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Young Readers’ Edition: Robert Peston ‘I’m a terrible broadcaster’

Daniel Wittenberg and Robert Peston Daniel Wittenberg and Robert Peston

Thursday, January 30, 2014
12:00 PM

Distinguished journalist and BBC economics editor Robert Peston speaks to Young Readers’ Editor Daniel Wittenberg about his new role, as well as his views on the ways the economic recession has affected young people.

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How do you think the younger generation has been affected by the recession?

The awful fact about both the recession that we have had since 2008 and then the long periods of stagnation is that they have disproportionately hurt younger people. The unemployment rate for younger people has risen very sharply and there are roughly one million young people unemployed. It is awful because those early years after university are incredibly important in terms of acquiring knowledge or skills and, if you don’t have the opportunity of getting into work at that age, it can be damaging for years to come.

House prices did not fall very much during the recession and, if you are a younger person just starting in a career, it is almost impossible to buy a house because they’re so expensive.

But I am, by nature, somebody who is an optimist – I also think that our young people are extraordinarily skilled, brainy and ambitious, and I certainly think that they are capable of doing brilliantly both for themselves and for the country.

Why have you decided to make the shift from business to economics reporting?

It felt like time for a change. I didn’t really want an enormous change – I’ve got a couple of boys and a huge new job would mean that I’d have to spend less time with them. But I did want a job different enough for it to be a bit of fun.

My two big passions are the future of the global economy – it’s changing in really profound ways – and political side of economics. Of course economics is going to be at the heart of the General Election campaign in 2015, so it’ll be very fun to be involved in covering that.

What are your views on the future of journalism as we know it?

People always need news that is not completely raw; they will need journalists to help them understand things that are happening in the world and to ferret out scoops, scandals, get underneath the stories and do investigations, so there’s a big continuing role for journalists.

When I started in journalism we wrote on typewriters and, when I had to make a correction, I took out Tipp-Ex. It was all done manually and then we stayed up all night to read these proofs on a page. Here we are in 2014 and I get my stuff out on television, on radio, and I’ve got a blog and a large number of people follow me on Twitter. I have a relationship with the people who follow my journalism completely different from what I could have imagined when I started.

How have you acquired your distinctive reporting voice?

The awful truth is that I don’t think about it at all and it just happens. Basically, I think people would say that I’m a terrible broadcaster, which is another way of saying that I’m an unconventional broadcaster. I have a very distinctive way of speaking on air – it was not something that I planned or indeed thought about, and lots of people didn’t like it.

I think the BBC was initially a bit uncomfortable about it, but people started to notice that what I was broadcasting about (in this slightly eccentric way) mattered to them. I started to tell them about what a mess the economy was in and what a mess the banks were in, and they recognised that this was materially important to their lives.

What is it like working at the BBC and do you get on well with your colleagues?

The people at the BBC are incredibly nice and supportive. Nick Robinson I do get on well. Huw Edwards is just the best colleague anyone could have – a brilliant broadcaster and he’s just been so helpful and supportive to me. It is good that the kind of things we say to each other when the cameras are not on us are never made public because there is quite a lot of joking around that goes on – it would probably not be good for the BBC or for us if that stuff was ever broadcast.

What advice would you give to aspiring journalists?

Journalism has to be a passion. It does have the habit of taking over your life and you’ll not get rich doing it, unless you are unbelievably unusual or unbelievably unlucky. The great thing about it is that it’s just the most interesting job in the world – because you’re dealing with issues that matter to everybody, you’re dealing with different issues every day and you’re meeting this extraordinary range of fascinating people.

It’s a brilliant thing to do – in a world where things are becoming more complicated, there is a huge role for journalists to tell people what is really going on in the world. So the need for journalists is bigger than ever. What I do think, however, is that you have to become an expert – more than ever, successful journalists will be the people who are perceived to have a deep knowledge of a particular area.

The other thing is that it is quite hard to decide that you are only going to be a writer or only a broadcaster, because these things are converging: it’s not just the BBC that does everything. Pretty much everybody is expected to do a bit of everything. The great thing is that it makes journalism much more fun.

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