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Expand local coverage to combat press 'decline' says BBC report

A report by the BBC says the corporation will have to do more to provide local news amid “the decline of the regional press.”

The ‘Future of News’ report, comissioned by BBC Head of News James Harding, claims 5,000 jobs have been axed across the regional press in the past decade.

It argues that in future, BBC News will have move “beyond broadcasting” to deliver on its “mission to inform.”

However the suggestion that the corporation could expand its role flies in the face of moves by regional press industry leaders, and some politicians, to curb its existing footprint by cutting back on its local website network.

The report cites the move from daily to weekly of five Johnston Press titles in 2012 as examples of local journalism being “one of the biggest market failures in the last decade.”

Among the titles that changed frequency was the Scarborough Evening News, with the town singled out along in the BBC report as an area for concern over the lack of local news.

“Today in Scarborough there is a small commercial radio station, no daily newspaper and perhaps surprisingly, very little local or community blogging about the news,” the report said.

“Considering the town hit the national headlines earlier this month as its hospital declared a major incident, there were very few news boots on the ground to hold those responsible to account.

“Where did local people go to find out what was happening at their hospital? If the media fails to invest in local journalism will this become the case in many more towns across England?”

Trinity Mirror’s recent closure of seven titles in the South of England is also mentioned in the report, while the BBC itself is criticised in its own report for closing its office and axeing its website in Bradford.

The report states: “There is a democratic deficit in the UK. Parts of the country are not properly reported; in others, public services and people in power are not effectively held to account.

“The BBC is the only news organisation that is required to serve all audiences in all parts of the UK. BBC local radio and regional TV news epitomise public service journalism – providing essential information, underpinning communities, connecting people where they live and holding public figures to account.

“But we are going to need to do more. The changes in the news industry mean that there are gaps in the coverage of our country and they are growing.

“At the same time, power is devolving. The BBC is going to have to make the most of digital services, alongside radio and television, to ensure people have the information they need where they live and work.”

It goes on:  “The BBC is the only news organisation committed to reporting the whole of the UK, community by community, region by region, nation by nation.

“In a more devolved country, news in some parts of the country will simply not apply in others. The politics and economics of the country is becoming more varied, the business of reporting it more complicated.

“While there may be more community bloggers and citizen journalists, there are fewer professional reporters covering local news.

“The economic issues facing the newspaper business are not of the BBC’s making, nor will they be alleviated by the BBC standing aside. If the UK is to function as a devolved democracy, it needs stronger local news, regional news and news services for the nations.”

At November’s Society of Editors conference James pledged to help lead what he termed “the revival” of local journalism.

Since then content-sharing deals have been piloted between the BBC and newspapers in Yorkshire and the North-East of England.

At the previous SoE conference in November 2013, Home Secretary Theresa May blamed the growth in the corporation’s network of local websites for some of the industry’s difficulties.

She said that by becoming the dominant player in providing local news online, the corporation had prevented other operators from entering the market and urged it to “think carefully” about its local presence.

Trade body the News Media Association responded to the BBC report by reinforcing its calls for a more constructive relationship between the local press and the corporation.

Santha Rasaiah, NMA legal, policy and regulatory affairs director, said: “The industry has stressed repeatedly over many years that the licence fee funded  BBC must not do anything that could damage the commercial independent news media industry and its ability to perform this vital role.

“The industry has looked to explore a more positive relationship with BBC, participating in pilot projects and suggesting constructive innovations, such as BBC purchase of local media content which the BBC at the highest level has said  that it will consider but has yet to deliver.”

She added:  “Local journalism is not failing. The local news media industry is consumed by bigger overall audiences than ever before across print and online platforms, reaching 73 per cent of the UK population each week.”

28 comments

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  • January 28, 2015 at 4:21 pm
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    The BBC is part of the problem, throwing shed loads of “free” cash at local news, undermining newspapers that have to compete in the real world, relying on sales and advertising. Time BBC executives spent a little time in the real world, and understood the damage they are inflicting!

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  • January 28, 2015 at 4:37 pm
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    Onlooker is absolutely right.
    The government should be looking at curbing the BBC not expanding it.

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  • January 28, 2015 at 5:04 pm
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    Sorry onlooker, I am no fan of regional tv but you can’t blame BBC for the crass management that is killing the newspaper industry. So called regional TV is largely centred on the county in which the station is based.
    This poverty of coverage was once a huge benefit to local papers, who had far superior news gathering because of locally based staff who knew their area. All that changed with the slashing of staff and there chase for the web.
    The Beeb hasn’t got any better. Papers have got a lot worse at truly comprehensive local coverage, through no fault of the too-few staff.
    Look to your own industry first.

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  • January 28, 2015 at 6:02 pm
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    “Today in Scarborough there is a small commercial radio station, no daily newspaper and perhaps surprisingly, very little local or community blogging about the news,” the report said.

    That “small commercial radio station” provides a comprehensive local news service, and is listened to by 46% of the area’s population each week, which just happens to be the highest % reach of all stations in England.

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  • January 28, 2015 at 6:48 pm
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    Like Squareeyes I don’t believe you can blame the BBC for the demise of local papers. The service the BBC provides was once less comprehensive than that offered by newspapers. It was no real competition. Newspapers have brought about their own demise by slashing editorial staff at the very time they needed to increase it to cope with the need to provide up to the minute news on the web while maintaining a comprehensive package for print. Now in some places the BBC is offering is equal to or better than of the local newspaper.

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  • January 29, 2015 at 8:39 am
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    And out come the right-wing Mail and Sun-worshipping zealots for whom the big newspaper groups can do no wrong and the BBC no right.
    The BBC is at least showing it has some concern for local journalism, not just the fat wallets of shareholders.
    If the whining newspaper groups are worried about the BBC, beat it at its own game! Invest in local journalists to get out there and dig out the real stories and top-notch production journalists to produce great-looking products – that’s the solution.
    The likes of Johnston and Newsquest are architects of their own downfall and are just looking for somebody else to blame.

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  • January 29, 2015 at 8:57 am
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    Sub up north and squareyes have it about right. It might seem astonishing but some towns haven’t seen a “live” newspaper reporter for months, In fact amazingly some see a Beeb regional reporter more often.
    Weekly papers, especially, once ploughed their own furrow very well and dug out good exclusives, but now they fill by sharing the same routine stuff as everyone else: crime and crashes. Topped up with council press releases (many don’t go to meetings any more) and lots of user generated tripe. More staff please for local papers and more NEWS! Before it is too late. But dont blame the Beeb.

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  • January 29, 2015 at 9:05 am
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    In a recent communication with the editor of my local weekly I was advised that her ‘team’ to put it together comprised a full timer, a part timer and herself. She is sadly another on the way to the warehouse full of ex editors having been relieved of her post.

    Newsquest’s response? I see in HTFP that they are advertising for yet another trainee seemingly (already) in possession of all the skills of a time served reporter.

    Is there any hope?

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  • January 29, 2015 at 9:13 am
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    Sub up North….can we have a share of the TV license fee as well please or are we to reinvest by relying solely on advertising and circulation revenues from the local markets served by local publishers?
    The BBC could never sustain its online output (the real challenge to publishers) if it had to rely on the same business model as regional press.
    If you want to avoid news poverty why not close down local BBC online portals, give half the saving to the fee payers and the rest to the regional press so they can provide truly local coverage (print and online) and a counterbalance to the BBC’s national leaning agenda.

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  • January 29, 2015 at 9:57 am
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    Looking forward to hearing the rattle of Council cages as the BBC moves in, something the local paper does not seem to want to do.

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  • January 29, 2015 at 10:06 am
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    Every time I listen to or watch the BBC there is a plug for Facebook, Twitter, or Apple.

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  • January 29, 2015 at 10:26 am
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    I cannot see how a TV news bulletin lasting a few minutes can be huge competition for newspapers covering a much smalller area. TV news in my area is soporific.

    Sub Up North is correct to say that the newspaper big boys are totally to blame for the problems they face. It is all short-termism for them – make as much money as possible today; it is someone else’s problem tomorrow.

    Surely the most obvious error was to give away news on websites in the hope that someone would eventually find a way of making money out of it. It’s akin to a solicitor providing DIY conveyancing instructions. In other words, suicidal for their financial well-being.

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  • January 29, 2015 at 11:24 am
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    Time was when local/regional newspapers held the Establishment to account for its failings, corruption and inefficiency.
    When did the Beeb ever adopt such journalistic effort, handicapped as it is by the need to maintain its so-called impartiality?
    Local BBC journalists, by their very nature, are only interested in collecting and broadcasting soundbites. On reflection, maybe that’s all today’s laptop-lugging, i-Pad-hugging, Blackberry-carrying, tablet-playing audiences require.
    Whatever happened to real journalism?

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  • January 29, 2015 at 11:34 am
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    It’s worth remembering that only a few years ago, the Beeb, having piloted local TV news, via its local radio stations in the West Midlands, pulled back from rolling out the service across England because of pressure from the Newspaper Society et al. This gave the newspaper groups a golden opportunity to provide a good local TV service. What did they do? The square root of bugger all!

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  • January 29, 2015 at 11:47 am
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    Oh come on Carts. Local papers have nothing to fear from the BBC.
    The two major towns near where I live feature about ten times a YEAR on local television for about two minutes. The regional Beeb simply does not have the staff or local newsgathering knowledge to cover every town well. They can’t even pronounce town names correctly!
    That is where the local weekly should still play a part, IF properly staffed.
    Local papers have everything to fear from themselves, with their shoddy products produced by overworked young hacks.

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  • January 29, 2015 at 12:30 pm
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    Without local papers, how will local BBC reporters get their stories?

    One so-called journo from the Beeb once expressed wonder to me, saying how difficult it must be to work in newspapers, because after all we were the ones who had to find the stories – they just lifted them (and not seeming to understand my indignant response).

    I also saw another local paper forced to add “This journalist was the only media at this meeting/interview” to the end of countless stories, as the BBC radio station covering that patch would pick up the morning edition and write their bulletins from it. It’s a generation of people who call themselves journalists with no grasp of what that title actually entails.

    Thinking the BBC isn’t killing local newspapers is utterly naive.

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  • January 29, 2015 at 1:09 pm
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    On behalf of the Scarborough community and the news team which is currently Yorkshire Weekly Paper of the Year, I must say that the BBC cannot be allowed to get away with its ill-founded and risible comments in its The Future of News report.
    The facts are these regarding the hospital crisis coverage …
    Web story as soon as it broke
    Tweeted immediately and throughout the day, on Facebook immediately
    Stoy updated on web, plus new versions when the crisis was stood down the following day
    Page One splash in print with comment, full page inside, splash put online, Tweeted, Facebooked
    Follow-up stories, interviews and news feature.

    Editor, The Scarborough News

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  • January 29, 2015 at 2:33 pm
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    If the BBC’s online service is curbed where do the highly skilled press journalists go once they are turfed out of their jobs? Publishing companies will continue to make these cuts regardless of what the BBC does. The BBC could never hope to outdo a properly staffed local newspaper, but someone will have to pick up the baton when the papers, together with their online platforms, are closed

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  • January 29, 2015 at 2:50 pm
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    Agree with everything everyone is saying here. I’m no fan of JP but when I saw this: “The report cites the move from daily to weekly of five Johnston Press titles in 2012 as examples of local journalism being “one of the biggest market failures in the last decade” I was completely incensed, how dare an organisation with £3.6bn a year of free money talk about market failures!! Let the BBC try just one day out in the real world and see what it feels like.

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  • January 29, 2015 at 2:57 pm
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    How many genuine local papers actually exist and how many of them are owned big (sometimes international) companies that siphon off all the local tradesmen’s advertising money into dividends for global pension firms?

    Until this is rebalanced, “local” papers need to shut up about what is “fair” or “right”

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  • January 29, 2015 at 3:00 pm
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    There’s some pretty weak rhubarb served up as news on some of the BBC’s regional news progs at 6.30 nightly. South Today is a good example, based in Southampton and Pompey, plus an office in Oxford and covering a vast very newsy area along the coast and up as far as north Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Bucks.
    Some news bits are fairly meaty but then it drops into quite frequent film reports about bellringers, beekeepers, steam engine enthusiasts, keen knitters and other chintzy nice things. Sometimes it’s a member of their news team trying their hand on things like a dry ski slope or meeting someone who is 100.
    Quite rarely are there some real hard news/more in depth follow-ups to items in the newscast section which last just a few minutes at the start. “Never mind the quality let’s just fill up the time with bits of easy and quick to prepare froth,” seems often to be policy.

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  • January 29, 2015 at 4:15 pm
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    Daily Mess. Ten years ago I would have agreed with you about Beeb lifting stories from weeklies. But there are very few to lift now.
    Both are scrounging off same sources, as someone pointed out. Cops councils occasional whingers and court (often cop press releases about cases papers didn’t attend). It is still true regional TV news gathering is very thin, so what is threat to papers?

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  • January 29, 2015 at 4:44 pm
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    I can’t imagine the BBC covering inquests, magistrates’ court or local council meetings on a consistent basis. Though, of course, local papers often don’t do this either these days.

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  • January 30, 2015 at 8:28 am
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    Just a final thought – the Tuesday front page of the Lancashire Telegraph featured the hanging of a patient in the A&E department at the Royal Blackburn Hospital. This was duly followed up by the Burnley Express the next day.
    Only by Thursday had it filtered through to BBC Lancashire and North West Tonight, the former having a well-staffed office in Blackburn but not even having mentioned the incident online.
    If this is the kind of service offered by a taxpayer-funded operation, which has been around for 40-plus years, I know of several print titles in the county which would welcome a slice of that licence fee complacency. Laziness personified.
    Perhaps I’ll float this idea with local politicians at the next election count, as it’s the only time of the year I’m guaranteed to see a BBC hack in the flesh.

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  • January 31, 2015 at 10:13 pm
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    Do the BBC really expect a town of 60,000 people to have a daily paper?

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  • February 3, 2015 at 11:49 am
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    Up North. Up North. quite right about a town of 60,000 not supporting a daily. especially when a morning paper in south serving a total population of 1.5 million sells about 14,000! I shan’t name it because the staff work their socks off and deserve better.

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