Briefing Notes: BBC World News

Ritchie Cogan
Ritchie Cogan29th July 2014



Andrew is BBC World News Editor and he is in charge of all bringing in all foreign content for BBC radio, tv and online for audiences in the UK and around the world, including World TV and the BBC World Service.

Before he became World News Editor he was Editor of the World News Channel for four years. He had a lot of involvement with INGO’s while at World News and regularly ran reports in response to reports released by INGO’s. Before that he was bureau chief for the BBC in Brussels and Washington. He originally comes from New Zealand.

As a large result of the integration of the World Service into the main BBC News operation, there have been a lot of changes in the way in which foreign news is gathered at the BBC in the past year. He has 600 staff in the field to utilise in comparison with the 150 who worked under his predecessor, Jon Williams. His team work closely with all of the BBC’s local journalists around the world.

The 27 language services of the World Service are now also broadcasting on television and online.

Reporting is becoming more diverse with local reporters being used on English output as well as having to service their local World Service language service. They are known as ‘bilingual’ correspondents and are the backbone of the foreign news operation.


As a result of the integration of the World Service the BBC has brought on a lot of new local talent both in front of the camera but also technicians.

Andrew suggests that IBT members should interact with the local bureaux in the countries where they operate and build relationships with them. The local bureaux feed stories into the foreign desk in London constantly. If you approach the foreign desk in London, they are likely to send the story onto the local bureau to get their opinion of the story anyway.

It is still complex and often difficult to get non-breaking news on air and budgets, as ever, are tight, however Andrew believes that foreign coverage is still a very important aspect of the BBC’s delivery – it is what it is known for around the world and is not under threat. In next twelve months or so there will inevitably be less space, however, for international stories because of the Scottish referendum and the General Election.

If a story is dangerous or expensive Andrew says he needs buy in from the programme editors on the main bulletins or Newsnight, for example. If not, he commissions stories from the bureaux himself.

There are numerous daily meetings with the editors of the main news output on the English service and weekly conference calls with the bureaux usually on a Monday.

For Andrew stories which are about to become important are crucial for him. He wants to know about them.

 

He suggests avoiding diary dates – he is trying to avoid anniversary stories unless they have a 0 on the end, ie 10 years minimum.

The foreign team work with INGO’s especially where access is needed. For example, Lyse Doucet was in Damascus with an NGO recently. This became the lead story on UK output as well as in the BBC’s international output. They now have an entirely Arabic team in Damascus and this has changed the way they cover the story in Syria. Another story they covered was a Save the Children Fund story in South Sudan about infant mortality where access provided by local Save the Children Fund staff was crucial.

Africa is very important to the BBC at the moment – it is a key area of interest for their World TV and World Service output because a key audience for them is in the Asia Pacific region and this audience is interested in Africa. Africa Business Report has been launched (being produced out of Johannesburg) in response to this interest and the programme covers stories about the development of Africa rather than just disaster news which is a good outcome.

They are trying to update the African language services to make them feel more modern and snappy – so shorter items and sounding more like Newsbeat than The Today Programme.

The BBC has extended its operations in South America largely because of the World Cup and Olympics. Andrew is not sure that they will have such a significant presence in 6 years’ time.

Eastern Europe is busy at the moment with the Ukraine story but it is unlikely to alter the BBC’s presence long term.

The Middle East – especially Syria, Egypt, the Middle East conflict and North Africa – is essential.

South East Asia – the BBC will continue to maintain its presence as it stands. The explosion of media in India and now Pakistan has influenced the way the BBC works in the region. In Pakistan there are 10 news channels alone, but they are all privately owned, so the BBC has invested in its Urdu service which is running its own TV show every evening to ensure that audiences there have access to impartial news. This has led to a huge resource in Pakistan which the foreign desk has never had before. The BBC Hindi service is launching its own daily TV programme as well as a version of Newsround in Hindi. This is being launched to engage a younger audience.

The BBC’s move increasingly online is going to progress. The promotion of video online is growing and there is the potential to get huge audience figures for video online from 1 to 3 million viewers who tend to watch the whole story rather than dip in and out. The BBC’s Youtube channels are worth watching as well as checking out local reporters’ Twitter feeds.

All the local bureaux are listed on the BBC News site under the country pages so they are easy to contact. Phone them and build relationships with them.

Andrew says that audiences are increasingly less interested in geo-political stories and more interested in stories where there is an issue which resonates – such as healthcare, science, technology, culture and sport. He cited a story which did really well recently about water bottles which purify water using sunlight. It went out across all the bulletins. Audiences are also interested in stories which affect us all such as corruption, healthcare and policing. They do seasons – such as the cost of childcare (break up of families around the world made this an internationally relevant story), the cost of feeding your children (came out of the baby milk crisis in China). They may do another food season – perhaps focussing on wastage (lack of refrigeration in Africa and India, for example).

There are relatively new Editors in place on all the major news programmes now and they are all broad­minded about the talent they use. Jamie Angus, for example, who is Editor of The Today Programme, previously helped launch a number of new World Service language services and then moved to Newsnight. Nomsa Maseko is the most recent hit with the 6 and 10pm bulletins. She covered the Zimbabwe elections for them and it was the first time as far as Andrew is aware that the BBC had an African woman reporting on a major story. Until a few years ago she was a policewoman.

There was a Q and A and some specific points emerged:

  • Andrew said the BBC would use NGO footage if they are on the scene of an event before the BBC crew. There is a whole team at the BBC which works on user generated content now, verifying it and checking it.

  • They also might use footage which is branded over a guest speaking it the studio to illustrate a story.

  • Use Twitter and Facebook to broadcast your own material and contact the BBC to let them know it is there to whet their appetite.

  • UN Days on their own don’t interest the UK services but they do interest the World Service and World TV.

  • When you pitch an idea use a short sentence that explains the story and makes him want to find out more. He describes the skill as being ‘headline writing’. You have to be able to sell the story in brief terms.

  • Celebrities per se are not interesting. Angelina Jolie doing a trip isn’t enough to engage a BBC crew but William Hague going to the DRC to talk about rape was.

  • If you are asked to do an interview avoid doing it in a radio car – go into the BBC and try to ensure you get interviews on the BBC News Channel and for World TV as well, outlets which are always looking for interesting guests.

  • Off agenda stories are difficult and their success always depends on the strength of the story. If it is something surprising in someway and somewhere which is unreported but was interesting to the audience previously. The World Tonight, Today, PM and the 6 and 10pm bulletins are the best places to pitch off agenda
    stories to.

    • Getting stories onto World TV is a good way to get TV content into the system. It will appear on the News Channel and maybe even get picked up by the 6 and 10 if it is a story which appeals to them. It will also go up on the website.

    • Business programmes are a good place to pitch ideas – Singapore, Mumbai and Dubai all have business units, as does Johannesburg and London has the biggest unit.

    • Anna Williams is the lead planner on the Foreign Desk. Her email isanna.williams@bbc.co.uk. You should ensure you pitch to her as well as the local bureaux.

    • Online interviews don’t do well – raw footage, packages and real local people speaking do well.

    • Audience feedback suggests audiences want a broader agenda which is good news.

    • On NGO trips the BBC will pay its own way but will use an NGO for access.

 

Sophie Chalk
March 5 2014

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