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Feedback: Making News, the Modern Newsroom

Friday 7 February 2014, 17:35

Roger Bolton Roger Bolton


Television Centre Newsroom 1970 Television Centre Newsroom 1970  

The first time I saw a BBC newsroom was in 1969 in Television Centre in White City, London.

The air was thick with cigarette smoke.

The news editor had a black eyepatch.

Grubby news cuttings and discarded newspapers littered the universally untidy desks. There were several bottles of whisky in the editor’s fridge and a tea trolley was regularly pushed in between the mess, dispensing instant coffee, which was only just drinkable. After the main news bulletins there was an exodus to the bar where arguments were settled, sometimes by force.

Periodically the tannoy system burst into life announcing that a foreign correspondent was about to file, or that a vote was about to be taken in parliament.

There were, of course, no computer screens, no mobile phones, no texting, no Channel 4 News, no Sky and everything shot on location was on film.

I’m not even sure if there were any women producers - only secretaries. The presenters were all male, most of them having started their careers in the acting profession.

The attitude to a toffee-nosed graduate from the then separate department of TV Current Affairs with shoulder-length hair and a northern accent was, at best, sceptical. At worst it was unprintable.

Forty-five years later, with considerably less hair and a less pronounced accent, I found myself in the just over one-year old BBC news centre in new Broadcasting House, conveniently attached to the old one, which George Orwell so loved and hated.

This newsroom is vastly different. For a start all the BBC’s national and international news comes from here, be it TV, radio, online or the BBC World Service.

There is a central hub, where all the news is taken in, and then desks, which radiate out like spokes from a wheel and from which the separate news teams operate.


Now, of course there is no smoking and no bar.  As a consequence the esplanade in front of the new building is full of somewhat furtive figures having a drag.

(If you want to see what it all looks like then you can apply for one of the daily tours of the building.)

Everyone was extraordinarily friendly despite looming deadlines, either because modern news journalists are nicer, or because of politeness to the elderly (me) or - an unworthy thought this - because I was there for Feedback.

I was armed with a whole raft of questions from listeners who wanted to ask about news priorities and decision making. Many of our correspondents suspect that the modern BBC newsroom has a more tabloid agenda. Some have even switched to Al Jezeera.

We followed the team responsible for Radio 4's 6 O’Clock news and sat in on their main meeting which started four hours earlier at 2pm.

Here is my interview with Richard Clarke, the editor of the BBC Radio newsroom.

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Please keep emailing, phoning and writing. You determine our agenda, if not that of the news.

Roger Bolton presents Feedback on Radio 4.

Listen to this week's Feedback.



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    Comment number 1.

    If there are no stories about disasters, paedophiles and crime will we told that all planes flying into Heathrow landed safely, such and such has a good normal healthy sex life and that Mr X is really happy because he has never been a victim of violent crime!

    Everyone despairs at some point about the content of the news, but without "bad" news being reported important and necessary changes in society may be much less likely to occur. Take the issue of paedophile priests, for example. This is a depressing subject. But consider the fine way in which the subject was covered in the World Tonight on Wednesday. A woman who was raped by a priest at the age of 6 was commenting on a recent report produced by the United Nations critical of the Vatican. It is important that the voices of those who have been victims of serious crime are heard on Radio 4, especially when they speak as eloquently as the woman interviewed.


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Identifying the top ten game changers operating in the UK today.


See the latest on our blog


Find out about this year's panel and theme