50 years of Today

By Simon Barrow
October 31, 2007

BCC Radio 4's flagship Today programme was officially fifty years old on 28 October 2007. How could we not send our congratulations?

In fact, together with my colleague Jonathan Bartley (who appears on Thought for the Day), I'd hoped that I'd make the London celebratory "bash" in London yesterday. But we both had other appointments - and in my case I was a couple of hundred miles away.

Together with the BBC World Service, Today is a staple in any UK-based journalist and commentator's regular schedule. Its reporting and coverage has set the standard for radio broadcast journalism for many years, and it hasn't been afraid to court controversy from time-to-time, especially over the way politicians get interviewed.

Modern debate about political issued has sometimes seemed like an escalating war of position between PRs and journalists. Interviewees absorb techniques helping them to answer only the questions they want to acknowledge, and interviewers find comparable ways of boxing them into a corner so that they can't escape.

There's no doubt that nuance and elucidation can be lost in this ongoing battle, which a prime outlet can hardly avoid. Some have complained about the tabloidisation of "serious news". And the break-neck pace and competition of the 24/7 news environment has added additional pressure.

To face these challenges, programmes like Today need resources, and the BBC has faced a wave of protest from media professionals over recent announcements about cuts and restructuring. It would be easy to dismiss these as self interest (and a number of tabloid writers have). But it's a serious concern.

The more the media becomes enmeshed with events and their outcomes, and the more demanding the job becomes, the more important it is that public service standards are maintained. And that can't be done on the cheap.

See also: The Today 50 generation - http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/today/todayat50/index.shtml

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