Warren Wins Royal Television Society Award with 'Need To Know'

Warren Nettleford, Television Society Award

Warren Nettleford, former LUSU President (History & Politics, 2003, County) and friend Seth Goolnik have picked up the digital award in this year's RTS television journalism awards where judges praised them for making political journalism engaging for young people. Here Warren tells how it all came about:

"It was a different country when we decided to do it. Remember when you could walk inside a restaurant for lunch without a mask and not ten paces behind the waiter? It was then. November 2019.

Seth Goolnik and I met at City, University of London more than ten years ago where we studied for our post graduate journalism qualifications. We’ve remained friends ever since. Seth had just returned from living in Los Angeles where he’d met his wife and had a child during 7 years away. And now here we were in The Acoustic Cafe in Islington catching up. I had a day off from reporting for Channel 5 News and it was during the election campaign where Boris Johnson was trying to ‘unlock the broken parliament’. Standing in his way was Jeremy Corbyn, remember him?

Seth eats less meat these days, because well, everyone in LA eats less meat now. We both had vegetarian options. We discussed the election campaign and how we thought it was going to pan out. But then we got chatting about election coverage and how it was so predictable. Covering the rallies, the photo opportunities, the soundbites, the gaffes...Remember, this was the third election in 4 years. Just off the cuff, I said - ‘We should do it’. We carried on eating until by the end of the main course we’d decided we were going to use our own money, create a company, hire a team and make a fresh new politics show that would be made by young people and shown online where they would see it. Seth came up with the name NEED TO KNOW. I’m reminded that there has supposedly been one other famous political deal in an Islington restaurant.

What followed over the next two weeks flashed by. We went to back to our journalism school and delivered a presentation to students, inviting them to join the team. More than 60 applied. We conducted interviews and hired 6. We recruited graphic designers to create the brand identity for the programme. We filmed a pilot for the show which the platform Snapchat viewed and approved. We hired a legal team, studio space, camera equipment and a technical team, all at break-neck speed.

And then, we had to make the show. We thought that we should shy away from the traditional austere approach of TV News and instead communicate in a way that younger viewers relate to. As I presented the show it just wasn’t about me wearing sweaters rather than a shirt and tie, but also about our language, speed, pacing, humour and story selection. I was able to be me whilst remaining resolutely impartial following the OFCOM broadcasting code.

In the daily morning meetings we’d decide on the stories of the day with our trainee journalists and then we’d all work on writing the scripts before recording the programme in the afternoon. With all the graphics and animation work the programme was able to go on air by 17:00 most evenings. We produced a show once a day, and on a few occasions twice, with three over Election Day and Night.

NEED TO KNOW ran exclusively on Snapchat and in just two weeks the programme became hugely popular. Almost 2 million viewers tuning in for their daily politics fix, and crucially many of these viewers were under the age of 24, traditionally a very difficult demographic for broadcasters to reach.

It was a truly amazing experience to have made a programme that resonated so highly with viewers and made such a big splash. It was a proud moment to think that we’d made a programme that had informed viewers of the important issues that faced the country.

Oh, Boris won the election and Jeremy Corbyn eventually resigned. Jo Swinson lost her seat.

When the election ended we had hoped to carry on with a new series, but then, this really strange global pandemic happened which changed things a bit around the world.

Several months later we were hugely honoured to learn that we’d be nominated for a British Journalism Award for our work and then also for the hugely prestigious Royal Television Society Award. In our category for Digital Innovation at the RTS we faced The BBC and CNN - titans of the industry with billions in resources and a combined age of 140 years. It was quite the story that two friends with just life savings and an idea took them on and won. It hasn’t happened before. Maybe that’s why we’re happy in the photograph!"

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