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.

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.

 

Media predictions for 2016

2016 desktop calendar

What does the coming year hold for the media and what will the impact be on news and journalism?

2015 was a year of enormous change, and there’s no reason to expect 2016 to be any different. So, here are five trends I think will define the next 12 months.

1. Ad-blockers will go mainstream

The current status quo for digital advertising in media cannot continue.

Advertising is too intrusive. Splash screens, auto-playing video, and ads that scroll the screen are ruining the user experience.

On a desk-top this can be annoying but for mobile users it can destroy the user’s relationship with the publisher.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have left an Independent article without reading it on my iPhone because the splash screen can’t be easily removed.

And now I don’t bother reading them at all.

This is no longer a niche experience – mobile is how people consume digital content. If your mobile experience is poor, you will lose audience.

The uptake in ad blockers has increased during the past couple of years. Early adopters have been using them to tailor their internet experience. 2016 will be the year their usage goes mainstream and the impact for publishers will be immense.

Business plans at almost all major publishers are based on delivering eyeballs to ads – even at those who also have a subscription strategy.

If the relationship between content and advertising breaks, then a new settlement will have to be found. Either by denying access to users of ad blockers, finding new forms of advertorial, or by publishers finding a way to manage their advertising in a way that is meaningful and useful for users.

If they can’t they risk being swept away.

2. A choice to make: destination vs distribution 

The content business is going to get a lot tougher in 2016.

The watchword of 2015 has been scale. Those that have it, want to retain it. Those that don’t, want to get it.

As the content bubble continues to deflate some publishers will go to the wall, others will sell up. Consolidation will be a key factor in 2016.

But the key decision for publishers will be whether or not to pursue a destination or distribution strategy.

Here’s the thing: when I talk to students about where they get their news, they invariably say from Twitter or Facebook. Of course, when you dig into this they actually get it from a publisher who is using social media to disseminate their content. But users don’t necessarily distinguish between the publisher and the distributor.

Brand and brand values don’t appear to survive the transition to social media. And that means users treat all information as being of equivalent value.

Look at the rise of fake news sites that publish stories simply to get eyeballs to their sites – how often are people taken in by them? Even journalism students, who should know better, are sometimes fooled.

Publishers have to decide where they want to focus their attention – destination or distribution?

The received wisdom of the past few years has been to emphasise the importance of being where your audience is.

But Netflix didn’t build its business on YouTube.

Why should publishers, so keen to take up Facebook Instants, build their business on other people’s platforms? Give up your brand, give up your revenue streams, give up your platforms, and you give up your business.

3. Innovation will move to the heart of the newsroom

Media businesses are generally pretty poor at innovation – as this excellently argued article by the Wall Street Journal’s Neal Mann explains.

All of us who’ve worked in jobs where we’ve tried to shake-up the existing way of doing things have encountered the same issues. Resistance to change, a culture that demands instant results driven by delivery to daily deadlines, a veneration of tradition at the expense of experimentation.

That has to change and I think newsroom managers will have to bite the bullet in 2016 and create bespoke innovation units.

Journalism and journalists will survive but if the media businesses of today want to have a future they need to embrace innovation as a process rather than always trying to copy ideas from others.

And that means experimenting with everything. Cool stuff can be done with virtual reality, 360° video, and automation. And who knows what else is around the corner? Who would have predicted in the first internet boom that mobile would be key technology of the future? The key question is how can these things be turned into innovative systems that will deliver consistently for users in the future?

If publishers take a structured and strategic approach to this, (experimenting, implementing ideas, measuring success and failure, focussing on the outputs not the processes, spreading success) they can build new products and new revenue streams that at the moment seem like pipedreams.

Of course that may mean setting up things like the Second Life bureau – but learning the lessons of failure is just as important as reaping the rewards of success.

4. Twitter will face an existential crisis

I love Twitter. For me, and for many journalists, it’s a fantastic tool. Filled with ideas, ever-changing, and rumbustious.

But it’s got a problem. It’s just not growing. And with the failure to match other social networks in scale comes a problem with attracting advertising. And that’s not going to solved by adding Moments.

In 2016 I think Twitter will face an existential crisis. What is it for? What is its future? How will it grow? How will it make money for its investors? I don’t pretend to have the answers to these questions, and I suspect no-one knows the answers, but unless Twitter is able to find a new strategy it faces a future of ossification, stagnation and decline.

5. Managing the decline in TV news

2015 was a pretty good year for TV news.

Levels of trust remain high, viewership of the main bulletins has been broadly stable, the election was still fought on TV rather than online and some high profile transfers and relaunches have garnered positive headlines.

But….

There is a long term problem for TV news. It’s not breaking through to younger viewers and, as older ones die off, it faces decline.

I expect that process to gather pace in 2016. Audiences will drop, perhaps not precipitously, but steadily. As viewers drift away from linear TV towards on-demand, the point of having an appointment to view TV news bulletin becomes less and less clear. And if younger viewers don’t pick up the habit of watching at 10pm – the format is doomed.

The TV companies recognise this risk. If James Harding was employed at the BBC in order to bolster its digital coverage, the always impressive Jonathan Munro was brought in to manage the TV coverage; to ensure that quality was maintained during a period of sustained decline in audience as the BBC experiments with different formats for its journalism.

This isn’t a prediction of imminent collapse but I think 2016 will be the year that the declining trend in audience and relevance for TV news becomes more clear.

So, five trend predictions for 2016. But, as they say, the only things certain in life are death and taxes.

BBC’s Robert Peston moving to ITV?

 

A great scoop for The Radio Times – it understands the BBC’s Economics Editor, Robert Peston, has been offered the job of Political Editor of ITV News.

He’s said to be making a decision this week – to poach him would be quite a coup for Geoff Hill and Tim Singleton. Peston’s one of the BBC’s most recognisable and trusted reporters.

It’s clear from his recent interviews that Peston has been feeling increasingly restless and the opportunity to report on politics from a premier position at a broadcaster is no doubt attractive.

But, as I’ve previously argued, I think there needs to be more diversity in the roles of political editor. Clearly it’s not the only the issue, but does ITV want to be the only major UK broadcaster with a middle-aged white man fronting their political coverage?

I also can’t help feeling, given ITV’s target audience, the cerebral Peston might not be the ideal person to communicate policy to the viewer.

And perhaps that means Peston should be cautious too.

He doesn’t need career advice  from me, but perhaps he should consider how successful or not some of the big name BBC to ITV transfers have been. The path to Gray’s Inn Road may be well-trodden but so is the road back to New Broadcasting House.

Still, I’ve argued before that part of what an Editor wants to achieve from appointing a new Political Editor is to make a statement about the news service’s positioning, garner positive headlines and deliver impact. On that basis alone hiring Robert Peston would be a success; it’s a bold and audacious move.

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?

7/7: How UGC of a terror attack changed the news forever

Ten years on from the London suicide bombings of 7th of July 2005, I’m struck by how different the news landscape was then.

Today people have been posting their memories of the attacks on social media, back then it didn’t really exist. Today people have been posting images of their journeys to work, back then newsrooms weren’t set-up for UGC. Today people have access to mobile digital news wherever they want it, back then they were reliant on the radio or going into shops to watch rolling TV news channels.

My own memories of the day are still sharp.

I was Deputy Editor of the ITV News Channel at the time and, after having been out the night before celebrating the awarding of the 2012 Olympics to London, I was on a day off. Having slept in I flicked on the news, just in time to hear Emily Reuben report that a bomb had gone off on a bus in Tavistock Square. Seconds later my phone rang with a colleague calling me into work.

Public transport was down so I drove as far as I could, eventually abandoning my car at London Bridge station and jogging the rest of the way. I had to stop at a suit shop on Gray’s Inn Road and buy a new shirt.

By the time I made it into the office the newsroom was in full swing. ITV had opted into the News Channel and the longest ever open-ended coverage of a news event in ITN’s history was under way. Colleagues from the regions were being brought in from outside London, as were the satellite trucks and newsgathering equipment to support them. Craig Oliver, then head of output at ITV News, was running the live coverage that was comprehensive and smart. You can see a taste of it above in a short section of the final retrospective programme broadcast on the channel.

These days news organisations are more sensitive about the potential trauma to staff covering a big attack than they were then. They take more seriously the impact on teams in the field and in the newsroom. But that was the first time I’d ever seen a senior colleague in tears as they tried to cover a story.

This was the kind of event that 24 hour news channels were set-up to report. And it was, in my opinion, the ITV News Channel’s finest hour. It was a minnow compared to Sky News or the BBC but it punched above its weight that day. A few months later I put together the award entry for the Royal Television Society journalism awards and I was again humbled by the professionalism of the teams both in the studio and on the ground, trying to explain one of the biggest stories of their careers as it happened around them. The channel’s coverage that day was nominated in the News Event category, I’m biased but I still think it deserved to win.

So, how did 7/7 change things? The first and most obvious way is that it was the dawn of the UGC era. It was the first time that mobile footage of a news event was brought into a newsroom and used in coverage in any significant way. ITN was off the pace digitally and had neither the capacity to receive or transmit it easily. We were unprepared for the deluge of content that was being offered and those with video from early phone cameras had to bring it into the office in person so the engineers could try to extract it and upload it to the system.

It also changed how TV news organisations thought about newsgathering. ITV News was beaten to air with pictures of some of the events because it was still thinking about newsgathering for bulletins. After 7/7 newsgathering had to be geared up for instantaneous transmission of content – 10 years later we think of that as mobile journalism and the ability to go live on a story from anywhere at any time via your phone. It was 7/7 that started news organisations on that journey.

Finally, while it was the high water mark of the ITV News Channel, looking back it was the moment that the long, slow but inexorable decline in 24 news channels began. As news organisations woke up to the potential for live coverage of breaking news using digital technologies, so the news channels have begun to look increasingly anachronistic. Six months after the 7/7 attacks the ITV News Channel was closed down. One of the reasons given to staff at the time was that in the future all news would be digitally delivered by broadband. We’re living in the future now.