How to fix Newsnight
A Newsnight review, of sorts.
I’ll always have a soft spot for Newsnight.
When I was first getting into politics as a teenager, it was tuning into BBC Two at 10:30pm every evening that really made me feel like I was becoming a sophisticated consumer of political information.
And much like Doctor Who fans have ‘their’ Doctor1, ‘my’ Newsnight era was the brief post-9/11, George Entwhistle-edited era. This was when Jeremy Vine presented the programme – though Vine’s most memorable moment back then wasn’t actually on Newsnight, but on Children in Need2.
Anyway, I mention this not just as an excuse to embed the above video, but because after you fast-forward through the Ian Katz era, you reach today, where Newsnight is sadly in a much more difficult place.
Over the last decade or so, the show has fallen from around a million viewers every night (1.1m watched Jeremy Paxman’s last show in 2014), to around 300,000 today3.
As a result, the show is getting reformatted against its will, with its runtime falling to just 30 minutes. Worse still, investigative reporting has been abandoned, in favour of making it a pure interview and debate show. The first edition in this new format is reportedly due to launch in the not too distant future.
And in my view this is a pretty sad state of affairs. Not just because of the loss of arguably the most important element of the show, but also on a more sentimental level, because it would be shame to see Newsnight slide towards irrelevance.
However, instead of simply feeling miserable about it, I have come up with a plan for how the programme can make the best of a bad situation. So following in the footsteps of my pieces on how to fix the New Statesman, and how to fix local news – here’s how to fix Newsnight.