BBC regional – it’s all take and no give

July 3, 2009

There is a clear and strong need for the excellent national news the BBC provides. It’s indepth and more importantly it strives for neutrality. It’s excellent value for money.

But in my view, it’s regional coverage is anything but good value.

Far too often the BBC regional sites simply take stories from local newspapers, cut them right down and then pass them off as its own work. How is that a public service exactly? At best it’s a news aggregator of a county – at worse it’s taking audience away from other local news websites, many of which have more in depth and detailed stories.

Now I’m the first to admit that many regional paper websites are poor, some extremely so. But most aren’t as poor as the BBC’s.
 They are poor because they offers less news, less in-depth news, and more boring versions of stories.

Take BBC Cambridgeshire today – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/cambridgeshire/default.stm (this page may have changed by the time you’re reading this).
There are five stories on there, three of which are four line crime nibs. These have probably either come from police press releases or a phone call to the press office. Between them they would have taken ten minutes to write (and that’s being generous).

One of the stories is a decent enough local business story with a short video clip.

And the fifth is a blatant example of a newspaper story being ripped off.

The headline reads: “Historian ‘posed as a war hero’.” And underneath “A Cambridge-based military historian who posed as a war hero has been exposed as a fantasist, BBC Look East reveals.”

But further examination of the story and it’s not a Look East revelation at all – it’s a Cambridge News story (or rather Cambridge Evening News as the BBC wrongly refers to it). Worse, the story actually appeared in the daily paper last week.

Now it’s bad enough taking credit for ‘revealing’ a story already in the public domain, but to make it worse, the BBC has refused to share a video clip of an old interview with the ‘war hero’ with the paper.

So like the bully in the sandpit, it’s ok for the Beeb to steal from everyone else and pass work off as its own, but it wont share its own toys.

So I have to say, perhaps Alastair Stewart has a point. Let’s take a proper look at the many parts of the BBC and see if they really are all necessary. http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2009/jul/03/itn-alastair-stewart-bbc-beeching

My only concern is what happens when more regional papers go to the wall? If all we’ve got to fill the gap is the BBC regional then regional news is stuffed.


Inquiry into council newspapers

June 17, 2009

Just a short one but I’m delighted to see that the politicians are awake to the threat of council run newspapers.

According to holdthefrontpage: “The Digital Britain report said it would be “against the public interest” for local papers to be rendered unviable by the flight of paid-for advertising to local authority publications.” http://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/news/090616digbritreact.shtml

I’ve said before that I have no problem with council newsletters. Indeed, I can see the strong value of informing tax payers of what their money is being spent on.

My issue has always been the council’s pursuit of advertising revenues and dressing council sheets up as proper newspapers.

I’ve addressed my arguments before here: https://monkeysandtypewriters.wordpress.com/2009/03/26/council-journalists-arent-best-value/

But I still haven’t heard a convincing argument as to why councils need newspapers rather than newsletters.


Aunty needs to look at herself

May 20, 2009

It’s good to see the BBC licence fee being debated again.

 This time it’s the Tories – no doubt keen to deflect some attention away from their own expense claims – suggesting that efficiencies can be made and that the fee be frozen.

Before I go on, I’ll admit to not being the BBC’s biggest fan. I believe it is too big, often goes too far in stepping on the toes of the independent media, and they once turned me down for a job (to be fair I did call one of the interviewers an elitist, posh school cunt).

More importantly, the BBC as an organisation, like our MPs, has taken the taxpayer for granted.

I do accept and strongly believe that parts of the BBC are very important and need protection. It’s news coverage is vital. Its original programming has clearly raised and kept the standards of our television high.

However, there are many other parts of the corporation which need to be trimmed.

I’d put money on there being a few expense scandals lurking in Aunty’s murky corridors.

Some of those we know already know about seem massively excessive to me.
* £33k a day on taxis.
* £120k on a Christmas party for 2,500 staff.
* £45k on a launch party for Merlin.

Then there are the salaries of its ‘stars’. Would you rather spend £2m a year for Jonathan Ross or support 200 well paid journalists? Ross may attract decent audience figures, but his shows could (and probably would have been) easily be provided by another channels without cost to the tax payer.

Earlier this month we had the startling revelation that news reader Carrie Grace earns £92,000 a year for reading out loud. Ok, she’s an award-winning interviewer (although she handled that expenses one appallingly), but I don’t think it’s a stretch for the Beeb to find some equally talented for half that wage.
Afterall, there are (or were) thousands of talented journalists out there, including huge numbers working for less than £25k or even £20k in the regional press.

The digital channels – do we really need to spend so much on so many when the audience share is so low?

Do we really need regional news websites which steal most of its content from the regional press before cutting them down to a very superficial summary?

And then my real pet hate – the regional BBC radio stations. They offer very similar products to what’s already available commercially. How is it a pubic service to repeat what is already being provided by a non-state funded company?
All they do is take business away from non-state funded companies and deny local firms a platform to advertise.

So particularly in these trying times – the Beeb needs to take a long hard look at how it is spending its money.

But the bits of the BBC which provide genuine public service – in particular its journalism – need protection.

A free press/media is vital to a successful democracy, and it’s incredibly important to have news and issues debated by news organisations with differing political slants. Where we’re lucky in this country is that in the BBC, we have a service which reflects the news agenda from a neutral perspective very well.
It tries incredibly hard to present the facts and various points of views without taking sides and letting the reader make up its own mind, free from the bias of owners or market forces.

So before any cuts are made of the licence fee, the money it spends on its (national) news coverage needs to be secured.


Council ‘propaganda’

April 23, 2009

Just a quick one stolen from Roy Greenslade, about the council newspaper debate.

Roy quotes from Jon Slattery’s blog:

“When I interviewed the editor of a local council paper for a piece on town halls and the local press in The Journalist he told me:

‘Some council papers are trying to ape the look and feel of a local paper, but what we do is propaganda. When I report the council’s budget proposals I look for positive stories and don’t mention the £6m worth of cuts. If I reported that I would be sacked. I don’t tell lies, but I always look for positive stories.'”


Council journalists aren’t ‘best value’.

March 26, 2009

I had a quick Twitter debate this week with two associates regarding the Dagenham council ‘newspaper’ jobs and how I was outraged at the ridiculously high wages it was going to pay its ‘reporters’.

The 140 character limit of Twitter can make such debates tricky, and I don’t think I made my case clearly enough, so it’s a good job I have a blog, read by at least four people, where I can win such arguments (even if it’s in my own head).

As you may or may not be aware, the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham is launching The News, a “new fortnightly community newspaper”.

I can see nothing wrong with the council newsletters most local authorities put up, as they don’t pretend to be anything other than the council communicating its message (I’ve read so many press releases I’m starting to sound like a press officer here).

But this newspaper idea is very dangerous and will undoubtely be confusing for many readers.
A council spokesman said The News would be a newspaper concentrating “on community rather than hard news”. 
In other words it will still be a pro-council product which will carry only positive council stories, but it will be posing as a professional vehicle driven by journalists

If that’s not bad enough, The News will have a very damaging effect on exisiting local newspapers – if not put them out of business entirely.
Not only will the council pull some of its own advertising away from the local press (even without statutory advertising this could be several tens of thousands of pounds), but according to the Press Gazette, the paper will seek to be “self-financing by competing for advertising from the commercial market”. In other words it will actively look to steal advertisers from the Dagenham Post.

I saw an excellent comment on one story about this. The commenter made the analogy of you owning a sweetshop, and then the council opening a sweetshop next door using tax payers money to get started. The council sweetshop can continue to be subsidised by taxpayers money as long as it needs to, so it will have none of the risks of your sweetshop and can sell its sweets cheaper.
Your only hope of survival is that your strawberry bon-bons might taste a bit nicer as they wont have been pumped full of artificial chemicals. But will enough people notice that your lemon sherberts are better for you when they cost so much more?

Councils are supposed to be there to serve their communities. But this move is doing the exact opposite.
Not only will it potentially kill off an exisiting business, it will also seriously damage local democracy in the process because without the Dagenham Post, who is going to hold the politicians and bureacrats to account?
It certainly wont be The News.

Back to my original point – the salaries The News will be paying its staff.
It’s journalists will be paid between £29,223 to £31,353, its sub editor £30,591 – £33,081 and its deputy editor £33,081 – £35,841.

To put this into context – a trainee journalist on a regional paper can currently expect to earn £14,500 – £16,000. A newly qualified senior about £18,500 – £19,000.
I’m the editor of a weekly paper, and I’d be on parity (give or take a grand) with one of these council ‘journalists’.

So my question is, how can the council justify paying so much above the going market rate?

The obvious argument that most people (well, most journalists) will make is that actually the council is paying a fair wage and its newspapers who are the Scrooges.
And they’d be right. The knowledge and amount of work put in by the modern journalist is woefully rewarded. We’re being ripped off, we all know that.

But that argument can only be taken so far. My point is that these council journalists – who are actually going to be doing less indepth, less challenging jobs than the rest of us – will be rewarded far too richly with taxpayers money for essentially betraying their trade.

To steal an awful councilese phrase, the taxpayer is clearly not going to be getting ‘Best Value’ (and I wonder whether The News will be littered with such awful language).

The council could easily fill those jobs by paying ten grand a head less.
I guess one the reason they’re paying so much is that they are hoping to attract some quality journalists, and they know that such reporters will see through their dirty little agitprop rag but will be tempted by the filthy lucre.

I won’t resent anyone who takes up one of these posts as it’s hard to live on a reporter’s wage, but I won’t be able to respect them.