In the battle for the soul of the BBC

If Tim Davie winced when he was recently scalded like a ‘fat cat’ for taking a £ 75,000 pay rise, the BBC managing director might now think he deserves a little more cream in his pocket. saucer.

Her job gets harder and harder by the day as star BBC journalists, from political editor Laura Kuenssberg to North America editor Jon Sopel, begin a confusing game of musical chairs as Senior information executives are heading for the exit doors of Broadcasting House, along with hundreds of experienced editors. colleagues.

Even News at Ten anchor Huw Edwards has been linked with rival broadcasters. If Davie logs on to Newsnight, he will be reminded that he is looking for a new editor after Esme Wren’s announcement on Tuesday that she is resigning from Channel 4 News.

The BBC newsroom is saving £ 80million and has laid off more than 250 employees as part of a “Modernizing News” program of 475 job cuts. There are tensions with new Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, a BBC critic who has warned she needs “real change” to survive. During that time, he’s lost seasoned figures such as tech correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones and breakfast host Louise Minchin. David Shukman ends his long tenure as science editor this week at COP26.

This instability is compounded by the resignation in September of Fran Unsworth, BBC news director. She will leave in January after 40 years of career and a battle of succession is underway.

Laura Kuenssberg

/ BBC / Jeff Overs

Davie, 54, an ultra-marathon runner, is an incisive and energetic leader. He will oversee all major events. “He’s very involved in all on-screen talent deployments – he’s a really hands-on GM,” a BBC source said. “With a leadership vacuum in BBC News, it has to be.”

Kuenssberg is expected to retire at the end of the year. There is no single position currently available that matches her profile as a political editor. “They will have to strengthen her situation so that she has a lot of other things; documentaries and podcasts and other projects, ”predicts a source. “You have to prepare a deal for Laura that allows her to maintain her stature.” At the heart of this equation is her interest in a part-time presenter role on the Today program.

This poses problems. Some on BBC radio fear that today, a flagship of the BBC, could lose its identity if the presentation roles are “just handed out to people willy-nilly as a prize for hard work and they can. then choose when to work themselves ”. Today, once known to have two separate lead presenters, it is now hosted in different ways by Nick Robinson, Justin Webb, Mishal Husain, Martha Kearney, Amol Rajan, as well as backups Simon Jack and Sarah Smith, with possibly Kuenssberg to come. “Radio is all about familiarity,” an insider said of this crowd. “What you don’t want is someone else to come in part-time and decide it’s not for them and get high again.”

None of the major presenters are looking to free up positions for Kuenssberg. “There is competition and one big interview at 8:10 am, so there is quite a bit of unease,” says another source on the show. Due to the coincidence of the departures of Kuenssberg and Sopel, it was assumed that the editor of North America was returning for the post of Westminster. Sopel, 62, former host of The Politics Show, “knows Westminster well”, says a BBC reporter, and is “well-liked and respected internally”.

But such a convenient transition is far from certain, even though Sopel is the bookmaker’s favorite to be the next BBC political editor. “He doesn’t come back specifically to do it,” explains a close colleague. “If they offered it to him, would he do it on an interim basis?” He probably would.

Jon sopel

/ Stephane Voss

But for all the accomplished eminence of the broadcast journalist, “some editors believe he never left Washington. [and] made a concerted effort to stay right outside the White House, ”an insider said. Notably, it was ITV’s Robert Moore who beat all of his rivals to be inside the crowd that stormed Capitol Hill in January.

The impression that BBC News was caught off guard was underscored in August when it tarnished the excellent coverage of Afghanistan by not having a senior correspondent in Kabul when it fell to the Taliban. “We didn’t have our eye on the ball,” a source said. “The BBC spends its time dealing with very painful restructurings and that’s not what makes a good newsroom.”

Sopel’s likely successor in America is Sarah Smith, a successful Scottish editor-in-chief and daughter of former Labor leader John Smith. But securing the right replacement for Kuenssberg is key to boosting public confidence as the BBC negotiates its future with the hostile Dorries.

Kuenssberg, 45, is a whirlwind of reporting on TV, radio, podcasts and Twitter, where she pioneered more immediate political journalism for her 1.3 million followers. She is admired by her peers in the news industry, who named her Journalist of the Year in 2016, and popular within the BBC. “You never hear things about her that you hear about other people; who are difficult to work with, ”says Danny Shaw, former BBC home affairs correspondent.

The work of “Pol Ed” “became highly politicized” during Kuenssberg’s tenure, said Richard Sambrook, former BBC news director. “No one made such a big fuss when Nick Robinson or Andrew Marr decided to move on, but all of a sudden Laura became the story, which in my opinion is not helpful.” He says she did the job “extremely well under tremendous pressure”. Kuenssberg’s potential replacements include his deputy Vicki Young, Sky’s Beth Rigby, ITV’s Anushka Asthana and Rajan, the BBC’s media editor.

Former BBC presenter Mark Mardell believes diversity will be a factor. “It’s like the next Doctor Who, if you give it to a middle-aged white man, you state that you had a female political writer and that’s it, the diversity is done and dusted off.” It’s not.”

Managing Director Tim Davie

/ Pennsylvania

Meanwhile, BBC core staff continue to complain. Davie’s salary increase came down “like an absolute balloon,” according to Pierre Vicary, president of the National Union of Journalists. Nonetheless, the GM can be reassured that Edwards wants to stay at the BBC. In an emailed statement to The Standard, he said: “I have never seriously thought about any BBC movement where I have spent my entire career. I am very happy to present the Ten, the latest news, elections, official and ceremonial events, and I hope to continue in this role for as long as necessary.

Davie has made impartiality his watchword and this will be the key to his future appointments. “He loves those who enthusiastically approve of his drive for impartiality… he has made it a totemic thing,” said one insider.

While some fear that too much emphasis on neutrality will neutralize BBC production, the CEO insists his priority is making the BBC relevant to every household in the UK. The danger is that without strong on-air characters and distinctive programs, it will become so bland that audiences and talent will look elsewhere.

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