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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 September 2005, 08:36 GMT 09:36 UK
Challenging year at the news helm
Helen Boaden
Helen Boaden is the first woman to head the BBC's news division
It has now been a year since Helen Boaden was plunged in at the deep end when she became the new BBC director of news.

And it's been quite a year. Huge stories, a strike and the job cuts are just some of the things she has had to deal with since leaving her former post as controller of Radio 4.

"I am someone who likes a challenge, and it's certainly turned out to be a challenge," she says, as she reflects on the past 12 months.

Kidnappings and murders in Iraq, the tsunami, the general election, the London terror attacks and now Hurricane Katrina are just some of the major stories BBC news has tackled.

"It's been a relentlessly busy period and BBC news has more than lived up to the demands of these stories," says Ms Boaden.

Nobody should die in the course of their duty as a journalist
Helen Boaden

"We talk about the news machine as if it just happens. It doesn't. It requires an enormous amount of hard work, intelligence and fantastic commitment from everybody working for television, radio and online and coming in from outside.

"It's incredibly impressive and it makes me very proud."

Public criticism

There have been some emotional times too.

The death of Kate Peyton in Somalia hit everyone hard in news, as had the murder of Simon Cumbers in Saudi Arabia when Frank Gardner was also shot and severely injured.

"Nobody should die in the course of their duty as a journalist," says Ms Boaden, who adds Gardner's return to work this year reinforced the message of courage and determination to every corner of the news operation.

Jeremy Paxman interviews Michael Howard
The May general election was just one of a number of big stories

Ms Boaden makes no attempt to micro-manage, focusing instead on the big picture. But that doesn't stop her from giving feedback and intervening when she feels it is necessary.

Recently the Ten O' Clock News came in for public criticism from Greg Dyke and others for not acknowledging ITV's scoop with leaked details of the inquiry into the shooting by police of the unarmed Brazilian Jean Charles de Menezes at Stockwell tube station.

Ms Boaden said candidly it was standard practice to "give credit where it is due and it would have been better if we had done that in this case".

New appointments

This followed another ITV exclusive when dramatic footage shot by a member of the public showed two bomb suspects being arrested on the balcony of a block of flats just up the road from White City.

Money tripped up the BBC that time when Ms Boaden decided "there was no way on earth" she could justify spending 60,000 of licence fee income to acquire the pictures.

News 24 London bombings coverage
The terror attacks saw citizen journalism come to the fore

In the last year, the new director of news has made a number of key appointments. Jeremy Bowen has been made Middle East editor as part of Ms Boaden's strategy to bring increasing depth and specialism to the BBC's journalism.

Mark Mardell's new post in Brussels as Europe editor fits in with this, and was prompted by the governors' criticism that in reporting Europe, the BBC was giving insufficient coverage of the issues and was tending towards a Europhile stance.

"I'm interested in making more out of what we already do," says Ms Boaden, who sees a risk of too much good material remaining unused despite the range of broadcast outlets and the extensive news website.

Digital technology

Another development has been the emergence of citizen journalism.

Efficiencies aren't just about stopping things - it's more about changing the way we do things
Helen Boaden

The tsunami was captured on cameras by people who were in Thailand and India, and these images - sent either direct to the BBC or other broadcasters - were crucial in capturing the drama as it happened.

Six months later, the pictures from passengers on the bombed tube trains established the citizen journalism genre even more dramatically as a primary source for rolling reporting.

"It's interesting," says Ms Boaden. "You realise that the future is already here. The public is using digital technology in ways that even 18 months ago we didn't expect."

But what about the thorny issue of the BBC cuts?

Ms Boaden is hoping that most of the 420 job losses she has announced will come from volunteers but accepts there may have to be some compulsory redundancies.

BBC picket line
Some BBC staff took part in a 24-hour strike over the cuts

She has set up two new planning roles to help create a better balance between supply and demand, and take some of the pressure off newsgathering where 100 posts will close.

Elsewhere the emphasis will be on new technology, more pooling of resources, more sharing of material across radio and TV, news and current affairs.

"Efficiencies aren't just about stopping things," says Ms Boaden. "It's more about changing the way we do things."

She says she understands how unsettling the past year has been and recognises that news - where union membership is strong and opposition to the cuts has been vocal - may have difficult months ahead.

Year two for the director of news looks as if it will be every bit as challenging as the first.


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