The great and the good of local journalism gathered in Salford today for a forum ambitiously entitled the “Revival of Local Journalism”. It was hosted by the BBC to debate the current state of our industry, against the harsh background of technological innovation, greater competition, job cuts and – critically – falling sales of local newspapers.
The BBC’s Director of News, James Harding gave a robust defence of the BBC’s role in providing local news, and attempted to offer an olive branch to newspaper bosses, who still regularly complain that BBC local outlets are in the habit of “stealing” their stories.
James Harding made no apology in saying that the decline of the printed newspaper industry was not the making of the BBC. But he conceded :
“We are doing real work together. We are tackling the old bugbear of ensuring the BBC credits other news organisations for their stories. In my meetings with the regional press from Kent to Yorkshire to Gloucestershire, people say that there’s been a marked improvement on that front – and, yes, there’s still a way to go.”
He makes a valid point. But I’d also remind the newspapers that it’s a two way street. My local paper, the Nottingham Post, was quick to publish a story online today reflecting the Daily Mirror’s front page “exclusive”.
Which is all very well. Except the Mirror’s “exclusive” had been carried two days earlier. And by guess who?
Of course, no reference of this was made by our local paper. Indeed, its editor tweeted earlier that a colleague, commenting on James Harding’s speech, thought it sounded like the BBC was rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
It’s also worth remembering that the BBC’s previous plans to provide ultra local video content were scuppered, due to a vocal campaign from local newspaper editors. What followed was a frenzy to launch similar content on their own websites, putting more pressure on already overworked journalists, and ultimately leading to a massive decline in quality. Today, said video content on newspaper websites has all but been abandoned. In some parts of the country, hyper local reporting is being provided by city TV stations.
So whose job is it to restore relations between the BBC and the local press? How can it be equitable for the Licence Fee funded service to be effectively carrying prominent links to commercial content from the papers, and get virtually no thanks in return?
Ultimately, the audience doesn’t give a hoot about such matters. I’ve seen no evidence of people refusing to by a local paper because the BBC provides enough news to satisfy them. Equally, listeners are not deserting local radio because some stories have also appeared in the paper.
And once the naval gazing is over, bosses from both sides should remember that.