BBC v Local Papers – Oh no, not again…

Sometimes it’s difficult to underestimate the sheer nerve of people – where I come from in Yorkshire it’s known as having a brass neck.

The award for sheer brass neck must go to the local newspaper publishers who’ve reacted strongly to a recent suggestion by the BBC’s Director of News, James Harding, that the BBC should fill the information vacuum in the regions caused by the retreat of commercially-owned newspapers, in a report called The Future of News.

Roy Greenslade has done an excellent analysis of some of the evidence over at his blog at the Guardian, while I was at the BBC during the last stand-off between the corporation and the local newspapers, which ended in the BBC having to back away from its ultra local news services, which were piloted through its local radio station websites.

At the time the local newspapers won their case because they said they would provide local video services – something they never did; they refused to invest in local journalism overall and Greenslade highlights the evidence that proves their last promise was nothing more than snake oil.

So now Greenslade reports that the News Media Association, the trade body which represents local publishers has claimed that their commercial interests would be damaged by the BBC coming in and providing more local journalism – again, Greenslade has quotes aplenty to demonstrate their largesse.

The problem is that, sitting in their advertiser-funded ivory towers, they still believe they are providing solid, public-service journalism to their readers, when in fact most local newspapers are providing scant local news, often having a handful of staff whose main job is to re-hash press releases and tweets from the police.

One of the underlying main arguments for the licence fee (and by extension, the BBC) is that it ensures public service broadcasting, and public service journalism for all; even its opponents argue it should be used to make up for market failure.

Local journalism is one of the biggest market failures in the history of the media, and the local newspaper proprietors should hang their head in shame at the way they have decimated once-proud local newsrooms and thumbed their noses at their audiences as they chase profits.

Facebook is not going to cover the councils, Twitter is not on the press benches of our courts, so if people want solid local journalism it’s time for the local papers to admit they’ve failed and get the hell out of the way.

The News Media Association and the majority of local newspaper owners should hang their heads in shame at the way they have patronised and pilfered their readers over the last ten years, especially after making promises they knew they had no intention of keeping over local news.

If the BBC is suggesting there should be public money paying for public journalism, the local papers should shape up or ship out.

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