I’ve been thinking about a couple of things this week.
In my new role at the Daily Echo (which makes me responsible for content and driving up traffic – will post more about this later!), I’m very interested in what’s happening with the BBC plans for regional news websites.
That’s not because I’m scared of the competition. But – and this is a big deal – the BBC plan is to spend £68m. They already have superlative platforms and video delivery. They have a brand name. And with £68 they have more money to spend than I could ever dream of.
And a few things have happened recently, which added together, don’t make for a bright future.
First there’s Tim Luckhurst in the Guardian, blogging about ITV cutting back on regional news. Then there’s this statement on the BBC plans from the Newspaper Society, which says there has been no market failure to justify state-funded intervention into regional news – but written before ITV’s regional news output was slashed.
Then there’s this job advert from the BBC. They’re calling it a talent pool. But it looks to me like they’re looking for senior journalists who are prepared to be headhunted should the local websites get the nod.
And last but not least this, where culture secretary Andy Burnham says, on the BBC’s Media Show, that he is a) prepared to spend BBC money on improving regional news, potentially even funding ITV and Channel 4 if needs be, but that b) he wants the BBC to be the backbone and he won’t allocate funding that will put the BBC at a disadvantage.
I have no idea what the BBC trust will decide. But with ITV cutting back, there is obviously an argument that local news needs a boost.
The sad truth is that the BBC is so far ahead of most local newspaper’s websites that we’ll struggle to compete. I firmly believe there is a massive audience out there for an informed, well connected, aggregation-embracing, entertaining local news website.
But we need to time to build it… and if the Beeb gets in there first (and poaches all our good people) I’m not sure we’ll ever recover.
I know there’s an argument that it’s our own fault for taking so long about it. And I repeat – I’m not afraid of competition. I think it’s necessary to drive up standards, and god knows some local newspapers could do with a kick up the arse.
I love newspapers. I want them to survive. I think they can survive. But if BBC local news happens NOW it could be the death knell for many.