Monday, 11 November 2013

Theresa May says BBC is undermining local newspapers

Speaking at the Society of Editors conference, the Home Secretary, Theresa May, has accused the BBC of undermining local newspapers.

According to the Home Secretary, the BBC's online local news sites are a juggernaut which eclipse local newspapers and create a culture where local people don't need to buy newspapers.

I don't agree with this assertion and here's why:

- Here's the site for BBC Manchester where I live. You will immediately see there are three headline stories, four links to other regions and six links to stories from local newspapers. In other words, the BBC is giving links to local newspapers while carrying little in-depth local news. It's performing an aggregation function and offering little in the way of in-depth local reporting as competition

- The people who access newspapers online are a different audience than those who purchase a newspaper. The editor of Trinity Mirror North East told me this himself recently. To help grow the two together newspaper websites are offering more news from smaller areas within a city. They need to make the advertising or paid for model work to fund this, but the challenge here is also to make businesses aware of the continued power of regional and local advertising...

- Which brings me on to my next point.  According to YouGov research into CSR and local communities commissioned by Havas PR, 67% of people trust local newspapers and two thirds of people still buy a local newspaper. This level of trust and popularity hasn't been affected by the BBC for more than a decade, so why the panic now at a time when the BBC is actually linking to those sites?

- If the Government is actually serious about supporting local newspapers it should start by discussing support for journalists in terms of training, investment in jobs and incentives for publishers who invest in journalism, not strip the products down because they aren't making their advertising models work in light of competition on the internet

- Advertisers are going elsewhere than local newspapers, correct - but they aren't going to the BBC, so yet again Theresa May is confusing the issue here by being too broad-brushed in her assessment of the situation.

I welcome the Home Secretary's comments as a chance to draw attention to local newspapers, but not as a cheap way to bash the Beeb.