Interview With Tim Franks, Host Of BBC Newshour
News Director Eve Troeh welcomed our newest program to the air with an interview with Tim Franks, the host of BBC Newshour, airing weekdays at 2 p.m.
Eve Troeh: Tell us a little bit about the production day for Newshour; when we hear you here at 2 p.m. it’s going to be much later obviously in London. When does the day start for you and how does it begin?
Tim Franks: Well the day starts even earlier for the production team, who come in late morning to begin to sift through both what’s on the daily news agenda, what may have been arranged for the program by our commissioning desk, and also just to think about what are the themes that we want to pick out through the day and through the hour that we have in the company with the listeners. So, they’ll begin to mull things over, then they’ll have a chat after a few hours, they’ll meet — I will waft in at that point and they’ll talk me through, or the editor will talk me through what he thinks or she thinks are the big stories and the big themes and the big interviewees principally that they’re going be chasing.
You don’t know exactly what’s going to come up, it can still be full of surprises and you can still get some extraordinary people on the show and some extraordinary guests and some amazing reportage from our people on the ground.
Troeh: Yes, I was lucky enough to get to visit the BBC’s new headquarters there in London and it’s an impressive place. So many floors with people collecting news from all around the world and at a particularly important time for global news, that reporting force of the BBC seems more important than ever. Tell me a little bit about how the correspondent system works and just what it’s like to be in that building with so many people covering every corner of the world?
Franks: I spent nine years as a foreign correspondent, so I was on the road filing stuff for BBC outlets and that’s given me a huge appreciation of the job the people out there do and, you know, just throughout our history, we’ve got a fantastic — perhaps unrivaled — network of reporters around the world, and it is an amazing resource for us to draw on and so we do try and draw on that as often as possible. And you know right now, I mean, I’ve spent a lot of time in the past in places like Gaza, so when our correspondents come up and they come up under you know, shellfire, artillery fire, airstrikes or indeed in Israel when the sirens go off, when rockets are coming in there, it’s good for me to know what it’s like for the people there because it lends, I hope, a certain amount of empathy and understanding.
Troeh: Right, sitting from the host chair is much different if you’ve had that experience out in the field; it influences the questions you ask, it influences the way you relate to the reporters and to other sources. A lot of people wonder with a hosting job, how do you yourself stay on top of global news? Keeping track of so many topics is a challenge.
Franks: It’s a question I often ask myself, Eve, and I also ask myself how successfully I did, I dare say you and your listeners will be the judges of that. It’s difficult, but you know I also think that sometimes it pays to be guileless, it pays to be the listeners' friends, and sometimes this sort of the naive question blinking into the light I think is the best way to go, because you know an awful lot of what we do is about why things are going wrong, how things are going wrong, that’s just in the nature of journalism. And I think sometimes we just have to stand back and say, but you know, does it actually have to be this way? Why are people behaving this way? Why are people saying one thing and acting in another way? And I think if you can just sometimes be prepared to look a bit of a fool on air by asking the simple question, I’d much rather go down that route.
Troeh: And I guess I’d love you to just briefly give us Newshour’s distinctive philosophy on news. When our listeners start to hear this show, what is the guiding principle behind it, what are you trying to bring to them?
Franks: To be honest, and this might sound slightly glib, but I hope it’s an hour of entertainment. I hope that people are just interested by what we do. We’re not going to be forcing high-fiber news down their necks. I hope that we will be unveiling the world in all its sort of extraordinary, occasionally upsetting, sometimes astonishing glory to them, something surprising, something that just sort of astounds us whilst basing it on the bedrock of what we try and do day in and day out, which is to reach as many parts of the world in as great a depth as we can, then you know, I hope we’ll have done it. What we’re not trying to do is to do a sort of catalogue of everything that’s important that you simply must listen to. We hope that it’s an hour that people will think, ‘Hm, that was pretty interesting.’”
Troeh: I will say, despite our reputation as a fun-loving place, New Orleans has an appetite for fiber. You may just have to deep-fry it or heavily season it, but we take our fiber here.
Franks: And hot sauce.
Troeh: Exactly. So, that brings me to really the last point of discussion here: New Orleanians love to talk about what you think of New Orleans, and you have in fact been to our city; I’m curious what your impression is.
Franks: Well I came for two very different stories; I’m an immense Americaphile, I mean I just I love being in the country. I was lucky to be there for a short time as a correspondent in the wake of 9/11 and that brought me to my first visit to New Orleans — as I continue to mispronounce it — which is, I managed to wrangle getting the BBC coverage of the Super Bowl that you hosted in 2002. And I, for all my sort of pretentious English accent, I’m an immense fan of American football. So actually it was a huge thrill to see that game and it was a very exciting game. So that was sort of New Orleans, the fun part of New Orleans.
I then came back a couple of years ago to do a documentary for radio, which was about the Angola Three. Three guys at that stage any one of them had got out of Angola prison having been in there for a long, long time and having spent a very long stretch in solitary confinement, the guy had got out, so at that stage it’d been 29 years in solitary confinement. The two guys who were left in had just cleared 40 years, so that was, that was the reason for coming to do that documentary because it was a bit of a cause célèbre, as far as Amnesty International, the human rights group was concerned. So, that was a different slice of New Orleans but it was still fantastic and I’m not simply saying this to blow smoke, but I found the people, I mean I tend to find people in the US enormously friendly anyway, but in New Orleans and Louisiana they were just delightful by and large. And I can’t wait to come back.
Troeh: Well we would be happy to have you.
Franks: I will take you up on that invitation, I don’t know exactly when but I’m looking pleadingly at our overall editor here, so we’ll see.
Troeh: Thank you so much, we’re looking forward to hearing more of the stories you bring us on Newshour, that’ll be every weekday on WWNO from 2 to 3 p.m. Tim Franks, host of Newshour, thanks so much for being with us.
Franks: It’s an enormous pleasure, and you know, I hope the conversation continues, as well.