Mike's Media Monitor

By The Drum, Administrator

July 28, 2005 | 6 min read

There was an echo of old-style protectionism last week. In response to BBC plans to get closer to its audience, by developing even more localised services, the organisation representing regional newspapers has delivered a ‘stay off our patch’ warning.

No, seriously. That is the very headline on a Newspaper Society media release as it seeks to argue that “the crucial long-term role of the regional press in serving local communities is at risk from the BBC’s planned expansion into local and regional media.”

It continues: “In a 63-page submission to the government review of the BBC’s Royal Charter, the Newspaper Society sets out the potentially damaging impact of the BBC’s ‘ultra-local’ ambitions on an evolving UK regional press and puts forward recommendations for safeguarding long-term plurality in local news and information service provision.”

It reads like a throwback to dire predictions when radio was meant to kill off books and TV was meant to kill off newspapers and the internet was meant to kill off everything.

The truth is that, while there may be some casualties, there is never the expected wipe out. That’s not to say the BBC hasn’t got the capacity for scorching the earth upon which it may choose to trundle. But that’s not its way; nor would the government allow it. There is, after all, competition policy – you may recall when the corporation was ordered to stop advertising its magazines on air.

But, for the most part, regional newspapers do not require the support of a government commitment to competition, or even the BBC to be in charitable mood.

If they know their market as well as they should, they should be able also to rely on a degree of loyalty from their readers.

They have, of course, been here before. Whether it’s a change in commuting habits (from the bus or train into the car) or the appearance of free alternatives (such as Metro), the regional press needs only to learn to roll with the punches. It doesn’t mean they will be KO’d.

The Scottish and Universal division of Trinity Mirror (publishers of Daily Record and Sunday Mail) includes the Rutherglen Reformer, Wishaw Press and Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser. The Perthshire Advertiser is also among its titles; so too the Dumfries and Galloway Standard.

It has embarked on various cost-cutting initiatives of late, including – perhaps somewhat bizarrely – a moratorium on its reporters buying newspapers. It has also started to streamline its tier of editors, meaning some titles are having to share an editor rather than have one each.

Whatever the economic merits of the change in editorial structure, it ought to have an energising effect on some of the staff. There’s extra responsibility up for grabs and, with it, an opportunity to try out new ideas.

Long-established editors may have deep roots within their local communities, but their very longevity can act as a bar on the career aspirations of the younger members of the team.

And so long as they don’t lose sight of their core audience, newspapers brimming with new ideas ought to be as stout a defence as it gets against the arrival of a new player.

Wasn't it former Daily Record editor, Martin Clarke, who promised to take his paper “out of the housing schemes”? Two editors on at the Glasgow giant, current incumbent, Bruce Waddell, appears to be making a concerted effort to signal its local credentials. A keen eye for the Kailyard, you might say. Typical was a recent front-page story about a gran having to embark on a 500-mile round trip every week, from Orkney to Aberdeen, to undergo kidney treatment.

As it does so, it will be continuing to look over its shoulder at the performance of its rival, The Scottish Sun, whose editor, Rob Dalton, the other day congratulated his staff on the seemingly narrowing gap between the two titles. Notwithstanding the fact that The Sun retails for less than the Record, Dalton, in an e-mail, claimed: “The average Monday–Saturday gap (between The Sun and Daily Record) has narrowed to 69,156: an all-time low and more than 6,300 closer than May”.

In brackets, he added: “Furthermore, trade estimates for two Wednesdays ago put the difference between the two titles at just 36,000 – its smallest-ever single day gap by some way, with the Record apparently selling fewer than 390,000.”

Meanwhile, Monday night saw BBC TWO broadcast a documentary on how terrorists use the internet for propaganda. But The New Al-Qaeda, presented by journalist, Peter Taylor, has run into controversy for showing, on a computer screen, video footage of three Black Watch soldiers from Fife being killed in Iraq.

The truth is, of all the gross acts of terrorism used to illustrate how the internet is being used to recruit suicide bombers, this was shown at a distance. It was a wide camera shot some five or so metres away that coincided with the moment the truck the soldiers were travelling in was blown up.

Monday also saw BBC news editors given explicit new guidelines to insert a delay into the broadcasting of images that might cause upset or offence.

It partly follows the live reporting of the awful scenes from the Beslan Siege in Russia last September, when more than 330 people – many of them children – lost their lives. The difficulty is that one person’s distress is another’s news. Among those of us who watched, dumbstruck, the attack on the Twin Towers, a few had friends and relatives in the aeroplanes and in the buildings. Thank goodness, perhaps, that the recent London bombings were confined mostly underground and, for the most part, beyond the reach of cameras.

Mike Wilson is a director of media website, www.allmediascotland.com


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