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The World at One: Extra time

Sunday 6 November 2011, 20:00

Nick Sutton Nick Sutton

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World at One radio news studio gallery, 2002

The World at One radio news studio gallery, 2002

A small bit of radio history was made on Friday lunchtime when Edward Stourton became the last presenter of The World at One to say, "that's the World at One Thirty".

From Monday, the programme will be extended to 45 minutes - and as a result the presenter's payoff will change. Of course, it's not the first time that the duration has been altered. In 1998, the then Radio 4 controller, James Boyle, cut the duration of The World at One - or WATO as we call it - from 40 minutes to 30 minutes and moved the Archers from 1.40pm to 2.00pm.

Some people complain that there is too much news already on Radio 4, but our audience is at record levels with a weekly reach of 3.3m and around 1.4m listening to WATO each day. There seems to be a real appetite to find out what's happening in the world and for us to explain it.

As Gwyn Williams has said, the faster development of stories following Today (especially now that Parliament sits in the morning) means there simply isn't enough time in 30 minutes to cover the full news agenda, both foreign and domestic.

The programme was extended to an hour throughout the general election campaign and in what has been an incredibly dramatic year - with the economic troubles at home and in the eurozone; the Arab uprising; and the summer riots - we've extended WATO a number of times on an ad hoc basis.

My intention is that the programme will continue to be the home for strong, news-making interviews, analysis and discussion. However, too often at the moment, the programme feels boxed in by its duration. I've lost count of the number of times I or my colleagues have had to talk into Martha Kearney's ear telling her to wrap up an interview or move on to the next item, even though we know there are questions we'd like to have asked our guests. I understand how frustrating listeners find this and the extension to 45 minutes will allow the interviews and discussions time to breathe just a bit more.

I'm hoping we'll also be able to use the extra time to do a slightly broader range of stories. Audience research suggests that you really appreciate what we do at the moment - comprehensive, in-depth coverage of domestic, political and international news - and would welcome more of the same. But that there's also demand from our listeners for greater reporting of technology issues, business and economics news, and arts and culture.

I would also like to experiment with using different formats on the programme - being creative in our production and treatment, with more outside broadcasts and more reporting (by Martha, Shaun Ley and Edward; by the dedicated reporters we have on news programmes; and by the great team of BBC correspondents in the UK and around the world).

Do let us know what you think.

Nick Sutton is the editor of The World at One

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    Comment number 1.

    I love the trails for the newly-extended World at One: urgent, driving background music, and then you come on, Nick, and tell us your name, and highlight some of the forthcoming attractions:

    "One of the things we've got lined up for the first week is an outside broadcast with Ian Duncan Smith."

    I can hardly contain my excitement.

    Clearly this kind of stuff is well worth the sacrifice of two thirds of the station's short story commissions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    Short story point aside (and it's not an unfair one, nor hopefully a closed debate) - please try to use your additional 15 minutes to let the existing stories breathe more, rather than cramming in 3 more 5-minute-each pieces. That is all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    "This is William Hardcastle with the World at One".
    I recall hearing those words in the 1960s and 70s it always sounded so reassuring that good people were in charge

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    Comment number 4.

    Hello langhamstreet

    Tony Pilgrim, Radio 4's head of scheduling, has sent over a clarification in response to your comments regarding short stories (#29, #48 on The Radio 4 schedule changes on Monday 7 November and on Nick Sutton's World at One post, #1).
    From Tony:

    "We will definitely have two short stories per week as an average across the financial year from next financial year, beginning April 2012. We are sticking to our commitment for the remainder of this financial year to end March, which is for a higher number than this, it just happens that the way the scheduling has worked out we have repeats for a couple of weeks on the next two Sundays at 1945."

    Many thanks,

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    FAO Tony Pilgrim:

    Thanks for your response (No 4, above).

    I think that's a little clearer, but even if there are "two [new?] short stories per week as an average" from April 2012, and "a higher number than this" from now till the end of March, these fluctuating figures suggest a rather random and erratic scheduling of stories.

    Even if this isn't the case, the net effect of the reduction in output is that story readings stop being a serious presence on the network, as they were when they ran through the weekday schedule like the proverbial letters through a stick of rock.

    In the revamped schedule, short stories seem likely become not much more than occasional fillers that nobody remembers to listen to; or every now and then they'll become over-hyped "special events" - "Johnny Depp reads a specially-commissioned new story by Quentin Tarantino! Recorded in his hotel room at the Dorchester while in London to promote his latest 'Pirates' movie! It'll be total rubbish, of course, but what fantastic publicity for the network - and a high-profile demonstration of our continuing commitment to the arts going forward..."

    It's a far cry from just two years ago, when - let's not forget - there was a new short story every weekday, at a regular time, and Radio 4 was still a serious patron of writers and actors and creativity.

    And just to compound the irony, I see R4 has also just announced that "the art of sound, storytelling and listening" are to be "celebrated" on the network next March in some new programmes with the ubiquitous Melvyn Bragg (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/ariel/15540549 ).

    So that's the message: we "celebrate" storytelling, but we don't actually do it any more. Or at least, not very much.


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