Craig Oliver’s Unleashing Demons – not as bad as you might have heard

Poor Sir Craig Oliver.

His memoir of the inside story of the Brexit referendum seems to have been universally panned by the press. James Kirkup’s evisceration in The Telegraph is particularly brutal.

It is true that it is not that well-written. The number of times that Craig “runs into” a world famous politician and then is reminded of a pop-culture reference suggest it needed more careful editing.

It has clearly been rushed out and is little more than a diary rather than a considered view of the campaign and its implications.

But that was also true of Alastair Campbell’s diaries too. So, why the universal derision?

I better declare an interest. I’ve known Craig for many years. He was a highly intelligent and capable programme editor at ITN and one of the driving forces behind ITV News during his tenure as Head of Output. He was a smart, driven but thoughtful journalist with a populist touch.

We stayed in contact after he moved to the BBC and I briefly worked for David Cameron in opposition – although I’ve not seen him since his elevation to Number 10.

But he’s not exactly clubbable.

When he started working for Cameron I heard back from friends in the Lobby and on comment pages of newspapers that they found him supercilious, unconcerned with the needs of the print press and purely focussed on broadcast news.

That was clearly the right thing to do in my opinion. Getting the message right on Radio 1, Radio 2 and the main broadcast bulletins watched by millions of voters is far more important than appeasing the Sunday Telegraph’s comment writers.

But it is clear the Lobby has never forgiven him and is getting its revenge now.

That said, this is an insight into the heart of the campaign and its failings. And it is surprisingly refreshing to see politicians actually being quoted in what would normally be off-the record moments.

And that might be something the Lobby, with its reliance on anonymous sources, might want to reflect on.

Is the BBC paying its journalists too much?

Quick post on this morning’s Telegraph story on journalists’ pay at the BBC.

It suggests that pay for rank and file broadcast journalists at the BBC is far out of whack with its commercial competitors.

With another round of cost cutting coming up, the message is clear: BBC hacks are growing fat on public sector money and need cutting down to size.

I don’t have the full report from PWC but I’d be interested in reading it. Not least because the methodology looks suspect.

Take a look at this graph:


It seems to show that BBC pay outstrips commercial sector pay at lower levels when compared to journalists at Sky News, ITV, ITN, Channel 4, the Guardian, Reuters, The Times and the Sun.

Leave aside the fact that comparing newspaper and broadcast salaries isn’t straight forward – they’re different jobs with different salary expectations and scales –  the graphic seems to show a rather odd result.

A broadcast journalist band 5-7 is a journalist working outside London, band 8-9 is one working in the capital. According to this, a BJ working in the commercial sector in London earns the equivalent average salary as their senior broadcast journalist colleagues across the whole country including London.

That seems unlikely and almost certainly reflects difficulties comparing different positions.

The other factor that’s not revealed by this graphic is the age and experience of the journalists being surveyed.

It is entirely possible to have a career at the BBC and never rise beyond BJ/SBJ level. That’s not my experience of the commercial broadcast sector with its leaner operations – there it’s move up or move out. I can remember looking around the ITN newsroom in my early 30s and thinking there was barely any production journalists above the age of 40 – including the senior editors. That doesn’t promote confidence in career longevity.

That said, it’s hard to see the BBC’s Unpredictability Allowance payments surviving unchanged. There aren’t many jobs in the media that pay you extra fixed sums for working unsociable hours – that looks like a hangover from a previous age.


Cristina Nicolotti Squires poached by Sky News

One of ITN’s most successful and creative executives, Cristina Nicolotti Squires, has announced she’s leaving to become Director of Content at Sky News.

It is a big job with responsibility for news and current affairs across multiple platforms.

And it is a big loss for ITN. Cristina is a formidable presence in the newsroom. Smart, resourceful and passionate about news, she will be a tough act to follow as Editor of Five News.

Like her predecessors  Chris Shaw, Deborah Turness and Geoff Hill, she’s used the editorship of the comparatively small-scale Five News as a springboard to bigger things.

She moves to Sky at a time of considerable change. Many of the old guard are moving on. Not just on-air talent such as Jeremy Thompson and Eammon Holmes but some of the most experienced backroom staff too.

Head of News, John Ryley, is clearly preparing for a future of on-demand digital news as well as a live streamed channel – perhaps no longer delivered on TV nor based in a studio.

Professor Richard Sambrook from Cardiff University has written persuasively about 24-hour rolling news being a product of newsgathering technology that now looks outdated. Even the most traditional 24-hour channels, such as Al Jazeera, are considering what post-TV news looks like.

As 24-hour news veteran, I still retain an affection for the form. But there’s no doubt that it cannot compete with the immediacy of digital news, even if there is still value in a live stream of content. It is hard to gear up to rolling coverage if you lack the platform and resources to produce it.

So I will wait with interest to see what Nicolotti’s Sky News will become – how she’ll balance innovation with maintenance of the existing product. And hopefully she’ll kill off the ruddy awful “The Pledge“.


Shaping Tomorrow’s News – the emerging digital leaders who are creating the next iteration of media

During the past couple of months I have been developing and running a number of digital strategy workshops for emerging news leaders from across Africa and Asia.

Called Tomorrow’s News, the Thomson Reuters Foundation programme aims to help participants consider their next digital news steps by learning about the latest industry practice and academic research, and by creating a community who can support each other through the challenges ahead.

It’s been an enormous privilege to meet some of the creative and innovative journalists who’ve taken part and I’ve learnt a great deal about challenges they face in developing high quality digital news services.

From news services that tell the stories of India’s disempowered and dispossessed communities, to data journalism services that are finding new ways to report about Indonesia, to digital services using mobile technology to deliver east Africa’s farmers essential information – these are  smart, innovative forms of media that will set the pace for the next phase of disruption.

Two final thoughts on all of this.

Firstly, a lot of the problems people are facing in newsrooms (or virtual newsrooms) around the world are similar. Persuading legacy media to embrace digital rather than tolerate it, going digital  or social or mobile first, finding the right mix of skills and training. Or for digital native publishers, establishing a revenue model that’s robust enough to support future development.

And finally while we may be on a journey with digital transformation, the journey’s end has to be more than mere survival. There is real social importance in creating sustainable journalistic outlets that deliver high levels of public value through content. And I am confident that’s a goal to which these brilliant and creative journalists are committed.



Is the media biased against Jeremy Corbyn?


Of course it is but perhaps not in the way you think.

There have been several surveys released in recent weeks that appear to show systematic bias against the leader of the Labour Party. One by the Media Reform Coalition accused the BBC of giving more airtime to his critics, another by YouGov found most people felt the media was biased against Corbyn.

Even traditionally left wing publications, such as The Mirror and The Guardian, which tried at first to give Corbyn the benefit of the doubt have struggled to support him.

And the Labour leader’s team have explicitly tried to bypass the traditional press by speaking directly to supporters via Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat.

So, all the media hate Corbyn and want him out to placate their neo-liberal, corporate masters, right?

Well, no. The fact is that the Labour party leadership always faces a tough time in the press. Corbyn’s having a worse time of it than most. But is it worse than, say, Brown’s in 2008-10?

And the Corbyn team have struggled with issues of basic communication competence, even while raising issues worthy of discussion. They’ve ended up by becoming the story, rather than managing the story – too much effort has gone into dealing with what Lynton Crosby calls process stories .

Sure, there are some journalists and publications who will never support Corbyn – The Mail, The Sun, The Telegraph and so on. But some who might be persuaded to buy into the Corbynite agenda will be unpersuaded by incompetence. And by failing to cultivate support in the press, Corbyn’s team continue to fuel a narrative of “us vs them”.

The fact is that Corbyn needs to find a way to connect with the general public and that – still, at the moment – means fighting to ensure a fair hearing in at least some parts of the press and broadcast media. Public meetings and social media posts have their place but they can’t replace mediated communication – at last not yet.

That means that Corbyn’s team need to swallow hard and find ways to start placing positive stories – it might be too early to reveal the hard policies they’ll stand behind at the next election but they need to fly some kites to reframe the media narrative.

So, it matters for Corbyn. But does all this matter for the media?

Yes, I think it does. The sense from Corbyn’s supporters that the media is against them is probably to be expected, but the wider feeling of the general public of bias against Corbyn should give at least some journalists pause for thought.

The fact is that something is happening in the UK. Corbyn is tapping into a groundswell of opinion and not enough is being done by the media to explain that movement and understand what it means. The Westminster village often talks about wanting to get out of the bubble and find out what’s happening – here’s its chance.