As previously reported on HTFP, the corporation’s ‘Future of News’ report, commissioned by its Head of News James Harding, cited the regional press as “one of the biggest market failures in the last decade” and argued that the BBC would have to do more in future to provide local news as a result.
But the report’s findings – which fly in the face of attempts by indistry leaders and some polticians to curb the BBC’s local online presence – have drawn criticism from across the industry.
James had previously pledged in a speech at the Society of Editors conference last November to help lead what he termed “the revival” of local journalism.
In a blog post John McLellan, director of the Scottish Newspaper Society, pictured above left, wrote: “Ironically, in seeking to address the needs of the UK’s regions he takes a blanket approach to the whole of the UK which fails to acknowledge considerable variations within it.
He added: “Let there be no doubt, a news provider funded by the tax-payer under a system whereby failure to pay can still ultimately end up in jail, will always distort any commercial market it enters.
“A news organisation like the BBC, hidebound by its charter, can never choose to be partisan in the same way as the best newspaper campaigns and the BBC, certainly in Scotland still relies on newspapers to unearth the exclusives upon which it relies so regularly.
“No-one denies the news business is tough, but to think that the further intervention of the state broadcaster will somehow make things better for the public is fanciful in the extreme.”
On her website, she wrote: “The self-satisfied tone of what’s been produced almost makes me want to stop paying my licence fee altogether. Within the document, which sets out the importance of mobile devices, data journalism and quality community reporting, the BBC sticks a great big knife into the back of regional newspapers… and then stands back to watch with glee while its suffering rival splutters for life on the floor.”
She added: “Gone is the charade of a potential partnership with regional newspapers it seems – after all, why would the Beeb want to bother with that when it could simply step into the still slightly warm shoes of all the dying newspapers it is now trampling across?”
“However, the BBC has too quickly written off regional newspapers, they are not quite dead yet. While many papers have gone weekly they are producing good quality, up-to-the-minute news on their websites.”
At the 2013 Society of Editors conference, Home Secretary Theresa May blamed the growth in the corporation’s network of local websites for some of the industry’s difficulties.
A BBC spokesman said: “James Harding is a strong supporter of local journalism and has repeatedly stressed his commitment to helping it flourish. He was simply restating the importance of high quality local journalism to a public service broadcaster.
“Over the past year the BBC has started pilot schemes to share stories with local papers and to link through to newspaper websites from BBC Local Live pages. We have promised to improve attribution of stories which originate in local papers and agreed to a formal audit of how many BBC website stories originate in the local press.
“We have suggested other news organisations might consider covering such things as sport and courts for the BBC, we have hosted an industry event on data journalism and we are exploring joint ventures in local areas during the General Election campaign.
“The Future of News report was designed to stimulate debate. BBC News remains committed to maintaining a close dialogue with local newspapers. We believe a thriving local news business benefits the BBC and that a thriving regional BBC operation can benefit the local news business.”