EXCLUSIVE: BBC News presenters have been told that they can relax their formal dress code in the pursuit of more authentic reporting as the broadcaster seeks to reinvent its 24-hour news channel.
Naja Nielsen, BBC News’ Director of Digital, told staff last week that the more rugged “sweaty and dirty” look certain journalists adopt when away from the studio can be more trustworthy.
Nielsen was speaking as the BBC steps up plans to merge BBC World News with its domestic news channel in an effort to cut costs and make its rolling news output more appealing to online audiences. Managers argue it is a chance to create the best news channel in the world.
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Nielsen told employees: “It’s a bit like, be as sweaty and dirty as when we’re in the field is actually more trustworthy than if we look like we’ve just stepped out of an awards ceremony or a fine dinner party.”
Some presenters took this as a signal to ditch suits and dresses. One source said dress code changes were already happening on screen, pointing to weather presenter Tomasz Schafernaker wearing a jacket and T-shirt on at least one occasion. Other insiders said Nielsen’s comments were simply her expressing a desire for increased authenticity.
Her ambition is to encourage more smartphone camera reporting from journalists as the channel seeks to engage the TikTok generation. She told journalists that her mother is impressed by studio presentation, but her children are less so.
The relaunched channel will feature more links hosted from the heart of the newsroom and, as one insider put it, “presenters standing in front of giant iPads to show how we verify footage.”
The BBC News channel will have a team of eight journalists who will serve as both correspondents and studio presenters. Recruitment is underway for the roles.
Deadline revealed earlier this month that 10 of the BBC’s most seasoned anchors face an uncertain future after being told they will not be Chief Presenters on the channel.
Martine Croxall, Ben Brown, and Annita McVeigh were among those who were not successful. The channel’s lineup will comprise: Matthew Amroliwala, Yalda Hakim, Christian Fraser, Lucy Hockings, and Maryam Moshiri. They will earn as much as £230,000 ($276,000).
The BBC hopes to launch the new channel on April 3, though insiders said changes will be phased in over an unspecified period of time. Pilots are underway, with a dry run of the new schedule taking place on March 6.
One senior source said: “The single channel operation will be a phased launch over months, with different elements being introduced over time. No-one should get hung up on April or expect to see everything change at once.”
Paul Royall, the BBC’s acting Editor of news channels, said he has high hopes for the relaunched service. “My aim, my objective is that we will have the best global news channel in the world,” he told staff.
The channel will carry more international news, but will split up for big UK news, so that domestic audiences will receive bespoke output. It will be anchored from London during UK daytime and evening, and from Washington D.C. and Singapore overnight.
One source said that the BBC is yet to get its technical setup in Washington right and that people on the ground think the operation is a “shambles.”
There remains a great deal of anger about the treatment of presenters with decades of experience. “People are furious about it,” said one insider. “Producers think the presenters have been treated brutally.”
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