Tag Archives: bbc

When good bloggers go bad

Stephen Glover’s article at Mail Online today  almost makes an interesting point.  Almost.

He’s talking about Robert Peston and the old ‘when does the reporter become the story’ chestnut. It’s a complaint about the recent Panorama, which pledged to investigate whether Peston had too much power where the Northern Rock/banking crisis was concerned, but was  in reality a program about Peston himself.

He then goes on to complain about the increasing number of BBC correspondents who double up as pundits, telling us what we – and everyone from the government to the tax payer – should be thinking about the story they’ve just told us.

Now here, I agree wholeheartedly. I hate the way BBC bulletins don’t just tell me the facts any more. I hate the way reporters editorialise from almost the first word. I hate being told that the government thinks this or that tax payers should be angry because of this.

It’s not that I object to reporters writing or broadcasting their opinions. I think well-thought out, well-versed opinion can be a great complement to a factual story. I just want the choice about whether I read/hear that opinion. I don’t want it – ever – as part of the story itself. And if you want opinion about the stories, why must it always be from the correspondents? Why not give us an alternative voice every once in a while?

That’s why I don’t watch BBC bulletins anymore.(radio bulletins, by their very brevity, tend to be confined to the facts.)

This tweet here sort of illustrates the point. As does this blog post by Amy Gahran about not taking the reporter’s word for it when they’ve quoted something factual.

Editorialise too much, and people stop trusting you to give them the news. They assume you have an agenda, and that your stories will be influenced or driven by that.

Where I do take issue with Mr Glover though, is here:

“This [punditry]increasingly takes place on the blogs which he and a bevy of other reporters write on the BBC’s website. The point about these blogs is that they are not simply opinionated. The opinions they offer are often Leftist or bien pensant.

In recent years BBC reporters have been giving us the news on screen or on the radio, and then regularly providing their own ‘take’.

When they come to writing their own blogs, which generally are subjected to the most cursory editing, if any at all, they become freer still in disclosing what they believe.

A couple of months ago, for example, Mr Peston announced in his blog that Thatcherism was dead. He may he right, or he may be wrong, but in either event the BBC business editor should not be making contentious judgments of this sort. It is the type of opinion one expects from a newspaper columnist, which Mr Peston quite recently was, not a reporter on the BBC. In a recent blog, he handed out bossy advice to Lord Mandelson about Land Rover and Jaguar.

The old distinction between reporters and pundits has widely broken down. Nowhere is this more regrettable than at the BBC, which is enjoined by its charter to provide objective and neutral coverage.

The danger of blogs is that they encourage reporters to let down their hair. Indeed, it is impossible to write a half-readable blog without peppering it with opinions.

I think it’s perfectly reasonable for a reporter to supplement factual news reporting with a blog that contains some opinion. I think it develops conversations and I think it helps readers connect with a writer. It lets them ask questions. It lets a reporter respond to criticism.

I don’t really like Robert Peston’s blog; like his news reports it’s a bit self-important for my liking. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with him writing it – or there wouldn’t be if he kept his opinions to the blog didn’t add them to every story he produces.

My friend and former colleague David Ottewell, chief reporter at the MEN, is very good at this. When I first read his blog, a post that outlined his opinion about a major news story, I wondered if it would undermine his impartiality. But – and this is especially true where the congestion charge debate was concerned –  David is very good at making it clear that his opinion doesn’t influence his writing.

It’s possible to do both. What Stephen Glover has failed to realise is that the problem at the BBC is not with blogs but with the news reporting.

I don’t think blogging encourages reporters to be freer with their opinions. It my experience it makes them more careful about how they express them, when and why.

It makes them more accountable for their opinions and so work harder to separate those opinions from their reporting.  And it’s the separation that makes them valuable.

Like a comment or sketch piece in paper, a blog can give an added perspective on a story – but it’s a clearly labelled perspective. Everyone knows what they’re getting; it’s what they’re there for. It’s when you can’t tell the opinion from the news that there’s trouble.

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The future for regional news?

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.

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EDF awards South East – where are all the newspapers?

Last week the shortlist was announced for this years EDF Energy Media Awards for the South East. Look at the website of the Year category. We have BBC Kent, the Kent County Council enterprise Kent TV, run by a freelance media company, and Archant’s Ham and High.

What we don’t have is any showing by the big three. No Johnson Press – the News is very well represented elsewhere in the list but despite being JPs biggest selling paper, no sign of their website on the shortlist. No Northcliffe – despite the fact that AND has just been nominated in the Newspaper Society’s online awards – and no Newsquest. although the Argus has recently launched the new version of Newsquest’s template. And not forgetting Trinity, who are also conspicuous by their absence.

I’m not sure how much of this is down to papers deciding not to enter and how much is the websites not making the grade. It will be interesting to see what the judges say.

But the former indicates a disturbing lack of pride in the product and the latter suggests that none of the big boys have so far got it right. Neither option is very encouraging.

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