'Today' loses another editor. But not its nerve

There is a neat circularity. Kevin Marsh is editor of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme when it broadcasts the Andrew Gilligan item shortly after 6am one day in May 2003. This is followed by the death of Dr David Kelly, the Hutton inquiry, the resignations of Gilligan, Gavyn Davies and Greg Dyke. Marsh stays.

The Hutton Report leads to the Neill Report on journalism training in the BBC which leads to the creation of the BBC College of Journalism, set up to secure higher standards in the BBC. And three days ago, we are told that Marsh is leaving Today to be editor-in-chief of the BBC college. And there are still no weapons of mass destruction.

There will be those in the BBC who will suggest Marsh has been pushed upstairs, or sideways, and holding a senior position in training and education is a move from "real" journalism.

You would not expect me to take such a view. I am intrigued by the title of editor-in-chief at this end of the business; this juxtaposition of journalistic and academic titles may have possibilities. But there is no doubt the BBC takes this aspect of the post-Hutton era very seriously. And rightly so.

I heard Marsh speak at a Society of Editors conference in 2004 on the subject of "What makes a good editor". He had clearly reflected on the Hutton experience, and had expanded his definition of good journalism beyond the skills needed to do the job.

Worried about the lack of trust in journalists and the consequences of that for the "health of our public life and institutions", he called for four additional qualities: "toughness to resist the hypocrisy of so much of the press that wants a scalp, while at the same time denying the press should be concerned about its effect on public life; belief that finding the truth and telling it is a public good; individual and collective sense of responsibility for journalism's purpose in making government and institutions work better; and accountability, the realisation that journalism isn't something you just do and walk away from".

Marsh's retention of the Today editorship post-Hutton was probably as poisoned a chalice as walking away. Others carried the can for Gilligan's journalistic lapses, but remaining in charge of the programme put him under the spotlight of those looking for evidence that Today was cowed, losing its edge, or otherwise intimidated by the Hutton report.

There were many - I was one - who felt although Hutton could not be disregarded, its stark characterisation of "the BBC bad, the Government good" was an unfair simplification. We must remember how many questions were being asked, pre-Iraq war, how many the Government ducked, and the answers that have emerged. Today played a major role in all that probing.

The programme has retained all its best qualities. John Humphrys has refused to trim his cussed interviewing technique, his professional bloody-mindedness. Jim Naughtie - he of the overlong question, great political knowledge and cultural dimension - has also worried away, and both remain an impressive team who continue to hold government to account on our behalf. Ed Stourton and Sarah Montague give powerful support to the lead actors.

The Radio 4 audience, and Today's in particular, is not a small band of the incensed of Tunbridge Wells. More than six million a week tune in. Today is an institution within an institution, Radio 4, within an institution, the BBC. Its listeners may moan about Thought for the Day, but in a world they see as dumbing down, Today provides hope.

It may have been the programme that broadcast the item that caused the trouble. Marsh and the members of the BBC's ruling elite would dearly have loved that not to have happened. But it is a measure of the programme's ability to take on the difficult and sensitive subjects that it ended up in the target area. It is not brave to be wrong, but being brave can run that risk.

Today is more careful now, but it does not seem to be more cautious. It remains essential, and Kevin Marsh has been a big part of that. It will be the College of Journalism's gain.

Brian Redhead, another presenter from Today's hall of fame, said: "If you want to drop a word in the ear of the nation, then this is the programme in which to do it." It still is.

Peter Cole is professor of journalism at the University of Sheffield

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
Sport
Jodie Stimpson crosses the finishing line to win gold in the women's triathlon
Commonwealth games
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan stars as Christian Grey in the Fifty Shades of Grey movie
filmFirst look at Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey trailor
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
Life and Style
Phillips Idowu, Stella McCartney and Jessica Ennis
fashionMcCartney to continue designing Team GB Olympics kit until 2016
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Farah returns to the track with something to prove
Commonwealth games
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
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
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

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

BI Analyst

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency in Central Lo...

DBA

£40000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: DBA, London,...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game