Esmé Wren's TV diary

Esmé Wren's TV diary

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Newsnight editor Esmé Wren on a week to remember. 

It was around this time 21 years ago that I first penned a letter to the then-Newsnight editor, Sian Kevill, begging her to consider my application for a work placement. Back then, I saw Newsnight as the brand that represented the highest form of accountability and one that could deliver change.

As a budding journalist, I was desperate to be a part of it. Fortunately, Sian took a chance on me, and here I am, decades later, as the programme’s second female editor – still very much believing everything I first saw in the power of the brand but, more importantly, tasked with the challenge of securing its place in the future news landscape.

The week starts as every other – a panic over resources and staffing. I’d normally be envious of colleagues who have managed to get away to Italy for a week of skiing over half-term. This time, the coronavirus means I am a little less so. With a senior member of staff having to self-isolate as a precaution, it comes down to us relying, as we do on so many occasions, on the goodwill of other members of the team to fill in the gaps.

As luck would have it, the news agenda hits us with a story the programme has invested in heavily recently – Harvey Weinstein and the verdict on his trial.

As with the now-infamous Prince Andrew interview, the planning team has done us proud by securing an exclusive line-up of guests. It was with Newsnight that Zelda Perkins broke her non-disclosure agreement, following much persuasion from presenter Emily Maitlis. Zelda agrees to return to the programme to share her views on the guilty verdict.

The following day brings publication of the inquiry into the Westminster sex scandal. This concludes that political institutions failed to respond to historical claims of child sexual abuse but, as expected, confirms that there is no evidence of an organised paedophile network at Westminster.

"I knew then it could either be Newsnight’s greatest moment, or, just as easily, its worst"

Newsnight does the only interview that day with the former Conservative MP Harvey Proctor, who won compensation from the Met last year after being falsely accused of child abuse in the disastrous Operation Midland investigation.

Tackling difficult subjects is at the core of why Newsnight has once again become essential, rather than optional, viewing. A programme that will take risks, test the boundaries of the narrative and conduct forensic interviews.

And so to the RTS Television Journalism Awards. I am confident that our interview with Prince Andrew will get its due recognition. Never before had a member of the Royal Family faced an accountability interview, and certainly not one concerning his own sexual conduct.

I reflect on the moment we received the news that the Duke had finally agreed to the encounter. I knew then it could either be Newsnight’s greatest moment, or, just as easily, its worst.

The stakes could not have been higher, but I had every confidence in the team’s ability to rise to the occasion.

To see Emily recognised as Presenter of the Year for a second year running is a proud moment, followed by wins for both Interview of the Year and Scoop of the Year for the Andrew interview.

But, for me, the top prize is Daily News Programme of the Year. Without doubt, the Prince Andrew interview was a tremendous coup for the programme but it really was just the icing on the cake.

Over the past year, the programme has made a huge impact with its Brexit coverage, the investigation into unregulated children’s homes, and compelling coverage from Hong Kong. To receive the award that captures all this brilliant work delivered by the whole team is the perfect way to secure Newsnight the recognition it so richly deserves, not least at this time of organisational change and cost-cutting.

Have I achieved what I set out to do as editor of Newsnight, I ask myself? Not until we win again next year.                                                                                                      

Esmé Wren is editor of Newsnight.

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