1 August 2014

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BBC ‘dancing on the grave of local newspapers’

The BBC has been accused of “dancing on the grave” of local newspapers after covering the state of the industry in a news report.

Friday’s night’s main bulletins saw media correspondent Nick Higham reporting from Peterborough as its local paper, the Evening Telegraph, printed its last daily edition before going weekly this week.

Nick’s piece included comments from Telegraph owner Johnston Press’s chief executive Ashley Highfield and can be viewed here.

But the piece has sparked a lively debate on Twitter in which current and former regional editors questioned the corporation’s motives in covering the issue.

The exchange was started by media training consultant and former Northern Echo editor Peter Sands who Tweeted:  “Is BBC always happy to ‘dance on grave’ of newspapers?”

Peter’s question brought a swift and pithy retort from Mike Sassi, editor of The Sentinel, who wrote:  “Yep, it is. And were talking ‘Pogo’ not ‘Line.”

Others who weighed in included Paul Robertson, former editor of Newcastle’s Evening Chronicle, who said:  “If local newspapers died it would cause problems for local BBC as that’s where they get most of their stories from.”

And John Elworthy of the Cambs Times added:  “What fascinated me about @BBCNews report is not how many but how few local papers have been lost in recent years.”

However some of those taking part in the online debate welcomed the coverage of the issue.

Jon Welch, a former local newspaper reporter now working at BBC Look East said:  “Didn’t see any grave dancing there, Peter. And as an ex-newspaper hack I’m pleased someone’s covering the story.”

Former Cornwall and Devon Media editor Andy Cooper tweeted:  “BBC effect overstated. Greater threat is corporations still expecting margins akin to 1980s ‘rivers of gold’ levels. Discuss.”

And John Meehan, who stepped down as editor of the Hull Daily Mail last year, said that having watched the report he did not find it “unduly negative.”

34 Comments

  1. JibberJabber

    Just the beeb reporting exactly how it is.

    Even-handed tone and certainly not ‘dancing on the grave’

    Report this comment

  2. beebwatcher, UK

    Anyone who has seen some of the laughable regional news coverage on BBC knows the Beeb has nothing to crow about. I am sick of seeing reporters hanging around until 10pm outside darkened court, cop shop, crime scene (you name it) to tell us NOTHING. send ‘em home!
    Mind you, unless JP Newsquest et al realise they need a lot more staff to do the job properly they are doomed.

    Report this comment

  3. Becky

    Could it be that with all the regional papers going weekly the BBC will have to actually do their own reporting for once rather than putting out a mix of two week old news and self promotion for whatever current affairs show they have on that week?

    Report this comment

  4. Lord Reith, Bristol

    Putting to one side the fact that PLC ownership of regional newspapers was bound to end in tears, the BBC can’t pretend it’s a disinterested party in all this.
    The frequency with which some of its regional newsrooms leap on ‘news’ about newspapers is suspect and some of the agenda reeks of the NUJ’s prejudices against certain groups. It’s also spent millions on ‘free’ websites which almost certainly make life harder.
    There is a story to be told and, as Jon Welch hinted, there is a debate to be had about where newspapers go from here. But that’s not what Beeb newsrooms have been engaging in, and I do think there has been some partiality.
    And look at the Leveson coverage. Anyone with a down-to-earth news sense knows this is now way down the list of issues which matter to ordinary people. But it’s up there on bulletin news lists every day…

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  5. Rowyourboat

    Not a fan of local BBC news (they take a lot of our audience whilst offering shallower coverage, often so far away it’s not even “local”) but I didn’t think it was grave dancing. Just straight reporting.

    We shouldn’t be so sensitive. It’s an important story, sad it’s come to this.

    I do think the BBC should examine its own “local” news coverage (radio, web and TV), and assess how anti-competitive it is, but ultimately local newspapers are to blame for their own predicament.

    Report this comment

  6. John Bull

    Dancing on the grave of local newspapers? I thought that was what the newspaper groups and ‘yes men’ editors were doing.

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  7. NewsMutt, Nottingham

    Ahh yes, that old chestnut of the BBC nicking stories from the local paper. Anyone who ally knows our industry will realise it’s a two way street, as highlighted in my blog from last year http://newsmutt.wordpress.com/2011/06/15/

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  8. Ex-HDM Sub

    Well done for the BBC for reporting this story. It’s about time somebody covers the awful state of the regional press!

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  9. beebwatcher

    newsmutt; not in my neck of the woods. we’d be out of business (we nearly are!) if we relied on lifting local stories from beeb. Local to them is five miles from studio.
    But I agree with others; weak editors unwilling to tell top management their perilous staff levels (leaving them to fill with pap) and stand up for papers are not helping local papers.

    Report this comment

  10. Observer

    Keep the decline of newspapers secret, that’s what I say.

    Report this comment

  11. Fresh Coriander

    No grave dancing that I could see. Perfectly fair report. Much of BBC local output is easy churnalism, though. Send a crew out to some non-story that makes a guaranteed package for the early evening news. Leave the rest to freelancers who will cover real news cheaply.
    BBC websites are now full of spelling mistakes and geographical errors, just like our papers.
    Leveson is a load of hot air. He’s a law lord, living in a rarified m’ludsphere, and clearly doesn’t understand the local press or how it works in real life. Hope he does by the end of this process.

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  12. Scoop

    While I think the Beeb does put way too much funding into regional news, I do welcome them for letting Joe Bloggs know what is going on in the regional press. When the printing press went at Hull, I can’t remember there being any outrage. When jobs were lost elsewhere, all hell would break loose. Punters keep buying local rags out of habit, not because they are great for news. I wouldn’t use my local newspapers for toilet paper, but for some reason some people buy it, then moan like hell because they have nothing in of interest to them (I used to work on two of them, so I get moaned at by association). Maybe I am just unlucky to be in an area (Rochdale and its surroundings) that have dreadful newspapers under the mantle of MEN Media, which – I am a sports fan, that’s all I read local papers for – is obsessed by football to the huge detriment of anything else. So anything which lets people know just how far the regional press has fallen is ok by me.

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  13. Wigger61

    Just listened to what the JP chief executive said and believe it sounded like the death knell for the regional press. Who in their right mind is going to want to pay out for a paper which is regurgiated news and reader’s comments. Hard news is what sells papers. I just hope that JP’s latest plan doesn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. If it does bye bye JP….

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  14. beebwatcher, UK

    The public has no idea how close their local papers are to collapse and the terrible staff levels and as a result they have totally reasonable but sadly unrealistic expectations. The Beeb doesn’t so regional very well but grave dancing or not at least it has highlighted the plight a lot of papers are in. It will be too late when they are gone and everyone is screwing their eyes up reading User Generated Copy (or Utter Garbage Contributions) on the web.

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  15. Spanner

    Local BBC is a waste of my money – end of !

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  16. Herald, London

    Our regional BBC news team make no secret of the fact that they’d have nothing to report on without first reading the local rag.

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  17. GrimNorth

    It does worry me when you hear those at the top of the tree talking about audiences, market share and profit well ahead of readers. is it time newspapers jumped on the social enterprise model as more of a service to a community with execs through to reps and reporters earning the same, but the much-loved profits pumped back in?

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  18. grey haired hack, Kent

    A few years ago my local BBC news team was perfectly happy to call up a local paper I worked on and be charged £50 for a phone number to contact someone quoted in a story we had run that week. For little or no effort, ie going to directory enquiry instead, they would have saved around £49. An example of BBC news team lack of nouse, I think.

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  19. old hack

    Well thank goodness the BBC is telling ordinary people of the crisis faced by local newspapers – because many of those same local newspapers continue to lie to their readers, telling them that the future is rosy and their combined print and on-line circulation is healthier than ever

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  20. NewsMutt, Nottingham

    Just to be clear, my blog piece made no secret of the fact that there’s a good deal of cross coverage between the BBC and local papers – but a study (admittedly commissioned by the BBC) concluded that the crossover worked both ways, and in the vast majority of cases, the BBC coverage of a story was coincidence.

    As for Fresh Coriander, when you say “leave the rest to freelances” etc, very few freelances – in the truest sense of the word – are employed in BBC Regional and Local newsrooms.

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  21. paperboy2, Nottm

    Don’t the BBC have links to stories on local paper sites? Do on BBC Nottingham anyway. Can’t hate them THAT much if they are driving traffic there!

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  22. Nigel Tufnell, Finsbury Park

    I’m a great defender of the BBC, but I have to say that most BBC local news coverage I come across is as dull as ditchwater. Particularly poor is their sports coverage. If local newspapers disappeared at the rate some predict it would be disasterous for local sport nationwide.

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  23. Hacked Off

    The local press is already dead, but its twitching corpse is a legitimate subject for the BBC to cover. However, I think a lot of people are being way too sensitive here.

    Local newspapers, on the whole, used to be a good read. At least the ones I worked on for a quarter of a century were. But they’re not any more and they never will be again. No newspaper company executive is ever going to say: “Hey, I know! Let’s take on some really good staff, pay them well and invest in quality journalism.”

    Let’s also dispel a myth: that the big bad BBC is killing local newspapers. It isn’t. Local newspapers are on a suicide mission and don’t deserve to survive. And it’s not the competition. The BBC’s local news coverage is dreadful. Three stories a day (at best) on a county-wide web page isn’t killing anyone. The regional TV news magazines are even worse. They cover massive areas and serve them poorly. Only on BBC local radio have I ever heard anything approaching quality local journalism. But again, the stations are required to cover to big a patch.

    The truth is, too few people want to read printed news. There’s a whole new generation (or two) who never read printed local news and they’re not about to start now. People won’t pay for online local news because (a) they’ve got used to it being free and (b) it’s the same badly written, poorly subbed, stories that are in the print edition anyway. Oh, and (c) the old-fashioned, templated, one-size-fits-all, websites the newspaper groups deem fit for purpose are, well, not. They’re ugly, unsophisticated and dated.

    Local newspapers started giving away news online for nothing years ago and now the chickens are coming home to roost. And, you name me a product that can decline in quality and increase in price and still make money. Struggling? Thought so.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got ink in my veins and love newspapers. I still read a national every day, but my locals are too poor and just not worth the cash. The business model has no life left in it.

    When someone makes hyperlocal pay, which they will, the last nail will be hammered into local newspapers’ coffin. When that happens the executives will parachute out with what’s left of the money and they’ll get into some other racket. To them newspapers are a commodity to shift and they’ll just find another one.

    I’m sure those still toiling on local papers do the best they can. But it’s never going to be enough. There are too few people who want want you provide.

    Yes, we’ll all be sorry when local newspapers are gone. Local issues will go unreported, local officialdom will not be put under scrutiny etc etc. But go they will. Just don’t be the guy who has to turn out the light.

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  24. Fresh Coriander

    NewsMutt – the guys I mean, and i know quite a lot of them, used to be purely freelance photogs but now have TV-type cameras as well. They are the people who keep their ears glued to the 999 frequencies for breaking news, or develop good contacts, and rely on their ability to get to places quickly. None of them work in the newsrooms because they can’t spell. So the fires, train crashes, major shunts you see on the local BBC news comes from those sources, rarely from a crew sent to a scene. They are too busy doing the tamer, stage-managed stuff that fills the broadcasts.

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  25. Nigel Tufnell, Finsbury Park

    I am always astonished, in these cash-strapped times, that every evening without fail BBC local TV crews do OBs from outside courts/ council offices/ scene of crime (delete as appropriate) in the dark.

    It goes like this:

    Newsreader, Matt Crumb, details story (“A man in Sittingbourne has been remanded in custody by police after he forced his wife to sit in a bath full of mushy peas. 94-year-old Roger Forcep has been remanded on bail by local magistrates. Fiona Mildew reports from Sittingbourne).

    Fiona Mildew: “Here in Sittingbourne the house is dark and the peas have been removde from the bath. Police say Mr Forcep has been remanded on bal by local magistrates. Now back to you in the studio Matt.”

    Matt: “Fiona Mildew in Sittingbourne there. Next up, a man from Gillingham has set a new English record for self-harm….”

    And so it goes.

    Fiona Mildew, outside house in Sittingbourne, in the dark.

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  26. Ex-HDM Sub

    Hacked off – A well written argument. I just hope you’re wrong….

    Report this comment

  27. Ill-informed

    Wigger61 says, “Hard news is what sells papers.” I would point that property pages, sport sections, pictures from community events, ents listings, neighbourhood news, jobs (yes, even now), competitions and special offers also sell newspapers. I’d also argue that, collectively, these additional elements are responsible for selling loads more copies than ‘hard news’.

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  28. FormerHack, South Shropshire

    Regional news here from BBC is dreadful. The only time you see a Shropshire story is when the local press reporters have done all the hard work for them. I’d be willing to bet it’s the same MO the Beeb uses across the vast area that is ‘the Midlands’.

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  29. john elworthy, Fenland

    Does the BBC nick our stuff? Well they certainly ‘nicked’ some material from our JP rival last week, a quirky story about people in the town of Chatteris not too happy with Jubilee bunting.
    The JP paper found someone to describe the bunting as looking like “a granny’s washing line” and unpatriotic too!
    JP honoured the story, naturally, by making it their splash and the good folks of BBC Radio Cambridgeshire rallied to the cause immediately. Reporters dispatched, vox pops sought, and the whole paraphenalia of local radio at its Alan Partridge best.
    Meanwhile my own team have just pushed to web a story about a local undertaker producing Union Jack embossed coffins, nestling in his window alongside a portrait of The Queen.
    Alan P is due anytime soon I suspect………

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  30. Lord Reith

    Not sure anyone’s suggested the Beeb is single-handedly killing regional newspapers; the original point, which HTFP comments have drearily wandered away from, was the Beeb’s seeming inability to resist stories which dwell on the troubles of regional newspapers.

    As I said earlier, I think there is a case to answer because the frequency with which the issue has appeared on some Beeb regional radio bulletins is out of all proportion to its importance and the level of interest among the audience.

    The Beeb does many things well, but it IS and interested party, and DOES have an agenda with print media. In drama, all print media is sleazy tabloid, and stories aren’t stories until the BBC has been told about them.

    I go back to what I said about its attitude to Leveson. Today we heard Michael Gove mount a stout defence of press freedom and take on the whole thrust of Leveson’s inquiry. It was, by any measure, a remarkable intervention which challenged the inquiry’s orthodoxy. It won’t be near the top of any bulletin, though.

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  31. regionalhack

    A perfectly fair report on the culling of profitable, local daily papers by management blinkered by their iPads. This notion that websites are the future and saviour of local papers in delusional, and Johnston Press, with £300million+ of debt is playing a dangerous game. Websites have their place and market, but make peanuts compared to print, and rob their own newspapers of circulation, and hence revenue.

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  32. Mike Waring, Stroud

    Last week, one of our two local weeklies actually put publication back a day so they could include an 8pp wrap around featuring the Olympic torch going through the town. Excellent example of an editor bowing to topicality.

    Contrast with the lamentable BBC Points West coverage. Two waffling, badly briefed presenters moved espcially to Cheltenham for the show. They missed it … running late. Total waste of 20 minutes with no back up contingency. Pathetic.

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  33. Derek Smalls, Margate

    Olympics? Torch? I don’t think BBC Kent have covered that particular story yet. Their lead story this morning was about the Suez crisis.

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  34. Dave

    Regionalhack, is that really the case?

    DMGT digital revenues to offset print revenues “within five years” -

    http://www.mediaweek.co.uk/News/MostEmailed/1133947/DMGT-digital-revenues-offset-print-revenues-within-five-years/

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