Sam McAlister

Author and Journalist

For ten years Sam McAlister was the interviews producer on BBC 2’s flagship news programme Newsnight, securing head-to-head pieces with Silicon Valley CEOs, world leaders and Hollywood stars. A former barrister, she turned to journalism after a successful career in criminal law and has since negotiated with everyone from Buckingham Palace to the White House, Facebook to Tesla. Sam is now a Visiting Senior Fellow in Practice at LSE Law School, where she teaches negotiation.

Working in a largely unseen role on Newsnight, Sam undertook the delicate negotiations that underpin some of the biggest exclusive interviews in British news. From the initial approaches through research and up to the filming of the piece, she built and maintained relationships with subjects and their representatives whilst retaining journalistic integrity and independence.

Sam secured include exclusive interviews with Sheryl Sandberg, Justin Trudeau, Bill Clinton, Elon Musk, Benjamin Netanyahu, Trevor Noah, and Eric Schmidt. As well as the subjects themselves she worked closely with journalists like Emily Maitlis, Jeremy Paxman, Evan Davis, and Emma Barnett to brief, write questions and rehearse carefully planned features. Her book Scoops: Behind the Scenes of the BBC's Most Shocking Interviews, offers a backstage pass to some of these unforgettable moments.

Most notably Sam led negotiations for the ground-breaking interview with HRH Prince Andrew. The first time a senior royal had agreed to such a journalistic interview, and in the midst of an international scandal, it went on to make headlines around the world and have a serious impact on the Royal Family. Having directly negotiated with the Royal Household and the Prince himself, Sam talks revealingly about the careful personal and professional relationships that were key to the talks. She also looks at what the interview revealed about leadership, reputation, and communication in the modern age. This chapter from her memoir was optioned for a Netflix film ‘Scoop’, which is currently in production. Sam will be played by Billie Piper, with Gillian Anderson as Emily Maitlis, Rufus Sewell as Prince Andrew, and Keeley Hawes as his private secretary, Amanda Thirsk.

With examples from other set-piece interviews Sam also examines the practicalities of how to understand who you’re dealing with, and what they’ll be prepared to agree to. She studies the persuasion, compromise and empathy required to develop both trust and understanding between all parties, and the right questions – questions that will not be met with rejection or hostility, whilst still being searching and relevant to the audience.