Rolling, but not rocking

'Dull' and 'outmoded', BBC News 24 is, critics say, an expensive folly. Vincent Graff meets the man who is trying to rescue the channel

The man at BBC News 24 has inherited a broken channel - and he knows it. Mark Popescu, the editor of BBC News at Ten O'Clock who has been parachuted in to revamp the beleaguered rolling news network, uses lots of words to describe the station he found. Take your pick from the following, all of which pass his lips during our discussion: "a little bit dull", "outmoded", "there was a sense of lack of energy", "lack of urgency". For the sake of balance, it is only fair to record that Popescu also says News 24 has been "very credible" since its launch in 1997.

But you do not win many awards for being credible. Nor do you win a large number of viewers.

Whichever way you look at it, News 24's audience is lower than Sky News's. In the year so far, the average weekly reach figures - which show how many people tune in at least once, for three minutes or more - put Sky at 4.9 million and News 24 at 4.3 million.

The "share" figure - which also takes into account how long people watch - shows a starker gap: Sky News is nearly 40 per cent ahead of the BBC channel.

News 24 also has another, more political, problem: a critical Government-instigated report from the former Financial Times editor Richard Lambert, who declared that the BBC channel is not distinctive enough from its commercial rivals to justify its licence fee-funded existence.

Lambert also noted - correctly - that every newspaper office keeps its TVs tuned to Sky, which has a reputation for bringing the stories to screen before its rival.

Something had to be done. Hence the arrival of Popescu. That something happens next week. In comes a new set - lots of glass, a big new plasma screen, room for presenters to explain the news while standing up - and an injection of new technology.

But, new set aside, what is Popescu planning? His answer - couched in terms of technology, and how the BBC will improve its internal mechanisms - does not excite. But only he knows what difference will be seen on screen.

"I think if we can join together the richness of the BBC's resources, if we can get better at using the existing resources available at BBC Sport, the Business unit, and in the nations and regions, then we can have a much stronger proposition. If we can align our resources in a much better way we can make it a much more exciting news service, which also has the depth and the context."

News 24 was set up, says Popescu, partly because "the BBC is the largest news-gathering organization in the country" and it made sense "to give viewers the benefit of the work we are already doing".

But he admits that the channel costs a lot of money. Depending on your method of calculation, News 24 costs licence-fee payers between £24m and £50m a year.

So what does it provide that the rest of the market fails to? What will News 24 show that is not already available on Sky News, the ITV News Channel, CNN, Euronews, CNBC or Fox News - all of them available in the UK without licence-fee subsidy?

"Quite a lot," says Popescu, before lapsing back into a list of new gizmos - mobile phone cameras will be given to reporters - and declarations that the channel will be "more dynamic" and "inclusive".

But why provide what is already being provided elsewhere?

"What you are saying is 'well there is a newspaper that is jolly good and it has most of the stories in, so we [ought not to] offer [further] choice'."

No one is forced to buy newspapers, I respond.

"Yeah, it costs the BBC money, and a proportion of the licence fee pays for it, but News 24 also serves BBC1 on breaking stories. The expertise we have developed in breaking news is on BBC1 for 9/11, during the Iraq war, overnight..."

He also points to the fact that News 24 has beaten Sky to a number of stories recently: it got a live correspondent to the recent Istanbul attacks before its chief rival, and revealed Michael Howard's shadow cabinet reshuffle first too.

Popescu is honest about the task he faces. But he says the channel is already moving in the right direction. He admits: "I think that it had a difficult birth. It was unstable and may not have been thought through clearly enough.

"I am sure you will still find people in the BBC who are not sure of the point of it, but those people are pretty rare now."

Suggested Topics
Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Junior / Graduate Application Support Engineer

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful international media organ...

ERP Business/ Implementation Analyst

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This is an e...

Software Developer / Software Engineer

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: Combining a passion for Softwa...

Lead Software Developer / Senior Software Developer / Technical Architect

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: Lead Software Developer / Seni...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried