On the wall of my office there's a chart entitled the Newsnight cone. This is a rough aid to help us think about who our audience are when deciding what to put in the programme.
No expense is spared at the BBC on producing executive visual aids
It was inspired in fact by the head of Radio One, and since he's just won an armful of awards including station of the year I feel confident enough to say it's not what Jeremy might call "bollocks".
At the sharp end of the cone in our case are "opinion formers" - politicians, public bodies, media organisations - people who watch Newsnight as if their life depended on it. These are a highly influential, highly desirable audience, but they are few in number.
Next are what we call the "dedicated loyalists". Often related to members of the production team, they lap up what we do, watching maybe three or four times a week. If you're reading this you could well be one of them.
They love our agenda, laugh at all our jokes, and some of them - like Jeanette (hello Jeanette) - commune with us one to one on an almost daily basis. There are more dedicated loyalists than opinion formers, but perhaps not many more.
Grumpy old men
Getting into the bigger numbers we reach those whom we call, affectionately, the "grumpy old men". They are our absolutely core demographic: older, up-market males. They have strong views on most things, but particularly things like immigration and Europe, but also the war in Iraq and Iran's nuclear programme.
They don't always love the BBC or Newsnight - they worry about Steve Smith - but they love not loving it. As a result our agenda often reflects the concerns of grumpy old man, and if the programme Grumpy Old Men happens to be on before us, bingo.
Some people worry about our culture correspondent
And then there is what we call the fat end of the cone, where our audience research shows quite large numbers of "intimidated potential viewers" reside. They too love Newsnight, they just don't know it yet. The night of the Apprentice final offers a good example of the species in its natural habitat.
Six million odd watched that programme and very healthy numbers stayed on to watch Newsnight afterwards. In an age when everyone knows news and current affairs audiences are in decline, it would in my view be bonkers not to reach out to them.
Secrets of the cone
Why am I telling you the secrets of the cone? Well, because next week we'll be unveiling new look Newsnight, and one of the aims is to throw open our doors to those intimidated potentials.
Before the rest of you get too agitated I should stress that we aren't changing the content of the programme (or the theme tune). The point of the cone is you want to reach the fat end without losing the pointy end.
But we reckon the out-going design had grown out of kilter with the content within. It's a bit like a posh Pall Mall club with a doorman and pillars on the outside, but once inside it's actually more enjoyable than you might think.
If you're sceptical about any of this - and something tells me some of you might be - consider this phrase from a member of the viewing public.
"Personally I prefer Big Brother to Newsnight and Magic 105.4 to Today".
Where would you place him or her on our cone?
Actually these are the words of the former Lib Dem Home Affairs spokesman Mark Oaten. Now, perhaps Mr Oaten's personal habits aren't representative of the nation as a whole, but you get the point.
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Is it just me or am I not alone in being a bit alarmed by Peter Barron's cone theory? I'm an occasional TV viewer who mainly tunes in to watch edgy comedy, such as Nighty Night, but almost every evening finish with Newsnight, have done for years. Now I find I'm being analysed and categorised as, probably in cone theory, a grumpy old man! I've always thought of myself as a free thinking, independent minded, irritable 51 year old (who prefers Mogwai to the New York Dolls) who uses television ruthlessly, never to slump in front of. But alas, I'm really just a demographic unit of an audience figure like everyone else. Looks like I've been rumbled!
Please don't analyse us too much, we all want to be individuals who like our Newsnight a bit different from everything else.
What about women who are not intimidated? Or men come to think of it. What a patronising description of your audience. What about those like me who watch when there's something of interest to me - I might not even have a strong opinion but would like to have a better-informed opinion - and turn over/don't watch when there isn't anything of particular interest. Can you imagine The Guardian writing 'we may be a bit difficult for you with all those words, and unlike the Sun we won't explain them at the bottom of the column but hey! We do have jokey bits and we won't snigger if you have to look a word up in the dictionary. And your description is actually off-putting (not to mention London centred and old-fashioned). How many of those 'intimidated potentials' actually know what a London club looks like? And yes, I do know that Grumpy Old Women is back next week.
M T Ross
Oh no! Please don't dumb down Newsnight. And the quote "Personally I prefer Big Brother to Newsnight and Magic 105.4 to Today". My answer would be not to have those people in the cone - not very politically correct but then I am probably a grumpy old woman - but a passionate and dedicated fan of Newsnight.
Re. Mark Oaten he would say that wouldn't he, who believes him or cares? No-one. Re. the sharp end...who gives a toss what they think is important, they are only concerned about one thing: themselves.
I always watch the programme if I'm up, but being a hard-working, grumpy old man, teacher, I'm usually/more often still preparing work, or in bed. (Grumpy old men doesn't appeal anymore, it's just a bunch of nothing better to do self-publicists raking in a few extra quid while the BBC are prepared to pay them...no more series please.)
Newsnight along with other current affairs programmes, (channel four news ranks alongside it), will continue to breathe fresh air into contemporary debate as long as it continues to challenge - sensibly - the smokescreens politicians and their ilk put up around themselves. It doesn't matter too much which battleground you choose as long as you continue to do that.
What Jeremy constantly says is a bit true of your cone. It is self opinionated TWADDLE
I am just an old lady with a desire to know what is going on in my world. If I thought
like your cone suggests I'd loose my sense of humour... Hundreds of people watched
The Apprentice because it was good Television OR they were in some way connected to
a contestant. Hundreds in the East Riding watched because of the child who won coming from Hull. I did not because Sir Alan Sugar is objectionable. (But wealthy!) I may belong in the fat end but despite my bulk have not got one of those!
Here in America, I am sad to report that our access to the BBC is quite limited. In California, I can only receive: BBC World Service (XM Radio); BBC World Service News (Sirius); BBC Radio 1 (Sirius); BBC America (DirecTV). A fair sampling, to be sure, but not nearly the breadth I'd wish for. And, alas, Newsnight does not appear on any of those channels, to my disappointment. But I hang on every word in your email newsletters, and am grateful that you take the time to send them! So please count me in as a "dedicated loyalist", even though I regret I've never actually seen your show.
San Jose, California
Many of your items are too short resulting in superficiality. I often feel that the item has to end before it has got to the nub of the issue. Many studio discussions are like that where the guests are not given enough opportunity to develop their arguments.
My impression is that a lot more people are interested in politics than the ones you refer to pejoratively in your story of the cone, and would be likely to watch a programme that treats it in a serious way. Your approach seems sometimes close to being patronising which I am sure many viewers probably find off-putting. There is a need for proper coverage of politics on television, and we look to Newsnight to provide a big part of it.
Come come now Peter, I know I fall into the Grumpy Old Men category, but I am not gullible enough to believe that you have viewers that laugh at ALL of the jokes, that really is stretching things too far. Keep up the good work
(4 times a week, don't like Fridays)
I don't know quite where I fall in your cone. I am an American, legally resident in the Netherlands, and I religiously watch Newsnight on BBC2 from here. I don't really consider myself a policy wonk (as I run an IT consulting business, so politics does not provide my daily bread). I love Radio 4, the Today Show, and Newsnight. I'd hate to think that I'm going to wind up having to see a Big Brother-influenced version of Newsnight simply because Mark Oaten and a load of other people think that's more interesting.
There is enough Big Brother clones and reality TV already - I tune in to Newsnight because I enjoy the higher level of debate and discussion that it provides. Raising the bar on discussion is not a bad thing at all - you can get plenty of cheap and easy opinions in a lot of places today, but there are few places where you can get well-informed, thought-out and intelligent discussion. I'd hate to see that change. I will watch with concern as you re-vamp your programme.
One question, though - since you aren't dependent on advertising revenue, and so have the luxury of not having to pander to the masses, why would you?
an independently-minded viewer from abroad
I like your cone; I deplore Mark Oaten's choices; I am 'Grumpy Old Woman' and I regularly watch Newsnight and email my comments to you and others. I am most concerned about issues like Blair's impending departure; his dictatorial attitude (he should have gone ages ago as he IS degrading his party) and the Iraqi war; and the energy programme which is the most important issue on the table at the moment. As you see, I am concerned with most of the big issues of the day. Where do I appear in your cone? I am female, not male so am I not supposed to be grumpy?
I have just recently signed up to your daily e-mails. I am 34 but firmly in the Grumpy Old Men category with a hint of dedicated loyalist. I am always concerned when I hear BBC people worrying about "reaching out" and "audience share". Newsnight, PM, AM and the BBC in general, is great because you are great at what you are doing. Please stop worrying about it - just keep being the best and people will continue to watch. I would not watch ITV or Sky news if the presenters were naked.
Ha ha ha. This is the new version of the joke fit for an eleven year old, isn't it?
In an age when everyone knows news and current affairs audiences are in decline, it would in my view be bonkers not to reach out to them. And in an age where junk food outsells Cordon Bleu, it would be bonkers not to sell burger and chips. As one of your grumpy old men (50, female) I have seldom felt so out of touch with what Newsnight aspires to do! I'd think you were throwing in the towel if it were not for the apparent zeal in your newsletter. You could always try the Independent's latest trick, if you're getting tired, and invite in some guest editors.
I don't believe this - you can't really think disillusioned Newsnight watchers consist only of 'grumpy old men' - this watcher, me, finds your content bland and establishment oriented, unlike sites such as truthout or the electric intifada, which pass on to me illuminating info. However, what has set off this shocked response from me is that, no, I'm not a grumpy old man, I'm an Incensed WOMAN -hasn't the Newsnight team heard of women, then?
Perhaps Mr. Oaten and the question of which end of a cone on which to place somebody is a conjunction too far?
Thanks for your amusing email about the cones; you realise Grumpy Old men get very angry about cones (does the cones hotline still exist).
I look forward to the change of presentation style but I would say the content is about right (is the new look more plain, edgier?, less purple I hope!). If Newsnight was watered or dumbed down any amount I would be really miffed; I watch it regularly, in fact most nights I'm in. I can't imagine telly without it actually (why am I embarrassed saying that?); there's no other program like it, at that time of night. The only thing close to this is Channel 4 news, but that's too early for me. Btw, I probably qualify as a Grumpy Old man, but at 42 year old web designer, not your totally typical Grumpy Old man (an adolescent Grumpy Old man) or Newsnight viewer. Keep up the great work and don't let the BBC get rid of Newsnight.
Interesting to see who you think is watching. I don't fit into any category - 37, full time mother of 3 young kids, former solicitor. I watch when I can, hoping for more in-depth analysis of what's going on as I never seem to be around to watch the news. Newsnight summarises it for me and stops my brain rotting! Only gripe - it's on far too late! Otherwise I'd watch every night.
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