The time I met Radio 4 Today programme’s Nick Robinson

Nick Robinson in the conversation with Phil Harding

It was a gloomy day in London, as it usually is, when I got off at Piccadilly Circus. I then found my way, on Google Maps, to Groucho Club in the Capital’s heart in Soho. One of my favourite industry groups, The Media Society, organised the talk with Nick Robinson, who presents my favourite radio programme on BBC Radio 4, Today. It’s been an evening full of insights, knowledge, and reflection.

Once asked, who my favourite BBC people are, I started wondering what my favourite BBC productions are. I needed to start with the Today programme. All the presenters are doing a fabulous job, but Nick Robinson was always the one I enjoyed listening to the most, since he joined after being the beeb’s political editor. Between 2002 and 2005 Robinson has also worked for ITV News as political editor. 

“Northern, arsey, confrontational”

The conversation stared with Phil Harding, who chaired the event, quoting Nick. Back in the day, Nick Robinson said described himself as northernarsey, and confrontational. He said that he still adheres to that, always trying to report the truth, and constantly challenging status quo. And he is a proud northerner.

Nick also took the audience back to the times, when he was thinking about his career. He was never into journalism as such, but he loved news. He then concluded that having Daily Mail and the Guardian next to each other in the family house, meant that this needed to be a journalist’s house.

3:30AM alarm clock, newspapers on the back seat

As the evening goes on, Robinson gets asked about his fairly new gig at the news agenda-setting Today. Is it as he would’ve imaged it to be? Nick tells us about his very tough first day, where he was very ill and he was struggling during the interviews, putting his voice through its paces. He says that it is truly amazing job to be interviewing many experts that are passionate about what they’re doing.

We also get to know some of the behind-the-scenes of presenter’s life. Nick tells us about his alarm clock set for 3:30AM. [sic!] What he does first thing in the morning is checking the BBC’s website, checking emails from their team to ensure that he is on the top of the emerging news. Car gets to him at 3:50AM with all the newspapers in the back seat that he needs to flick through, and be aware of the most important news for the day. Nick tells us that it was hard to adjust to this pattern and it’s much different to his previous roles. He is now a shift worker. Robinson also shared that he often wonders “why is it not me being on the press conferences, asking all those questions?”

New editor of Today

Phil Harding goes on to ask a question about the new editor of R4 Today programme. Harding also makes a notice of the fact that there are many editors that are coming from papers to radio. Robinson comments that it’s good that the industry gets new talent, with fresh ideas and perspective. He also makes an accurate point that newspaper industry is not the most stable, with the raise digital and social.

Next question that Robinson is asked is on the BBC’s editorial confidence. Does the Corporation lack it? Ex-political editor says it does, but it’s because of all the obligations it has, being a licence-funded institution. Public service broadcaster needs to stay impartial.

The event had a little PR theme, too. Not very positive, I have to say. Robinson tackles “spin doctors.” At that point, I wasn’t really sure whether he was talking about the industry as a whole, or about those known practitioners, who were responsible for the so-called spin. Either way, he concluded that he did not have many good interactions with them.

Cancer, losing voice, recovery

We then move to the most inspiring and tough part of the conversation. Nick talks about his fight with cancer that made a damage to his vocal cords. He lost his voice for a while. Recovering and getting it back was a struggle. It was “scary.” Eventually, he managed to get his voice back, but it was horrendously tough, and took him a lot of effort.

Throughout the evening, Nick has been really emphasising one thing: being able to call it. What he meant by that is that journalists need to believe their judgement, and knowledge, and report world as they see it. “The best journalism is when it matters the most,” says the voice of Today.

Post-truth era

The presenter also tackles social media and the “post-truth” era. He said that everyone now becomes the publisher and it’s really hard to distinguish what is truth, and what isn’t. Nick comments that there is a raise of mistrust in political establishment. He also hugely emphasises the difference between true vs. not true. He does not use the “l-word.” He says that there usually is a motive behind every “lie.” Using the phrase “not true” is what he recommends. He also mentions the President-elect of the US. Robinson admits that we shouldn’t be focusing on the fact that Donald Trump is on Twitter, but on what he says on the platform.

We should not focus on the fact that Donald Trump is on Twitter, but on what he says on the platform.

Meeting the hero, no selfie

The evening comes to the end. I wouldn’t have been myself if I didn’t try to speak to the legendary broadcaster. I line in the queue, trying to say hello to my inspiration and shake his hand. I manage to do it and I’m asking him my favourite question on… his career advice. Nick tells me to reach out to people that are not the busiest ones. “Reach out to the third producer, instead of the presenter,” tells me Nick.


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