Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The best job in Britain ...

... is, without doubt, Controller Radio 4, in spite of the conventional wisdom that the R4 audience excels all others in cantankerous 'nein sehen'.

All the ones I've known - controllers, that is, rather than audiences, including Mark Damazer who's currently handing over to his successor, Gwyneth Williams - found themselves eventually on the receiving end of some very pointed tut-tutting, whispered 'well I nevers' or even 'I says'.

Or worse. There were the Long Wave riots; the Woman's Hour uprising; the UK Theme intifada. Etc.

But it was James Boyle who attracted the most withering looks and sottissmo voce susurrations when he tore up the pre-1998 schedule and replaced it with ... well, with the schedule that remains largely intact to this day.

There are those who think that the best thing a CR4 can do is as little as possible. Manage to do nothing at all - no Anderson's Country, no Go 4 It - and you might be spared the chorus of suppressed sighs that a decision of any kind inevitably triggers.

This is not true. CR4s can do lots if they want - as Mark Damazer quite rightly insists. And he should know, because he did a lot. All of it improving.

At the handing over of the torch, then, here are my three suggestions for Gwyneth Williams; suggestions I am confident will not be embraced. Which explains, of course, why I would never be invited to have a crack at the best job in Britain ... however long I might sit by the 'phone.

Restore Yesterday in Parliament (YIP) to its 0830 half-hour FM slot:

This was the one big thing I think James Boyle got wrong back in 1998.

Before then, Today ran from 0630 to 0830 most of the year - with YIP on both FM and LW from 0830 to 0900 during the parliamentary terms.

But James wanted to do two things: open the network earlier, at 0600, and try to carry as many of Today's 6 million across to the rest of the schedule. YIP on both FM and LW was seen as a barrier - which it was, though not as great a barrier as it seemed to some.

It was a balanced judgment. On the one hand, the possibility of adding a percentage point or two to the 0900 (and beyond) audience. On the other, losing a prime time outlet (morning is prime time in Radioland) for that most basic function of journalism: reporting to us citizens/voters what our representatives are doing in parliament in our name.

If we're serious about restoring the status of parliament - and, as voters in a representative democracy, can we be other than serious about that? - surely there is no better first step than to restore a daily, comprehensive, mainstream report on its business in addition to the late-night Today in Parliament.

Extend The World at One and The World This Weekend to an hour:

OK ... so this might look like special pleading. Perhaps I never quite came to terms with the cut from 40 to 30 minutes ... but listening to WATO and TW2 over the election period should have been enough to persuade anyone that an hour of serious, sober, public affairs journalism in the middle of the day is little short of essential.

Martha Kearney and Shaun Ley have continued the fine forensic interviewing tradition of Hardcastle, Day and Clarke ... but in 30 minutes the opportunities for reporter investigations are fewer than they could be.

Commission a new multimedia, multiplatform World News strand:

The Radio 4 audience is clear on this - they want more world news. It was, perhaps, the most persistent theme of the letters and emails they used to send me.

There's an opportunity here - the BBC has the most extensive global newsgathering operation of any news organisation. Increasingly, its reporters are recruited locally and can offer the kind of insights that British journalists posted from London - however brilliant - never quite achieve.

Plus, audio is finding a new life on the web. Either as deeper, more involving podcasts or in combination with still images or video in those multimedia slideshows I keep ranting on about. Like this; or this; or this multimedia show on the 2010 Iraqi elections.

So what about a new WN title ... created from the ground up as part radio programme, part podcast, part interactive web product?

Like I say, I won't be waiting by the 'phone.

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