BBC One cancelled all programming up to the News at Six. Huw Edwards was dressed in black. That one official line – “the Queen’s doctors are concerned for Her Majesty’s health and have recommended she remain under medical supervision” – was fixed atop every news story like a holding card.
Among those reading or watching the news on Thursday, not least everyone at Press Gazette, speculation was rampant that news organisations knew more than they were letting on.
Perhaps primed by The Guardian’s famous London Bridge article, many in both the media and the wider public were of the belief that a select few news leaders or organisations would be given early notice that the Queen had died – even though the article specifically states that the world’s media will be told simultaneously.
“For a time, she will be gone without our knowing it,” read Sam Knight’s 2017 article, which has reportedly been a huge source of traffic for The Guardian since last week. “The information will travel like the compressional wave ahead of an earthquake, detectable only by special equipment.”
Rumours abounded. The Queen has been ill before, but the BBC had never interrupted its schedule like this for previous scares.
Press Gazette spoke with staff at seven British newsrooms to get a sense for whether any outlets or editors were formally told of the Queen’s death before the official announcement at 6.30pm.
When did newsrooms learn about the Queen’s death?
What we learned was that although some places learned the news from their own sources, pretty much every newsroom seems to have been working with the same information that the public had.
The earliest any outlet had confirmed the death of the Queen was by 3.06pm, when Guido Fawkes accidentally published the news early.
“We had prepared a post and we knew from sources Her Majesty had passed,” editor Paul Staines told Press Gazette.
“It was put out in error early. We deleted it within seconds and intended to wait for the official announcement. Which we did. We weren’t looking for a scoop.”
Another source told Press Gazette they were “pretty certain” of the passing by 4.30pm. But no one at any newsroom confessed to getting an official tip-off.
At most organisations, journalists said they had just worked off what little had been provided: the announcement that the Queen’s doctors were concerned for her health and the fact senior royals were suddenly descending on Balmoral.
A Financial Times journalist told us it didn’t seem anyone there knew for sure the Queen had died. A staffer at another news website told Press Gazette: “It was really just guesswork that she was gone, piecing together things like broadcasters in black, the meaning of family there, etc.”
The broadcasters Press Gazette spoke with said they did not have early confirmation either: one Sky News staffer said they, too, had just been reading the signs available.
BBC News said it wouldn’t be commenting on any aspect of the day’s coverage. But even there information seems to have been scarce: Press Gazette understands Huw Edwards himself (pictured) only found out about the Queen’s death upon the Palace’s announcement at 6.30pm.
Prime Minister Liz Truss was reportedly informed of The Queen’s death at 4.30pm.
One royal journalist told Press Gazette that editors of national news organisations may have been given an earlier indication of the graveness of the situation.
For now it remains a mystery – no editors have responded to Press Gazette’s enquiries.
Picture: BBC News screenshot
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