Belfast Telegraph

And here is the news... brought to you by a BBC sports presenter

By Maureen Coleman

His name has been synonymous with sports presenting for BBC Newsline for over 10 years.

But from this week, viewers will see Stephen Watson in a new role — as one of the programme's main news anchors.

BBC NI's early evening show is undergoing a revamp, with a single presenter each night, instead of the traditional double-headed format. With Noel Thompson moving to Radio Ulster, the new-look core team will consist of Donna Traynor, Jim Fitzpatrick, Sarah Travers and Stephen himself. The studio set will also undergo a face-lift.

Donna Traynor will present the first restyled Newsline tomorrow night and will anchor the show three days a week — with Stephen, Jim or Sarah presenting the remaining two.

Stephen makes his debut next week as Newsline's anchor and said he was ‘excited but nervous’ about the new challenge.

“I was approached about it just before I headed off to London to be part of the Olympics presentation team for Newsline,” he said. “I was surprised, to be honest, but delighted as well.

“I did have some reservations to begin with. I'm so synonymous with sport in Northern Ireland and will be out of my comfort zone a bit, but then I thought ‘why not?’ I'm up for a challenge.

“I've been part of the Newsline team now for over 10 years, but I'm hoping the transition to news won't be too tough. I've worked with Sarah and Donna before so already feel very much part of the team and will be relying on the producers to help me with the transition,” he added.

Stephen said he had always been interested in current affairs and would be doing a lot of research before his news presenting debut.

“Thank goodness I have a politics degree. That might come in handy now,” he said.

And he believes that covering Northern Ireland's major sports stories has contributed to his move into news.

“The news dynamic has changed in Northern Ireland and on many occasions, as with the golfing successes of McIlroy, Clarke and McDowell, sport has been the big news story,” he said.

“Being part of the Olympics team was good practice as well. I won't be giving up my role in sport, I'll still be doing it a few nights a week. But I’m now looking forward to getting involved in the cut and thrust of our live main evening news programme.”

Newsline’s decision to switch to a single face fronting the news matches its national BBC News at Six which also has just one presenter. But it is also believed the change will save the broadcaster some funds.

Angelina Fusco, editor of television news at BBC Northern Ireland, said: “Viewers will be aware of some changes when they switch on BBC Newsline at 6.30pm from Tuesday.

“We will still provide strong journalism, investigations and local stories — we know these matter to our audience. With two live outside broadcast vans available every day BBC Newsline has unrivalled flexibility in how our reporters deliver stories.

“Our aim is to get out and about even more across Northern Ireland to be in communities where stories are happening. It is a great opportunity for us to connect more with our viewers.

“We’re always listening to our audiences to ensure we meet their expectations. Broadcasting technologies continue to advance, so we want to be at the forefront of using a variety of methods of gathering and presenting stories.”

Change is in the air in newsroom once more

By Don Anderson

So change is in the air at BBC Newsline — again.

Why do television stations change news presenters, styles, studio designs, jingles or clarion calls every so often?

Are they designed merely to prompt a flurry of media and audience attention, which media insiders instinctively know will soon fade?

Moving to a single presenter is not innovation — that is how it all started decades ago.

Actually no. It started in the Fifties with TV newsreaders reading unseen behind a caption. Now a return to those days really would cause a flurry and would be much cheaper than retreating to just a single in-vision presenter.

The main motivation for these changes is probably internal. Changes, good or bad, shake people up, which is probably advantageous if not overdone.

The retention of Donna Traynor, Jim Fitzpatrick, Sarah Travers as main presenters is not surprising — they are seasoned, competent performers.

The departure of the very experienced Noel Thompson for radio might raise an eyebrow.

I once worked in television news with a colleague called John Humphreys and he suddenly departed for what his friends thought the ‘obscurity’ of radio. But Humphreys knew that shakers and movers listen to radio.

A main impulse must have been to bring forward Stephen Watson. Sports reporting is an excellent path to mainline anchoring, where personality and the ability to think and edit live on air can be paramount. Those qualities will serve him well in this career move.

We’ll never be told the real reason for the changes.

There was a time when we did hear the truth behind adjustments. In 1959 a forthright report from a BBC study group declared that the Corporation's television news lacked style, clarity and crispness. It said the pace was “slow”, the writing was “bad”, the stories “haphazard and inconsistent”. None of the newsreaders was up to scratch and furthermore, the news scripts at ITN were “clearer” and “more incisive”, and “gave more facts”.

Ouch. They don’t say things like that anymore. Not in public.

Don Anderson is a media consultant and a former broadcast journalist

Belfast Telegraph

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