas and many others are handled by Scotland’s own devolved parliament.
Smith said: “The difference for this new news programme we’re creating is it’s got an international and a UK-wide and a Scottish agenda.
“So in the same way as the News at Ten covers the news wherever it’s going on in the world, we’re doing that now with this new programme but through Scotland’s eyes…
“We’ve done that for many years on radio Scotland but we’ve not had the opportunity to do that with our TV news.”
The Scotland-wide recruitment drive means The Nine will not fall into trap of being focused on Glasgow or Edinburgh, where the biggest newsrooms are based.
“We’re really keen to get a sense of the whole country, which again was one of the big aims of the whole channel and our news programme,” Smith said.
A BBC Trust report in 2016 showed Scottish viewers had a “lower opinion” of the BBC than in other UK nations. The corporation’s coverage of the 2014 referendum prompted protests from nationalists accusing it of being biased against independence.
Said Smith: “[We want to] represent the country back to people in a way that they recognise themselves and they find relevant to their own lives and if we manage to do that I hope that will address some of the criticisms we’ve had through the years.”
‘Enthusiasm for a longer programme’
Research conducted ahead of the BBC Scotland channel’s launch made it clear people were interested in “a bit more depth, a bit more analysis”, Smith said, for which the new hour-long show will give more room.
“Going back to Brexit again, like lots of other things it’s very complicated.
“We want more explanation of what’s actually going on rather than the soundbite type reporting of what’s happened today on Brexit.
“There’s a lot of enthusiasm for a longer programme which could get into more depth and explain things properly.”
The Nine will also have a more conversational and informal feel, with its two presenters rather than one who is “sitting behind a desk with great authority telling you the news of the day”, said Smith.
It will still have the authority of the BBC but with a “more down-to-earth style” as some viewers can find the formal style of traditional TV news off-putting, he added.
It is hoped this will help target a slightly younger audience, especially those in their 30s and 40s. The BBC Trust said in 2017 that TV news was watched by 86 per cent of over-55s compared to 33 per cent of 16 to 24-year-olds.
Explaining how this can be done, Smith said: “There’s room in the scope of an hour to broaden the agenda beyond the kind of stuff you traditionally see in a TV news programme and there’s also scope for us to try out different styles of storytelling.
‘The Nine will feel a bit different’
“Some of the storytelling that we do on our digital platforms, on the website and on social media, is very different from traditional TV reporting, so it might not have a reporter in a piece. It might be told through the eyes of somebody involved in the story.
“It might be done the way you might look at something on Instagram or Facebook,” said Smith, pointing to the use of music and “captions”.
“What we’re working on around The Nine is a mix of different styles there, some of which broadly appeal a bit more to younger audiences, although when we did show some of that style of storytelling to older audiences they rather liked it too.
“So I think The Nine will feel a bit different, we’re very keen for it to be different from what people are used to.”
BBC Scotland will also air Debate Night, a Scottish-focused panel show in the style of Question Time, and entertainment news show The Edit, which will both air on Wednesday nights starting next week.
Smith said that while Debate Night, hosted by Scottish broadcaster Stephen Jardine, would have the same “fundamentals” as Question Time – a host, a panel of politicians and non-politicians, and an audience who can ask direct questions – it is it’s Scottish focus set it apart.
“It will have Scottish panels, it will have an audience that lives in Scotland, and its focus will be on issues that are relevant to people in Scotland,” Smith said.
Scottish audiences will still be able to watch Question Time on Thursdays on BBC One in its new time of 10.35pm, just as they will still be able to watch Reporting Scotland after the network news each weeknight.
Smith said: “We’re not throwing out what we do at the moment and doing something new instead. What we’re doing on the new channel is absolutely in addition to what people are used to getting on BBC One.”
Despite the investment in news in Scotland, BBC News still has to find £80m in annual savings by 2020 as part of its 2015 licence fee settlement.