Talk about Newsnight

Paul Mason's Idle Scrawl

Is Newsnight posher than the A-list? Update!

  • Paul Mason
  • 4 Oct 06, 11:10 AM

I was so amused by Laura Kuenssberg's report last night that I spilled Special Brew all over the sofa - the one I keep in my front garden. It raised the thorny issue of class: and I thought since we've given the Tory A-list a sociological going over, what about Newsnight?

You may recall that the Beeb's bosses were distinctly unforthcoming about the level of poshness within the workforce here, when questioned by another media organisation. So I've organised a voluntary straw poll of the Newsnight team.

With 33 replies in the latest results are as follows:

I'll update this posting with the running totals, but the results so far, with about a third of those eligible having replied, are:

1) Were you privately educated? 42% (Tories 52%)
2) Did you go Oxbridge? 30% (Tories 28%)
3) Are you from the South? 60% (Tories 61%)
4) Did you have any history of working for the BBC before you joined it?* 21% (Tory equivalent question 89%)
5) Do you own a Labrador? 3% (Question not asked of all Tory A-listers)

(*This has a bearing on poshness because many years ago, before they brought in rules to make things fairer, apparently a lot of people whose dads were judges and bankers seemed to turn up for work experience.)

Some thought I should have asked the same question as last night - i.e. "ever worked for the Tory Party?"; others thought it would be more accurate to ask "ever worked for the Labour Party?". Likewise one respondent thought the result was such a no-brainer that I would have to narrow it down to "did you do PPE?" and "do you live in Islington, Hampstead or Camden?".

Anyway, the preliminary judgement is that Newsnight is not as posh as the A-list: we are just as southern as the Cameronistas, a little bit more Oxbridge educated, but far fewer of us went to public school. And only one person on the programme admits to owning a Labrador. Also, some of my colleagues from the sarf (as they call it) insist on mentioning that in the part they are from, even Alsatians have to go round in pairs.

Comments  Post your comment

I saw this VT before it went out, and this is exactly what I was thinking!

For the ladies, you should have added the question 'have you ever owned a pashminia'.

Nothing wrong with labradors though...

Regardless, I trust Newsnight, the BBC, and Paul Mason than I do the media in America. Roberto. Miami Florida.

  • 3.
  • At 03:46 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • Paul D wrote:

Given the old adage that people often resemble their pets, perhaps the question should be 'do you have a sheep dog, a lap dog, a gun dog, a pussy cat or an ostrich?'

(Any connection between this thought and the fact that I am currently in Hungary is purely coincidental - probably).

  • 4.
  • At 04:22 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • R Berrow wrote:

I never bothered to listen ! anything that he has got to say is only words. As a famous Greek said written on the wind and in running water. The Tories are Tories are Tories , They cannot change nor will they ever change . One boy sprog cannot undo what the Tories have done to this country over many years. Things may not have improved much, under New Labour, but they have not worsened . The Devil will need a bigger cloak than the boy David. RB

  • 5.
  • At 04:26 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • Tim wrote:

But don't you see? The delicious irony of this particular blog is how you guys don't seem to have been struck by how embarrassingly but predictably unrepresentative you all are of the people who pay your wages! It's priceless, really priceless!

Forget about feeling good about comparisons with the Conservatives, think about how and whether the fact that your team is five times as likely to have been privately educated and God-knows how many times more likely to have gone to Oxbridge than BBC license payers.

It's hardly a surprise why so many people think that you and the people you are supposed to hold to account are all part of a hermetically-sealed metropolitan elite. I of course think that's populist rubbish - but then my background is (double, postmodern irony here) similar to so many of yours!

  • 6.
  • At 09:30 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • TerenceW (Liverpool) wrote:

What do you call a Conservative party with members of the working class, minorities and comprehensive school taught people in their ranks?

The Labour party!

The Conservatives will never get this fundamental floor in their plan, that they are the elite of Britain and are out of touch with the people. How can you relate and know what is best for a people that you have nothing in common with? Sipping champagne and telling anecdotes about 'a poor person I trod on the other day' is not relating, but this is the only contact the Conservatives would have except for the wait staff at their parties.

Oxbridge educated Rolls Royce driving double barrelled surname having elite; The Master Race! Having a double barrelled name must be a requirement of being a party member! This is the make up of the Conservatives, it has been like that for as long as I can remember. How can Mr. Rees-Mogg possibly have my interests at heart?

The last great Conservative was Winston Churchill. And even he had problems with the party!

Mr Cameron might say, “I have nothing to offer but blood, dole, tears and regret.

  • 7.
  • At 09:59 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • chris wrote:

I find the fact that the public have to pay their wages with the ultimate sanction being jail, well it stinks. I think its only those over 75 who dont have to pay the licence.

For me The Arts Council is even worse. In my area £25 million was spent on an arts complex which went into adminstration. Its an area which is crying out for health care education and infrastructure. I'd like to know what happened to "the public". Newsnight do you know? cus The Arts council sure as hell aint telling "the public" of Sandwell.

  • 8.
  • At 10:39 PM on 04 Oct 2006,
  • Bob Goodall wrote:

Didnt see the programme last night,
bit difficult tonight -interference bad again tonight - except for the end and Mr Paxmans encouraging thoughts about the Newsnight website and its contributors!!
maybe I've missed something here but you say you have a garden!!! and a front garden at that!
Isnt that posh?!
perhaps we could devise a new poll
opneing it up a bit
after all mr Cameron is building a new house
so perhaps let think 'house'?
Do you live in a house or flat?
do you have a garden?
Back and front?
what has your worst lodgings or the poorest time in your life been?
then we might move back to if you have had secondary education!!!!
Then an open question: What is your idea of real poverty or true loss
what is really important?
oxbridge or oxfam?
What is the worst hting to be poor or lonley?
for best persoanl devleopment Is it better to succeed or better to lose
Is it better to be successful, rich etc or be where you can do the best for others?
What other questions could be usefully added?
Just a thought
with very best wishes

  • 9.
  • At 08:10 AM on 05 Oct 2006,
  • Ida Kite wrote:

Black labradors are more posh than yellow ones according to Jilly Cooper. Mr.Mogg would probably tell you that it isnt "posh" to use the word posh.

No,Tim (#5) we DO realise how ironic it is that there are so many posh people working here. What would your solution be? How would you make Newsnight more representative of the people?

  • 11.
  • At 12:05 PM on 05 Oct 2006,
  • chris wrote:

Excuse me for answering Tims question.

This blog is a good start Paul. I'd like to be able to post up my pics, Im dong a visual essay on my area, its called Street life in the Midlands. A homage to the great Scottish travel photographer John Thomson and his work, Street Life in London 1876 - 1877. But then, some how I dont think the posh people would want to see what some may think is the rear end of the UK.

  • 12.
  • At 12:32 PM on 05 Oct 2006,
  • Andrew Dean wrote:

As a Liverpool view (yes we do have televisions up North you know!), the BBC has always been to me a Southerners and Scots club - bit like the government really!
Though I haven't got a problem with "poshness" its just when the weather forecast completely ignores whatever weather the whole of the North of England has had that day and will discuss the excessive rain London has been having even when Liverpool and Manchester have had a weeks unbroken sunshine, its not even mentioned. The same is often true of the news, which when it occurs in the north is rarely reported nationally.
The issue still seems to be less of "poshness", but more on the North/South divide.

  • 13.
  • At 04:27 PM on 05 Oct 2006,
  • Nigel Hodgetts wrote:

Paul (#10); But *should* Newsnight be 'more representative' of the population? Perhaps it should be more representative of the proportion of the population who actually watch the show?

Or, maybe this whole left-wing, social engineering, quota-filling agenda is a complete waste of space!

I don't care what colour, ethnicity, sexual orientation or otherwise Newsnight's staff are. I care that they produce (or at least used to produce) a quality show. By the same token, I couldn't care less about the gender, race, spirituality or bizzare fish fetish too perveted to mention of my local parlimentary candidates. My vote will go to the one whom I consider will do the best job if elected.

Isn't that the basic point of a meritocracy?

  • 14.
  • At 05:39 PM on 05 Oct 2006,
  • Robert wrote:

It has always seemed to me that the pushiest people with the biggest mouths and most self-confidence are the ones who tend to get into television. Public schools seem to instill that. Plus the same people tend to have the posh connections.

Also, currently, there is the disgraceful 'work experience' situation in many media companies, where young people work for little or even no pay. It tends to be only rich familes that can subsidise that.

The quiet people, who may be more talented get nowhere.

Organisations and companies should be more proactive in the way they recruit. They should get out there and hunt down good people from all backgrounds.

I would be interested to know what was the overall background of staff at, say, Granada in the 1960's )on shows such as World In Action). Did they tend to be public school also?

  • 15.
  • At 08:35 PM on 05 Oct 2006,
  • Jenny wrote:

Paul Mason wrote: "No, Tim (#5) we DO realise how ironic it is that there are so many posh people working here. What would your solution be? How would you make Newsnight more representative of the people?"

Your question, and blog entry, are misconceived. It isn't down to Newsnight to be representative of the people. Your job is to reliably produce the only intelligent, post-watershed, news, current affairs, and (on Fridays) arts programme on a UK terrestrial channel. There are other programmes for other audiences.

The role the Conservative leadership aspires to is very different. To hold that role they have to persuade the enough of the people to vote for Conservative parliamentary candidates, or not vote for the others. MPs are sometimes considered to be representatives at Westminster of everyone in their constituency; it is a myth essential for maintaining our current electoral system. Even though that is not an accurate description of their role it does make their ability to seem "representative" a very relevant issue, especially as they object to electoral reform.

To turn that around and try out the same criteria on the reporters is a cheap shot. The measure of the news media is not the people but their "published" work.

Of course, the once reliable ability of "upper class" Conservatives to attract wider support, both at the ballot box and as paying and working members is not a new subject, and it was very cleverly studied in the 1960s by the BBC political analyst Robert McKenzie in his book 'Angels in marble: Working class Conservatives in urban England'. It was not a matter of being representative. In the meantime the party have dallied with other types of leaders. If it has now reverted then the intelligent question would be whether there are still people in the population, sufficiently widely spread and numerous for similar factors to be effective.

The way our media is lately so "celebrity driven" might be encouraging for them. Now, how did that come about?

Jenny (#15); Chris (#11) - get in touch with me on I would really like to discuss your postings with you. Cheers Paul

  • 17.
  • At 11:24 AM on 06 Oct 2006,
  • Paul wrote:

I am glad to hear that both the Newsnight team and the Conservatives and 'Posher' than I am. I dare say the cream of New Labour also fall into that bracket, Tony certainly does.

I do not want to be entertained, informed or looked after by poorly educated ill informed oaf. What people have to ask themselves is could they do a better job and if they couldn't why do they think someone 'just like them' could. Of course if they think they can do a better job they should get of their a*se and prove it.

  • 18.
  • At 11:53 AM on 06 Oct 2006,
  • Matt wrote:

Your colleagues from the South pronounce the word 'Sarf'???!!

They must be the last survivors of 1920's BBC radio. Do they also wear DJs to read the news?

  • 19.
  • At 12:27 PM on 06 Oct 2006,
  • Colin wrote:

Chocolate labradors are far posher than common-as-muck black or yellow labs, as any fule kno.

Jenny (#11) is right on the money, and this thread is dangerously misleading: Newsnight should be staffed by the brightest, most intelligent, best current affairs programme makers that the BBC can attract and retain. Where they come from, whether they have front gardens, ancestral acres or live in tenement flats is of no relevance whatsoever to their work at Newsnight. I for one would vehemently decry artificially altering the profile of the staff on Newsnight - or any other programme, come to that - to meet some social engineering 'norm'. Dittio the profile of the programme content - which is designed to meet the needs of a specific segment of the audience who share an interest in Newsnight's content, not the entire viewing public.
Paul, it seems that what started as a bit of fun has been taken far too seriously. maybe some Newsnight viewers suffer from an irony by-pass !appropriate!

  • 20.
  • At 01:17 PM on 06 Oct 2006,
  • June Gibson wrote:

I have done some film and TV extra work (not as nice as being an extra for Ricky Gervais!) and have noticed that there is a class/age dividing line in that field. The top lot of the production - producers, directors, etc. are younger and posher, no doubt because their family could afford the film school fees and they have the background to come in at a higher level. Other crew, but often just as contributary to a production, are mostly those who have to work their way up and are often middle-aged before they get required experience. In the main,actors and extras are not posh and have had to work their way up, unless they were fortunate enough to come either from an acting dynasty or from a "comfortable" background. That's my observation - and voting preference does't necessarily follow.
There are plenty of posh Socialists and plenty of working class Conservatives.

  • 21.
  • At 01:43 PM on 06 Oct 2006,
  • Mark wrote:

This lonely American has to ask: what is PPE, and what is the particular significance of the three cities Islington, Hampstead and Camden? Thanks!

  • 22.
  • At 02:06 PM on 06 Oct 2006,
  • chris wrote:

oh I do feel sorry for you lonely American. Islington, Hamstead and Camden cities ? Even an american should know that they are not cities !

  • 23.
  • At 02:39 PM on 06 Oct 2006,
  • Tim Woods wrote:

lol. That was fantastic, thanks for cheering my day up.

This blog really is interesting, I admire the openness from people like yourself. Please keep it going!

To be fair it was much much posher at Newsnight 10 years ago. You couldn't move for Oxbridge public school boys when I first joined.

  • 25.
  • At 03:46 AM on 07 Oct 2006,
  • Pete wrote:

posts 3 & 9
Perhaps Mr. Paxman owns a Rottweiler, Pit-Bull or a Boa constrictor?

  • 26.
  • At 04:13 PM on 07 Oct 2006,
  • Amalia wrote:

As always, am puzzled by this class thing in UK. Your posh survey is amusing, but irrelevant. Surely it should only matter if BBC/Newsnight staff are intelligent, articulate and inquisitive ? and to the best of my knowledge "poshness" is totally unrelated to all three...

  • 27.
  • At 05:19 PM on 07 Oct 2006,
  • peter may wrote:

Your reporter on poshness spoke the word Grosvenor crassly and ignorantly. What a loathsome person she must be to be so rude. Up with these people we should no longer put.
Begone !!

  • 28.
  • At 08:34 PM on 07 Oct 2006,
  • Paul Daniel wrote:

It would perhaps be more relevant to ask what newspaper your journalists and producers read. I have a theory that there is a far higher preponderance of Guardian and Independent readers than would be the case of a typical sample from 'the street' of people of a similar age of other occupations, whether they be white, asian, male, female, educated at an independent school, comprehensive, local squat or whatever. It seems to me that the BBC as a whole now has institutional champaign socialist tendencies and is for example, far more europhile than the population as a whole.

Rather like the police when they were accused of being institutionally racist, many people employed by the BBC do not seem capable of seeing that anything is wrong with what they are doing, let alone understand that they ought to be less partial, particularly those airing their views on Radio 4.

  • 29.
  • At 04:54 AM on 08 Oct 2006,
  • M wrote:

1) So, in a meritocracy, would you expect to see a diverse range of individuals at senior levels?

2) What characteristics or tendencies of past news staff has led to the lack of diversity?

3) If an important process such as recruitment is skewed in this way, why do you think the presented news is any more objective?

  • 30.
  • At 01:44 PM on 09 Oct 2006,
  • Catherine Finch wrote:

Obviously none of the Newsnight team could have been educated at the university of life,or when they are interviewing politicians,they would endervour to ask the questions that were relevent to the majority of thier listeners. They contiuously allow the person being intervied to evade the question,this unfortunatlly leaves the viewers in this household, frustrated and more likley to turn off.

  • 31.
  • At 04:08 PM on 09 Oct 2006,
  • Jenny wrote:

Mark wrote: "This lonely American has to ask: what is PPE, and what is the particular significance of the three cities Islington, Hampstead and Camden?"

PPE is a degree offered at some UK universities, but especially at Oxford ( ). Those holding that degree, especially having attended certain colleges, have a much greater than average success in obtaining top jobs in journalism, politics, etc.. The current leader of the Conservatives, who obtained PPE at Balliol, Oxford (the college where PPE was first launched in the 1920s - ), is an example. The letters stand for Politics, Philosophy, Economics.

Islington and Camden are boroughs within London, just north of the centre. Hampstead is the northern-most section of Camden ( ). It was once just a village on a hill north of the city. As with much of London they contain a wide mix of wealth and ethnicity, but they have quite a high proportion of the country's rich, artistic, intellectual and political leaders living there, appreciating the housing, the restaurants, the parks, and other facilities. Tony Blair lived in Islington ( ) before moving to Downing Street. They are probably too expensive for most journalists now.

The London "Tube" map ( ) would give you some idea of the main transport links.

Newsnight is of course produced a few rather congested miles away at Television Centre ( ) in White City / Shepherds Bush - other areas of London with historical names.

  • 32.
  • At 04:49 PM on 09 Oct 2006,
  • Tim wrote:

Expect this thread has gone cold, but as Paul asked me (thanks Paul), I should say - I guess lamely - that the BBC presumably has to keep working on its recruitment policies.

A lot of sociological research, both here and in the States, suggest that, far from becoming more meritocratic, most big, well-paying institutions are becoming ever more the preserve of the middle classes. We woke up to the fact that practices were structured to make it more difficult than it should have been for women and ethnic minorites to pass throught the eye of the needle but seemed to forget that coming from a working class background was just as much a disadvantage. I'm not - honestly! - a class warrior, but how about (I don't know) looking to do more to recruit journalists who haven't gone the university route (getting rarer, I know) or actually going out into the (ehem) 'newer universities' and actively seeking out some 'potted plants.'

To all of those who commented that they wanted the best people making the show and if that meant posh, then posh it would have to be: even if intelligence is not evenly spread throughout social classes, the skew can't possibly account for all of the overrepresentation of privately educated and Oxbridge people throughout the BBC. Just do the math.

What I'm saying, I guess, is that it isn't just Newsnight, it's the whole corporation. But it's also almost every corporation! And a lot of talent (see this week's Economist) is probably going to waste as a result. The whole thing is a viscious circle really - it's hardly your fault but unless you actively try to do something (at the level of the corporation) things won't change, and may even go backwards.

God, now I'm really depressed! I am actually a pretty cheery kind of guy in real life.

Keep up the good - if posh - work!

  • 33.
  • At 07:49 AM on 10 Oct 2006,
  • Matt Pomroy wrote:

Of course the deeper question is about Oxbridge itself. For years political parties and national journalists (not just at the BBC) have been ex-Oxbridge. But what sort of people are getting into Oxbridge these days compared to 10, 15, 20 or 30 years ago?

If this institution is the breeding ground for our future leaders, and those who try to keep the leaders in check, then where are they coming from, and how are the trends going, given the changes with grants, loans and so on?

It would also be interesting to see how this compares to America with their politics, journalism and the big three - Harvard, Yale and Princeton University.

However, as a journalist myself, someone once said to me that you are more likely to get a job in journalism if you went to Oxford. Not necessarily because it’s a great university and you’d get a better education, but because so many employers in the industry are ex-Oxford themselves. And there’s nothing like nepotism and the old school tie.

I know many people who think the values of an Oxbridge education are inimical to good journalism, but very well suited to good management. They would argue that the BBC needs both.

  • 35.
  • At 10:54 PM on 10 Oct 2006,
  • John McCormick wrote:

Mr Paxman which bit of research notes do you NOT understand. If they are research notes being developed for a future study that may become Goverment policy then they are exactly that ....RESEARCH NOTES

  • 36.
  • At 10:22 AM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Niall wrote:

Maybe the foregoing definition of PPE illustrates the problem of narrow BBC producer and audience profiles quite neatly. For me, PPE is Personal Protective Equipment: gloves, boots and helmet. Oxbridge kid's PPE protects their livelihoods. So does mine.

  • 37.
  • At 03:36 PM on 12 Oct 2006,
  • Sandra G wrote:

The demographics of newsnight staff are just a symptom of the BBC recuitment policies. Who out there has ever applied for a job at the corp and never even had a response? I have. I rather get the idea that they only consider the cream of the crop. The 30% Oxbridge figure is nothing to crow about because the other 70% no doubt come from prestigious universities such as Kings or UCL or the ilk. How many from Southampton Solent or one of the other new uni's?
But I agree with the contributors who have said it is not the demographic of the staff that counts as much as the niche of the programme. I value the type of material on newsnight when so much else on telly is infotainment.

  • 38.
  • At 01:24 AM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • Jenny wrote:

adamliv wrote: "To be fair it was much much posher at Newsnight 10 years ago. You couldn't move for Oxbridge public school boys when I first joined."

And the "girls"?

Jenny wrote:
And the "girls"?

Lots of posh girls in those days but not usually from Oxford as far as I remember(for some reason - dunno why.)

If I recall correctly it was Sian Kevill, the first female editor, who came in around 1997, decided the prog was rather too Oxbridge public school-ish (and said so publically and did something about it.)

  • 40.
  • At 04:40 PM on 13 Oct 2006,
  • will wrote:

Oh please…..
BBC 2….. traditional broadcast channel focusing on niche, mostly high(er) brow pieces for mostly (educated) professional low number audiences
Newsnight…. traditional broadcast programme on BBC2 focusing on niche, mostly high(er) brow pieces for (mostly) educated professional low number audiences

staffed by mostly posh people – not ironic, not even surprising.

Get a bit of self awareness please.

  • 41.
  • At 01:16 PM on 10 Jan 2007,
  • Sarah Carson-Briggs wrote:

I have a title but breed bull terriers.I suspect that makes me the exception that proves the rule.

  • 42.
  • At 04:02 PM on 10 Jan 2007,
  • Violette Szabo wrote:

It's actual more of an American trait to judge people's class by what they do.In the UK the key questions are where do you live and where were you educated,and,in really elitist circles, who are your family.If the answers are right you could be a florist for all anybody cares.

  • 43.
  • At 01:14 AM on 11 Jan 2007,
  • Leni Farrer wrote:

Here in Wales "Posh" is about clothes, home decoration and the distinction between taking the benefits or working.

RE. Clothes. Woman can wear Boudicca or mini; men, shorts and tattoos or suits.

Re. Homes. It's the same as next door or it isn't.

Re. Financial Status. Who has more package holidays and a Mobility Car?

Nowt to do with "Class ,education,attitudes or concern for the World out there. Get real!

Please don't take Posh seriously.

  • 44.
  • At 11:46 PM on 12 Mar 2007,
  • Ronald Collinson wrote:

David Cameron attended Brasenose College, not Balliol. The latter is reknown as a bastion of egalitarianism, and claims to be the first college to admit students on the basis of merit. Brasenose does not quite enjoy the same reputation; its admission procedure is probably no less rigorous, but its ethos is probably friendlier to privilege.

  • 45.
  • At 01:42 PM on 06 Jul 2007,
  • dave wrote:

You mean the South with the exception of Cornwall, which might as well not exist according to the BBC. When was the last time I heard a BBC presenter with a Cornish accent - never. There's no North-South divide, just a London-based elite and the provincial masses.

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