Gloves off, Ready for the Count

By Silver, James | The Evening Standard (London, England), February 28, 2001 | Go to article overview

Gloves off, Ready for the Count


Silver, James, The Evening Standard (London, England)


Byline: JAMES SILVER

Media

At the last election, Sky News was the only British TV network offering round-the-clock coverage. This time four channels will be fighting it out, writes James Silver

HEAD TO HEAD ADAM BOULTON

Job: Political editor, Sky News.

Age: 42.

Earns: [pound]250,000a-year +.

Educated: Oxford University.

CV: Worked as a US-based stringer for the Inter Press news wire before joining the BBC External Service (now World Service). Was at TV-am at its birth. Has been at Sky since its 1989 launch.

First election: 1983 with TV-am. "The team included Greg Dyke, Mark Damazer, Diane Abbott and Jackie Ashley. I was the most junior, working as a reporter and producer."

Style: Dress-down Friday.

Brush with fame: Being snapped grabbing a few hours' sleep fully clothed on the media centre floor at last year's Nice summit.

Nick Robinson Job: Chief political correspondent, BBC News 24.

Age: 37.

Earns: Rather less than Boulton.

Educated: Oxford University.

CV: Joined the BBC in 1986 as a production trainee. Deputy editor of On the Record in 1991.

Moved to Panorama before becoming a political correspondent. Presented Radio Five Live's Late Night Live. In his current job since 1999.

First election: 1987, worked on Brass Tacks.

Style: Head boy.

Brush with fame: Having an on-camera slanging match with former Labour spinner David Hill. "It was after Clare Short's attack on spin. Peter Mandelson tried to get me sacked."

IF Sky News's seen-it-all political editor looks frazzled come election night, forgive him. "I'll be working 17-hour days," explains Adam Boulton.

"I'll be at the first morning press conferences at 8am and come off air at midnight. In between, I'll be doing packages, forums and interviews with ministers and their shadows.

We'll cover rebuttal conferences in the afternoons and there'll be live coverage in the evenings. And each night, I'm doing two editions of a programme called The Boul-ton Factor - one at 7pm, another at 11pm."

Boulton, who sheepishly admits to earning more than [pound]250,000 a year, will be supported by a reporting team of 20, some of whom will have been called back to Britain from Sky bureaus in Washington and Beijing. "The big difference with this election, is that there will be more satellite dishes and more live coverage than ever before," he says. "Our great advantage over the BBC is that we're unstructured. We're flexible. We'll go with a breaking story. The BBC can't produce half an hour of live TV news without having a producer, an executive producer and an editor involved in every decision."

That claim is dismissed with weary laughter by Nick Robinson, chief political correspondent at BBC News 24, who is being billed by the channel as the face of its election coverage. "That's just not true any more," he says.

"The day Peter Mandelson went, I did a half-hour special at 5.30 pm, there and then, with producers borrowed from another programme.

The thing is, we've learned a lot from Adam Boulton and we're happy to admit it."

There's little doubt that News 24 has learned from the slicker, more popular Sky News. "At first, peo-

ple's attitude to News 24 was, 'What's the point?'" admits Robinson. "Then came derision. It was a 'shoddy product', it was 'risible'.

Now, we're in the third phase. It's taken for granted, it's part of the furniture. We no longer have to explain to Cabinet ministers who we are.

Mandelson called me after I did a two-way during the cash-for-passports affair. He'd been watching in Downing Street. Two years ago, he would never have done that."

Robinson - a former national chairman of the Young Conservatives, who severed his political links when he joined the BBC - will anchor the morning press conferences, provide instant analysis and reaction and front a five-nights-a-week special programme, Election Call. …

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