Outside Source with Ros Atkins will harness BBC's potential
Ros Atkins is going to be a very busy man. A mainstay of World Have Your Say for the last eight years, the presenter is now going to be the voice and face of an innovative new programme for the World Service that will be broadcast internationally on radio, television and online.
End Quote Ros Atkins Presenter, Outside Source
We are going to be more open about the processes that are going into our journalism, because social media and the internet means that people are much more aware of every bit of information”
Outside Source - launching on October 28 - is putting Atkins inside the beating heart of the BBC's newsroom. Using wireless technology, the journalist will be hosting a live, one-hour programme from 'the pit', to hear about the big news stories of the day from the editors, reporters and correspondents who are working on them as they unfold.
The programme is not short of ambition - there will be no fixed studio, with Atkins able to move around Broadcasting House as and when he wants to. The flexibility means that he doesn't need to wait for people to come to him in a breaking-news situation, he can simply go to them.
But one of the biggest ambitions of Outside Source is, as Atkins says, 'to create a closer connection between the audience and the journalists that make the BBC news what it is'.
The show will actively encourage its audience to share what they know about the stories making headlines via social media, no matter where in the world they are - and this will be incorporated into how the programme takes shape, what guests contribute to it and the questions Atkins asks.Transparency
From the back of a cab, Atkins tells me that Outside Source takes 'the journalistic ethos of World Have Your Say and applies it to a news programme'.
In essence, this means a potentially huge global audience will learn more about how the BBC gets the news to them. The aim is to be transparent about the many decisions involved in the newsgathering process.
'It doesn't mean we are going to throw everything on air,' clarifies the presenter, 'but it does mean we are going to be more open about the processes that are going into our journalism, because social media and the internet means that people are much more aware of every bit of information that is happening in the world.'No agenda
The agenda will be set on the day, with the production team arriving at 6am, and a rundown of stories - perhaps an average of 15 to 20 - chosen by 7.30am. The only thing set up in advance is broadcasting an editorial meeting with two or three of the BBC's bureau chiefs, editors or producers. 'These are the people who, on the whole, are off air, but who have a huge influence over how we go about our journalism,' says Atkins. He hopes the editorial meeting will become a regular slot.
But is this approach editorially risky? Outside Source's new editor Mark Sandell, who has also presided over World Have Your Say, sees 'no problem with transparency' and says listeners have always been invited to take part in WHYS road shows or meetings.
'I think it's good to show the process and demonstrate we are impartial and without an agenda.
'We are a programme that tries to assess and reflect what we think the world is talking about. We aren't dealing with sensitive safety or financial or deployment issues, so I'm not suggesting this approach would work for every programme.'No studio
Like any live programme, there are inherent risks involved in producing it. A big one is that the studio managers won't be sitting with Atkins in the newsroom - they'll be in a third floor studio and won't know when guests arrive. 'The communication between the output editor, the studio manager and the presenter is complicated,' admits the new host, but he says most problems have been smoothed out during a run of pilots.
A major obstacle that needed to be overcome was the background noise in the newsroom, which could prove distracting to those listening to the show and even those making it. Atkins explains that the team is now 'pretty happy that the [noise] level is not distracting'. He adds that it would be pointless to reduce the noise to zero, because the premise of the programme is that he's in the thick of things - 'When you listen to it, you don't hear individual conversations, it's just a hubbub.'
Outside Source will first start as a radio show and then add a half-hour television programme in the new year. It will share the same presenter and editor and some of the same producers, which will make for long days. It's an 'unusual' setup, confirms Atkins.
Broadcast by BBC World News, the TV version will not be a rehash of the radio programme and will be kept completely separate. The only thing the two might share occasionally is the guests.
The online element - which will develop over time - is less pinned down, but it's hoped it will be an extension of the programme, interacting openly with audiences about the big stories of the day and what interests them.New journalism
The presenter - who is experienced in television - says this is 'a step into a new type of journalism and of course when you do something new it's always going to be exciting and a little bit nerve-wracking'.
But despite the technical complexity of delivering the show and the fact that it's live, Atkins won't admit to being overly apprehensive, just to a healthy dose of nerves about delivering 'on the things that we've wanted to do for a long time'.
So, what is he most looking forward to?
There is a pause as he considers this. The journalist says it's about harnessing the BBC's potential in in its network of multilingual journalists, its enormous reach and its global audience for international news, which averages 256m people on a weekly basis. 'If you could bring these three things together and collate them in real time, then you are going to have a pretty powerful thing.'
- Outside Source launches on October 28 on World Service radio, followed by a television programme next year