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:

bbcpay

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.

 

Time for a rethink of BBC local radio

The BBC is again seeking to make cuts as it deals with the fallout from a tough licence fee agreement with the government.

BBC News is expected to find £80 million of savings – a big figure however you look at it.

After years of salami slicing – or Delivering Quality First as it was known – it looks likely that this time it will be a case of not doing something, rather than doing somethings in a cheaper way.

So given that, what is the point of BBC local radio?

Currently there are 39 BBC local radio stations in England costing some £153 million. But even among its target audience of over 50s listening is falling. Down to a reach of 23.9%.

It’s expensive too. At 3.8pence per listener hour it costs more than any other service with the exception of Radio 3.

Why do we need 39 local radio stations with broadly similar and expensive content, few listeners and not much sign of any improvement in the future?

Last time local radio was threatened with cuts it proved untouchable. A coalition of listeners, the BBC Trust, and MPs who like appearing on it, watered down proposals to reduce budgets.

But perhaps it’s time for a radical rethink. We have BBC Scotland and BBC Wales. What about BBC England?

Let’s have one station for England aimed at over 50s with strong regional newsgathering. It would be cheaper, more coherent and still feed material into national broadcast and digital news.

And who knows, people might even listen to it too.

BBC3 goes online only – sacrificing the young for the old

 

So farewell BBC3.

Unloved by the media, looked down upon by politicians; when the cuts came there was no one to save it from the axe.

Dumbed down, crass, perhaps even idiotic. The charges against it had some merit, after all who will miss Snog, Marry, Avoid?

Well, the target audience.

The channel had a loyal following among 16-34 year olds, in particular the lower end of that demographic.

In an era when young adults increasingly don’t watch linear television, 11.2 million people watched BBC3 each week. A million of them didn’t watch any other TV channel.

And it was more than just post-pub TV.

The channel had a fine record in modern sit-com and comedy drama. Little Britain, The Might Boosh, Gavin and Stacey and Being Human all started out there.

Although Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps perhaps shows that the commissioners didn’t always get it right.

But it was expensive.

Its budget was £86 million in 2014/15 and with the BBC under pressure to save money this was an easy saving to get past middle-aged regulators and the politicians who never watched it.

The BBC argues it’s following the audience online, that it will still spend £30 million on original content for digital delivery and that there will still be repeats on BBC1 and 2.

But when I told my media students it was going online only there were groans all around the room.

Maintaining a brand online is tricky; what will BBC3 mean to the next generation of viewers without a space on the broadcast spectrum?

The BBC needs to appeal to younger viewers and to encourage them to identify with its services and channels.

And the way to do that is not to cut BBC Young in favour of maintaining BBC Old.

 

This is a cross-post of a piece I wrote for the University of Northampton

 

 

BBC Young cut for BBC Old

 

I was on BBC Northampton this morning talking to Helen Blaby about the decision to take BBC3 online only.

I called it what it is: a budget saving decision dressed up as innovation.

You can listen here – starts at about 1h 10

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Resigning live on The Daily Politics – can you trust the BBC?

There is a growing row today over the BBC’s stage management of the resignation of the Shadow Foreign Affairs spokesman, Stephen Doughty.

Mr Doughty announced he was quitting on The Daily Politics show.

Good scoop for them, you might think.

But yesterday the programme’s output editor wrote a blog explaining how it came about – and specifically that the programme asked Political Editor, Laura Kuessenberg, whether Doughty could be persuaded to resign on-air.

doughty esingation

It appears that the programme team hadn’t quite realised how incendiary this would be. But someone else did and the blog was quietly taken down.

That was picked up the blogger Alex Little, who began to ask questions about the BBC’s role in the affair.

And then it all kicked off.

For the supporters of Jeremy Corbyn this was clear evidence of a BBC agenda of bias against the Labour leader. They took to Twitter en masse to fulminate about the coverage. Some even going so far as to suggest that the entire resignation was a stunt got up by the BBC.

That was too much even for the BBC’s press office.

Most journalists were incredulous at the naivety of Corbyn’s supporters.

Although there was some questioning about the BBC’s taking down of the blog. This from the LSE’s Charlie Beckett, who is also an advisor to the House of Commons’ Culture Media and Sport Select Committee.

The key questions are:

  • Did the BBC organise the resignation of Stephen Doughty?
    • No. It’s clear he had already decided to resign and written to Corbyn.
  • Was it right for the BBC to allow Stephen Doughty to resign on air?
    • This is an editorial decision. The programme makers want a scroop and they got it. Referring back to my battered copy of the BBC Editorial guidelines, the only issue I can see raised by this is the question of whether carrying the resignation is a breach of due impartiality. I can’t see that it is. Not least because of the rigour of Andrew Neil’s subsequent questioning of his motives in resignation. Consider this: would it have been OK for the BBC to carry an interview with a public figure in any other sphere in which they announced their resignation? Clearly the answer to this is yes. So, why wouldn’t they carry Doughty’s resignation interview?
  • Did the BBC stage manage the resignation for maximum impact?
    • Pretty clearly the answer to this is yes. But all news coverage is managed by journalists for the maximum impact. If you’re the editor of News at Ten, you want your lead story to be a scoop that wrong foots the opposition. That’s what journalism is. Could the story been reported in other ways? Clearly it could – Laura Kuessenberg could reported it on the News Channel or Radio 4’s Today or any of the other myriad of BBC outlets. Would that have made any difference to the impact? I don’t think so and I think that comments about the timing are broadly disingenuous – Doughty had decided to resign on that morning, whether it was at 9am or 11.50am the effect would have been the same. 
  • Is the BBC acting in a politicised way?
    • I don’t think so. I don’t see that any other news organisation would have run this differently. But the issue for the BBC here is not that it IS acting politically but that it might be SEEN to be acting politically. That, I suspect, is the reason for the caution over the blog. As the BBC enters licence renewal it will want Labour onside and thus crowing articles about taking scalps are the last thing it wants to talk about in public.
  • Does the BBC have to be held to higher standards than other media organisations?
    • All this all very well then. But doesn’t the BBC have to be held to higher standards than other news organisations because of the unique nature of the way it’s funded? That’s certainly been the argument of the author and media commentator Peter Jukes.

     Does the BBC act like any other news organisation? I don’t think so. It holds itself to high editorial standards, it pays at least lip service to transparency, and it agonises over its coverage. Was it right to carry Doughty’s resignation announcement as it did – broadly I think so. The programme was a specialist programme for a specialist audience, there was a public interest in questioning his motives in resignation, and it was clearly newsworthy. But as so often with these cases, that’s a matter of opinion and judgement.

Which brings us all back to the age old question: can you trust the media? Trust them to always be impartial and to act from the purest and noblest of motives? To paraphrase my old colleague, Adrian Monck, who once wrote a book on this…. no.

 

Who will be the new Political Editors of BBC and ITV News?

westminster

They’re changing the guard at the Palace of Westminster.

After 10 years as political editors of BBC News and ITV News respectively both Nick Robinson and Tom Bradby are off to become presenters. Nick on Radio 4’s Today programme, Tom on ITV’s News at Ten.

The political editor of a TV (and these days digital) news service is a unique position in the broadcast firmament. Reporter, pundit, political anorak, celebrity, workaholic,  and conduit between government and company – the roles it encompasses are varied and subtle. It requires a sophisticated skill set to do the job well.

So, who’s in the running for two of the top jobs in British news?

As I’ve argued before these roles have for too long been awarded to middle-aged, white men. And the two deputies, James Landale and Chris Ship,at BBC and ITV respectively, fit that demographic. Both are competent and well respected, either would be a safe pair of hands.

But the deputy never gets the top job.

If you’re James Harding or Geoff Hill you want your appointment to make waves, garner headlines, perhaps bring in fresh blood and say something about your positioning of your news brand.

And I’d say that also rules out Sky News’s Joey Jones.

I’d say the most eligible candidates are all women. For either channel the interview short-list could look something like this:

Newsnight’s Laura Kuenssberg, Emily Maitlis and Allegra Stratton – all rising stars with serious clout, they may well want to take on the challenge while leaving Newsnight to head towards oblivion.

The BBC’s Lucy Manning – a well respected political journalist at ITV and Channel 4 before heading to the BBC, she’s got the Westminster chops. Crucially she’s also close to Head of Newsgathering, Jonathan Munro.

Channel 4’s Cathy Newman – a previous life with the FT and as a political correspondent means she’s got the experience. But with Jon Snow rapidly approaching 70 perhaps she might feel her name is firmly in the running to be lead presenter at Channel 4.

And as an outside bet, especially for ITV News, I’d look at the former political editor of The Observer, Gabby Hinsliff.

One final thought: Evan Davis has never really appeared comfortable at Newsnight. Could this be a way back into the mainstream of news?

The end of the road for the BBC Trust

I was at the IPPR’s Oxford Media Convention today to listen to Rona Fairhead talk about what might replace the BBC Trust.

Despite saying she didn’t want her time as BBC Trust chair to be overshadowed by discussions about governance, she’s ensured that will have to be part of the conversation through charter renewal. And there’s nothing like pre-announcing your departure to weaken your negotiating hand.

Her position is relatively collegiate at this stage. She recognises the need for a new system of governance and is suggesting an enhanced BBC board with a separate body for regulation. That’s not dissimilar to the suggestion from the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee.

It’s been clear for some time that the BBC Trust was compromised. Under Lord Patten it was too ready to be both defender and cheerleader for the BBC. Rona Fairhead’s suggestion aims make it clearer where responsibility for governance lies.

Which is why I was surprised that she ruled out Ofcom as a potential regulator saying the BBC’s complexity means it needs a dedicated and bespoke regulator.

As someone who’s developed new broadcast and digital services that have had to contend with the 800lb gorilla that is the BBC I think that’s disappointing. If we want to level the regulatory field, a single regulator seems to me to be the most sensible answer.