Newsnight shortened to 30-minute ‘discussion show’ under BBC cuts

Deborah Turness, CEO of BBC News and Current Affairs, said Newsnight was an ‘iconic’ brand but could not continue in its current form
Deborah Turness, chief executive of BBC News and Current Affairs, said Newsnight was an ‘iconic’ brand but could not continue in its current form - Richard Kendal/RTS/PA

The BBC’s Newsnight programme is to lose its reporting team and become a 30-minute discussion show, as part of the corporation’s latest round of cost-cutting.

The current affairs flagship will be “reformatted” after its audience fell to around 300,000 viewers.

Deborah Turness, chief executive of BBC News and Current Affairs, said that Newsnight was an “iconic” brand but could not continue in its current form.

BBC News staff were dismayed by the announcement, which will see the programme’s headcount cut from 57 to 23. Overall, 127 posts will go across the news division.

The role of “home affairs correspondent” will be abolished, to be replaced by “UK and community affairs correspondents”.

A total of 147 new posts will be created, including the BBC’s first AI correspondent, and more money will be pumped into the controversial BBC Verify unit.

In other changes, the BBC News at One bulletin will relocate to Salford to create a “daytime TV powerhouse” and BBC Breakfast will be extended by 15 minutes.

Victoria Derbyshire is among the current presenters of Newsnight
Victoria Derbyshire is among the current presenters of Newsnight

The announcement was “the next phase of BBC News’ evolution from broadcast to digital journalism”, the corporation said.

Ms Turness said she had considered axing Newsnight altogether because its audience was so small. “I will be frank – when we started work on this announcement, I did not know if it would make financial sense to keep Newsnight on air.

“It simply no longer makes sense to keep a bespoke reporting team dedicated to a single news programme with a small and declining audience, however good that programme is,” she said.

However, Ms Turness added that research showed that audiences value the discussion and debate elements of the show.”

Current and former Newsnight staff voiced their concern on social media. Emily Maitlis, who presented the show until last year, said that “extraordinary and exceptional journalism” would now be lost. “The irony is how hard and how often @‌bbcnewsnight had to fight other parts of the BBC to be allowed to make risk-taking, policy-changing, award-winning journalism,” she added.

Lewis Goodall, the programme’s former policy editor and now host of a podcast with Maitlis, said: “Without original films, investigations and its own correspondents, hard to see how it’s Newsnight… We need more of what Newsnight has always been about, not less.”

Mark Urban, the BBC diplomatic editor and presenter of last night’s show, said: “I have worked on the programme for 32 years, around the world, risking my life many times for its journalism. You can well imagine my feelings at cuts to our staff and budget of more than 50 per cent.”

Newsnight’s successes include the 2019 interview with Prince Andrew, which was nominated for a Bafta and a Royal Television Society award. But ratings are in decline, falling from the 1.1 million who watched Jeremy Paxman’s final programme in 2014.

Kirsty Wark, who has presented the show for 30 years, recently announced that she is to step down after the next election.

Ms Turness tried to assuage the critics, saying: “There will be people – both inside and outside the BBC – who’ll worry this change means less investigative journalism across BBC News. That Newsnight’s particular type of gritty, independent, dogged reporting will disappear, leaving the BBC poorer for it.

“This will not be the case.”

She added: “Like many businesses, we are in a tough financial climate and as our audiences shift rapidly from TV to online news consumption we need to make choices about where we allocate our resources.

“While TV and radio remain crucial to BBC News, we must invest in our digital platforms to ensure they are also the home of our very best journalism, and today’s package of measures will accelerate this transformation.”

Danny Shaw, the BBC’s former home affairs correspondent, said the abolition of the role would jeopardise the corporation’s coverage of domestic terrorism, policing, criminal justice, prisons and immigration.

He said: “I am deeply concerned the plans will leave the BBC badly exposed. Who will make the tough ‘on-air’ judgment calls when there’s a terror attack or a plot? We’ve all seen the need to have the most experienced reporters on the ground.

“Who will sit through long-running court cases and inquests getting vital information?

“I know BBC News must make cuts. But these cuts don’t make sense.”

The BBC said that the new “UK and community affairs correspondent” roles “have been designed to focus on areas which are of particular interest to today’s audiences”.