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November 29, 2023updated 30 Nov 2023 12:35pm

34 jobs cut on Newsnight as it becomes interview and discussion show

127 jobs cut across BBC News but 147 new digital roles created.

By Charlotte Tobitt

Newsnight is being hit in the latest BBC cuts as the broadcaster makes cost savings in some areas and shifts resources to online formats.

Some 127 jobs are set to be cut across BBC News and Current Affairs, but a further 147 digital-focused roles will be created.

The new roles being added include a royal editor and new correspondent and reporter jobs covering artificial intelligence, financial and political investigations, employment and housing – areas thought to be “of particular interest to today’s audiences”.

The BBC needs to make £500m in savings following the licence fee freeze and the impact of inflation. The broadcaster also noted that linear TV audiences have declined by 11% over the past five years.

Newsnight to become ‘interview, debate and discussion show’

At Newsnight, the number of roles across reporting, production and operational functions will be cut from 57 to 23 as it reformats into an “interview, debate and discussion show which draws on the best of the BBC’s talent and news-making interviews to make sense of the day’s news”.

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The programme will be cut by a third from 45 minutes to half an hour and lose its dedicated reporters and investigative films, although it will still have its own political editor. It will continue to air on BBC Two every weeknight.

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Lead presenter Kirsty Wark, who has spent 30 years at Newsnight, already announced last month she planned to step down after the next general election and editor Stewart Maclean is reportedly soon departing as editor to become BBC World News Content’s Africa bureau chief.

The BBC said the changes to Newsnight were “based on audience feedback which showed what consumers value most from today’s programme – high-quality, consequential, news-making interviews, discussion and debate”.

Newsnight’s diplomatic editor Mark Urban, who will present the programme tonight (Wednesday) hours after the plans were announced, said on X: “I have worked on the programme for 32 years, around the world, risking my life many times for its journalism. You can well imagine my feelings at cuts to our staff and budget of more than 50%.”

Former Newsnight deputy editor Rob Burley said: “So sad. I’m proud to have worked on such a marvellous show with such a proud tradition. And 50% job cuts. I feel for those excellent journalists facing scary futures.”

Ex-international editor Gabriel Gatehouse said: “What a sad day for the BBC as it announces it’s effectively cancelling Newsnight. Newsnight produced some of the best journalism on TV. I’m very proud to have worked there, with the best people in the business.”

And former policy editor, now co-presenter of The News Agents podcast, Lewis Goodall said: “Without original films, investigations and its own correspondents, hard to see how it’s Newsnight. So proud to have worked on this show, with one of the very best teams in news, anywhere. We need more of what Newsnight has always been about, not less.”

BBC News and Current Affairs chief executive Deborah Turness said: “Audiences have told us how much they value Newsnight as an iconic BBC debate and discussion programme, and we’ve listened to what they’ve said – we’ve made the decision to keep the programme on air five days a week, despite the financial challenges we face.

“Newsnight has also been a source of great investigative reporting and films but we know that people are consuming the news in different ways, and it can no longer make sense to keep a bespoke reporting team for a single television programme.

“We will offer more to audiences by investing to ensure the best investigative journalism and reporting is produced – and consumed – across the whole of BBC News.”

According to the National Union of Journalists, Panorama will also be subject to funding cuts – although the BBC said it will remain the flagship current affairs brand on BBC One with no change in its number of hours.

New jobs in investigations and BBC Verify

At the same time a new BBC News investigations unit is being created with new roles in financial and political investigations.

The NUJ has said it is opposed to compulsory redundancies and will “fight for all staff who wish to remain”, pushing for training and redeployment of experienced staff to be a priority. This may mean some of the Newsnight staff could move to the new investigations unit, for example.

BBC Verify will be boosted with new reporting and production roles, the corporation said. BBC Verify launched about six months ago with 60 journalists pulled together from existing open-source investigative (OSINT), fact-checking and verification teams and the new roles will be for specialists with OSINT and policy analysis expertise. Turness promised more investment in BBC Verify at an event last month.

A “new in-depth digital experience” will see a dedicated team commissioning “premium” analysis from editors, specialists and experts globally and curating the best BBC News content each day in one place, whether that is articles, podcasts, documentaries or in any other medium.

In broadcast, BBC News at One will be extended by 15 minutes to an hour and move to Salford, which the corporation said would make it the first daily BBC national news bulletin to broadcast from outside London.

BBC Breakfast, which is also broadcast from Salford, will similarly be extended by 15 minutes to 9.30am.

The BBC News story teams (meaning dedicated teams covering areas like technology and climate and science) in the UK will be restructured with a focus on digital storytelling and live coverage with a reduction in the amount of TV packaging, the broadcaster added. Some of this restructuring will involve role closures.

Newsnight cuts to ‘provide more resource’ for 24/7 online news

The BBC said the changes are part of its “evolution from broadcast to digital journalism, and forms part of the BBC’s strategy to deliver value to all of its audiences, wherever they live and whichever platforms they use”.

Turness said: “Like many businesses, we are in a tough financial climate and as our audiences shift rapidly from TV to online news consumption, we need to make choices about where we allocate our resources.

“While TV and radio remain crucial to BBC News, we must invest in our digital platforms to ensure they are also the home of our very best journalism, and today’s package of measures will accelerate this transformation.”

The BBC said the cuts to Newsnight and other areas will “provide more resource to guarantee the speed and quality of 24/7 digital journalism and digital streaming, building on the success of online live pages, so consumers are getting the best of BBC journalism around the clock”. BBC News executive news editor Nathalie Malinarich told Press Gazette’s Future of Media Technology Conference in September the live blog format “works better than ever” for the corporation with a “big growth in audiences coming to our live pages”.

NUJ says Newsnight and Panorama cuts ‘major blow’

The NUJ said the cuts to Newsnight and Panorama “will be a major blow, and they will diminish these investigatory and interrogative programmes which regularly set the news agenda”.

Five Panorama films are shortlisted in Press Gazette’s British Journalism Awards 2023.

Paul Siegert, NUJ broadcasting organiser, said: “While we welcome investment in digital, we have grave concerns that the axe is falling disproportionately on investigatory news output. Flagship programmes such as Newsnight and Panorama have a long history of setting the news agenda with in-depth investigations and exclusive stories.

“The proposals would, on the face of it, diminish a part of the BBC’s output that has already been negatively impacted by previous rounds of cuts. The extension of BBC Breakfast and News at One would not provide an equivalent in-depth analytical and agenda-setting news product.”

Separately NUJ members at BBC Local have just voted to end a dispute over cuts to local radio content in a move towards more digital content after a year that included two walkouts of hundreds of journalists.

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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