Rachel Humphreys, co-presenter and producer Rachel.firstname.lastname@example.org
The Guardian set up its Today in Focus podcast in the summer of 2018 and it launched in November of that year. There’s quite a big team – around 10 full time staff plus freelancers – made up of presenters, producers, exec producers and sound designers. Rachel presents and produces (which involves planning the episode, briefing the presenter and editing).
The aim of the podcast was to tell the stories behind the headlines, develop the Guardian’s journalists as characters and find a new audience beyond those who read the newspaper or follow the Guardian online. Rachel came from daily news so she is able to turn stories around quickly when necessary, but she enjoys spending more time getting the story right. The lead presenter at the start was Anushka who recently left. There will now be a trio of presenters – Rachel, Mike Safi and Nosheen Iqbal.
They were named best current affairs podcast in last year’s British Podcast Awards. They are different from most current affairs podcast as they only do one story per episode and they do not slavishly follow the news agenda.
Today in Focus runs daily from Monday to Friday – each episode is roughly 30 minutes long and follows one story. The interviewees are mostly Guardian journalists but other experts sometimes feature and when it’s a human interest story there will be first person testimony from someone who has first-hand experience of the issue.
They try and vary the mix each week, a mixture of lighter and more serious, a running daily news story, a human interest story, a big global story, something lighter.
They have run quite a few international stories. In the last couple of months, they have reported from Brazil, Syria, Gaza, Hong Kong, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Canada, China and the US. They have covered Covid, British politics, climate change, missing people, human rights, UFOs. The range is broad. They are quite open minded about the stories they cover. One of the new presenters, Mike, is based in Beirut so there will be more foreign stories going forward.
Rachel and her colleagues keep an open mind and they are happy to receive pitches. Pitch to Rachel by email, either a story you think they should report on or a human interest issue with a named character they can interview at length. The stories need to have several elements to sustain 30 minutes. One of their recent episodes about families tracing missing relatives was the result of a pitch by a charity to Anushka. Rachel will read all the pitches she receives. It is also helpful if you can send her some audio that you have recorded yourself (it can be recorded on a smartphone).
Human interest stories
Rachel spoke about a podcast on human rights in Egypt which told the story of an Egyptian who was detained by the authorities and later released. The podcast also featured his British wife. Casting is key and they work hard to make sure that the human interest stories have strong characters at their heart. They also have a duty of care and will play clips to the contributors to let them know what to expect. It’s good to interview people who have never been interviewed before – they did one episode on gay conversion therapy and featured a woman talking for the first time about her experience of it.
There is no set approach. Sometimes they will send questions in advance or do a research interview. On other occasions, it is more effective to be spontaneous. It depends on the guest and what works best for that person. Answers should not feel rehearsed or scripted.
Tone of voice
One of the key reasons for their success is getting the right tone of voice and this has evolved over time. The tone is conversational and informal. The presenter is a like a friend guiding the audience through a story. They bring something personal to it and even if they have prepared the questions in advance it should not feel scripted. They want to explain complex stories but not to patronise their audience and tell them things they already know. Working out how much to give as background to a story is one of the most challenging aspects.
Rachel showed us how she edits with different contributors on different tracks. She will do the first edit then show it to the presenter and exec producer and make more changes. Everyone will listen to it several times before it is signed off and goes to the sound designer to complete. A lot of time and effort goes into editing although on the big running news stories the time is condensed. They will do an interview in the morning, edit it and hand it to the sound designer in the afternoon and s/he may work on it all evening. It goes live around 2 or 3am.
Choosing the right presenter is key. Rachel feels that the skills needed are to be calm under pressure, to have the ability to empathise, to be able to listen and have a conversation rather than just run through a list of predetermined questions, to remember to ask the obvious questions, a sense of humour, and a voice that is easy to listen to. Presenters should be in the background allowing the story and the protagonists to take centre stage, they should not ask ‘clever’ questions to show off. Follow your instincts – the audience tends to be interested in what you are interested in.
A podcast is like a documentary, there is a narrative journey, a beginning, a middle and an end. Today in Focus breaks a story up into chapters to provide punctuation. They also start with a question which provides the focus for the narrative. The intro at the top is important – put your strongest sound first to get the audience hooked but don’t tell the whole story in the intro. Remember the thing that got you interested in the story in the first place.
Rachel gave us some concluding thoughts. Teamwork is crucial. Tell stories that you’re interested in. Keep an open mind. Keep things simple. Audio is so clever that there is always a way of telling a story.
Sarah Whitehead, deputy head of newsgathering email@example.com
Climate change unit
Michael Blair news editor
Rhiannon Williams producer
Hannah Thomas-Peter reporter
Victoria Seabrook digital reporter
Emails all first name dot surname at sky.uk
Sky News has had a longstanding interest in climate change and environmental stories. Sarah mentioned ocean rescue campaign and the new climate series of monthly films. They are now increasing their commitment to climate change in the run up to COP. They are aware that the audience is often depressed by the news about climate change and scared so they have a big emphasis on charting the changes that are taking place and showing the solutions. They want to empower audiences and hold governments and business to account. It is not just up to people to change their behaviour, government and industry have a big role to play too. They want their coverage to reach a mainstream audience, both those who are already interested in climate change and those who may become more interested.
The Daily Climate Show – Now they do the Daily Climate Show, a 12-15 daily show which features the day’s news stories and climate change diaries of people who are making a difference. The aim of the show is to be very topical and newsy, they don’t run long features, there are a lot of stories covered (8 or 9 stories in each show). Its regular presenter is Anna Jones. They are also looking for studio guests for the show. The show features lots of data as Sarah says there is big audience interest in data. There is a daily tally of UK fuel consumption showing the proportion that comes from renewables. Ed Conway the business correspondent has now taken on a role as business/data correspondent.
ClimateCast – they also do a weekly podcast. This is very accessible. Recent editions have included an interview with a leading climate change expert and with social influencers who are championing the issue. The podcast includes a run down of the week’s stories. It is presented by Anna too.
Bangladesh – they currently have a team in Bangladesh and will continue to report from the country in the run up to COP, subject to visas. They wanted to be somewhere where you can see the impacts of climate change at first hand. Michael Blair is there. The correspondent is Katerina Vittozi.
Pitching – they are looking for news so give them a new report, new research, new data, something that they can push and will make their headlines. Send photos, video, sound clip. Pitch stories and interviewees and email one of the team not all of them. They are also interested in UK stories. For more information on pitching to Sky News, see notes from the briefing with Tim Singleton, Head of International News, which took place in October 2020.
Instagram – they do an Instagram live every Wednesday at 5 which Katerina hosts. It’s a different guest each week.
Dan Stewart, International Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Justin Worland, climate change policy Justin.email@example.com
Aryn Baker, climate change human impacts Aryn.firstname.lastname@example.org
Ciara Nugent, will lead on COP Ciara.email@example.com
Alejandro de la Garza, covers innovation firstname.lastname@example.org
Elijah Wolfson, covers science and health (based in New York) email@example.com
Alice Park, covers health and medicine firstname.lastname@example.org
Dan is the international editor, based and London, and leads on all international coverage, although he is regularly in touch with New York and takes decisions jointly with them.
He spoke about some of the many changes that have been taking place at Time. It was best known as a weekly news magazine but now it is reinventing itself as a global media organisation. The magazine is now fortnightly and distributed in 45 countries although its biggest audience is in the US. But the magazine represents only a small part of the content that is produced. Time have a big online presence with articles, photos, videos and a podcast coming. 90% of their journalism is online only with 10% going in the magazine.
The current owners are Mark and Lynne Benioff from Salesforce and they are investing in the brand, not looking to make money. There is a big push on experimenting and innovation to reach new audiences. They currently have 2m subscribers and the goal is to reach 10m by 2030. One on five subscribers are outside the US.
The online audience is also mainly in the US and they are read by policy makers in Washington and New York. But there is a growing global audience in Europe, Africa and Asia. They employ 120 journalists worldwide with correspondents and stringers.
They are not trying to be a breaking news site. If they report on a breaking news story then they will try and find their own angle so that they have something new to say. They are interested in finding stories that have a wider impact and shed light on global trends. They are quite choosy about the stories they cover.
Their international coverage is crucial and Dan says that they ‘cover the world with an American accent.’ He explained that they are trying to make connections, explain events and the impact they have. He cited their coverage of Myanmar and Covid in India as being successful and popular with their audience.
They have had a big push on coverage of climate change with a special issue of the magazine last month and another one coming in the run up to COP26. They are currently planning their COP coverage but one of the issues they are focusing on is the role of the global south. Will leaders from the global south be able to attend COP? Will their perspective be heard? The theme of their coverage is ‘climate is everything.’ They want to show audiences that it affects every aspect of our lives – for example food and diet, educations, archtecture. They want to find stories that make these connections and are surprising or unexpected. One recent climate change story focused on the Rift Valley in Kenya and the way in which lakes are merging, displacing communities and creating climate refugees.
In addition to their online coverage they have a weekly climate change newsletter which reaches an influential audience. The aim of their climate change coverage is principally to reach a mainstream audience. They will be watching COP26 closely. Dan gave us the names and contact details of the climate change team (see key contacts above):
Justin Worland, based in Washington DC covers policy
Aryn Baker, based in Rome, covers the human impacts
Ciara Nugent , based in London, will lead on COP
Alejandro de la Garza, based in New York, covers innovation
With their climate change coverage they have also tried to give young people a platform. They chose Greta as their person of the year and have a strong relationship with her.
In January, they launched their 2030 Project with the aim of looking at solutions to some of the world’s key issues such as sustainability, innovation, etc and examining the ways in which the world is changing or needs to change. They have a partnership with the World Economic Forum which has called for a ‘great reset.’ Dan referenced the challenge of meeting the SDGs by 2030. They have created a microsite for this https://time.com/time2030/
Pitches should be targeted at Time, you should show some knowledge and understanding of what works for them. They should be short and to the point. Think about why this would work for Time and offer exclusivity if at all possible. Pitch as long in advance as you can, especially if you are publishing a report. Pitches can go direct to Dan or to one of his colleagues. He receives hundreds of emails so cannot promise to answer every single one. It’s very unlikely that they will take photos or slideshows or video as they have a big team doing with this. However, if you have a photo that captures something important taking place that may work for them – Dan will pass it on to the photo team.
Below are the notes from the recent APPG for Children’s Media and The Arts debating the Future Of Children’s TV Debate, 16 May 2018.
Download The Future Of Children’s TV Debate notes PDF version
Julie Elliott MP welcomed the audience of 70, stating that this debate was timely, coming at a crucial point in time for kids’ media. She then invited Sophie Chalk from IBT to chair the debate.
Sophie further set the context with a reminder of Article 17 of the UNCRC:
She said that recent research by Childwise shows that children are terrified by international events as they see them in alarmist news and on social media and remarked that children need events to be explained so children are not scared by the world they’re growing up in but able to engage with it.
Simon Terrington – OFCOM
Simon was unable to talk about Ofcom’s ongoing inquiry, beyond what is already in the public domain or to say that the intention is and are on track to publish sometime July-Sept. He did however use Ofcom’s research publication Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitudes 2017 to set the market context:
Older kids especially are watching less linear TV but even so that averages at 11.9 hours a week so linear TV still plays a huge role in children’s lives. They are watching TV but on other devices, rather than the main TV set.
The reason kids watch content is mainly to make them laugh and/or relax but even so 48% kids want content that ‘makes you think’. Where they source such content was enlightening: 61% go to YouTube to make them laugh/relax, and 54% going there for content that made them think. The BBC scored better for content that made them think or discuss topics but less so for content that made them laugh.
54% of 3-4 year olds are watching YouTube, mainly global pre-school brands and music.
Simon stated that Ofcom understands that Public Service Broadcasting (PSB) content however is not just about what kids want, but also about what they need. He stated the importance of Ofcom’s Public Service Content objectives.
The kind of news that 12-15 year olds are interested in tends to be music, celebrity, sport but 28% were also interested in serious topics (current affairs etc) and when asked to state their top three news interests, half of the teenagers asked had serious topics in their top three, which is encouraging. But there is clearly a need to find ways to draw in the other half to be interested in the wider world.
35% 8-11 year olds don’t think there is enough content that is specifically about kids like them (regional, diverse etc). Ofcom hopes that C4’s proposed move away from London will address this.
As a news source, TV is still the most trusted. Children may get news from social media and online but they will check it out with parents and against the TV because they don’t trust it. 73% of 12-15 year olds are aware of fake news.
Cheryl Taylor Head of Content, BBC Children’s
Cheryl screened a short taster from some of the documentaries, dramas and animations that explore the world for kids (My Life, Go Jetters etc). She stated the intention in most programmes was to show that kids of the world are the same, despite their differences. She said that making such programming was highly skilled and trained to get it right so that nothing is ever mawkish or exploitative but rather celebrates the children’s whose stories they are telling. She welcomed plurality but said content makers needed to give an extraordinary attention to detail if it is to serve its audience well.
Asked if international stories are less palatable to kids, Cheryl stated that they do just as well with the child viewer as domestic content. The My Life documentary strand is often in the Top 40 shows on the iPlayer. Producers do not need to fear making documentaries for kids.
Nicky Cox- First News, Unicef UK Advisor
With children surrounded by 24/7 news channels, social media etc she ignored the naysayers and established the newspaper, First News, now also online, and continues to have a daily interaction with kids.
She said the average age for children to get their first mobile phone is now 71/2 years, so the world is very much at the fingertips of young kids. But this has led to an overload of information about world events and a desperately alarming rise in anxiety and mental health problems. Kids are worried by news and fake news because of the stuff they have read or seen online. There is a big need for truthful content that empowers kids, but we are falling short of delivering this. She said that kids are 27% of the world’s population, but 100% of the future.
Children watch 15 hours of online video a week. For ten year olds this is a mix of things like social gaming, and celebrity stories on snap chat. These things help form the morals and values of the children watching: why are we leaving this formation of values to chance?
To counter this, First News makes a daily video for Sky News as well as 2 minute Explainer videos under the banner Fresh Start Media. These have been well received and there is clearly a big thirst for informative and popular content. But currently the only PSB broadcaster to be doing any of this sort of content is BBC with strands such as My Life.
Nicky has been making documentary content for My Life with UNICEF, exploring topics such as the Calais ‘Jungle’. But rather than the usual alarmist tone, these documentaries highlight the positive stories. Editors need to make better choices and tell positive stories. Nicky called for a quota: there should be a minimum percentage requirement for broadcasters to children to show programming about the wider world. Currently ITV has no target and C4 says such content is financially not viable. But our children need it.
Professor Jeanette Steemers
From her work exploring the business end of children’s content, Jeanette stated that the key problems that need to be solved are Funding and Distribution.
She stated that the best content SHOWS diversity rather than just naming it.
From her studies with Public Service Broadcasters overseas, she warned that if there is no content about the wider world, it creates a vacuum in kids’ lives. PSBs are the only people making this content. There are no such broadcasters in the Middle East so parents rely on religious broadcasters, which lays children open to indoctrination rather than accurate and unbiased information. Kids are not born as citizens but need access to content that helps them become citizens.
We must believe that good content will have an impact. It takes a long time but research round the world shows that good content helps to shape how kids think about and engage with the world. She called on Ofcom to extend its research beyond what children are watching to WHY they watch what they watch.
With so much content now accessed online, there is a real issue about the lack of regulation and compliance with the online platforms. With evidence for example of companies rejecting black hands for unboxing videos, there is a lot of material that simply wouldn’t be allowed on traditional channels. Such unchallenged racism creates discriminatory attitudes that will manifest in the viewers later.
Jeanette dismissed the argument that children only want entertainment. What we should be asking ourselves is ‘how can we help to make informed citizens?’ She hoped that the DCMS’ contestable fund could help go towards tackling the distribution and discoverability issues. There has been much talk of an online platform. The recent discussions between PSBs to create a streaming service to rival Netflix might be a solution. Ofcom needs to find a way to encourage the commercial PSBs to do a bit more and also online companies like Facebook must step up.
But for any real change, policy needs to step away from prohibition and find ways to be positive. Other territories are facing the same issues. Countries like Denmark and Germany have very good public service broadcasters and they are hooking up with education organisations and film institutes for example to fund and distribute content. The British Film Institute could do more to help distribution. DCMS could connect with Education to make good quality content.
Adam Minns COBA stated that non-PSBs (i.e. Sky, Nickelodeon, Disney) invested £23m last year in first run Public Service type content in UK (Ocean Rescue, Art Attack). It’s not going to replace the BBC but these broadcasters are still highly regulated and this was their own money. He asked that in light of this investment, the current EPG positions were critical, for children to discover this content, and keep the investment financially viable.
Colette Bowe VLV asked how do people discover content online especially? There needs to be support and help to find the good stuff.
Kate O’Connor Animation UK said that there needs to be a combination of options: quotas + specialist platforms etc. She asked why do we fear setting quotas for commercial channels?
Simon – Navigation is critical to finding content. Parents tend to curate preschool but older children begin to choose for themselves or via friends. Prominence on the EPG is critical as are the links on digital platforms.
Nicky – when she proposed First News, it was ridiculed but now it has 2.2million readers. She wants to build an online safe channel. Her attitude from her experience with the print version is “build it and they will come.”
Jeanette – the reality is that children don’t always want the safe stuff. They want to push the boundaries and we mustn’t forget there are many audiences within the kids sector. There is currently not enough research about how platforms work: it looks like they push algorithms rather than public service values. There needs to be transparency. ITV don’t want kids content because its expensive. What can Ofcom do? Jeanette said she had every confidence Ofcom will do the right thing.
Cheryl – parents want content they can trust for their little ones, hence they’ll go direct to CBeebies for example but it is hard to keep up with what older ones are up to. With the connectedness of kids, programme makers are competing with kids creating their own soap opera. CBBC doesn’t post on YouTube because of the age regulations but other people are making money from posting CBBC content there.
Ian Lucas MP – DCMS Select Committee – An issue within Westminster is that things tend to get compartmentalised. It would be good to connect with All Party Groups for countries to get the perspectives of children abroad. He said that, like his own constituency, every constituency has talent to produce content and this potential should be mined. There needs to be more working together for funding: tapping into international development budgets for example. C4’s regional agenda talks about having a strong focus on younger audiences. The case needs to be made that C4 needs to capture its audience early. He also suggested that we need to get politicians to talk to broadcasters.
Beryl Richards, European Broadcasting Union. Broadcasters need to think more internationally: coming together with PSBs overseas to achieve the common aims on a platform. Ofcom regulates British broadcasters but platforms are international. Can we make international companies do more?
Karen Merkel, UNESCO – UK is part of the Creative Cities Programme with Bristol and Bradford working on media literacy. Not simply the critical theory but practical aspects: taking serious film makers into schools. It has had a serendipitous positive impact on the kids wider attainment of literacy and numeracy etc but focussing on the creative processes and cultural perspective has also resulted in young citizens who can tell their own stories. There needs to be a shift in the Education agenda.
How can we make the likes of Google take more responsibility and do more? Shame them! There is mounting public pressure that they have responsibilities but we mustn’t be too censorious. Kids like to open Pandora’s box but the sheer volume of content means that platforms are slow. That said, surely algorithms can be changed?
Simon agreed that media literacy, with kids creating as well as consuming content is key and Ofcom will think more about this and the need to invest more, again.
Sophie stated that IBT are campaigning for more media literacy and calling upon DDCMS to reinstate funding that was previously cut.
Cary Bazalgette – Schools have a role to play in introducing kids to other art forms but not film. Why not? This is a wasted chance.
Mark Galloway, IBT – asked Cheryl what plans do BBC have for future with brands such as My Life or Where in the World? – Cheryl stated they now have a great library of content but need to grow more for 12-16 year olds. There are plans to make stuff that is for iPlayer only (where they’re watching) but they are only assessed on their delivery of their quotas by Ofcom for their two broadcast channels rather than online. They need some flexibility to spread money to other platforms without impacting on the hours required of them by Ofcom.
SUMMING UP – Sophie Chalk
email@example.com, global health correspondent, BBC World News
Jane Dreaper, health correspondent, radio
Adam Brimelow, health correspondent, online
Sophie Hutchinson, health correspondent, TV
Fergus Walsh, medical correspondent, TV
Hugh Pym, health editor, TV
Carol Rubra, head, science and environment editor
Helen Miller, health producer
Eimear McNamara, health producer
James Gallagher, health editor, online
Caroline Parkinson, health editor, online
Michelle Roberts, health reporter, online
Philippa Roxby, health reporter, online
Smeeta Mundasad, health reporter, online
Alex Bolton, assistant editor, World News, planning
Kristina Block, World News, planning
Alastair Elphick, World News, editor/journalist
Rachael Buchanan, medical producer
Naomi Grimley, global affairs correspondent
Tulip started in radio at Radio Merseyside then worked for Radio 1 Newsbeat and Radio 1 Extra, before moving to Pakistan to cover Pakistan/Afghanistan. She became global health correspondent in 2013. It’s a new position so she doesn’t have a specific brief. She interprets her brief quite widely but is committed to bringing untold global health stories to the screen. She’s keen to do something on neglected tropical diseases and also on snake bites. She travels abroad once every 1-2 months to do a piece. Her pieces run on World News TV, the World Service and – if they’re taken up – on the Today programme, the Six and the Ten. She also does longer docs for the Our World strand. She has a film coming up soon on Sierra Leone and the aftermath of Ebola. Much of her time has been spent covering Ebola. She is now free to look for new stories and encouraged everyone present to send her any suggestions. Some subjects such as malaria and HIV are a hard sell. She has to come up with a new angle or a compelling reason to run this story now. But she is lucky to be able to do features and depart from the news agenda. Sometimes she will respond to a running story – for example she is keen to do something on the health and mental health of migrants.
There are many health stories she could do but she must persuade her editors that a story is worth covering especially given the cost of sending her abroad to cover it. World News are very supportive and generally when they commit they do not change their mind. The domestic news bulletins are harder to pin down as her story may be dropped on a busy news day.
When you pitch an idea to Tulip, be very clear on access, what is new about the story and why it is important. Finding a hook is key – even if it just a UN announcement or a new piece of research. If you’re publishing a report and you are giving it to her before it goes in the newspapers, then that is a big plus. When you write to Tulip, spell things out clearly in bullet points – it’s much easier for her to digest that way. Be aware of what the BBC has done and mention any other BBC coverage in your email to her. There is no point in her pitching an idea if someone else has already done something similar.
It’s best to pitch ideas to correspondents and copy editors in to emails. Editors like to keep across what is going on but a story needs a champion and that is most likely to be a correspondent.
Tulip is keen to do more seasons and spoke enthusiastically about a day in which all news outlets focused on death. The day was called ‘Dealing with death‘ and Tulip went to Uganda to report on community responses to death.
Tulip recently did a piece on Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and filmed in Saudi Arabia. The editors liked this because it was a ‘new’ story and also because Tulip had access to Saudi (which is hard to get apparently and quite rare). BBC World also did a branded day of programming around MERS with buy in from Today, the Six and the Ten. World News does this sort of thing well as there are several slots during the day on the tv channel where they can bring in studio guests to talk about a running story.
BBC News is keen to do more off agenda days like this – IBT has been talking to James Harding, the BBC’s Director of News, who said that he is keen to stop the news juggernaut occasionally to focus on an issue that is important but which doesn’t normally get exposure on the news. He spoke about the difficulty of covering the process of development – we will be talking to him further about this.
There is a big move for BBC news to raise its game online so the health team are particularly keen on any suggestions for online stories, animation or interactive pieces. Tulip spoke about the body clock piece produced by Rachael Buchanan as part of the dealing with death season. http://ksj.mit.edu/dispatches/2015/03/05/inside-bbcs-award-winning-body-clock-project-medic-3/
Tulip said there is no definitive way to get a story commissioned – in her experience each time has been different. She is keen to find more stories on innovation in sub Saharan Africa; to look at the pharmaceutical industry; to focus on obesity, diabetes and more consumer type stories. She did a piece on body image which went down well. She will be filming in Japan in March and is keen to find another story to do whilst she is out there. She also wants to tackle ‘difficult’ subjects and responded well to a suggestion that she should look at menstruation. She has already reported on fistula. Tulip said that Naomi Grimley is another person to try if you have a development story or one with a women’s angle.
IBT briefing with MailOnline October 2015
Marianna Partasides Deputy News Editor
Marianna.Partasides@mailonlne.co.uk deputy news editor
Anna.Hodgekiss@mailonline.co.uk health editor
Rachel.Reilly@mailonline.co.uk science and technology editor
Daniel.Sanderson@mailonline.co.uk global editor
Lisa.Snell@mailonline.co.uk head of video
Louise.Saunders@mailonline.co.uk show business editor
Carol.Driver@mailonline.co.uk femail editor
The key point to remember is that MailOnline is not The Daily Mail. Although they share a newsroom and the site runs Daily Mail stories it does not have the Mail’s political agenda; it is not anti-aid; it is not sceptical about climate change. It has a huge readership and is not just read by Daily Mail readers.
Its USP is that there is something for everyone – lots of celeb stories, lots of fun content to share, but also lots of news stories. Often the news stories have more hits than the celeb stories. Readers may come to the site initially for the celeb content but they quickly graduate onto other parts of the site. There’s a lot on the site and stories often run at some length. Videos are common too. A key aspect of the site is its use of pictures. Whilst occasionally a story will run without pictures, this is quite rare.
The MailOnline has a completely separate editorial team from The Daily Mail. You can’t pitch to both at the same time – you need to pitch to them separately, although they will take each other’s stories. The website has a global reach – although its main audience is in the UK it is widely read in English speaking countries like the US, Australia and Canada. They will see a different home page with local content but much of the rest of the site will be the same.
The site publishes hundreds of stories every day and some will just stay there for a few hours. A typical story will be removed after 24 hours. There is no beginning of the day – the site is refreshed on a 24 hour basis. Peak readership is morning, lunchtime and early evening. More readers now access the site using mobile devices.
Pitching a story – think of yourself as a reader – what would you like to read? Where is the human interest angle? Do you have great pictures? Almost any subject can be interesting if approached in the right way. Of course the site is always looking for a MailOnline take on a story but there is no set rule as to what this is. On one day the site may lead with an expose looking at conditions in Brazilian jails; on another it may lead on the world’s worst wedding cakes. It’s hard to pin down what a typical MailOnline story is. They are interested in global issues. They have devoted a lot of coverage to the refugee crisis.
The best way to pitch is to email one of the subject editors mentioned at the top of this note. Focus on the human interest angle, the personal story rather than the issue. And open your pitch with ‘we have some great pictures…’ Pictures count for a lot especially if you own the copyright. They like using video too – this can be pitched direct to the video editor.
If you have an expose or investigation, think of the UK angle and how this impacts on consumers. They ran a piece on the conditions in which pigs were kept but it wasn’t considered a story until they found out who was consuming the meat. It turned out to be Morrisons. Morrisons responded by dropping the supplier – and then the site had its story.
Global stories should be pitched to the global team. They have roving reporters who could work with you and they are thinking ahead, not just responding to the day’s news stories.
If you have a great story it will be more attractive to them if you offer it exclusively – but this is not essential.
Marianna is compiling a list of features which are not time sensitive and can be run on a quiet news day – maybe at Xmas for example. So get in touch if you have something along these lines.
Foreign stories do well on the site, particularly if there are strong pictures or video.
If you are taking a celebrity abroad contact the show business team.
If you have a female angle contact the femail team.
Climate change stories in the run up to Paris should go to the science team.
All these subject teams work exclusively for MailOnline – they are completely separate from the Daily Mail.
Paul Hamilos, World Features Editor, BuzzFeed UK firstname.lastname@example.org
Caroline Crampton, Web Editor, New Statesman email@example.com
Founded in the US 3 years ago as an entertainment site, they discovered that audiences had an appetite for quality news reporting so they started hiring reporters to write news stories and they now have a team of correspondents around the world and freelancers too. They also have themed correspondents like Jina Moore, who writes about women’s rights and is based in Nairobi – and Saeed Jones, who is their LGBT editor. They are due to hire many more reporters and open new bureaux. They have bureaux in Canada, Mexico, Paris, Delhi, Berlin. These bureaux cater for local and global audiences. They are thinking of hiring new reporters who will specialise in migration, climate change and sexual health.
Climate change is a particular challenge and they are giving serious thought to how BuzzFeed should approach this important subject. They need to find a new way of talking about climate change that engages readers.
Miriam Elder is the Foreign Editor based in New York; they have another foreign editor in Washington DC and Paul in London.
The UK site was set up 18 months ago and its tone is different from the US site – the US site is very jolly and upbeat. Janine Gibson has been hired as Editor in Chief in London and she has money to hire 25 more reporters.
Paul is in charge of commissioning long pieces (5-7,000 words) – he says that audiences either like short pithy pieces or longer, in depth ones. Their main aim at BuzzFeed is to produce content that people want to share. Not many readers go to the home page – most come via social media recommendations. Of course BuzzFeed is known for its lists, but Paul is equally happy to produce longer pieces that are read by a few key policy makers or others with influence. It’s not all about the numbers.
They want to tell new stories not comment on other people’s stories so there is a big emphasis on original journalism. They are not trying to do everything – other sites such as the BBC do that very well. A key for them is human interest – personal first person testimony. This should be at the heart of every news story which BuzzFeed does. A news peg will help draw people in.
Paul says the best way to pitch is to get to know the reporters and pitch to them – don’t go to the editors and don’t send generic press releases. Make the effort to understand what BuzzFeed is about and what works for them. A good recent pitch came from Human Rights Watch which was highlighting human rights abuse in Uzbekistan. They chose to do so by pitching a story highlighting ’10 ways you can fall foul of officialdom.’ This went down well as it felt novel. Paul’s advice to NGOs is to look for novel approaches and to find characters that audiences can relate to.
BuzzFeed doesn’t normally take content directly from NGOs. On a wider point, he said most of what comes from NGOs is in similar vein and he is always looking for an angle or tone that feels different – hence why he liked the Human Rights Watch story.
BuzzFeed have 200 million readers worldwide – half in the US and half elsewhere. 75% of their content is accessed via social media – Facebook mainly – and 70% on mobile phones. Mobile phone access is growing. Every story needs to be laid out so that it works on mobile. 50% of their readers are under 35.
Paul is a big advocate of the written word and he says that this – combined with graphics – works well on mobile. Stark, beautiful images work well too – and images that have something new to say for example they ran some images of oil being transported across the Syrian-Turkish border and no one had captured this on film before. They also run video but it tends to be short clips that capture a moment. Clips need to be succinct and punchy. They like lists of course – an efficient way of telling a story according to Paul.
Paul highlighted reports by Hussein Kesvani, their Muslim affairs correspondent, based in London and Ellie Hall who is based in New York and writes about the Catholic Church, the British royal family and ISIS online. Foreign stories are a challenge – they need to stand out. The tone needs to feel fresh and different. Paul criticised the flatness of tone of much foreign reporting in the UK.
Ideas should be pitched by email not by telephone to Paul but preferably to individual reporters.
NS is a small, political magazine with weekly sales of around 30,000. In 1993 the website was established – it was expanded in 2008 and Caroline joined in 2012 as the first dedicated web editor. She has her own team of reporters and commissions her own content. There is very little overlap between the magazine and the website. There are 5 full time staff working on the site and 20 contracted freelancers. Around a third of their coverage is of Westminster politics; the rest is made up of features and news pieces on familiar subjects like human rights, injustice, oppressed minorities. The NS pursues a broadly left wing agenda.
The site has an average of 3m readers a month. 60-70% are returning so they are reaching a familiar audience. 75% of the readership is female and under 35s is the biggest demographic. 55% come to the site via social media. No one comes to the home page so they are redesigning the site with this in mind.
Caroline receives around 100 pitches every day from freelancers, charities etc. She may be interested in 15-20 and end up commissioning 3 so the bar is set high. She is not interested in comment pieces but, like Paul, wants original journalism with a strong focus on first person testimony. The website is not part of what she calls ‘the media food chain’ where writers constantly comment on what others have written elsewhere.
Caroline received a good pitch from an organisation called Refugee Women – they had access to women in Yarlswood Detention Centre and the result was that the NS online ran a series of interviews with these women over a period of weeks. She liked this fresh approach.
They mainly run written articles – pictures work well too, but they don’t use video. They do have an audio podcast once a week. Pictures need to be surprising and evocative and feel a bit unusual. For example they used a picture of a bombed out Homs and in the centre of the picture was a small child playing in the ruins. This was widely shared via social media.
Ideas should be pitched to Caroline by email – not by phone.
Chris Hunter, assistant editor, 5 Live Drive show Christopher.firstname.lastname@example.org @mrchrishunter
Anna Doble, online editor, Radio 1 Newsbeat email@example.com @annadoble
Radio 5 Live is a 24/7 radio station specialising in sport and news, particularly breaking news. The weekends are dominated by sport but the rest of the week has far more news than sport. The two shows with the biggest ratings are:
Breakfast 6-9am (9-10am phone in show: YourCall) Runs Monday – Friday. Peak time is 7.30am
Drive 4-7pm Monday – Friday. Peak time is 5-5.30pm. For Breakfast and Drive items usually run 3-5 mins.
There is also:
10am-1pm 5 Live Daily – this runs mainly human interest stories and has space for much longer form in depth interviews running up to 20 minutes.
1-4pm Afternoon Edition – this is where they run features from the world of arts, books. Much less news based unless there is a breaking story.
10pm-1am Late – very free ranging and anything goes, no set agenda. Guests from the US. Tomorrow’s papers.
1am onwards Up All Night – surprising number of insomniacs and night workers tune in. Has no agenda. Recently ran a piece on biker culture in the US, for example, following the biker killings.
5-6am Wake Up to Money – this is edited by the Business team and is a good place to target.
5 Live is based in Salford and their preference is to have live guests in the studio. Failing that then the priority would be live guests down a quality line or in a local BBC studio. Ordinary phone line or pre-recorded much less good. They are a live radio station so their preference is always to do interviews live. Foreign language can be pre-recorded and then a voice over added. These are rare so the interviewees would need to be special.
Their main interest is in finding the people at the heart of a news story – so that they can give detailed first person testimony. They have their own team of reporters but if it is a breaking story (especially abroad) they will rely on the BBC News reporters initially until they have had time to send their own reporters. They do more UK than international news but cover all the major international news stories and any other hard news stories that would interest a UK audience.
5 Live’s audience is 72% male and 32% ABs, 34% C1s. It’s slightly older – average age around 44. Interestingly, most of its audience is not made up of news consumers – they don’t listen to Today etc. The regular news listeners will come to 5Live when there is a big breaking story. They have a loyal audience that likes the way they cover news. 38% of listeners are in the south; 26% in the north. The northern audience is growing now that they are based in Salford. They have 6m individual listeners per week. Their peak audience for Breakfast -across the week – would be 3.5m at 7.30am and 2.5m+ for Drive.
It’s the news service on Radio 1 and so is targeted at 16-25 year olds. There are two 15 minutes news bulletins each day, at 12.45pm and 5.45pm. The average age of the Radio 1 listener is 23. They also have short news bulletins on the hour every hour. Anna was brought in from Channel 4 News to develop Newsbeat as a digital brand so the online content is growing rapidly and includes lots of specially commissioned video content. They have a team of 35 journalists who have all now been trained to shoot video, stills, record sound, write copy and use social media.
They do a lot of explainers to explain complex news stories and key issues – for example during the election they did explainers on the first past the post voting system, on a hung parliament etc. They are keen to use animation. They have their own YouTube channel. Some of the pieces they commission can be up to 12 mins long. They are keen to run stories that have substance but are relevant to their target audience. They do a lot of music and entertainment but serious issues also feature in the mix.
One way of covering an international story – like the riots in Baltimore – might be to pair a young person in the UK who is protesting with a young person on Baltimore who is doing the same. They want to find different ways of covering international stories. With Nepal, they commissioned an artist to draw a comic strip. This was very popular and found its way onto the main BBC news website.
They also run feature items online if they think their audience will be interested – for example they have done pieces on self-harm, cannabis addiction, drag kings.
Newsbeat’s online coverage is not necessarily covering the agenda of BBC news –they are constantly looking for an angle that will appeal to young people or to find a young person at the heart of a story. They work on a daily news agenda – their main newsgathering effort is from 8am to 12.45pm.
Climate change – they are thinking about how they should cover it but certainly it is on their agenda given that the Paris summit is coming up in November.
For 5 Live, Chris suggested pitching to Stephen.Mawhinney@bbc.co.uk He is the head of news for 5 Live and will pass your email on to the relevant person. He also said phoning up may be more effective than emailing. Be clear on your top line and be opportunistic – responding to a story that’s in the news asap. Phone numbers are as follows:
Breakfast 0161 335 6501
Daily/Afternoon Edition 0161 335 6504
Drive 0161 335 6503
Late/Up All Night 0161 335 6502
If it’s not a story for that day then just ask to speak to the programme’s forward planning producer.
The main thing to remember is not to send generic press releases or emails. Give some thought to what would work for a particular programme. With 5 Live they want -where possible- people at the heart of the news. But you may find that they will interview different people on the same story at different points in the day – for example they may want your CEO on Wake Up to Money to talk about the financial aspect of a story or crisis; then at Breakfast they may want an aid worker giving their point of view; then on Daily they may want a killer guest who can sustain a 20 minute interview. Think about all this before you phone them up and pitch a story or guest. Also bear in mind that they are always looking for more guests who are female or who are young. Diversity is another issue to bear in mind.
If you want to target one show go for Breakfast – the show is the best resourced on 5 Live and the producers have a brief to think across the station not just to think about their own show. You will find that all the producers on 5 Live are more collaborative than on Radio 4 where the different news programmes are competing against each other.
Email pitches should have a strong top line and include named interviewees that you are proposing and who you know are available and easy to contact on the day. It’s useful to include a sound taster on MP3.
5 Live sometimes does a day devoted to a theme – GP day for example. They could do a Charity or Aid day.
When to pitch – avoid Mondays. They get a huge amount of emails from NGOs on a Monday. Also think about Saturday or Sunday – it’s easier to get on air on these days, and your story may run through the day.
For Newsbeat, Anna said email is a nightmare – best to tweet her or call the Newsbeat newsdesk on 020 3614 1110. Key contacts are:
Debbie Ramsay Debbie.Ramsay@bbc.co.uk @Deb_ramz
Daniel Rosney Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org @Daniel Rosney
With Newsbeat, the key is to find the young person’s angle or point of view on a news story – or a strong feature that will speak to their audience.
Speakers: Christin Tallon, partner, Leigh Day and Marie-Louise Kinsler, barrister, 2 Temple Gardens
The overriding lesson from this briefing was that UK based employers have a duty to take all reasonable steps to ensure the safety of their staff at all times. This is an onerous duty and the courts expect an employer to check all the arrangements that are in place when employees undertake foreign travel. If a helicopter is being hired the employer will be expected to check the safety record of the company, verify its insurance cover, check the pilot’s licence etc.
The employer’s duty is much less onerous with freelance staff. For freelancers, an employer must be deemed to have taken ‘reasonable care‘. Selecting a competent person to discharge this responsibility is deemed to be adequate. But the courts may take the view that a freelance on a long term contract has the same rights as an employee.
Marie-Louise explained the complexity of pursuing a legal claim as a result of an accident abroad. If it is possible, it is preferable to hear the case in the UK, under UK law; alternatively a case can be heard in the UK under foreign law; the third option would be for the case to be heard abroad. Claimants, when pursuing claims against UK-based NGOs, are much more likely to want to have the case heard in an English court.
Lawyers will advise on jurisdiction (where the claim can be heard) and applicable law (whether English or foreign law applies). It is easier to bring a claim in the UK for many reasons, including the fact that disclosure always applies here but not in all other countries; here costs are paid which again is not always the case abroad; here the court’s decision is enforceable which is also not always the case outside the UK.
If the court case follows an accident which has taken place in an EU country then it has to be heard in that country under its law. If the accident occurred outside the EU the case can only be heard in the UK if the papers can be served physically here. If a UK resident is injured abroad but the injury continues on his/her return to the UK then the case is more likely to be heard here.
Liability varies according to country. In most EU countries, for example, liability for an accident lies with the driver of the vehicle. This is not always the case in other countries – in Costa Rica, for example, liability rests with the owner of the vehicle.
Christine spoke about the importance of doing a detailed risk assessment before a foreign trip. She will help draw up a protocol for us to distribute to IBT members. She advised not to cut back on insurance – for example, make sure that your policy includes repatriation as this can be very expensive. Make sure it applies to the country you are travelling to. This is a surprisingly common mistake. When you hire a driver and vehicle make sure that the company and the driver are insured and that he/she has a valid licence. Make it clear that when they drive there is a no alcohol/no speaking on the phone rule, regardless of local customs.
If you are involved in an accident collect as much information as possible whilst you are still in the country – for example, the name of the police officer, the case reference number, a copy of the police report, names of eyewitnesses, driver’s name and licence details. Take photographs of everything – the scene of the incident, damaged vehicle, licence plate, your injuries etc. It is almost impossible to obtain any relevant information once back in the UK. Keep copies of your medical records. Keep receipts for all expenses you incur. Phone your travel insurer as they can be very helpful. Ask for help – it is hard to deal with these incidents on your own. Contact the British Embassy or Consulate -staff will be very helpful. Don’t hire a local lawyer – wait until you are back in the UK. Don’t accept offers of compensation – wait until you have sought legal advice.
Jon Zilkha – head of 24/7 and digital
Steve Herrmann – head of BBC News online
Jon is in charge of the BBC News Channel and BBC World News and all the online content produced by BBC News – he is a member of the senior management team at BBC News. He was previously head of the business and economics unit. Steve is the editor of the news website and manages BBC News online. He is responsible for editorial content and works closely with the future media team of developers, designers and product managers.
Both spoke about the big changes that are taking place to strengthen the BBC’s online offering and make it accessible via mobile and tablets. Demand is shifting in this direction – currently, 45% of users access the site via desktops; 40% via mobiles and 14% via tablets. Mobile is growing massively and tablet is also growing but not so fast.
They confirmed that there is widespread interest from the UK audience in international content. Features are popular not just the main story of the day. BBC News is the homepage for many people and also a favourite of many – so it gets a higher percentage of its traffic directly rather than through recommendations on social media. The website has a public service ethos and so will promote off agenda features and stories that the editors believe in – it won’t just replicate the news agenda of other BBC outlets.
They are looking at new ways of presenting video – 15% of users watch video content. There is a lot of experimenting to see what works and what doesn’t. Lots of background explainers, using graphics, statistics, short interview clips etc – content designed for sharing.
Both speakers talked about what makes a story popular – they agreed that there is no ideal running time. Vice News has shown that longer pieces can work well online. Authenticity is important and good storytelling – good use of visuals too. Pieces should be concise and get to the point quickly. Reporters should not just reproduce their tv pieces – they should think about what would work online. There is an appetite for more immersive content.
An example of a recent popular feature which ran on the site is David Shukman’s piece on the disposable syringe. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-31537847
Science stories are popular and those that cover health, technology, innovation, the workplace, lifestyle, achievement etc. Both speakers said that the agenda of BBC News was moving away from traditional geopolitical stories. They suggested that we make contact with Tulip Mazumbar, global health correspondent, who is based in London.
Other pieces that were mentioned included the A Richer World strand looking at the impact of rising incomes in some countries http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-30335136
And a report on the drying up of the Aral Sea – this featured prominently on the home page and had 1.2m hits:
There was a report from Fergus Walsh based on a UNICEF story on child mortality in Malawi.
Fergus Walsh is regarded as being good at delivering quality online content as well as traditional tv pieces.
BBC News has a ‘digital first’ policy which means that stories run online first and also that digital is not just an add on – the digital element is there from the beginning. This requires advance planning and thought.
Steve spoke about the stories that had done well recently – 5 out of the top 6 stories were international: Paris drone mystery; US sniper case; Cliff Richard; Waiting for the sea; cold calling; and Austria’s new Islamic laws.
The site is also running more live feeds – in response to audience demand.
In June the BBC is launching a new 9pm news show called Outside Source which will be simulcast on the BBC News Channel and on BBC World News. Presented by Ros Atkins from World Have Your Say, it will have an innovative format (using social media prominently) and a global agenda, including sport and business. The BBC Trust asked BBC News to broaden its offering to audiences – to feature a wider range of international stories (in response to lobbying by IBT) – and this is what they have come up with.
Steve and Jon spoke about pitching. What are BBC News looking for? They want to tell audiences something they don’t already know. The ideal pitch will include some or all of the following: access, expertise, personal testimony, new data – content that provides a proper understanding of an issue. Strong storytelling that grabs people’s attention and a strong visual component will help a lot. There is space on the website to run a broad range of stories so they are always on the lookout for something that it a little eclectic – and for light and shade. They are also on the lookout for pieces with a different tone (they have noted how Vice News does this well) – something that feels rougher and less polished – that will appeal to younger audiences. James Reynolds and Matthew Price are two reporters who can pull this off.
They said the key to pitching is establishing relationships with commissioners but agreed that BBC News online is hard to penetrate from the outside. They advised that correspondents could be approached directly (Fergus Walsh, Tulip Mazumbar, David Shukman, Pallab Ghosh etc).
For BBC World, Jon provided a few names of planning editors:
Anna Williams – Planning editor at BBC Global News email@example.com
Kristina Block – BBC World Assignment editor Kristina.firstname.lastname@example.org
Oversees planning on behalf of World News and BBC.com
Fiona Crack – Editor, Language planning, BBC World Service email@example.com
For the website, Steve suggests that specialist teams should be contacted direct:
0203 614 1216
Paul Rincon – firstname.lastname@example.org
0203 614 1182
Sean Coughlan – email@example.com
Hannah Richardson – Hannah.firstname.lastname@example.org
0203 614 3172/3180
Leo Kelion – email@example.com
Tel – 0203 614 1224
The best address, given the different people in at different points of the day is firstname.lastname@example.org.
0203 614 0885/2929
Mark Savage – email@example.com
Rebecca Thomas – firstname.lastname@example.org
0203 614 1891
For general queries if you aren’t sure which section – try Caroline Parkinson Acting Assistant Editor, Specialist Journalism BBC News website Room 02D New Broadcasting House London W1A 1AA Direct line: 020 3614 1213
March 3 2015
Yonni Usiskin, Supervising Producer, Vice News UK Yonni.email@example.com
Charlie Lindlar, Assistant blogs editor, Huffington Post UK Charlie.firstname.lastname@example.org
Vice News UK
The UK site is barely a year old and in a short space of time it has achieved a huge following. The team is small, 15-20 people in the London office, made up of producers, directors, journalists, researchers. Some of these are specialists in, for example economics, environment and conflict. They have 37 bureaux across the world. Vice has the stated ambition of becoming the biggest media company in the world and has big plans to grow – including launching tv stations.
Yonni is responsible for the video content. His background is in documentaries and he has worked on a number of high profile shows such as Channel 4’s 24 Hours in A and E. Most of the people who watch Vice videos do so via their YouTube channel. They go regularly or they find videos through recommendations on social media. The Vice News site itself doesn’t work very well for video. Their most successful video was shot behind the scenes in IS territory – it currently has 14 million views, so they are capable of getting bigger audiences than mainstream tv.
There is no optimum length for a video on Vice News – the team respond to each story differently. They run many longer pieces – the IS video is an hour long. Yonni doesn’t believe that audiences have a short attention span when it comes to authentic content.
Vice’s USP is to provide a different news agenda from other news suppliers such as the BBC. They want to cover stories that are not been covered by mainstream news and to find different angles and to promote the voices of ordinary people rather than experts.
They are not a 24 hour news channel and don’t have the capacity to turn round videos within hours but they have regular weekly meetings to plan their video content. They don’t have deadlines as such or a schedule so they can be flexible. The key is topicality.
They shoot most of their own material with their crews and correspondents but they are open to using footage supplied by NGOs – provided that they are able to edit the footage to give it a Vice News approach. The key is finding good content- they are not worried about being seen to promote an NGO line.
Yonni believes there is a real opportunity for NGOs to engage audiences – if they can find the right tone and content. He believes that audiences engage differently with media from the way they used to – so this presents an opportunity for NGOs to gain supporters and future activists.
Their target audience is 14-34 year olds. They are not a ‘youth channel’. They see this group as the decision makers of the future. They say they are the fastest growing news channel in the UK. For the global site, 50% of the audience is in the US; and 50% the rest of the world.
They have given extensive coverage to Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Recently they ran a series on immigration to Europe. They’ve also reported extensively from Ukraine and ran a series on the rise of anarchism in Greece.
Yonni was asked why he thought his audience was interested in foreign stories when other broadcasters have told us that there is not much appetite for foreign news. Yonni’s view is that there is a genuine interest in what is happening around the world. The style of reporting is crucial – audiences are interested in getting to the truth and not being patronised. He wants to cover aid and development as he feels this is necessary for people to understand the causes behind war and famine.
Vice News has worked effectively with NGOs in the past, notably Stonewall (on a series on gays in Russia and Jamaica) and Reprieve (on a series on Guantanamo).
They are keen to cover climate change – and have done some stories in the US on solar power and the lack of choice US consumers have when looking for an energy supplier. And stories in the UK about fracking.
They tend to steer clear of celebrities – they did shoot some material with Vivienne Westwood on the fracking story but it felt as if it was just promoting her and her opinions so they dropped it.
One weakness of Vice News at the moment is it UK coverage which he believes needs to be strengthened.
Another concern is that their audience is heavily male skewed – they are not sure why this is but they would like to attract a more mixed audience.
Plans for the future – they want to strengthen the photo section of the site – they think it’s a bit weak at the moment. Since they are only a year old, they are currently taking stock to assess what worked and what didn’t. They do feel they need more publicity for the site – not enough people know about it yet. They are also planning to explore the idea of more partnerships – as a source of additional revenue.
Yonni is happy to be contacted with story ideas and they can be topical, for now, or for the future. His advice to NGOs pitching stories: be ambitious, know your audience.
Huffington Post UK
The site was launched initially in the US as a news and politics blog by Arianna Huffington. The UK site was launched in 2011. They have spent the last 3 years establishing themselves – they are currently the 7th biggest news site in the UK – bigger than The Sun and The Independent. They want to get bigger and be more ambitious – and to grow the blogs section of the site.
There are now sites in numerous countries- France, Germany, Spain, Greece, Brazil, India, South Korea. An Arabic edition is coming soon – in association with Al Jazeera. Blogs and news stories are shared between countries if appropriate and often translated into the appropriate language.
Huffington Post sees itself as outside mainstream news, trying to promote different voices, with a focus on how events and policies impact on ordinary people. Blogs for the site should be shareable and should win hearts and minds and entertain. They should be heartfelt. They encourage bloggers to put their point of view across clearly, strongly argued and using emotion! Be bold and evidence based, Charlie said. But everything is up to the blogger. The site is run as an open platform and does not edit blogs – blog editors will check for accuracy and legality and may comment but their approach is very light touch.
They have 10,000 registered bloggers – some blog frequently; others infrequently. The rule is that you blog when you choose but the editors do approach bloggers and suggest they blog at particular times about issues of the moment. Blogs need to be topical. And they don’t need to be from officials or CEOs – they can be from people at the grassroots.
They are particularly pleased with their student section which Charlie edits – this will be rebranded later in the year as Young Voices. This is a place where ordinary students can blog about the issues which concern them.
If you’d like to become a registered blogger, then approach Charlie, with a sample of what your first blog might look like. It should be 500-800 words. Blogs should appeal to a wide audience – Charlie believes that is the reason for the success of the site. There is something for everyone here. They do not measure traffic and they do not judge their success by traffic on the site. They do, however, look at social statistics – likes and shares on Facebook and Twitter. The site appeals to a youngish demographic – 18-34 year olds. It’s owned by AOL and is ad funded. They have 8 million monthly readers coming to the UK site.
If you want to get attention for your blog then social media is the way to do it.
They haven’t yet harnessed the power of video on the blog section but this will come in the future. They can embed video that already exists online but they can’t upload new video into a blog.
There are around 25 people working on Huffington Post in London – there people dealing with blogs and the rest with news. They are a small team and all talk to each other so send any ideas for the site to Charlie and he’ll pass them on to the right person.
Some blogs can be very popular – Charlie gave the example of a student blog responding to anti-Islam sentiment that was shared 34,000 times on Facebook and had 93,000 likes.
Huffington Post has no deadlines – blogs can be pitched at any time, for now or for some time in the future. It’s up to you. But they advise against posting at the weekend – they have few readers over the weekend. They generally upload between 80 and 100 blogs every day. There are 30 slots on the home page. They will pick the ones they feel are the most topical or relevant for the home page but if something does well it may get promoted to the home page. They will typically upload 10-15 first thing in the morning and then the rest throughout the day. There is no best time of day but traffic is heavier at the times you’d expect it to be – lunchtime etc. But they also find that people are reading the blogs at all hours – early mornings, late at night.
Who is the audience for HP? Charlie says its audience is made up of readers of the Guardian, Independent etc and many of them will be consuming news and opinion from a variety of other sources. The site is best known for its coverage of politics and current affairs but welcomes blogs on any subject. They work with celebs as their access to social media gives these blogs a bigger reach – Lenny Henry, Hugh Dennis, Prince William. But in the end it’s the quality of the content that counts. A blog from a famous person who doesn’t really know the issues is not a good idea. Photos and images do well too.
Please note that this meeting was held according to Chatham House rules so Adam cannot be quoted without his consent.
Adama.email@example.com Acting planning editor and senior producer
Ollie.firstname.lastname@example.org Planning editor
Today.email@example.com Today planning desk email
Planning desk direct line 020 3614 3622
How Today works
There are around 60-65 people working on the show, made of up two teams: the day team and the planning team. The teams aren’t fixed and people will move from one team to the other. The day editor has a main meeting at 11.30am for the next day’s show and stays until early evening. At 7.30pm the night editor comes in and takes the show right through until 9am the next day. In the evening, some items will get dropped as new news stories break.
There are several points of entry to Today. The main one is the planning desk which is run by Ollie Stone-Lee. Adam is standing in for him at the moment. Adam recommended phoning rather than emailing. He suggested making contact with someone on the team, and pitching your idea over the phone. Make sure you get the name of the person so that you have a named contact for the future.
You can also pitch to one of the specialist teams such as health, business or education – or to a correspondent in the field. Don’t pitch it to Mike Thomson as he no longer works full time on Today.
Adam spoke at length about how to write a decent press release. He suggested listening to the programme and then pitching something that will actually fit with the style of the programme. He doesn’t have time to read emails and press releases from beginning to end so the subject line or heading are key to grab his intention – these should be like a newspaper headline. The first sentence should sum up what the story is, emphasising what you have to say that is new. The sheer volume of ideas they get pitched is huge. He typically deals with 150-200 stories in one week. What they want to find when they read a press release is the human story – case studies are crucial. And if you are offering named experts make sure they are available, ideally to go into a studio, in London or elsewhere. Studio sound is much better than a telephone line.
The role of the planning desk is to come up with stories that can’t be set up in a few hours but need more planning. He gave the example of the Ebola audio diary by Geraldine O’Hara. They are also looking for stories that provide more texture – Today is not just a news programme. He gave the example of the interview that John Humphrys had done in Cardiff on the subject of dementia. They try to avoid doing too many packages as these tend to be dropped when a new story breaks.
The pitch has to be good and some ideas inevitably get lost in the system. Adam complained that many of the ideas he receives are not specifically targeted at the Today programme – they are just general press releases which obviously go to all media contacts on the mailing list. This is not the way to get your story on Today.
He gave an example of what he considered to be a good pitch – it came from a charity working on drugs and was about a new antibiotic – the story was summed up at the top of the release in two sentences. There was a list of possible interviewees and two strong case studies.
If you’re publishing new research make sure that the report author is available for interview and be very clear about the methodology.
Adam urged everyone to think on their feet – respond to stories that are in the news. If you have a report coming out next week but the story is in the news today then bring the launch forward since no one will want to return to the story next week.
He also advised everyone to try pitching something different – the programme is keen to find new ways of covering foreign stories. Hence the Ebola audio diary. Adam spoke about how Justin Forsyth had pitched the Liberia project and this had been a great way for the programme to cover both positive and negative stories from Africa.
He suggested being aware of other stories in the news when deciding the right time to pitch a story – Adam recommended subscribing to http://www.media-planner.co.uk/Static/index.aspx
Think of sound – this is a radio show after all. He was recently pitched a story about a new water mill generating electricity – one of the attractions of the story was the sound.
Feature children if you can – they are brilliant on the radio.
Adam said that Today were working hard to increase the number of women interviewed on the show – sometimes the guests would be 80% male. A low point was when they had two male experts on the show talking about breast cancer. He welcomed suggestions for good female studio interviewees. They would prefer to interview a female expert working for an NGO than the male chief executive.
He recommended that all potential female experts should register on Women’s Room and Her Say as he uses both sites to search for experts. Today does not currently have its own expert database but a new one will come online soon. http://thewomensroom.org.uk/ http://www.hersay.co.uk/
Adam spoke about Jamie Angus’s comments earlier this year when he said foreign coverage was putting off viewers. See
Adam said there was no detectable loss in listeners and he didn’t believe that foreign coverage per se was putting off listeners. What he did feel was that there were more big running stories and that the programme needed to be creative about finding new ways of covering the big story of the day. He said the Ebola audio diary was an example of a different type of coverage. Sending presenters to the location also helped – for example Mishal Hussein’s trip to Lebanon.
Adam broadly welcomed the fact that since the merger of BBC News and the World Service, some WS correspondents were available to file stories for Today. Adam gave an example of a trip he made to Kenya to look at radio and the changing media landscape, with Alan Kasujja, one of the Newsday presenters.
In addition to trying to recruit more women as studio guests, there were other changes afoot. They want studio discussions to have more light and less heat – it won’t be necessary always to have two opposing points of view. Adam noted that with discussions about climate change they have moved away from always interviewing a scientist and a sceptic – acknowledging that the sceptics represent a very small minority and should not be given too much air time.
Rachael Akidi, Editor, Focus on Africa (radio) firstname.lastname@example.org @rakidi
Stephane Mayoux, Editor, Focus on Afric (tv) email@example.com @smayoux
Other useful contacts
Nick Ericscson, Planning editor, BBC Africa firstname.lastname@example.org @nickericsson
Chakuchanya Harawa, senior planner for the tv show email@example.com
Alice Muthengi (and others), planners for the radio show firstname.lastname@example.org @amuthengi
Focus on Africa (radio)
The radio show goes out three times a day on the BBC World Service, broadcast live in English from London at 1500, 1700 and 1900 (all GMT). The main show is at 1700 and lasts an hour and the other two shows are 30 minutes each. The show aims to provide comprehensive coverage of African politics, business, sport, arts etc. It wants to reflect the progress that is taking place across Africa but not shy away from addressing the challenges. It is not a straight news show. The assumption is that the audience finds the headlines elsewhere but comes to the show for detail and analysis and for its features. The same team produces all three editions of the show and one of their priorities is to engage with their audiences via social media. They have a reach of 2½m across FB, Twitter and Google +. When selecting a studio guest topicality is the key. Why this guest? Why now?
Focus on Africa (tv)
This is a daily show which goes out at 1730 GMT Monday-Friday, live from London. It is also syndicated to 13 African tv stations. The show is broadcast on BBC World News so it reaches a global audience, although a high proportion of that audience is in Africa. The tv and radio shows work closely together, often interviewing the same guests, but they are made by different editorial teams. Stephane has a strong belief that coverage of Africa needs to move away from the 3D approach – death, disease and destruction. He’s keen to feature stories that look at arts, business, technology and health. The production team and reporters are for the most part African and he believes that Africans should be telling their own stories. The team also contributes an African perspective to wider news coverage on BBC World News.
How to pitch ideas
The best way of pitching ideas is to go to the planning editors for each show (Chaku and Alice – see above for contact details) or Nick Ericsson on the BBC Africa newsdesk. You can also contact the editors direct – Stephane via Twitter and Rachael via email. They are inundated by press releases and pitches but, whilst they are receptive, they find it frustrating that NGOs make a range of elementary errors in their dealings with the BBC. They gave a few examples of mistakes to avoid:
Reports arrive at the last minute with little or no advance notice. Experts quoted in the press release are not available for interview. Press releases lack a clear top line. Reports don’t have an executive summary. Old press releases are rehashed with a new top line. The reports offer experts to comment whereas what the broadcasters want is human stories to illustrate the issues being raised.
Both Stephane and Rachael made the point that BBC Global News in general is keen to collaborate with outside organisations, to save money, but also to give them access to expertise and information they would not otherwise have. If you are planning some research, get in touch at the beginning and see if they want to collaborate with you. This particularly applies to investigations. They are keen to do more investigations but lack the funds therefore collaboration is vital.
They are generally less keen on covering UN days, summits, elections, publication of reports, unless there is something new and surprising to say. They do not want to follow the news agenda set by UK broadcasters but prefer to respond to an African agenda. And they are keen to move away from the traditional way in which Africa has been reported and to cover a broader range of stories including ones that have something positive to say about Africa.
Rachael said she was particularly interested in covering countries that receive very little coverage such as Angola, Lesotho, Swaziland, Equitorial Guinea and Guinea Bissau.
BBC Africa now has an established team of reporters who have started to appear more widely across BBC News, including Namsa Maseko (who came to fame when she gave a personal view on what the death of Mandela meant to her), Anne Soy (who has been reporting on terrorist attacks in Kenya) and Tulip Mazumdar (reporting on Ebola). There is a feeling that these African reporters have a more authentic voice than British reporters sent in to cover African stories. The point was also made that these reporters connect with a more diverse UK audience.
Working with NGOs
Both spoke reasonably positively about their experience of working with NGOs and a couple of examples were given. Rachael worked with Oxfam during the Copenhagen climate change summit and they helped her to find examples of farmers who were affected by climate change so that she could give a human and African dimension to the issues being discussed. Amnesty published a report on torture in Ethiopia and were able to provide Rachael with someone from Ethiopia who had been tortured and could be interviewed live on the show. Rachael emphasised her interest in featuring human stories rather than experts.
Rachael and Stephane were asked if they would use NGO footage on air – or if they would be interested in edited pieces. Both would consider using NGO footage if it provided them with access they didn’t have or couldn’t obtain. The NGO footage would be credited but the BBC would edit it as they saw fit and would want editorial control. The BBC remains nervous about being perceived to be ceding editorial control to NGOs. Balance remains critically important.
The audience profile for radio and tv is similar. The shows tend to reach a professional male skewed audience typically in their early 30s, comprising teachers, students, NGO staff, government, civil servants and other decision makers. They are keen to reach a younger audience and would welcome ideas that would appeal to young people. The audience is predominantly urban and focus groups have shown them that the audience welcomes a move away from the traditional 3D agenda.
IBT briefing on Channel 4 Dispatches September 2014
Daniel Pearl -Commissioning Editor, Channel 4 email@example.com
Karen Edwards- Executive Producer, Blakeway Karen.firstname.lastname@example.org
Daniel explained the set up at Channel 4. There are 4 commissioning editors who cover the whole of news and current affairs. He has overall responsibility for Channel 4 News and Dispatches. Siobhan Sinnerton has responsibility for Unreported World. Daniel encouraged everyone to take their international ideas to Quicksilver, the production company which makes Unreported World. They have two runs of 8 episodes each year so they are always on the lookout for good international stories.
There are 30 half hour episodes of Dispatches each year – most of these are domestic and Blakeway makes a good number of these episodes. In addition, there will be 8-12 one hour films each year – most of these will be foreign and, again, Blakeway, makes a number of these. Karen recently did a Dispatches called Hunted which investigated the persecution of gays in Russia. LGBT rights is an issue that she remains interested in.
Daniel says he is always in search of a good idea. At the heart of every Dispatches is revelation. These films are journalistic, not analytical, and they need to have something new to say. There’s always a shortage of good ideas so please send any ideas you have to Daniel (if you know you want to see them on Channel 4) or Karen (if you’re also open to seeing them elsewhere – as Karen also makes current affairs programmes for two BBC strands, Panorama and This World).
What’s the difference between Panorama and Dispatches? Not much, it seems. Daniel said that Panorama goes in cycles and so what they are looking for changes. Panorama is about to appoint a new editor so the direction of travel will become clearer soon. Channel 4, in Daniel’s view, is more willing to make mischief and challenge the establishment.
If you take an idea to Daniel and he likes the idea, he will work with you to identify the best outlet – it may work best in a short form for Channel 4 News for example. He sees Channel 4 News as a current affairs programme, taking the news agenda further, rather than just reflecting it.
Karen explained the set up at Blakeway – it is part of the Ten Alps media group which also includes two other independent production companies, Brook Lapping and Films of Record. Karen is head of current affairs and documentaries at Blakeway. She makes programmes for ITV, BBC and Channel 4. Before becoming an executive producer, she was producing Dispatches for 10 years, so she knows Channel 4 inside out. She likes dealing with Channel 4 as they are very flexible and have a number of different places for a good idea – the BBC is more restricted.
Karen loves doing foreign films. She is always looking for stories that feature real people – rather than just tissues. She doesn’t feel that current affairs works without strong personal stories and testimony.
Daniel has few slots for foreign films so the bar is set high – he has turned down some good ideas recently as his main focus is Syria, IS and the Ukraine. Ebola is being covered by Unreported World. Whereas Panorama will automatically cover the big foreign stories, Dispatches will not always do this. He’s currently looking for fresh angles on Syria and wants to find a way of showing what life is like inside IS territory. He recommended everyone to watch the Vice film made inside IS territory.
Daniel was asked whether NGO footage was of interest to him – he said he was always after original footage.
Daniel and Karen were asked about their experience of working with NGOs. Karen had good experiences when NGOs were helping her with access but when the NGO brought the film idea to her she felt there were sometimes unrealistic expectations that she was producing a puff piece. NGOs needed to understand that producers could not relinquish editorial control and had the right to criticize NGOs. This relationship needed to be made clear at the beginning. She did, however, say that she would show NGOs a cut of the finished film for comments and she recognized that safety of contributors was a major issue.
Daniel spoke about sponsored output. The current affairs team could not broadcast sponsored output. However, other teams in Channel 4 could. There would be a mention in the end credits that the piece was funded/sponsored by a third party.
Daniel and Karen were asked whether media officers should pitch to one of them rather than the other. Daniel replied that they could both be pitched to – but if you wanted the option of a BBC or ITV slot then go to Karen.
Daniel was asked if he was interested in tax avoidance/evasion – he said yes. He was also interested in new angles on poverty. He was particularly interested in what he called ‘rubbish jobs’ – people working on zero hours or poverty wages. He’d done several Dispatches on this issue but would do more if the right story came up.
Both were asked what issues they felt were under-reported. Karen said China and Daniel said migration.
Daniel was asked about pressure to get ratings – he said there wasn’t any pressure but that he wanted to appeal to a mainstream audience and didn’t want Dispatches to become niche viewing. He felt that if this happened the strand would not survive. Therefore his aim was that Dispatches should regularly get a 5% audience share.
Mark Galloway 25.9.14
IBT briefing with ITV News
Michael Herrod, Head of Foreign News Michael.email@example.com
Tel 020 7430 4411 T: @mherroditv
Delilah Jeary, Series Producer, On Assignment and Tonight Delilah.firstname.lastname@example.org
Tel 020 7430 4625
TMichael explained how ITN worked: the biggest team is the ITV News team which produces bulletins for ITV and also does Tonight and On Assignment; there are also the Channel 4 News and 5 News teams. There’s ITN Source, an archive library and ITN Productions which acts as an independent producer specialising in factual programmes. ITV has 3 news bulletins: 1.30pm, 6.30pm and 10pm. The 10 is more international and will sometimes run stories that the other bulletins don’t run; only the 1.30 has studio guests.
ITV News has bureaux in Brussels, Johannesburg, Dubai, Tel Aviv, Bangkok, Beijing and Washington DC. The Joburg bureau is a joint one with NBC News. NBC News also has a foreign desk based at ITN in London and the two organisations collaborate to split costs on stories. Several of the NBC reporters are ex-ITN – like Bill Neely.
ITV News has an international unit with specialist correspondents who fly out to cover major stories: Rageh Omaar, James Mates and John Ray. There are also a number of former foreign correspondents in the general reporting team who may cover foreign stories.
There’s a big commitment to running foreign stories but there are financial constraints. A recent planned trip to South Sudan did not take place on cost grounds.
Michael is also keen to avoid running the same foreign stories as everyone else – so he’s always looking for original pieces. He recently ran a story on tobacco farms in the US which employed children as young as 12 – he spotted this story on a news list from Human Rights Watch.
Michael highlighted a number of foreign stories which he had run recently: a science piece on malaria; a return visit to the Bangladesh clothing factory; a trip to the Central African Republic; a story on the ivory trade which involved filming in Hong Kong and Africa.
Michael likes dealing with NGOs and says that they can be vital to gain access to difficult stories and also help to reduce the cost. Travelling to difficult locations is easier and cheaper with NGOs – as it can mean avoiding paying for commercial flights. Often they require an invitation to go to the country, which the NGO can help facilitate. NGOs can also provide vital on the ground knowledge, and help with security. However, ITV News would not want an NGO to pay for their flights – they would want to pay their own way.
Michael emphasised the importance of NGOs keeping in touch and telling him what they were up to. He’s happy to be called on his direct line – best time to call him is between 10 and 4. He also would like to know if NGOs are planning any filming trips – it’s much better if he can discuss what might work for him before a trip than be presented with material once the filming has taken place. If the filming is of good quality it could be packaged in London by a reporter and it may also be possible to do a separate interview to accompany the piece on the lunch time news.
If you are shooting material which you plan to offer him, he gave a few basic tips. Shoot long shots (as if you’re taking still photographs) and avoid pans and zooms. Do lots of interviews to get first person testimony. Use a decent camera, not your phone. The material has to be broadcast quality. Think of what the narrative is and try and find images to tell the story.
There was a discussion about upcoming foreign stories. He is sending a team to Syria later this month. He’ll be doing a piece in November to mark the 10th anniversary of the tsunami. He’s unlikely to do a piece to mark the anniversary of the Philippines typhoon – he’s not generally keen on anniversaries. However he may cover the Philippines if On Assignment decides that it wants to.
On Assignment and Tonight
Delilah is the series producer for the new ITV monthly current affairs strand, On Assignment – the half hour show goes out once a month after News at Ten. It was launched two months ago. Each episode has three stories, typically 7 minutes long, but the lengths may vary. They are all original stories, specially shot for the show. Some may be off agenda; others may focus on an angle or aspect of a big foreign story that has not been covered. Cost is a key issue so costs will usually be shared with ITV News – for example their royal reporter was in Australia with William and Kate and stayed on to shoot a story for On Assignment. That’s sitting on the shelf waiting to go out. So far, they have covered Rwanda (20 years on); oil in Norway; legalisation of cannabis in Connecticut; and a story from Hart island, New York. More on what they’ve covered here: http://www.itv.com/news/topic/on-assignment/
There are 10 episodes of On Assignment a year (with a break in August and December) and both Delilah and Michael emphasised what a good opportunity this was for NGOs pitching their ideas – especially as they would get 7 minutes of air time rather than the usual 2 or 3.
Delilah has worked extensively with NGOs and she was positive about these relationships. She worked with CAFOD on a story which involved returning Rageh Omaar to Somalia; with Age UK on a look at the cost of elderly care; with MSF on a film in Syria.
However the MSF film on Syria did not get made – it was for Tonight but the commissioning editor turned it down.
Tonight is the weekly ITV current affairs show which goes out at 7.30pm on a Thursday. ITN makes 10 episodes a year and Delilah manages this output. The show gets an average audience of 3m – more than Panorama, Dispatches etc. It is very consumer focused and predominantly domestic. They’ve also done a lot on the weather as this subject delivers good ratings. Some of these films are very fast turnaround – getting made in just a few days. In the past, Tonight has done the occasional foreign film, but it appears that this is increasingly rare and it is unlikely that it will do many foreign films in the future. On Assignment is being viewed as the foreign strand – all the stories it has done so far have been foreign ones.
A number of On Assignment films are made in advance and Delilah is particularly keen on timeless stories. She’s interested in going to the Philippines for the 10th anniversary of the typhoon. Rageh Omaar is doing a film in Nigeria whilst he’s covering the missing school girls story. Delilah emphasised that she did not want extended news pieces – the films had to feel very different from what viewers had already seen on the news.
Both Michael and Delilah said they were happy to be contacted by phone or email.
May 16 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:
March 5 2014
Twitter: @nigelsboot (personal) and @BBCWorld (corporate account)
Sam gave some background on how This World was set up in 2003 as a documentary strand to cover global stories. There has always been a tension between news/current affairs and documentaries with his BBC News colleagues wanting him to cover the news agenda. He has resisted that and, since he took over a year ago, has adopted a documentary approach. There are 12 episodes a year, and most of the time they play at 9pm on BBC2. It’s important for him that This World is at the heart of the schedule and aimed at a mainstream audience. It should be interesting and enjoyable to watch – not a duty.
Sam’s approach is eclectic. Some films will have a presenter; others will take an observational documentary approach. He is interested in covering big themes (population, the rise of the East) through small or quirky or less obvious stories. The approach is story-led rather than issue-led.
He spoke about how competitive the peak time schedule is. It’s important that he gets decent ratings but he is sometimes up against big dramas like Sherlock or 24 Hours in A and E, so it’s tough. The current series has done well in terms of ratings, including (to Sam’s surprise) Hans Rosling’s film about population.
Sam doesn’t usually tackle issues head on and he likes to find a way in that surprises viewers. So, for example, he wanted to do something about the way India is changing, the fact that not everyone is poor. He thought about looking at wealth but decided against as he felt his audience wouldn’t watch – they’d feel that they knew this already. Instead, he decided to focus on obesity and to look at children who were becoming obese. He chose a populist title India’s Supersize Kids and the audience came to the subject.
He wanted to look at population and he commissioned 3 films: Don’t Panic – the Truth About Population (a personal view by Hans Rosling); No Sex Please, We’re Japanese (which looked at attitudes to sex in Japan and reasons for the falling birth rate) and The World’s Busiest Maternity Ward (which looked at a maternity hospital in the Philippines but also looked at how that country is changing at a rapid pace).
He also spoke about Dan Snow’s History of Syria which he said did well in audience terms, whereas other documentaries about Syria had not done so well. He felt there was an audience appetite for this historical context which was lacking in the news coverage. This was followed up with Dan Snow’s History of Congo.
The strand still does investigations. The Shame of the Catholic Church looked at the way the Church in Ireland had dealt with child abuse. The film won a number of awards.
America’s Poor Kids was an observational doc looking at the lives of poor children in the US, made by an independent production company, True Vision.
Sam was asked to explain how ideas got commissioned. He said he received lots of ideas from independents but 95% were binned straightaway. He gave the impression that indies didn’t really get This World and that they were pitching more conventional news or current affairs stories. They hadn’t understood that This World takes a more angular approach.
Sam said he would welcome NGOs suggesting stories to him – just a short email – and he would try to reply. He liked hearing about small stories as they often provided a way in to bigger issues. But, on the whole, he wanted all his films to deal with the big issues of the day. Sometimes he works with indies to develop projects; other times they are developed in house. He doesn’t have a development team. This World is just himself and a series producer.
He was reluctant to talk about what was in the pipeline or which countries or issues he was interested in. He said it wasn’t as simple as that; ideas evolved as a result of lots of conversations and snippets of information.
On presenters, he has no set view. Sometimes a presenter emerges; on other occasions it’s someone like Dan Snow who is part of the BBC ‘family’ of presenters.
He spoke about two films coming up: Robert Peston would be looking at China’s success story and asking whether it was all going wrong; and there would be a film about affluence in Brazil with access to The Copacabana Palace Hotel in Rio. There were a lot of Brazilian programmes in the pipeline on the BBC, such as Welcome to Rio.
Some of the films were made by indies but there was no set rule and there were no particular indies that Sam worked with regularly. A company called Wingspan made the Hans Rosling film as they had worked with him before. NGOs could pitch their ideas for This World to indies producers if they had good relationships but it might be better to pitch them directly to Sam.
Working with NGOs
Sam said that his teams often work with NGOs. He’s responsible for the Simon Reeve travelogues and he said that in Indian Ocean with Simon Reeve the team worked with many charities, particularly environmental ones. In India they worked with a charity involved with a turtle rescue project; in Madagascar they worked with WWF; they worked with a charity involved in shark protection in
Mozambique; with a charity working with refugees in Somaliland; with a human rights charity in Sri Lanka.
Sam is also responsible for Toughest Place to be… a format which he came up with, that involves sending a British worker to do his/her job in a foreign country. This series regularly works with NGOs behind the scenes. Sam said that the series had now come to an end but there was a new series in the pipeline featuring a London taxi driver, Mason McQueen, who featured in an episode of Toughest Place to be…
Sam showed 3 clips from sequences in films where the producers had collaborated with an NGO. He said there were strict BBC guidelines which stated that the BBC could not be seen to favour a particular NGO or to endorse it or to solicit funds for it. The guidelines state that: ‘We must retain our impartiality when we cover the work of charities and not appear to favour one charity.’ Nevertheless, Sam said that when his teams worked with charities they would help to publicise the charity if it fitted in with the editorial content of the film.
The 3 clips he showed were:
Indian Ocean with Simon Reeve – this featured the work of a small NGO, Blue Ventures, in Madagascar. It’s a conservation group working on overfishing but it was featured for an innovative family planning project which it was also running in Madagascar, alongside its conservation work. The work of the family planning project was included because it was felt that it fitted in editorially. Blue Ventures were very happy as they received several name checks.
Tropic of Cancer with Simon Reeve – this series covered the issue of child labour and featured a UNICEF-run centre for working children which enabled the children to study, play, get a decent meal, have a shower etc It was featured because the producers thought it was interesting that a major charity like UNICEF was working with factory owners and had accepted child labour as a necessary evil, for the moment at least, because they understood that the families needed the money which the children earned. The focus of UNICEF’s work was to teach the children skills so that the cycle of poverty was broken. Again, UNICEF received a name check and one of their members of staff was interviewed by Simon.
Toughest Place to be a fisherman – this film was made in Sierra Leone with a great deal of help from the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) but when the film was shown there was no mention of EJF as it did not fit editorially. There was a ‘with thanks to EJF’ in the end credits. Once the film had been made, EJF used it successfully to lobby the Sierra Leone government to enforce a no fishing zone that had previously gone unenforced causing much hardship to local fishermen as big foreign trawlers were overfishing in the area. Sam then commissioned a follow up film in which the British fisherman went back and in the follow up he was able to cover the lobbying activities of EJF.
Sam’s aim in showing these clips was to acknowledge the enormous help that NGOs often gave film crews behind the scenes but to make the point that the NGOs could not be given name checks within the body of the film unless this could be justified editorially. The BBC’s position is particularly tricky, given its strict guidelines. Other broadcasters are not subject to such strict rules.
Now that Toughest Place to be… has ended Sam is on the lookout for a new format. The Mason McQueen series may work for the moment but a new format will be needed in the long term. There are more Simon Reeve travel shows in the pipeline. This World will continue to be eclectic and story-led. Sam said he welcomed ideas from NGOs but it’s clear that these ideas need to tackle issues in an imaginative and creative way – and surprise audiences.
[Job Rabkin has been dispatched to South Africa for coverage of Mandela and so Rob came in his place.]
Who’s who on Channel 4 News
Nevine Mabro, Head of Foreign News and Head of Channel 4 News Film Fund email@example.com
Rob Hodge, Deputy Foreign Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
Job Rabkin, Commissioning Editor, Channel 4 News Film Fund email@example.com
Their foreign reporting team comprises: Jonathan Miller, Jonathan Rugman, Lindsey Hilsum, Matt Frei (and Alex Thomson). Matt mainly covers Europe. John Sparks in Bangkok covers Asia. They have a few freelancers they work with regularly: Jamal Osman, Inigo Gilmore and Guillermo Galdos (based in Peru).
What is the USP of their foreign coverage?
Nevine and Rob explained that C4News has a small team of foreign correspondents and only two overseas bureaux (Washington and Bangkok) so they are always looking to do things differently from other news organisations, to find their own angle and to cover unique stories, which are not being covered elsewhere. So, for example, this week Alex Thomson has been reporting from the Central African Republic (CAR) whilst other news organisations have been mainly focused on Mandela.
Under their new editor, Ben de Pear, C4N is giving more priority to original journalism and exclusive stories, rather than just following the journalistic pack. So, for example, in Syria they have tried to cover events with small, locally based teams, with good contacts on the ground, rather than parachuting in big teams and big name reporters. In Asia, John Sparks has spent a lot of his time covering Burma. In South America, they have started commissioning more reports from Guillermo. They have used Jamal to cover Somalia but also to bring a fresh approach to other foreign stories – for example he covered the rise of the far right in Greece.
Another USP is the fact that on C4N foreign reports can run much longer than in other news outlets. Alex Thomson has been filing stories this week that are 5-6 minutes long. Rob said that on Al Jazeera stories were typically 1’45” – 2’ long. And films commissioned for the film fund can run 10-12 minutes.
Working with NGOs
Nevine and Rob gave some tips for NGOs pitching stories to them. They found it frustrating that many NGOs sent them generic press releases which didn’t feel tailored or relevant to their needs. They spoke about the need to build relationships, to meet over coffee, to get to know the NGOs. Stories should have a sense of importance and urgency – there should be a real story to tell, with a narrative, preferably an arrangement involving exclusivity. They were also keen to work with NGOs who could help them get access to difficult places – for example, they are working with Save and MSF in CAR. Save helped with visas and transport in country.
The relationship should be mutually beneficial – Save know they will get coverage of the humanitarian crisis in CAR and some mention of their work, whilst C4N know they will get an important story which no one else is covering. This particular relationship has worked well. Nevine and Rob have no qualms about working with NGOs – they are in sympathy with their aims. They will cover the issue but it won’t be PR for the NGO.
There have been bad experiences with NGOs – Nevine cited an example where a C4N team went to Somalia with an NGO (she didn’t name the NGO) with the aim of filming in two places. All was fine to start with, but when they arrived at the second location, they found that they did not have the right permissions and so couldn’t film. The NGO had been responsible for getting the permissions and had messed up. The correspondent (also not named) was furious.
Nevine and Mabro said they were often asked to go on trips with NGOs and most of the time they said no. What made them say yes to the CAR filming trip? There was no tipping point as such said Rob, but they had been watching CAR for some time and had wanted to go. The timing was right. The story was becoming more important and so the offer of access came at the right time. Alex Thomson had been due to go to Afghanistan but they decided to send him to the CAR instead.
The Film Fund
This is a pot of money which Channel 4 gives to ITN to spend on independently made films so these 1012 minute pieces are all made outside ITN, by freelancers and independent producers, although the final film may be voiced by a C4N reporter. Recent examples include a film made in Aleppo, another in Homs, a film in South Africa about militant Afrikaaners, a film following a woman in Afghanistan who had been the victim of rape and ended up marrying the rapist.
The Film Fund used to be run in a traditional way with indie producers pitching ideas and going off and making the films once they’d been commissioned. This has all changed now and is much more fluid. Ideas for the Fund can come from anyone and can be pitched to Nevine, Rob or Job. Next year, Job will focus more on investigations as they hope to do more of these. You can come with a raw idea, some footage, a filmmaker, any combination in fact. If they like the idea they will make it happen. They have a
network of freelancers they work with and some correspondents like Guillermo who they are keen to continue to work with. The ideas can be wide ranging, either a new angle on a big news story or a completely off the agenda story. They do a lot of these films – almost 40 in the past year. It’s fertile ground for NGOs.
C4N has an older demographic but higher reach amongst ethnic minority audiences than any other news provider. They are also watched by a lot of students. They are trying to broaden their appeal to win more younger viewers but the fact that they are on at 7pm makes this challenging.
What stories are they looking for in 2014?
They plan to cover the Philippines (after Christmas), Afghanistan, Syria, Gaza, Iraq and also they are on the look out for good South American stories for Guillermo as they’d like to do more with him. He’s recently covered animal trafficking in Brazil which went down well – they’d like to do more environmental stories. He has also reported from Tegucigalpa in Honduras (the world’s most dangerous city) and Brazil (favelas). And he is currently doing a piece on illegal coalmining in Peru.
Monica explained that UW has no set agenda. It has two runs a year and will do a mix of stories but the key is finding good characters and a narrative that shed light on an issue that has not hit the news. The character should come from the country itself and not be a westerner. There needs to be something to film which takes place at the appropriate time. Counterintuitive stories work well – for example rising property prices in Gaza or a British Somali running a successful restaurant in Mogadishu. They tend not to go to the same place (city) in consecutive series but otherwise they’re quite flexible. Ideas for stories set in Europe are particularly welcome.
The main challenge is the schedule. The series is not filmed on an ongoing basis. Instead there are two cycles. The first is in December when they start researching and setting up stories. These are filmed in January/February for transmission in April/May. The second cycle starts in June when they work on the next series. They film in July/August for transmission in October/November. If you have a story you want to pitch, the key is to pitch it either in December or June. There needs to be something that can be filmed in January/February or July/August. They have no flexibility with the schedule. If you have a brilliant idea for an event that is taking place in November for example, it simply won’t happen.
Monica.firstname.lastname@example.org Series editor on maternity leave – back next spring.
Suzanne.email@example.com Series editor, covering for Monica. I’ve had a word with Suzanne and she’s happy to receive story suggestions in December.
Shaunagh.firstname.lastname@example.org Associate producer – she’ll be working on the long list of ideas for the next series but she is currently on another project and won’t be back on UW until December so don’t email her now, wait until December.
Eamonn.email@example.com Eamonn is the Executive Producer at Quicksilver. The company specialises in international documentaries and current affairs. He’s great. He’s worked with IBT in the past. Don’t send UW ideas to him but if you have suggestions for investigations for Dispatches or that would make a good This World then he’s definitely worth making contact with.
Monica said that the UW team are very happy to work with NGOs but she warned that the relationship can be difficult on both sides. If you come with the expectation that you will be able to control what they film then things won’t work out. She gave the example of working with BRAC. BRAC gave UW access to one of the schemes it runs in Bangladesh but when the riots broke out and the film crew wanted to film them then BRAC was very nervous and felt that such filming might damage its reputation/relationships. She also warned that relationships could be complicated and gave the example of a recent film in Yemen which looked at lawyers who were being persecuted. The initial conversations were with Oxfam but when none of the cases which Oxfam came up with worked out, then the UW team went to Amnesty and it was an Amnesty case that ended up in the film. Both NGOs were happy that the film was made but in the end there was no mention of Oxfam’s work. This is the sort of thing
that happens – you can’t predict how the working relationship with the NGO will develop – the priority for UW will always be getting the story. It’s important that NGOs who want to work with UW go into this with their eyes open.
Monica described the way the pitching process works. The AP and series editor will draw up a long list of perhaps 30 ideas in December and June. These will then be discussed with the Channel 4 Commissioning Editor, Siobhan Sinnerton. After this discussion, the ideas will be whittled down to the final 8. It’s always possible that if one of the 8 falls through, another idea will be needed urgently. This happened with the current run. The team had access to film in Bagram prison but when they got to Afghanistan they found that the access did not happen so they quickly searched for another story and came up with the film about violence to women (which goes out tonight).
If you’re pitching to them, they don’t need much detail on the initial pitch. If they’re interested, they will come back to you for more information. Monica also said that a list of possible ideas was welcome rather than just one. A list of 10 will increase your chances of success.
The current run includes the following: kidnapping in Venezuela, looting of artefacts in Egypt, a children’s newspaper in India, treatment of the mentally ill in Mexico. As well as producing UW, Quicksilver also makes films for the BBC strand This World and for the US channel PBS. They have just won an Emmy for their Japanese nuclear film. Quicksilver has a mailing list and they have added the names of everyone who attended the briefing to the mailing list. So you will all receive TX cards for future Quicksilver programmes.
There was a discussion about social media and how effective UW were at publicising programmes. Monica said they could do better but there were time and money constraints. She did, however, say that they were happy to provide clips of their programmes for anyone who wanted to use them. They have an open access rule and past episodes of UW are available on YouTube long after transmission. Channel 4 has also ungeoblocked the show so that programmes can be watched anywhere in the world.
Ratings for the programme vary a lot – on transmission anything between 300 and 900,000. There is a 25% lift from video on demand. Some reporters have a following and their shows tend to get bigger audiences – for example Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Jonathan Miller.
Monica also suggested a good outlet for NGO stories was the Channel 4 indie fund which commissions 10 minute films for Channel 4 News. The commissioner is Job Rabkin who is based at ITN firstname.lastname@example.org We hope to do a briefing with Job and the Channel 4 News Foreign Editor later this year.
Tom has asked that this briefing be off the record so please don’t quote in public from these notes
Panorama overview – Tom gave an overview of the strand. He commissions around 40 half hour programmes a year and 7 or 8 one hour specials which usually run at 9pm but sometimes at 8 or 10.35, all on BBC1. He has an in house team of 30 people and works with a large number of independent producers. The proportion of programmes made by indies seems to be growing as they are coming up with strong ideas (possibly because of the changes to the Channel 4 current affairs strand Dispatches).
Around a quarter of the run is international although there is no quota as such and it depends on the strength of the ideas. Tom believes there is an audience appetite for international stories especially if the timing is right – he gave the example of the North Korea investigation which had Panorama’s highest audience since 2001 – 5.4m watching live and another 850,000 on catch up.
Tom’s strategy – Tom does not really have an overall strategy – he believes Panorama should cause trouble and reveal uncomfortable truths – he cited the example of the FIFA corruption investigation and its timing. He believes it should expose when policies aren’t working and promote change where it is needed, offer a surprising take on familiar issues, start conversations and have integrity by doing what is right regardless of the consequences. He did believe that Panorama should have a different agenda from BBC News and Current Affairs which he sees as too ‘Radio 4ish’.
The role of current affairs – Tom spoke passionately about the importance of current affairs on television and its ability to put an issue on the national agenda and to influence public policy.
Working for the BBC – Tom described how the spotlight is permanently on the BBC and he has felt that as editor of Panorama with the row over the North Korea programme and with the longstanding row with Primark which challenged Panorama’s journalism when it exposed the company’s association with child labour.
Panorama’s international content – Tom’s background is in international news. He worked for the World Service and covered the genocide in Rwanda and events in Bosnia. He has a strong interest in international stories and issues but he has no doubt that any editor of Panorama would want to run a certain number of international episodes.
Working with NGOs – Tom gave a number of examples of recent programmes that had been made in successful collaborations with NGOs: a film on Kony and his present activities (with help from Oxfam); a one hour special on the ivory trade in Africa (with help from WWF and in co-operation with the BBC’s Natural History Unit in Bristol); an investigation into human rights in Azerbaijan to run at the time of the Eurovision song contest (with help from Human Rights Watch); a film on logging in the Congo (with Greenpeace); an investigation into e-waste in developing countries (with the Environmental Investigation Agency).
He also consulted his team to find out how they viewed working with NGOs and one emailed a response which Tom read out. It described a certain mutual distrust with NGOs regarding the media as charging ahead without necessarily thinking about the longer term impact on people’s lives, and the media regarding NGOs as not necessarily delivering on their promises. Tom’s conclusion was that there was a need for greater trust on both sides.
Tom gave one example of a difficult relationship with an NGO concerning a film about human rights in Thailand (not for Panorama) when the producers wanted to focus on the royal family but the NGO they were working with (Amnesty) was concerned about the impact of the film on people in the country. Tom felt the public interest in exposing this issue should come first. He later asked a member of the audience to explain the ‘no harm’ policy which NGOs had – he was not familiar with this.
Tom also mentioned that because of the problems with the Primark film (where some footage was used which was deemed on the balance of probabilities to have been faked), Panorama was now much more cautious about third party footage and would need to verify any footage which it was offered by an NGO.
Stories for the future – Tom is looking at Bangladesh and the clothing trade, at the issues of exploitation of labour and child labour. He’s looking at where multinationals will go next – maybe Burma? He’s interested in stories on migration. He also mentioned child exploitation and the global sex trade. He spoke about his desire to get into places where it is hard to get access. The DRC was mentioned but Tom said the bar would be set very high for a film in DRC. Apparently the BBC’s Director of TV, Danny Cohen, has an interest in DRC after commissioning a film about that country when he was BBC3 Controller. Tom said he was keen to do more in Syria but hampered by the ban on Panorama teams going in at the moment – the BBC currently has a policy of only sending in news teams due to the danger.
More on poverty? Tom was challenged about whether Panorama was doing enough about global poverty and he admitted that it probably was not but that the story needed to be right. There needed to be something dramatic to show, something that would engage a mainstream audience and the possibility of some dramatic footage (maybe even supplied by an NGO). He cited his longstanding interest in the issue of the global movement of people (and reports by Paul Kenyon) as a response to poverty.
How to pitch to Panorama – a number of options: by email to Tom (but he has very little time); an email to a correspondent (they have more time to consider ideas) or by contacting an independent production company that has worked with Panorama in the past. He named some reporters interested in international stories who could be contacted: Paul Kenyon, Jane Corbin (did a film on drone wars in Pakistan), Raphael Rowe (did films on logging, palm oil, e-waste and Haiti). There’s more on the reporting team on the Panorama website:http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006t14n/team
Tom also named a number of independent producers that pitch ideas to him: Blakeway, Insight TV News, True Vision, True North, Nine Lives, Mentorn, October Films and Quicksilver.
When you’re pitching to Panorama don’t just think about the issue but think too about the story and a way of telling the story which makes it accessible to a large audience. Any pitch should have a one line description summing up the top line; a description of how the story could be told, who would be followed, what sort of access was possible etc; a taster tape was also helpful showing some of the footage which might be obtained if Panorama were to go ahead. If it’s an international story, a UK connection helps.
Panorama’s editorial position – Tom was asked about a recent episode which looked at health tourism. He said he didn’t have a set agenda on issues. If he found a good story or angle he went ahead. He would be equally happy making a film which looked at the other side of the issue – ie how people were not getting access to health care which they should be getting.
Panorama’s audience – Tom said he was not under huge ratings pressure but neither was he trying to drive the audience down. He wanted to find ways of telling stories which had wide appeal – hence his decision to hire the footballer Sol Campbell to make a film about unemployment among black boys. He was hoping that this would bring a different audience to the issue. But, generally, he was wary of using celebrities unless they had a close connection with the story. Panorama has a regular core audience which also watches other news and current affairs on tv, but it also has the potential, if timing is right, to reach a much bigger audience as it has recently with its North Korea and Jimmy Savile programmes.
Tom took over in 2010 and the audience grew for the first two years and since then it has held steady. Tom also said that the chat on Twitter and in the blogosphere helped build audiences – he gave the example of the Undercover Care film which started with 2.5m and then, as it was tweeted about, so the audience built, and the programme ended with 4.7m.
Panorama online – Tom did admit that Panorama could be much smarter in what it did online once a programme had been broadcast and how it encouraged audiences to take action. Whilst the BBC and Panorama could not overtly campaign on an issue they could nevertheless give ammunition to campaigners and allow them to run with an issue.
Ben explained that AJE is just one channel out of 20+ Al Jazeera channels which include AJ Arabic, AJ Balkans etc. It is also trying to get a foothold in the US, having just bought a US tv station. Although the news channels are best known around the world, AJ is the biggest sports broadcaster in the Middle East and Africa. It broadcast the Olympics and Champions League football to these regions. The HQ is in Doha, Qatar and the channel is owned by the Emir of Qatar but it is editorially independent – it is regarded as a form of Qatari soft power. Later this year, the London operation will move from Knightsbridge to the Qatari-owned Shard. AJ is the only global news channel which is based outside the developed world. It was launched 16 years ago with an Arabic news channel. The English language channel followed 6 years ago.
The news channel is unusual since it is not a 24 hour rolling news channel. It runs news and a range of documentary series such as Witness, People and Power, Africa Investigates, Counting the Cost, Earthrise. Ben is in charge of news in London, whilst each of the individual programmes has its own editor – see contacts at the end. All these documentary strands are commissioned out of London but from producers all around the world. News represents around 55-60% of AJE’s output.
AJE aims to have a different agenda from the BBC and CNN so it does not regard itself as a direct competitor. It is trying to opt for a non western news agenda. In news terms, AJE regards countries like the Philippines and Venezuela as equally important as France or Italy. Australia, for example, gets too much coverage by western media according to Ben. They are keen to cover Latin America. Ben says that AJ have been accused of being anti American and anti Israeli. They are not – but they do like to question the received wisdom on an issue, challenge authority and stand up for people whose voices are not heard (AJ calls itself ‘the voice of the voiceless’).
The goal of their news coverage is to focus on the human – the impact of news stories on people. This approach tends to give their news coverage a different feel and pace, compared with other news organisations. Audiences don’t switch on to AJ for a breaking news story; they switch on for a different perspective on the news. They do cover the main news stories of the day but try, where possible, to find their own angle. For example, with the recent coverage of the Pistorius trial, they used the trial as an opportunity to look closer at violence in South Africa and the state of the SA police force. With the resignation of the Pope, they reported on reaction to it in Brazil, Africa and the Philippines.
Ben says that the newsroom team are constantly debating which stories should feature in news bulletins. He says that this is a very different approach from ITN (where he used to work) and the BBC where the main stories of the day are laid down from on high and where there is very little debate about the news agenda. The AJE newsroom has a more democratic feel – anyone can suggest stories whatever their job status.
There is a misconception that AJ focuses mainly on the Middle East and Islam – it does not. However, Middle East stories are given more prominence than elsewhere. Despite being owned by the Emir of Qatar, AJ does not do PR for Qatar and reports on negative stories from the Arab world – for example its coverage of migrant labour in Qatar and human rights abuses in Bahrain.
Structure of the news operation – there are 3 centres: Doha, Washington DC and London. Each centre commissions reports for a particular region. Doha covers the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Washington DC covers North and South America. London covers Europe. Ideas can be pitched to the appropriate regional hub or via Ben and Maria (Planning editor in London). They work along geographical lines so, unlike other broadcasters, they do not have specialist correspondents covering issues. All the specialists are country based.
When should stories be pitched? Ideally, a month in advance. If you’re publishing a new report, for example, if AJE are interested they will want to get a reporter in the field to do a piece and to focus on the human story. They always want to shoot their own pictures and case studies rather than rely on NGO footage (unless there is really no choice in which case they are happy to run with NGO material). They will need time to set this up.
Another piece of advice from Ben: if you’re publishing a report, make sure the author is available to do interviews the day before publication (they like to prerecord interviews the day before) and also on the day of publication (so s/he can come into the studio for a live interview). They prefer studio interviews to Skype.
What makes a story of interest to them? They are always on the look out for something that is new or surprising. It depends on whether it is a busy news day – a story is more likely to get on air at the weekend when there is less around. A well written press release helps, as does an embargoed advance copy of a report.
They are also always on the look out for good interviewees to add to their database so they can call them in as experts to take part in studio debates. London is on air in the evening from 7-11pm. Guests can come in at this time to appear or they may come in earlier in the day to be interviewed by the anchor in Doha. NGO experts may be called in to comment on other stories so get in touch if you have suggestions for articulate interviewees. They are also happy to interview people in the field, for example in remote areas, if you can bring them in via a BGAN. Like other broadcasters, they are always keen to find different voices.
Editors have a planning meeting on a Thursday to look at the following week and then a daily morning meeting looking at the next day’s stories.
There are no official viewing figures for AJ but it is available to view in 250m homes. The biggest audiences are in Africa and the Middle East. AJ Arabic is watched in 22 Arabic speaking countries. They also have good audiences in countries like the Philippines and Malaysia. Their market research suggests that AJ’s audience profile is younger than other broadcasters so they are always interested in stories that touch on young people.
They are very receptive to stories from NGOs and are keen to establish good working relationships. They like to be able to go to NGOs for background, access, an expert voice. They may call NGOs into the studio to respond to a correspondent’s report. They welcome any information NGOs can offer on likely trouble spots/ crisis watching.
There are a number of innovative new media projects emerging out of the new media unit in Doha – for example crowd sourcing reports from Gaza, Somalis texting in etc
Ben.Rayner@aljazeera.net Head of News, London
Maria.Hadjiconstanti@aljazeera.net Planning editor, London
Neil.Cairns@aljazeera.net Editor, Earthrise
IBT off the record briefing
Alexis explained the role of the planning desk – it gets a first look at stories being pitched by outsiders and by BBC correspondents. He receives a huge number of proposals and only has time to scan them quickly to decide whether he’s interested or not. There is no easy way of saying what will interest him – but he is looking for something that surprises or tells him something he doesn’t already know. Does it feel new?
The programme has been affected by cuts and therefore everyone is very hard pressed – they don’t have time to investigate stories to see whether or not they stand up – so they often end up taking instant decisions.
Alexis is personally interested in malaria and landmines but he freely admitted that others on the programme will not necessarily be interested in the same issues as him.
He is always on the look out for stories with strong characters so that the audience can get to know someone at the heart of a story.
The BBC developing world correspondents, Mike Wooldridge and David Loyn also pitch to him. Today is lucky as it is high in the pecking order and BBC correspondents invariably want to do stories for Today if they can, so they will often pitch to Today first before taking the idea elsewhere. Some correspondents also pitch directly to the editor, Ceri Thomas or the deputy editor, Jasmin Buttar, but it is hard to get them to answer emails.
NGOs can pitch direct to the planning desk – see list of contact names and emails below – or to a correspondent. If it’s a specialist subject like an environmental story, it’s probably better to pitch to the specialist reporter like Roger Harrabin. Alexis is happy to be copied in on emails to correspondents.
There is not one person on Today who decides whether to run a story or not – the individual editors have a degree of autonomy. There is a key morning meeting at 11.30 every day which looks at the following day’s programme. The planning desk will hand over stories to the day editor who works from 10.30-8.30pm (on the following day’s show) and s/he will hand over to the night editor who works from 8.30pm-6am when the programme goes on air. The night editor has the final say and may spike a story which the others have liked or may change the focus or approach.
The planning desk has a budget to commission stories from BBC correspondents around the world and it also commissions reports from Today’s own 5 reporters, which include Mike Thomson who covers the foreign affairs brief.
Alexis says that the quality of press releases coming from NGOs is generally good. He likes press releases that have lots of information in; he’s less keen on ones which talk about campaigns. He agreed that the BBC generally has an aversion to NGO campaigns although they are sympathetic to NGO appeals. He also thinks one of the strengths of NGOs is that they have good expertise and experts out in the field who can give first person testimony.
One of the recent achievements of Today has been its coverage of Liberia. The decision to send a presenter to Liberia and look at a country in Africa which was not in the news was taken as a result of a conversation with Save the Children. The original plan had been to go to Ethiopia but that didn’t work out and Liberia was chosen instead. The first trip involved John Humphrys and attracted criticism for the tone of his reporting which Alexis defended as reflecting the views of a large part of the Today audience. Save the Children provided a lot of help with the first trip and there have been two subsequent trips; two more trips are planned. Today has decided to twin with a village in Liberia which also attracted a certain amount of criticism. Audience feedback to the Liberia project has been largely positive.
Today does take criticism on board – for example the fact that it does not have many women appearing on the show as experts has resulted in a producer being given the task of updating the show’s database and finding new experts, especially but not exclusively women.
Alexis gave a couple of examples of stories which were commissioned and the reasons why.
Mike Thomson did an investigation into children in India working on low wages producing goods for companies like Marks and Spencer and Tesco. The story was pitched to Mike by Anti Slavery. Alexis thought it was strong but he also liked the fact that it required the BBC to do some journalism themselves and Mike ended up making two trips to India. Today really got behind the story and eventually broadcast a 14 minute piece which Anti Slavery were very happy with. The relationship with the NGO worked well.
Alexis also spoke about a story which had been on earlier in the day when a reporter in Pakistan, Tulip Mazumdar, filed a story about women in arranged marriages left behind without their husbands and children. This story had been pitched to BBC Impact, a special unit run by Mark Perrow which has its own budget to do stories that can have maximum impact by running across a number of BBC outlets.
Today had the first run of Tulip’s report but they are generally happy to share with other outlets that are on at the same time for example Breakfast and Newsday.
Studio discussions – these also come through the Planning desk and if you have suggestions for suitable experts then let Alexis know. They are usually looking for opposing views on an issue of the day or something more quirky and offbeat. Each studio discussion usually has a clear question which is being addressed. They are trying to feature more women as experts, following criticism from Broadcast magazine and City University. A producer on Today is currently building up their database with some new names so let her know if you have suggestions – it’s Clare Thorp.
Alexis spoke about Thoughtfor the Day, which comes out of the Religion/Ethics team in Salford, and the business news on Today which comes from Simon Haymer’s team.
He talked us through how the running order works – the first hour of the show is mainly about business news and quick factual updates on the main stories of the day, usually single interviews and short packages and Yesterday in Parliament. The 7-7.30 slot is when they start interviewing key players including Ministers and running longer packages from correspondents. 7.30 will be something on the lead story of the day. 7.40 will be something more textured, maybe about the Arts. 7.50 – this is the lead slot apart from 8.10 so it will take the main story of the day. 8 is the bulletin. 8.10 is the big interview.
There was a discussion about the fact that only highlights of each programme go online but Alexis said that reporters often audioboo a piece so that it can be circulated via social media. The BBC is generally happy for its reports to be distributed in this way provided that it is acknowledged that they originate with the BBC. The only problem arises is if there is a rights issue – usually with music or sports.
There was also a discussion about whether Today should be using more indigenous reporters in its international coverage – for example from Liberia. Alexis said there was a place for both but they will be using more World Service reporters on Today as a result of reductions in the numbers of foreign correspondents and the fact that there is now much closer collaboration between BBC News and the World Service. The Today team sits next to the Newsday team now that both are in New Broadcasting House.
The audience for Today is higher than ever – the peak audience is at 7.40 and people typically listen for 40 minutes. The audience has been described as ‘middle England’ and its average age is 52.
Alexis was asked how the programme viewed NGOs and he said that sometimes NGOs will be the story and in the past when they tried to get NGOs to take part in a discussion about whether there were too many DEC appeals, the NGOs chose not to participate. He was surprised by that decision.
He was also asked how he would like to see the programme change in the next few years. He said he would like it to be less ‘fuddy duddy’ and for there to be more interaction between the presenters. On some days it feels very formal.
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