Journalist Jon Sopel, 63, considers leaving the BBC, why his new podcast with Emily Maitlis might contain abuse and stand up for it Donald Trump: ‘I knew I would take my own life when I stood up to ask Trump a question.’
How is your podcast The News Agents different from TV News?
It is more conversational and less traditional. I suspect, at times, bad words will be used! And sometimes the boundaries of the BBC’s impartiality were stretched.
Not that we’re going out to cause trouble, but we’ll say it as it is. It’s going to be bold, innovative and fun.
Why did you leave the BBC after 40 years?
My daughter, who is 30, told me: ‘I have resigned more times than you.’ And I thought, ‘God, that’s a good thing.’
I was the editor for North America and there was talk about whether I would be the next political editor. But this podcast seemed more exciting and innovative.
We may fail, it may go horribly wrong, but what a chance. So I decided to jump in.
You are hosting the podcast with Emily Maitlis. How are you progressing?
Maitlis and I rarely do anything together, without bursting into laughter at some point.
We’ll try to help people understand news in a way that’s catchy and not ‘now you need to listen very seriously, because this is BBC News.’ We are serious journalists but you can smile from time to time.
Are podcasts a better way to reach people than regular TV news bulletins?
I had done it podcast With Emily when I was in America. I’ll come back to the UK and people will go, ‘Oh my god! Loved the podcast!’
They didn’t say they love me on the ten o’clock news or on Radio 4. It was an eye opener.
In addition, the BBC was going after young audiences and we got feedback that we are getting loads of young people listening to podcasts.
The BBC is trying to figure out how to show them a television bulletin. Well, maybe they’re not going. Perhaps we need to reach youth in other ways.
A daily podcast is quite a challenge, isn’t it?
We will record it at lunch time and it will be out in the afternoon. But if there’s big news and it breaks of late, we’ll re-record the whole thing. The length of the podcast will vary.
How will you promote it to a younger audience?
The studio will have cameras and podcasts will be available on YouTube and there will be video clips on TikTok.
The mistake is asking why young people aren’t interested in the news – because they are interested. The challenge is how to reach them, and we’re going to use every means possible.
Tiktok is commonly used by teenagers and you can find 63…
He was cruel! The world is changing and you have to go with it. I remember early in my BBC career, when I was working on The World at One and PM radio programs, an old reporter said to me, ‘Well, we don’t do stuff like this on this program. ‘
I thought: ‘Get me out and shoot me if I ever say something like that.’ Am I going to dance TikTok? No, but I think TikTok is a way to reach people. It would be crazy not to use it.
How did you get on with Donald Trump, who famously took a dig at you and the BBC during his first White House press conference?
I knew I would take my own life when I stood up to ask him a question. It was like standing on a high diving board and you’re peeking over the edge, wondering if you can jump.
You jump but you know what’s going to happen – I knew he was going to go at me.
She asked where I was from and when I told the BBC, she said, ‘Here’s another beauty.’ I was honestly humbled and said, ‘Well, we’re free, fair, and fair.’
The only time he got a little salty was later when he said, ‘Wait, wait! I know who you are.’ I thought, ‘Oh my god, he knows who I am! s***!’ Then my kids started messaging me, ‘He knows who you are!’
What do you enjoy when away from work?
I walk the dog, I hit golf balls from time to time and I support Tottenham Hotspur. When I came back to this country after seven years in America, the first thing I bought was a season ticket at Spurs.
I also play tennis. I am waiting to join a club – I am waiting for bloody ages and they haven’t settled my application yet. Don’t they know who I am?
Will you miss America?
There’s a lot I’ll remember but I won’t skip phone calls saying that there’s been another horrific mass shooting. There is no joy in covering such events.
Many people are thinking of retirement at the age of 63 and not about starting any new job…
I’m just stupid, I guess! I feel blessed that I have found a career that I love, and that it is an important time to be a journalist. I feel excited and serious about challenges. So while I still have a little bit of energy left, I want to move on.
News Agents available on all major podcast platforms
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