C4 drops desk as news war hots up

THE DAYS of the deskbound newsreader look numbered after Channel 4 unveiled a low, pink plinth for Jon Snow to sit beside in its new pounds 3m newsroom yesterday.

Following the example of Channel 5, which has a newsreader perched on her desk, and Newsnight, which dispensed with most of its desks earlier this year, Mr Snow will stand in front of a video wall, sit by his plinth or interview people on a new purple sofa.

He said yesterday that the new set would give his programme greater accessibility: "There is nothing between you and the viewer. It is direct communication."

The changes will be apparent on screen from 4 January. They mark a new phase in the life of the 16-year-old programme and extra investment of pounds 2m a year.

The channel is to have a new Saturday night bulletin at 6.30 and has invested in out-of-studio production equipment to take the programme to the regions and overseas. The programme is also to quadruple the number of investigative stories it does. Channel 4 News also intends to make more use of its new second-string presenters, Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Kirsty Lang.

But the most immediate change to the show is the new orange, green and aubergine studio set designed by Simon Jago, who designed Channel 5's multi-coloured news studio. Like the trendiest bars, it has a poured rubber floor, swatches of colour adorn the walls, and the plinth will give viewers their first glimpse of Jon Snow's legs.

"We have in the past been the trailblazer in television news," said Jim Grey, editor of Channel 4 News. "Now we are doing it all over again. This is the culmination of a year of thinking and is not a reaction to what others are doing." He denied that the sofa would give the show a breakfast-television feel. It will be used only for the more "discursive" interviews, he said.

Channel 4 News, which attracts about one million viewers every night, is facing increased competition. Channel 5's 5 News moved its time to 7pm earlier this year and ITV plans to move its flagship news to 6.30 early in the new year.

ITN, which produces Channel 4 News, had to pitch against Sky and independent production companies to retain the contract earlier this year. It had to promise more regional and investigative stories and a greater role for independent producers to secure the contract.

But every company bidding for the contract was told to keep Jon Snow as part of its plans.

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