Smash And Grab : Why News Is A Steal

In journalism, friendly rivalries between competing organisations are part and parcel of the job. A bit of ribbing down the pub from your local newspaper colleagues about who got which story first and how is good for the soul, and keeps us on our toes.

But that’s quite different from the rather bitter attack on where we get our stories from by Christina Odone in The Daily Telegraph. Her argument centres around the allegation that the BBC frequently claims that it “has learned” a news story when, in fact, it’s already appeared in the papers. This, concludes Ms Odone, amounts to stealing.

Hold the front page : who's really first with the news?

Which would be fine, if it were actually true. The example she gives is the story of Eric Pickles and the coalition effectively abandoning its plans to bring back weekly bin collections – and “breaking news” delivered yesterday lunchtime. It’s certainly true that there was plenty of speculation in many of the papers yesterday about what the Government was going to announce, doubtless qualified by “sources close to…” whoever gave them the heads up.

But it’s also true that throughout yesterday morning and afternoon, several statements were emerging about the fine detail of the policy – some which came directly from BBC lobby correspondents. I know, because I saw them on the BBC’s news wires.

So what’s this got to do with radio? Well, towards the end of last year the Head of BBC East, Tim Bishop, carried out some research into where the local media actually gets his stories from. You can read the full findings here.

Interestingly, when under scrutiny, the report concludes

During the pure counting exercise it appeared that out of the [approximately 400] stories covered by the BBC no more than around 30 stories might, or were likely, to have been sourced by reading the papers or checking on their websites. After detailed discussions with both radio and newspaper news teams that figure is now 11 stories including 5 hard news stories.

Which rather calls into question some of Cristina’s views in the Telegraph.

That said, there’s still a sense of journalistic pride in knowing that you got the story before the other guy. The word “exclusive” is perhaps peddled around the BBC rather less than it used to be – since the advent of social media means that it’s highly likely that someone else might well have reported the details first.

It also comes down to resources. If you have hoards of reporters in the field, doing good old fashioned grass roots journalism, of course you’re more likely to get the scoop. But whilst we can argue over the mechanics for hours, perhaps the real question should be – does the audience really give a stuff?

Fortunately it seems that Telegraph readers have enough sense about them to make up their own minds. As one comment said :

Christina stop bickering and whining, it is another U turn and the BBC has a responsibility to report it and also verify the validity. Many,many,many, many people only get their news from the BBC, thank god.

Still, that didn’t stop the Telegraph attacking the BBC yet again last weekend with this gem about the Corporation apparently “appointing” a “Chair Champion” to teach people how to sit down – taking a whole seven paragraphs to get to the truth – that no such job exists.

Perhaps they were short of an exclusive that day,

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Flikka says:

    Are you for real? Utter, utter rubbish.
    To take a few of your points:
    1) This survey you mention which ‘proves’ the BBC doesn’t take stories from local papers: it was carried out by the BBC! Classic. So where is it claiming it gets stories from, then? The BBC doesn’t have morning rounds(for anyone who hasn’t worked in papers: this is where the news editor comes round and asks what stories the reporters have got for the day – ie they’re bringing in their own stories. I have several friends who’ve gone to work for the BBC, and they’ve told me the BBC doesn’t do this). So if you’re claiming it’s not following up newspaper stories much either, then the only other sources are press releases/people contacting the BBC, or diary stuff. Frightening. At least if it’s following up newspaper stories, it’s proper news.
    2) “It also comes down to resources”, you say. What?? Are you trying to imply that newspaper newsrooms are the wealthy, overstaffed ones while the licence fee-funded BBC is struggling? The BBC doesn’t find its own news, not because it hasn’t got the resources(!), but because it doesn’t ask its reporters to find their own news. It’s not the way the BBC operates – see point 1. After all, if you can just read your local paper to find out what’s going on before going on air, why employ reporters to find news for you, eh?
    3) “Does the audience really give a stuff?” I actually think you’re right about this. Which is terrible. Terrible for readers, who pay for the BBC only to get a smattering of out of date, shallow-reported news from it; and terrible for the country, as a licence fee-funded organisation with huge resources is allowed to compete against and damage private businesses – not competing in the sense of beating them to the news and doing it better, but in the sense that people go to the BBC because of its name. The comment on the Telegraph is right – lots of people do only get their news from the BBC website, but because it’s a universal and therefore trusted brand, not because the reporting is better. But they don’t realise how much worse it is because they trust the BBC and never try other news sources. It makes me laugh when friends are on their laptops and say ‘hey, have you seen this story on the BBC website?’ – only for it to be something that was reported in the paper a week earlier(I always tell them to go to a newspaper website instead and have converted quite a few). No exclusives or in depth reporting; just diary stuff, stuff off calls, or things taken from the papers. We’d all be stuffed without a free Press.

    1. NewsMutt says:

      Wow! So much anger in your post. Which is fine. However, before banging on about how lazy the BBC is, perhaps you should take a look at the research, which clearly points out that many of the stories covered by both the BBC and local newspapers are done so outnof coincidence rather than conspiracy.

      You conclude that “we’d all be stuffed without a free press”. I couldn’t agree more. Plurality and competition within the market is an essential part of the mix. A shame, then, that the local newspaper industry blocked a project a few years ago which would have seen improvements to the BBC’s newsgathering ability by a big expansion into local online.

      Maybe, then, you support the outcome of that – Jeremy Hunt’s Local TV Project?

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