The BBC has publicly apologised to a regional daily after an accusation that its website is “rammed with clickbait” was broadcast on national radio.
The corporation has said sorry to the Manchester Evening News for “lapses in editorial standards” over a number of claims broadcast during a segment on Radio 4’s flagship Today Programme.
The feature focused on the work of independent news title the Manchester Mill but also made several references to the MEN.
During the piece, broadcast on 23 January, BBC North of England reporter Rowan Bridge quoted Mill reader Caroline Jackson as saying the title “appeals in a way the website of the Manchester Evening News never has”.
Ms Jackson herself then said: “I just find that newspaper websites are just rammed with clickbait and sensationalism, and are just about celebs. I don’t really care about celebs, to be honest.”
Following a complaint from MEN owner Reach plc, the BBC has now published an apology on its website over the claims made in the piece and its failure to seek a response from the newspaper.
It read: “We broadcast a report looking at a The Mill, a subscription email letter service in Greater Manchester and asked whether this was a new model for providing local journalism which people were prepared to pay for.
“However this item did not meet our usual editorial standards on a number of different fronts.
“The report did not make it sufficiently clear when it was referring to local journalism in the UK in general and when it was referring to the situation in Greater Manchester in particular.
“The report also did not offer the Manchester Evening News the opportunity to respond to a number of claims made, despite referring to the Manchester Evening News by name.
“We should have offered a right to reply to the claim that local journalism ‘needs to be rebuilt’, including in the level of scrutiny it offers and in reporting the richness of the places where people live.
“We should also have sought a response to the suggestion that the Manchester Evening News website is ‘just rammed with clickbait and sensationalism and just kind of about celebrities to be honest.’
“Reach, which publishes the Manchester Evening News, has told us that it is not the case that scrutiny is absent or greatly reduced in Manchester or other areas served by a Reach title.
“It says the MEN uncovered the Awaab Ishaak scandal and an investigation on grooming has also been discussed in Parliament. It also says the Manchester Evening News also presents regular features which seek to celebrate local life.
“Reach has also told us The Manchester Evening News online never writes clickbait – stories which mislead in the headline to get people on site – and that TV and celebrity content on the website make up less than 5% of the articles published.
“Although we referred to sales of the Manchester Evening News in the report, we agree more detailed facts would have given listeners more context to assess the health of local journalism in Greater Manchester.
“The Manchester Evening News online reached more than 18 million people in the UK in December and its average print circulation between January and June last year was over 20,000.
“We apologise for these lapses in our editorial standards.”
Reacting to the BBC’s apology, MEN editor Sarah Lester further highlighted its work on the ‘Awaab’s Law’ campaign to compel housing associations “not to allow any child, or anyone else, to live in uninhabitable conditions.
The MEN launched the campaign after its journalist Stephen Topping uncovered a string of cases of children who had fallen seriously ill on Rochdale’s Freehold estate, where two-year-old Awaab Ishak died as a direct result of prolonged exposure to damp and mould.
Sarah, pictured, told HTFP: “There’s so much good being done to strengthen local news, both here and elsewhere, and we don’t serve the industry or our readers if we dismiss this progress.
“I’m so proud of the team for transforming a print newspaper brand – which is brilliant but is nonetheless declining – into one of the top most read newsbrands in the country, which is read online by half of the Manchester population.
“Our recent success in campaigning for Awaab’s Law showed the power a local newsbrand can have when it really engages its audience.”