A new schedule for Radio 4’s Today programme (involving less today and a lot more yesterday and tomorrow)

At the heart of UnHerd’s analysis of the power of today’s 24/7 news industry is our concern at its bias towards the new over the important; the negative over the positive; the controversial over the consensual; and the political over the technological, cultural and, indeed, over other upstream influences on our times. It’s the subject of our four minute launch video. Here is what ‘Today’ on BBC Radio 4 might look like if the country’s most important current affairs programme explored addressing those biases. If you have better thoughts for overhauling the programme please click the ‘HAVE YOUR SAY’ button and we’ll publish a selection of the best thoughts we receive. 

7am
News bulletin

7.07am
Standard news report or interview

7.12am
A review of the newspapers but also a canter through a few national and international periodicals with selections chosen by the BBC’s arts, technology and diplomatic editors

7.18am
‘Mind the gap’: interview conducted by a local BBC reporter in one of the BBC’s many studios around the country… with a headteacher, small business person, trade unionist or similar community-focused figure on an issue that the reporter feels is overlooked by the London media

7.26am
Five things that happened in Parliament yesterday

7.30am
News & sport summary

7.33am
‘Today’s yesterday’ feature: two historians examine latest developments in the context of major events in the past

7.39am
Head-to-head review – two insightful figures from politics, business, education, science or culture talk about a book they’re both reading, or eg a play or film they’ve both seen, and what they’ve learnt from it.

John Humphrys in 1993 with veteran presenters of the Today programme - Jim Naughtie and Brian Redhead - PA/PA Archive/PA Images

7.48am
The utterly forgettable ‘Thought for the day’ scrapped and replaced with ‘contrarian of the day’ (so long as the contrarian aims to bring more light than heat)

  • Mums who stay at home and look after their children should be rewarded, not made to feel they are dinosaurs
  • France is a better friend to Britain than America
  • Why I regret my abortion
  • Prostitution is natural and healthy
  • I read the Daily Mail and love it
  • The world is safer because Saddam Hussein is gone

7.52am
Standard news report or interview

7.58am
‘Fact of our time’: not new but true – here’s a key fact about life expectancy; drug addiction; access to technology; new surgical techniques; commuting times… that puts each day’s fast-moving events into perspective.

8am
News bulletin

8.07am
The main interview of a meaty 15 minute length – and not necessarily with a politician but by way of example…

  1. The TV producer of Hollyoaks to discuss viewer concerns about the latest controversial storyline of this teenage soap;
  2. Facebook’s London chief management officer on inconsistencies in their child protection policies;
  3. The Vice Chancellor of Exeter University on evidence of a declining pay premium for graduates;
  4. The Saudi Ambassador explaining his country’s position on Qatar…

And then after that joust…

8.22am
‘Let me finish’: a public figure is invited to speak for 150 seconds without interruption. The only condition being that they can’t be party political

8.25am
Not the English speaking world but the under-reported world: a regular look at news from parts of the world where there are fewer cameras and fewer English speakers (ie not America)

8.30am
News & sport summary

8.33am
‘Today’s tomorrow feature’: two scientists, academics or ethicists look upstream to major developments in technology, culture and geopolitics that are heading our way

8.42am
‘No easy answer’: a five-minute slot in which a complex and perennial policy challenge is explained e.g. Baumol’s cost disease, tax avoidance, regulatory capture, infrastructure cost-overruns

8.47am
Standard news report or interview

8.52am
From our own correspondents – each programme ending with expert BBC editors and presenters bringing their latest knowledge into the corporation’s flagship radio programme. For example:

  • In Our Time, Briefly: Talking to Melvyn Bragg, an academic explains the background to the news – e.g. the Sunni-Shia split, CRISPR gene editing technology etc
  • More or Less FactCheck: A regular slot for Tim Harford – but with a right to reply from think tanks with a different take
  • Thought for the Day may have gone in this revamped Today programme but a regular slot for Martin Bashir, Religion Editor, to help an increasingly secular Britain understand a still very faith-driven world
  • The BBC’s media editor and guest journalist from outside the Corporation reviewing the headlines from a year ago – and asking if the big stories preoccupying us then had any lasting significance.

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Read YouGov’s polling for UnHerd on what US and UK adults think about the news industry and its values.

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