Daily current affairs podcast The News Agents has today broken a major update in the ongoing story surrounding the proposed privatisation of Channel 4, beating out established news organisations and broadcasters.
Lewis Goodall, one of the show’s co-hosts, tweeted the full text of a letter written by Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak recommending that the state-owned broadcast network should not be privatised, along with proposed measures to ensure its long-term stability. The news, which will be discussed in an episode of The News Agents released at 5pm today, represents a major development in the discussions around the potential future of the network, which have sparked significant debate.
SCOOP: Letter from Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan to Rishi Sunak confirming her recommendation is that Channel 4 privatisation does NOT go ahead. Says there are “better ways to ensure C4’s sustainability.”— Lewis Goodall (@lewis_goodall) January 4, 2023
Direct opposite of what the Johnson government said. pic.twitter.com/KOH78NVJjt
While Goodall and his colleagues, Jon Sopel and Emily Maitlis, are all veteran journalists with major roles at national broadcasters and newspapers under their belts, The News Agents has been running for less than a year. The publication of the letter by Goodall and The News Agents undercuts the government’s planned announcement of the decision, which was scheduled for later this week according to Goodall, and represents a major coup for the podcast.
Unlike larger organisations such as Sky News or The BBC, The News Agents largely focuses on reactive commentary and discussion of news and current events, rather than breaking stories itself, but Dino Sofos, creator of The News Agents and CEO of production company Persephonica, told PodPod that breaking news has been part of the podcast’s DNA from the beginning.
“Lewis is a world class journalist, so bringing in scoops is his bread and butter," Sofos told PodPod. "When we launched The News Agents, we set out to explain the news, but we also wanted to set the agenda. In the short space of time that The News Agents has been up and running, we have run several news-making interviews, including Tony Blair, Joe Lycett and Nigella Lawson."
"We’re also really pleased that cabinet ministers, business leaders and high profile cultural figures are now approaching us to come on the podcast. That’s something I rarely experienced when I was working on radio news programmes. It’s clear that decision makers trust Emily, Jon and Lewis with their stories, and to treat them robustly but fairly when they’re being interviewed in the studio.”
According to Fiona Fraser, founder of podcast PR agency Pow PR, the fact that it was Sofos and co. who uncovered the story indicates a significant change in the news landscape, and the importance of podcasts within it.
“It’s not unusual that news this big breaks ahead of time; in fact, it’s often well planned. But what is unusual is it broke on a podcast – over and above a national newspaper or radio station,” she said.
“There are two ways this would have likely come about. The first is, some very senior communications person will have decided to place the story ahead of it coming out and given The News Agents sight of it in advance. The second way it could have happened is that The News Agents team got wind of the decision and worked with Donelan’s team to get the exclusive, which means they were given details in exchange for a first run. Either way, it’s a feat - for the podcast industry and for The News Agents.”
“I think newspaper and broadcast outlets (ironically) will be rattled by this turn of events today. They are losing their grip on competitors who can move faster, reach more people and be more personable.”