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Prioritise local journalism over World Service, editor urges ministers

Keith HarrisonA regional daily editor has urged the government to prioritise funding “independent and impartial” local journalism over new projects overseas.

Keith Harrison, who edits Wolverhampton daily the Express & Star, has made the call after the BBC announced the biggest expansion to the World Service since the 1940s, with plans to broadcast in 11 new languages as part of a £289m project over the next five years.

The BBC says it will provide “independent, impartial journalism” to its new international audience as part of the changes.

But Keith believes the £245m of taxpayers’ money a year spent on the World Service could be spent better closer to home.

In an editorial, he wrote: “As an editor who has lost plenty of good staff (and some not-so-good) to the BBC, I can assure my counterparts in African and Asian hot-seats that our state broadcaster pays handsomely – often well above the level possible in the private sector.”

Keith added: “To be clear, this is not some anti-BBC rant; like most people I value and cherish the corporation and have huge respect for many of the editorial staff and senior management based in the West Midlands.

“But at a time when the regional press is under serious threat, both from commercial pressures and punitive privacy legislation, it jars that we are able to spend £289m expanding a service, however laudable, overseas, while watching historic newspaper titles struggle at home.

“Rarely does a week pass by without some local newspaper ‘restructure’ being announced, causing more journalist redundancies.

“Furthermore, attempts to transform publishers into digital businesses are hampered by the Beeb’s huge – and, again, incredibly expensive – online presence.

“So as we set sail into a bold new year, how about a bit of tax-payer funded help for ‘independent and impartial’ journalism here in the UK?”

In October, Johnston Press editor-in-chief Jeremy Clifford told the Society of Editors conference that a local democracy reporting service made up of 150 reporters employed by local press groups but paid for by the BBC licence fee could be up and running by May this year.


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  • January 10, 2017 at 7:00 am

    How can he blame the Beeb for ‘hampering attempts to transform into digital businesses when the fault lies with the publishers who cannot monetise their own business plans and who’s online offering is weak.

    And the irony of ‘…Rarely does a week pass by without some local newspaper ‘restructure’ being announced, causing more journalist redundancies’
    why is that the fault of the BBC?
    It’s the publishers themselves who have offloaded vast numbers of staff in an effort to save costs or to get the job done cheap with fewer staff expected to cover the work loads of the ones who remain.
    Maybe look closer to home before blaming others and expecting the tax payer to prop up a failed and failing business model that’s been damaged by years of greed and mud management

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  • January 10, 2017 at 11:03 am

    The expansion of the BBC World Service was mooted a while back by Cameron I believe and is obviously being done as an extension of ‘soft power’ to counter the likes of Russia Today.

    It nauseates me the way the local press try and extend the begging bowl to the likes of the BBC as if they’ve been badly treated or somehow screwed over, the simple fact of the matter is what money the local press do make is all spent on the wrong things anyway in its rampant, rampant appetite for profits over quality.

    If the BBC gave one of the big three companies 100 million would it be spent on local papers or employing new journalists? Of course not, it’d go into shareholder coffers while someone was employed full time to go after more advertising low hanging fruit.

    We’ve all seen this time and time again at our own papers. We got rid of a columnist who brought in hundreds of readers for the sake of the 20 quid a month he got paid. Money isn’t the issue, it’s priorities – and they simply do not care about the quality of the paper or the reader experience, readers know it, and that’s why they’re doomed.

    The biggest mistake the top brass at newspapers ever made was thinking everyone else is an idiot.

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  • January 10, 2017 at 1:22 pm

    Fully agree with ‘word furnaces’ comments

    What other business would be arrogant enough to expect money from the tax payer to go towards funding an independent business / industry which due to its poor management has led said business to the woeful state it’s in now?
    Had poor decision making, a rampant yes man culture and complacency in the face of growing new competitive media not been allowed to flourish on the back of short term gain, the industry would be in a far healthier place and better equipped to handle its own affairs rather than bleat on cap in hand looking for hand outs.

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  • January 10, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    BBC has committed to release £8 million to pay for 150 reporters nationwide to help maintain and improve coverage of local democracy.

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