Peter Barron: My life in media
Monday 20 August 2007
Peter Barron, 44, is the editor of BBC2's Newsnight – the man off-camera as Jeremy Paxman, Gavin Esler and Emily Maitlis grill politicians, and others, every week night. He lives in London with his wife Julia and their three children, and plays guitar in a band with Channel 4 News's Krishnan Guru-Murthy and Tim Hincks of Endemol. He is the advisory chairman of the 2007 Edinburgh International Television Festival, which starts on Friday.
What inspired you to pursue a media career?
A strong desire not to have a career in the European Community, where I was working. My first media job was on the Luxembourg News Digest, first selling advertising, then writing.
When you were 15, which newspaper did your family get, and did you read it?
The Daily Telegraph, The Belfast Telegraph and The Observer. I read them all, and subscribed to the NME.
What were your favourite TV and radio shows?
The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin, and John Peel's show.
What's the first media you turn to in the mornings?
The Today programme.
Do you consult any media sources during the working day?
Er, yes. What I consult varies every day – I have a four-screen TV on my desk, usually tuned to BBC News 24, Sky, BBC World and CNN. And I always read the Daily Mail on the bus to work. I tend to watch the top of Channel 4 News before I leave the office, if I'm not staying late.
W hat is the best thing about your job?
You have 45 minutes of airtime to play with every night of the week, and a lot of freedom to do what you like.
And the worst?
My lovely wife isn't wild about the midnight finishes.
How do you feel you influence the media?
The most enjoyable way is to break stories that everyone else is obliged to report.
What's the proudest achievement in your working life?
We did Living with Michael Jackson on Tonight with Trevor McDonald, and got 15 million viewers. Everyone said that we'd never get a bigger audience, and then we got 16 million for the Who Wants to be a Millionaire? scam. But the programme I'm proudest of is If... the Lights Go Out, because I'd never done anything like that before, and somehow it worked. Getting the Newsnight editor's job is way up there, too.
And what's your most embarrassing moment?
As a BBC trainee, I worked very briefly as a reporter for BBC Midlands in Nottingham. I was spectacularly bad at it. On my first day, I had to cover the Gartree prison-escape trial, which ended unexpectedly early so I had to do the lead piece on the evening news. After numerous takes, a local courtroom hanger-on came up and asked for my autograph. I told him he really didn't want my autograph – I'd never done this before. The long-suffering camera crew looked at their shoes, but he insisted. I still blush at the thought of signing my autograph to effect my escape, but at least it hastened my decision to go into producing.
At home, what do you tune in to?
I spend too much time online, usually with the radio on – LastFM is great. On TV: Doctor Who, Heroes, The X-Factor, America's Got Talent, Later with Holland, Curb Your Enthusiasm... Usually News at Ten, always Newsnight. On the radio, I love late-night Radio 4 – A Good Read, Something Understood – it's so soothing.
What is your Sunday paper? And do you have a favourite magazine?
I get them all, apart from The Sunday Times – too many pages – and the Sunday People and Express, which don't seem essential. I think the Evening Standard magazine, ES, is better than most Sunday supplements. I get sent The New Statesman and The Spectator, so the only magazines I buy regularly are about guitars.
Name the one career ambition you want to realise before you retire
Earn enough to make retirement possible.
If you didn't work in the media, what would you do?
Who knows? I once had an interview for a job as an aluminium analyst. I'm sure they're lovely people, but I'm pleased I failed that one.
Who in the media do you most admire and why?
It's hard to do better than Peter Snow, for boundless enthusiasm and willingness to pass on knowledge.
1990: Joins Newsnight shortly after becoming a BBC trainee, and spends eight years as producer, film-maker and programme editor; works as Peter Snow's producer on budget, election and Gulf War packages
1995: Wins Royal Television Society award for Newsnight's coverage of the arms-to-Iraq scandal
1998: Moves to Channel 4 News as deputy editor
2001: Handles Channel 4 News's coverage of 9/11
2002: Joins ITV's Tonight with Trevor McDonald as deputy editor
2003: Returns to BBC as editor of current affairs
2004: Becomes editor of BBC2's Newsnight
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