HER stern interview technique has threatened to consign numerous political careers to the graveyard. But in the latest example of Newsnight’s new populist approach, grand inquisitor Kirsty Wark has herself joined the ranks of the undead.
The veteran journalist became a trending topic on social networking sites after jettisoning her desk to break out in a rendition of the dance from Michael Jackson’s Thriller music video.
The performance concluded Thursday evening’s edition of the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme, renowned for its searching, if solemn, analysis of the day’s political developments.
Since the appointment of former Guardian journalist Ian Katz as editor, the programme has uncharacteristic features, including an interview with the Cookie Monster puppet from Sesame Street.
The latest incident at Halloween has led some of Katz’s critics to accuse the programme of dumbing down and pursuing viral notoriety online at the expense of journalism.
Hours before she went on air, Wark offered a hint that Thursday’s show would break with convention, tweeting that Newsnight was “planning something special for Halloween”.
As the edition drew to a close, the 58-year-old advised viewers to “be careful out there” before springing from her seat. Joined by performers from the Essex-based Tiffany Theatre College, she took centre stage in a studio that took on an eerie Halloween theme. As the song began to play, Wark mimicked the signature dance moves, maintaining a deadpan expression alongside the supporting troupe of dancers posing as zombies. To ram the supernatural theme home, the closing credits saw Katz, former deputy editor of The Guardian, referred to as Ian Batz.
The skit provoked a mixed reaction among those watching. North of the Border, viewers did not see the live performance due to the Scottish edition of the programme, but footage of the dance was circulating widely online yesterday. While some relished the light-hearted conclusion, others said it was indicative of the show’s falling standards.
Kezia Dugdale, the Labour MSP for Lothian, was among those in the former camp, taking to Twitter to write: “Hats off to Kirsty Wark for this.” Journalist Archie Bland announced: “Now that I’ve seen Kirsty Wark doing Thriller, I want her to be my mum, best friend, spiritual mentor, possibly prime minister.”
However, others were not so sure. Communications consultant Karl Smyth wrote: “I’m all for @BBCNewsnight shaking up its editorial format, but Kirsty Wark performing Thriller is not the answer.”
Writer Mark Seddon simply stated: “Dumbing down of Newsnight continues apace.”
However, Mr Seddon’s remark prompted Katz to reply, pointing out that the episode had covered subjects including UK politics, the Chilean election, market manipulation, the digital economy, and the News International hacking trial. “Dumbing down, are you sure?” he asked.