Good news or bad news for new news channels?

During the bank holiday weekend there have been several well sourced stories suggesting that two brand new news channels are set to launch in the coming year to tackle the supposed domination of the BBC News Channel and Sky News.

The Guardian’s media editor, Jim Waterson, suggests that one is being planned by Rupert Murdoch’s News UK, another by a group branded GB News, which is being advised by Sir Robbie Gibb, a former BBC executive and advisor to Theresa May.

As someone who used to run a rolling TV news station, the late and somewhat lamented ITV News Channel, I have my doubts that these can be successful, at least as traditional news channels.

Who had the biggest news wall? I think we know

 

There are many challenges to launching a new TV news service, as can be seen by the fact the NBC Sky World News channel failed to make it to air, but lets start with the most basic.

While News UK is denying that their new service will be Fox News UK, it is clear both companies like the idea of a hot-topic led news channel disrupting TV news, as LBC has done with speech radio.

And that quickly leads you to look at Fox News – the most successful example of this kind of programming.

Fox News makes serious money. Fox Corp turned over $2.75B in 2019, around 90% of its revenues coming from Fox News and its subsidiaries.

 

Why wouldn’t News UK want to replicate its success here?

But the size of the market here is the issue. While Hannity can boast audiences running into millions, the UK audience for TV news channels is tiny. When I was at ITV News (admittedly a while ago now) we estimated that there were around 100,000 people watching rolling news at any single time. That was for the BBC, Sky and ITV combined.

Of course, in the event of a big story the audience numbers would shoot upwards. But the increases were never sustained. And that meant it was only ever organisations that were prepared to lose money who could stay in the market. Sky could afford to use its news channel as a loss leader, ITV could not.

Even if you assume that these prospective news channels will have bare-bones newsgathering, done in the cheapest way possible, it will still be very hard to break even, let alone make huge profits, without changing the whole TV news market.

That’s not to say it is impossible, just difficult. It brings to mind the rash promises made by the local TV news companies when Jeremy Hunt tried to set-up a new generation of TV news suppliers. They too looked to the United States and saw a profitable model.

The other baseline issue that will need to be addressed is Ofcom regulation. To get a TV broadcasting licence, you need to promise Ofcom that you will deliver certain things – x number of hours of news, and so forth. And you have to agree to certain restrictions, the key one being “due impartiality”.

A lot gets made of the concept of impartiality but a fair amount of it is in the eye of the beholder.

The BBC may take one approach, LBC or TalkRadio another.

LBC, for example, can run (or at least, used to run) programmes fronted by Nigel Farage because it can point to the station’s inhouse liberal, James O’Brien, as evidence it includes, and treats fairly, other viewpoints.

Nigel Farage in full flow before getting canned

It is not impossible for a TV company to take a similar approach. And remember that Fox News has been on a partisan journey too. It wasn’t that long ago that Sean Hannity had to have a balancing liberal presenter in Alan Colmes.

But in this day and age, why bother with a broadcast licence at all? Enough of us now own smart TVs that the idea of having a streaming service delivered entirely through a subscription app has merit.

That seems to be the business model News Corp are toying with. Ofcom does in theory regulate on-demand programmes, which might be taken to be television-like. But no-one has done this for news before. Break new ground and you get a big say in the future terms of trade.

To me, then, it seems that it is unlikely that a new TV news channel, as we currently envision them, can become an immediate big financial success. The overheads are too high and the audience is too small.

But could a new entrant make a success of a SVOD news-based chatshow channel, with low overheads and little oversight from the regulator? That seems to me to be a new proposition that might have a potential future. And that seems to be what News UK is thinking too.

 

Advice for journalists working with the NHS during the COVID-19 outbreak

I was among a team of journalism academics who helped contribute to this document for teams covering the coronavirus pandemic.

The advice aims to provide some guidelines and recommendations for journalists, and to reduce the impact on the NHS of dealing with media enquiries.

Led by Professor Karin Wahl-Jorgensen at Cardiff University, the team working on the document represented a wide range of experience and expertise.

Hopefully the result is practical and useful. Do let me know if you have feedback.

The vital public interest of filming inside intensive care

The human cost of the coronavirus outbreak was graphically illustrated by reports on both BBC and ITV News last night.

BBC medical correspondent Fergus Walsh and ITV health correspondent Emily Morgan both reported from inside intensive care units in hospitals treating some of the sickest coronavirus patients.

On the day the Prime Minister was also transferred to intensive care, they made uncomfortable and compelling viewing.

Scrolling through Twitter as I watched the BBC 10 o’clock bulletin, I spotted this tweet by one of my post-graduate students, Hannah Woodward.

She had summed up an issue a lot of social media users had expressed; that the reporters were using vital resources that should have been reserved for patients.

In fact, as Fergus Walsh made clear, his team had donated personal protective equipment to the hospital. He also posted an explanation on Twitter.

But that reaction is something that journalists often face when reporting.

It is most often thought about as an ethical dilemma when reporting from warzones or on natural disasters.

If a journalist is taking up a place on a rescue helicopter sent to bring people out of danger, that means there will be one person left behind who can’t be rescued and may die as a result.

It is not a theoretical dilemma as this report by ITV’s John Irvine demonstrates.

Why then do journalists continue to report in this way?

The fact is that the journalist’s duty is not to rescue an individual but to tell the public about the reasons why they need to be rescued.

Done well, the journalist’s reporting will help the public understand the impact of the crisis and put pressure on governments to resolve it. It will shine a light on the human cost of the crisis and the failures of policy that led to it.

It is a utilitarian position, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Perhaps the classic example is from the 1980s when Michael Buerk’s reporting on the Ethiopian famine led to Live Aid.

Reporters will have thought long and hard about filming inside an ICU. The people being treated there may be facing their final hours and filming is intrusive.

But it seems to me that it is vital that the public sees and understands how the sickest patients are being treated.

Watching those few minutes of television will have far more impact on viewers’ comprehension of the pressures the health service is under than any number of Downing Street news conferences.

And, maybe, will help ensure that, when this is all over, the NHS is ready for the next pandemic.

Thinking about studying MA Broadcast Journalism? Here is how to get some free cash

Cardiff University MA Broadcast Journalism student Sevda Moyassari, this year’s winner of the Reform Media Group’s Sir David Nicholas Award,  with Kamal Ahmed, BBC News’ Editorial Director

Sounds to good to be true?

Not necessarily.

Now is a good time to apply for MA Broadcast Journalism courses. There are, of course, good programmes around the country. I may be biased (and I am) but I think the best is Cardiff University’s long-established MA Broadcast Journalism course.

It has a great track record of success. Graduates get jobs and it has an amazing network of alumni across the industry.

And the curriculum is bang up to date. Students look at social media, MoJo and data journalism, as well as learning traditional skills in TV and radio news journalism.

So, what about this free money?

There are a number of burasaries and scholarships for which students can apply.

The Sir David Nicholas Award 

01ASWKQF; SIR DAVID NICHOLAS Chairman, Talk Radio COMPULSORY CREDIT: UPPA/Photoshot Photo URK 007818/A-19

Offered in honour of ITN’s legendary Editor-in-Chief, this is aimed at BAME students and offers ÂŁ2000 to help meet the costs of the course.

It is supported by the Media Society of The Reform Club in London and winners are invited to a networking evening with top editors and journalists as well as an additional work experience opportunity with ITN or a similar organisation.

The Sue Lloyd-Roberts Scholarship 

Sue Lloyd-Roberts, Emmy award winning ITN and BBC News correspondent

Offered in memory of the award-winning TV news correspondent, this award covers the full fees of your course and is for any Masters student interested in the issues which pre-occupied Sue Lloyd-Roberts. These include international affairs, human rights, women’s rights, and the environment.

Sir Tom Hopkinson Award

Sir Tom Hopkinson was an active journalist before becoming a ground-breaking teacher of journalism

This award of ÂŁ1000 is offered in memory of the founding director of the Centre for Journalism Studies at Cardiff University

Sir Julian Hodge Award

The entrepreneur and banker Sir Julian Hodge

This award in memory of the banker and founder of the Hodge Foundation offers ÂŁ2000 pounds.

Should you be accepted onto the MA Broadcast Journalism course at Cardiff University, you will be able to apply for these bursaries.

It might also be worth thinking about applying for a bursary from the Royal Television Society. These are generally offered to students who are applying to university and have some quite stringent rules attached – but can be quite valuable if you are successful.

And finally, if you do make it onto the MA Broadcast Journalism course you will need to do at least three weeks work experience in a broadcast newsroom. The Broadcast Journalism Training Council offers a ÂŁ200 placement support bursary to help you cover the costs.

Free money and a life-changing opportunity. Why would you not want to apply to MA Broadcast Journalism at Cardiff University?

The digital campaign gets underway for #GE2019

Here it is then: the first, really, truly, no-it-really-is-this-time, digital election campaign.

Possibly.

But it is certainly true that the main parties have hit the digital campaign trail hard.

Labour released this incredibly slick promo that demonstrates some of Jeremy Corbyn’s highs from the past three years, as well as neatly encapsulating its anti-establishment message.

Labour had the best of the 2017 General Election campaign, as I have written elsewhere. And its early efforts this time around look set to build on that success. Tight messaging aimed at specific audiences, with heavy emphasis on Rebuilding Britain.

The Conservatives also focussed on their leader. Demanding that the electorate Back Boris to Deliver Brexit. The Conservatives have also been quick to try to outflank Labour on commitment to the NHS.

The platforms of choice are inevitably Facebook and Twitter. Labour and the Tories are also putting more effort into Instagram. Labour making use of behind the scenes UGC to frame Corbyn as a dynamic figure.

What does all this tell us?

The parties are clearly spending significantly on the production of high-quality content. These are not add-ons but core messages designed to convince the electorate. And all the parties’ social media operations look much more professional than in previous years.

Some pundits had suggested that Labour would want to use Corbyn less prominently than in 2017, given the low level of his personal polling. The first day of campaigning has clearly demonstrated that’s not true.

This looks set to be a presidential-style campaign with leaders’ personalities and beliefs at the heart of the debate.

And the use of outriders to spread the message further will also be a feature of the campaign. Look at this fund-raising appeal from Momentum that was shared by Jeremy Corbyn.

Thus far, the gloves have stayed on. The posts and videos have been presenting a positive vision.

But don’t expect that to last. In 2017, the most shared videos were attack ads. It is likely that the knives will come out before too long.

Researching for news: why the academic publishing model isn’t fit for purpose in the study of journalism

This morning I spotted a tweet from a colleague at the University of Northampton.

And, as people always do on Twitter, I felt the need to respond with a weak joke.

That felt appropriate, as this morning I spent some time reviewing a copy editor’s comments on a book chapter I wrote on the 2017 election.

I first wrote a draft of this chapter in August 2017 for a conference the following month. That was just a couple of months after the June 2017 election.

While the paper has developed during the past two years, with editorial supervision and guidance, the core concepts and structure are little changed.

As anyone who has published academic papers will know, the peer review system means that publication is slow. Academics review each other’s work on an unpaid basis; publishers set long lead times to allow an unhurried analysis of the paper; and articles often go through several drafts before publication.

It is a thorough process, widely viewed as the gold-standard in academic publication.

But it’s not at all useful in the fast changing world of journalism.

Journalism academics are prone to complaining at international conferences that no-one in the industry is interested in using their research to shape new tools and services.

That’s true. I know from my own experience of designing new services for users that the last person I’d ask for advice would be a journalism professor.

That is because when most academic research is published, if it has value to journalists it is as the basis for a story.

Aside from the trade press, mainstream journalists are not that interested in publishing stories about journalism unless there is a wider political or cultural significance. And that implies timeliness in publication.

If we do think there is value for industry in our research, then we have to find ways of getting it in front of journalists more quickly than academic publication currently allows.

At the moment, I think most academics think the answer to this is blogging.

But perhaps there is a more sophisticated system of knowledge transfer that could be developed? I’ve written previously about the way BCU and Lincoln have developed partnerships to create new courses, perhaps that is an indication of the path researchers also need to follow.

I hope and expect that the book chapter I wrote back in 2017 will still have value once it is finally published next year. But I can’t help but worry that its impact will have been diluted by the passage of time.

Crossing the divide? BCU and Lincoln offer a glimpse of the future of journalism education

As a journalism teacher in higher education I am used to getting it in the neck from both industry and academics.

Neither of them really believe journalism is a university-level subject.

Old hacks like to complain that a degree doesn’t teach shoe-leather reporting or how to handle a death-knock.

While academics moan that it is all skills and little research. And even when journalism academics do produce research, industry doesn’t really care for it anyway.

There is a little truth in all of this. But only a little.

The usual moans of “it wasn’t like that in my day” tend to obscure the good work that universities do in teaching journalism skills, media literacy and critical thinking.

But two developments this week may show a future path for industry and academic collaboration.

Today, Birmingham City University have announced the HuffPost School of Journalism, a tie-up with the digital publisher. Driven forward by BCU’s dynamic head, Sarah Jones, and HuffPo’s Executive Editor, Jess Brammar, this is an ambitious idea that tries to tie academic journalism teaching closely to real world experiences. Brammar writes : “The journalists at HuffPost will set students real-world challenges in modules, because it’s important for them to experience some of the pressures (and excitement!) of working in an actual newsroom. We’ll lead masterclasses and tutorials focused on news, lifestyle, politics and entertainment, and host talks to give students access to the best talent. There will also be the opportunity to spend time with the editorial team and the offer of work experience in the newsroom.”

That’s also the ambition of the University of Lincoln’s new MA International Journalism, which has been developed in conjunction with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

I sat on the validation panel for the MA this week and think it is a brilliant development. It clearly bridges the academic and industry divide. It has teaching both in Lincoln and at TRF’s headquarters in London. And a mix of educators, both academics and experienced international correspondents. There’s also the added incentive of paid internships on offer to the best graduates.

What do these developments tell us? Firstly that there is a desire from big brands to access the best students coming out of universities, that they want to shape the training that’s given to future journalists and to ensure that it reflects their needs.

But it also tells us that journalism education has established its place in the pantheon, providing a link between university and industry to hot-house the future stars of a dynamic and ever-changing profession.

The #GE2017 Corbyn surge and the TV impartiality myth that will not die

I try and avoid arguing about politics on Facebook.

It is bad enough getting dragged into discussions on Twitter and being snarked at by complete strangers, but at least the consequences are short-lived.

Falling out with people on Facebook, where I actually know my connections, can spill over into real life.

Nonetheless I did get caught up in a minor Facebook argument about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party and why he performed much better than polls suggested at the start of 2017’s General Election campaign.

The original poster suggested it was because of election rules on broadcasting, meaning TV and radio news had to give Corbyn a fair hearing and cut back on distorted reporting, which misrepresented his positions.

This is a popular explanation. Indeed, it has been put forward as a theory by some of Corbyn’s outriders in the media.

But, like the Youthquake theory, it is almost certainly not true.

In elections broadcasters do have to obey some quite strict regulations that are covered by the Representation of the People Act of 1983 and the Ofcom Broadcasting Code.

But these aren’t as onerous as some people seem to imagine.

There is a duty to be duly impartial, of course. But that exists at all times, not just during election periods.

There is also a stipulation to give due weight of coverage to major political parties.

That can have big benefits for parties such as The Greens or UKIP, which struggle to get TV news bulletin coverage in non-election periods but are guaranteed free hits for manifesto launches and dedicated campaign reporters.

But that would be unlikely to affect Labour in the same way. Political correspondents will seek comment from both Labour and Conservatives as a matter of routine.

The other rules are more concerned with fairness in constituency reporting, rather than in national reporting

It also stands to reason that if broadcasters were routinely biased against the Labour party, you would expect it to win complaints to the regulator Ofcom or, in previous years, the BBC Trust.

Naturally, there are complaints but it is very rare for them to be upheld.

According to Ofcom, from March 2017-April 2019, more than 500 complaints of political bias or inaccuracy were made against BBC News but not one was upheld. In the same time period, just one complaint was upheld against Sky News.

Why then does this myth continue to keep being trotted out as an explanation for the Corbyn surge?

It is, I think, that it flatters Labour’s supporters who view Corbyn’s leadership as a radical insurgency against the establishment.

It is a comforting image: the media hoist by its own petard. Impartiality rules forcing the media to come to heel and be honest for once. And when people see the unmediated truth, they see that Jeremy Corbyn is a much more attractive figure than they had previously thought and understand his policies are sensible solutions to modern Britain’s problems.

But I don’t believe it is true.

While I’ve written elsewhere of the importance of the digital campaign in disintermediating Labour’s message, like so much of British politics at the moment, the surge is explained by Brexit.

Labour successfully managed to remain ambiguous enough about its Brexit intentions to satisfy a range of voters, including Remain voters who were voting against the explicit Leave messaging of Theresa May’s Conservatives.

All these things are nuanced, of course, May’s poor performance as leader, the unravelling of the Conservative election manifesto, Jeremy Corbyn’s positive campaign, and the terror attacks, will all have played a part in the result.

But the great political schism of our time, Brexit, seems to me to be the biggest motivator in driving Remainers sceptical of Corbyn’s leadership to back Labour at the ballot box.

Publish and be damned? Why we shouldn’t play the terrorists’ news game

The news that 49 people have been murdered in two mosques in New Zealand is appalling.

It is hard to imagine a worse crime.

But this media-literate killer decided to not only live stream the killings but produce a “manifesto” of his ideas too.

This presents a dilemma for news organisations – should they use material created by the killer?

On the one hand it may help explain why the crimes took place, what the motivation of the killer was, and why he chose to act as he did.

On the other, it is clear that he wanted this material transmitted and shared in order to spread his poisonous theories around the world. By using the material journalists risk doing his bidding.

In a breaking news situation, there is an immense temptation to throw on-screen any material from a terror attack.

Footage of dramatic events is the essence of visual news.

But, as I’ve written before, we all have a duty to think twice about using this kind of material.

And that’s not just professional journalists but also social media users who find it troublingly easy to share horrific content.

All of us have to play a part in not spreading hate. And that includes those social media platforms who’ve recently discovered that they do have consciences and a role to play in society.

Top posts of 2017

Time to look back at the year’s top five most read articles on my blog.

I’ve not counted the homepage to keep it simple.

In reverse order:

5. Digital still the poor cousin at the RTS Awards – a reflection on the very traditional nature of “Oscars” of TV news.

4. George Osborne’s Evening Standard dilemma in Jeremy Corbyn’s city – a linking post to an article on the election for the Huffington Post.

3. Why Theresa May will take part in a televised debate – well, she did, kind of, sort of, ish…

2. My Media Predictions for 2017 – my annual predictions for the coming year. Homework marking coming soon.

  1. Facebook and the UK General Election – post summing up a research paper I presented at a conference in Cyprus on political Facebook.

A lot of politics this year. But I suppose it has been that sort of a year.