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Newspaper Society responds to BBC local plans

The Newspaper Society has submitted its written response to the BBC’s plans to spend £68m on local news video sites.

Companies representing over 80pc of the industry have reacted to the plans by making their own submissions directly to the BBC and Ofcom, which is carrying out an inquirey into the proposals.

In June, HoldtheFrontPage reported that the NS had hit out at the plans which will provide video on demand at more than 60 existing local BBC websites.

Now it has formalised its opposition in its written submission to the inquiry.

David Newell, director of the NS which represents the UK regional press, said in his submission: “All companies – from major group to independent family concern – point out that there is no market failure to justify state-funded intervention into the regional and local media, that the BBC would be merely replicating local news and related online services already provided by commercial local media, and that the impact of such intervention would be hugely damaging to the local media sector at a critical time in its digital development, thwarting the deeper, broader and richer services which they would provide to their communities.

“The BBC should not be allowed to justify its aspirations for damaging expansion into an area already well-served by the independent commercial media, as a response to criticism of its own shortcomings.”

BBC Trustee Dame Patricia Hodgson has pointed out that the Trust must ensure that additional investment of licence fee payers’ money “does not stifle enterprise from others who seek to offer excellent online services to the public”.


Robin Morgan (17/08/2008 01:39:13)
The Newspaper Society is doing its job in representing its members’ interests…but is this the same as the public interest – or the interest of journalists in particular?
Any move that bids to give the public more professional, journalist-produced information has to be welcomed as it provides, or safeguards, jobs in our profession.
But with its traditional disdain for the true value of journalists, the Newspaper Society is crying ‘foul!’ at a BBC proposal that will be of some value to the general public (at least those who have access to computers etc. and can benefit from such a local service) at a time when many of its members are cutting back on editorial staff, reducing the number of editions, printing evenings overnight or closing district offices.
The Society and its members have no God-given right to be feather-bedded. The BBC’s proposals should increase competition and, being a commercial operation, a newspaper should be prepared to meet competition by providing a better service – and not squealing at a time when it is reducing the services it provides in its circulation area.
OK, the BBC is funded by the public through the licence fee – but that is the same public that is increasingly not buying newspapers. Why? Perhaps that is because many local newspapers, through a succession of cut-backs, are not providing a service that their readers deem as value for money. Should that same public be denied more access to local news (that they have already paid for through the licence fee) simply to cushion Newspaper Society members who are treating their readers with contempt by cutting back on their own news coverage?
I contend that Internet news services are not (yet) the be-all-and-end-all, simply because about 40 per cent of the British public does not have access to it, (elderly, low-income families etc who cannot afford computers and broadband service. But if newspapers respond to this challenge with a better news service, at least they will have the opportunity of being better informed – which they won’t have if the Newspaper Society has its way in killing this proposal and its members continue the sad decline in the value of their titles.
Journalists, and journalism, are the safeguard for a better-informed public: the Newspaper Society is the blackguard! – Robin Morgan, Chairman, Professional Practice Board, Chartered Institute of Journalists.

Paul Leighton (17/08/2008 13:46:06)
The Newspaper Society argues that “the BBC should not be allowed…..expansion into an area already well-served by the independent commercial media”. What on earth can they mean by “well-served”? The quality and scope of regional and local press coverage has been steadily eroded by cut-backs inspired by accountancy-led newspaper management.The quality and depth of commercial local radio news is now pitifully poor, courtesy of undermanning and the “we can serve five different radio stations from one ‘news-hub'” mentality!
The BBC has a rather better record of providing communities with professionaly produced local coverage and anything that aims to extend that service is to be welcomed; good for journalists, journalism and the listening and viewing public.
Paul Leighton, Chairman, Broadcasting Division CIoJ

Paul Kelly (18/08/2008 11:15:32)
I beg to differ, Robin and Paul. BBC local news reporting is still nowhere near as good or comprehensive as the journalism you’d find in a decent local paper.
Having worked my way up from a small Midlands weekly to the heady heights of national newspapers, I cannot remember one single occasion when any BBC reporter attended an important council meeting, for instance.
They’d happily do local paper follow-ups all the time but you’d never see them on the ground.
Indeed unless you watched regional television you’d never think any BBC local journalist left the office to do any work at all.
If the corporation thinks it can now replace local papers or rival them on the web then it needs more than just a few mac-jockeys cutting and pasting stuff onto the web.
It will need a whole sea-change in attitudes – and that will be very expensive and time-consuming.
To serve communities its reporters will need to get out to cover bread-and-butter stories and work the long hours needed to cover council meetings, courts and decent off-diary exclusives.
Personally I cannot see that happening: as I see it the BBC itself holds its own local services in contempt anyway.
Why else are local radio news bulletins a diet of police appeals and council press releases – and poor versions of local paper stories?
Readers and listener – web or otherwise – will know rubbish when they see and hear it.

Andrew (18/08/2008 17:23:31)
Nice to see Paul Leighton putting the boot into journalists there. I’d love to take the drugs he is on if he really thinks the BBC does a better job than the local press in serving communities. Let’s use the North West as an example. On any given day, there will be a smattering of breaking stories but the bulk of the pre-prepared stuff will come from the local papers. The front page or early leads from the Manchester Evening News and the Liverpool titles dominate. If they’re feeling brave, they’ll follow up something from the Lancashire Telegraph or the Lancashire Evening Post – that gives them a tick next to a town for the week. Flooding the area with VJs won’t improve the quality of journalism, it will simply lead to more video of stories the papers have broken. Look at the actual sub-regional websites of the BBC – four or five stories in each area, maximum. Perhaps they should focus on improving their evening news bulletins (more original stories, less dross involving the presenters larking about and the weather presenters over-playing their parts) and the existing websites before embarking on this folly. Robin, the BBC has no right to be feather-bedded but face it, it has been for a long time and abused its position. Perhaps the pair of you should actually come into regional newsrooms and see what is going on before attacking what we do. And if you can’t be bothered, you shouldn’t be using the word journalist in your titles.

Robin Morgan (19/08/2008 01:20:33)
I have had 40 years experience in regional newsrooms and, sure, the BBC and the l
ocal regional TV and radio stations feed on the local papers…but you miss the point I am making.
The Newspaper Society, which has never been a friend of journalists, or journalism for that matter, is seeking to protect its members – the people who are reluctant to pay you a decent wage – from competition.
If the BBC’s proposals are the threat the NS perceives, then the solution is for the newspapers to fight back by providing better news services which attract readers back to their titles, which means employing more journos to achieve that.
To have the BBC’s proposals shelved will only continue the erosion we are seeing in local and regional newspapers as proprietors take the easy way out of the problems that they have largely created for themselves by cutting back on editorial services. Whatever cost accountants and marketing men say, it is news that sells newspapers and we are the people who produce it – and the hotter the competition, the better we do it.