James Harding came to the BBC from The Times. So he isn’t as steeped in BBC-ism as other senior managers there and this gives him a helpful perspective. I’ve seen him speak up at Salford and is, I think sincere in his efforts to change the way the BBC does things better to prepare it for the future. James Harding has a nice report out (pdf – don’t under any circumstances try the awful bespoke snazzy website which manages to screw up even scrolling) on the future of news. The report is I think setting out the challenges in the context of Charter Review – a debate that will kick off in earnest after the election.
After outlining the changes in technology James Harding asks (page 20):
‘For the BBC perhaps the most important question is what will our response be? The first big one here has to be local….The changes in the news industry mean that there are gaps in the coverage of our country and they are growing. At the same time, power is devolving.’
But community self provision of news online only gets a passing mention (pages 20 and 46). And in general the report is still fixated on professional journalists being central – even though the BBC and the newspaper can’t afford to pay for them. It doesn’t go far enough on the need for new partnerships on the ground with formal and informal news providers to find new models.
This bit for instance:
‘The changes in the news industry mean that there are gaps in the coverage of our country and they are growing. At the same time, power is devolving. The BBC is going to have to make the most of digital services, alongside radio and television, to ensure people have the information they need where they live and work.’
Is part of the tautology at the heart of the document – there are vast gaping holes in the BBC’s local news coverage, James Harding singles out the closure of the BBC’s Bradford operations, as we are on the brink of unprecedented devolution but the BBC cannot, EVER have the money to plug these gaps. New partnerships are needed where the BBC has a role to deliver news ‘by any means necessary’ – including not being the up front brand presenting to the citizen. The partnership meetings David Holdsworth ‘Controller Regions’ is convening around the country are a good start, but only a very small one. Much more needs to be done.
On a quick read of the document I couldn’t see reference to my suggestion that the BBC should give away for free under a creative commons licence it’s local and regional news output – material that has no realisable commercial value, but has been paid for by the tazpayer. I was amused when the Secretary of State picked this up in a speech, maybe it will return in Charter Review.
As an aside, I think the report underplays horribly the role of the algorithm in selecting what news peoepl actually see – the report should in fact have been entitled ‘Oh sh*t the algorithmns are coming, what are these transmitters for now?’. See Emily Bell’s lecture on this
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