Monday, November 24, 2008

Draft of story for OhmyNews. They may well change it. It has some opinion and several plugs around Exeter so as some may vanish later here is a copy.

BBC Trust cancels local video in the UK
Print journalists celebrate lobby success

The BBC Trust has rejected management proposals to spend £68 million on a network of local video for the UK. As reported by James Robinson for the Guardian, the budget will be removed from Nations and Regions, and handed back to "central control".

Robinson explained the concern of local newspapers, usually connected with national newspapers, on this issue.


Battered by an advertising downturn that analysts predict will cause revenues to fall by at least 10% next year, newspapers were particularly fearful that the BBC's plan would hamper their efforts to retain readers by beefing up their own websites with video content.


Sly Bailey from Trinity Mirror was "delighted" with the decision. Michael Pelosi from Northcliffe Media saw it as a "victory for common sense". Earlier Alan Rusbridger for the Guardian suggested that funding could be available for video from networks of local newspapers from various sources as part of "public service broadcasting". This might include the supposed digital surplus from the BBC licence fee, a possible levy on broadband service providers, and assumed contributions from regional development agencies.

The term "public service broadcasting" is now used to describe a wide range of programmes that show no immediate profit. For example, Rusbridger suggests that ITV might stop regional news completely. UK print journalists are able to make claims on the BBC budget in the context of continuing concern about editorial integrity. Details on recent events around BBC Radio 2 are on the Wikipedia.

The Daily Mail reported on the John Sergeant decision to quit Strictly Come Dancing that "With many fans demanding a refund for the money they spent voting to keep him on the show, the BBC could also face a bill of ten of thousands of pounds...Millions of viewers have threatened to boycott the show ." The chance of positive reporting on the BBC in the Daily Mail is very low.

There is a case that the BBC has done well with Strictly Come Dancing and that this should be recognised. One of the hosts, Bruce Forsyth, once worked for ITV. As reported in The Independent he decided to quit after David Liddiment moved his game show to a teatime slot.

"Never in more than 40 years on ITV have I been out of primetime. This man has embarrassed me, humiliated me, and shown me no respect whatsoever."

ITV have made some bad decisions. It is possible that getting rid of regional news could be another as national identity has some value.

The BBC has also found it easier to relate to the Web than news organisations based in print. As online is global the BBC brand is an advantage for the UK so many people are prepared to support it. There is a sense that the BBC is aware of the value of content created by the public. Eddie Mair presents a teatime news program on BBC Radio 4. Recently they have started an open blog and short programs based on the blog at strange times of day such as ten to six in the morning. This has a small audience but clearly showed what the noise level was like near Heathrow Airport at a time when flights are not supposed to happen.

Living in Exeter, South West England I notice that some local video is possible, even outside the BBC. My opinion is that the growth in online video will continue and that UK newspapers need to face the implications. I have sometimes borrowed a reasonable video camera from Exeter TV based at Life Bytes, an internet cafe. I also post to YouTube with rough cuts from a camera costing less that $50. So the following examples include links to projects I am involved in. Other examples are available.

Exeter TV started with a wide brief but is gradually tending to concentrate on music video. The YouTube selection is intended to indicate the range of a future cable channel so usually there are no complete performances. However a recent set at the Phoenix by the Pyrates has turned up on their own YouTube channel. In theory any local news organisation could include material from local artists. Even if the BBC is not offering such a service the gap will be filled, probably by global Web companies such as YouTube.

In April this year an editorial in the Western Morning News , published in Plymouth, described local television in the USA as 'trashy'. My impression was that some print journalists just do not like video. Just because the BBC will not do local video existing newspapers have an opportunity if they understand the new area. My blog for wifiExeter includes the text of a letter to the Western Morning News from Jo Gedrych of Exeter TV. So far it has not been published as far as we know.

Exeter is one of many places with an icerink at Christmas. Last year it was at Rougemont Castle, an interesting location. Exeter City Council arranged sponsorship from the Express and Echo, a local newspaper. This allowed them full image rights so unfortunately it was not possible for Exeter TV to video the occasion. Unofficial video from phones has appeared on YouTube so there is no real problem. But there is also no evidence that local news organisations understand how to link with other sources. There needs to be some form of business model that allows for forms of citizen journalism including projects such as Exeter TV.

Meanwhile the Express and Echo has started a Youtube video channel but there are only three so far. The Ellie Williams song has excellent sound quality but I prefer the camera movement from the Phoenix.

In a related story Peter Wilby has recently considered whether newspapers could continue to be published with fewer and fewer journalists. The headline is that "small is inevitable". Wilby predicts a reduced role for subeditors.


If subediting is drastically reduced, as it usually is, headlines may be less arresting, copy less polished, libels more egregious and errors more numerous - but nobody has ever demonstrated clearly that reduced staffing has these effects, still less that they cause readers to cancel their orders.


The business model for citizen journalism suggests a different possible future. Subeditors could work with various forms of contribution.

UK newspapers face many issues that need to be resolved. Beating up on the BBC will not buy unlimited time.

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