Big changes are coming to BBC News. Huw Edwards has spoken of leaving the BBC’s flagship news program. Jon Sopel is stepping down as BBC editor-in-chief for North America, a post he has held since 2014, and over the past two weeks there has been plenty of speculation as to whether Laura Kuenssberg will be leaving the BBC political editor, a post she has held since taking over from Nick Robinson in July 2015. Finally, John Simpson, BBC world affairs editor and BBC journalist since 1970, should surely take her place. retirement soon as he nears eighty years of age. Lyse Doucet and Jeremy Bowen, the two mainstays of the BBC’s Middle East coverage, are both in their 60s and may also be leaving soon.
These are all big jobs and a series of musical chairs will follow. There has been talk of Kuenssberg and / or Sopel moving Today program and Amol Rajan leaving Today to succeed Kuenssberg.
In recent years, the BBC has, as might be expected, a poor track record when it comes to these high profile changes. David Dimbleby was a superb presenter of Question time and BBC election coverage. Fiona Bruce and Huw Edwards have so far proven to be less than ideal substitutes. Newsnight still hasn’t found a suitable replacement for Jeremy Paxman, and he left as early as 2014. The BBC has failed to find an interviewer or political presenter as impressive as Andrew Neil.
Of course, they were big shoes to fill. Dimbleby reported on his first general election in 1964, Paxman joined the BBC in 1972 and began presenting Newsnight in 1989, when Andrew Neil had presented a number of BBC shows for almost twenty years, including
The Andrew Neil Show
to , as well as Budget Specials and participate in general election coverage.
The replacement of some of these figures poses two main problems. First, the days of famous middle-aged white reporters, and especially presenters, are coming to an end at the BBC. In today’s BBC, they will be keen to find female and / or non-white replacements in at least some of these jobs. It is no coincidence that in recent years Laura Kuenssberg was the BBC’s first female political editor, Fiona Bruce was the first female presenter of Question time after long stints by Robin Day and David Dimbleby, while Clive Myrie has just replaced John Humphrys as presenter of Brain after four white male presenters. NewsnightThe most prominent presenters of s are now women: Kirsty Wark, who has presented the program since 1993, and Emily Maitlis.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons Amol Rajan is so warmly called the BBC’s new political editor. If appointed, he would be the first political writer of Asian descent. His CV is impressive. Former editor-in-chief of The independent, he has been the BBC media editor since december 2016 and recently joined the Today program. He’s young (only 38), energetic, funny, and the media pace has changed tremendously over the course of his time, with scandals at the BBC (no news there), but also more importantly the rise of Twitter, Amazon and Google as major news stories.
The other big change in these high profile media jobs is the job description. The political editor should be available early in the morning for the Today program and continues to report on the major political news of the day for The ten o’clock news, while shattering stories in between. It’s a grueling schedule and Laura Kuenssberg has done a tremendous job of staying on top, always bright, articulate and extremely competent, despite allegations of bias from left and right.
Jon Sopel has an equally grueling schedule as BBC editor-in-chief for North America, but he has been helped by an excellent team of journalists and presenters including Christian Fraser, Anthony Zurcher and up. recently Katty Kay and Nick Bryant. These are extremely demanding jobs and talented reporters may not be lining up to replace Ms Kuenssberg, just as not everyone will want to get up regularly at 4 a.m. to present the story. Today program.
Among the favorites to replace Laura Kuenssberg are Vicki Young (deputy political editor and approached by Andrew Marr), James Landale (white, male and old Etonian, so unlikely), Beth Rigby of Sky News (high profile but erased her notebook with this drinks output during Covid and not as bright as the other contestants), Amol Rajan and Chris Mason.
Mason and Rajan should be the favorites, even though they are both men. They both have a lot of personality, they are the youngest in the field, 41 and 38 respectively, and although Mason is a white male, he grew up in Yorkshire. This could matter to the BBC at a time when pro-Brexit northerners are increasingly disappointed with the southern wokishness of the metropolitan BBC. Mason is also a BBC product: he did his first reporting from Westminster in 2004, became political correspondent for BBC News in 2012 and featured Questions since 2019. He is not as fiery as Amol Rajan, and does not have the intellectual reach of the latter, but rather a political animal, with a sparkle in his eyes that others miss.
An interesting suggestion from Michael Crick, a veteran of Newsnight and more recently Channel News 4, was to share the work of political editor between radio and television. Crick argues that it’s just too big a job today for one person to handle and that it could also create more diversity within BBC News which wouldn’t be a bad thing. The only thing that is certain is that there will be a lot of changes to BBC News. It is almost certain that the BBC hierarchy will make the wrong decision.