Don’t get me wrong, I am a great fan of the BBC and the part it plays at the heart of British life and journalism; I only have to watch five minutes of an American network news bulletin to see what it has done to maintain standards of journalistic integrity in the UK.
Over the last few years though it has had its wings clipped by various governments, been bullied and coerced and now it is slowly but surely being driven into the ground by mendacious polticians and useless senior managers.
The latest piece of spectacular stupidity from the “men in grey suits” who run the Corporation is to cut 15% from the budget of the best news programme on TV, Newsnight, and sack the programme’s environment and science reporters.
In the meantime the spineless idiots who run BBC News have decided to create a new job for an overall Arts Editor whose job will be to oversee and enhance the BBC’s coverage of…. well, they say “the Arts”, but we all know that that is a euphemism for “popular culture” where the coverage tends to veer towards world-shuddering journalism asking things like “which soap star is in rehab this week”, “which vacuous teenage pop star is pregnant again” and “which member of the Big Brother house put what up their nose today”.
One of the biggest stories of this century will be the climate and the way it is changing; explaining that to the lay audience is a massive challenge and one that has to be done by specialist journalists who can translate the scientific jargon into easy and accessible reporting.
We’ve already had the cringe-inducing spectacle of the coverage of the death of Jade Goody, but this is only the beginning, a mere taster of the hype-obsessed headlines that will pass for news in the future.
Welcome then to BBC News for the next decade – a vanilla mix of pointless stories about soap stars, pop princesses and reality TV wannabes – all there to numb the senses of the audience while the world around us goes to hell in a handcart, torn apart by the small-minded dictators who prefer to wield power than use it to improve lives, and who love it when journalists are more interested in bimbos and gossip rather than hard questions about the economy or the environment.
And where have I seen this already? Oh yes, American TV News. It seems that the BBC’s management has not only lost the plot, it doesn’t even know where to look for one.
There’s growing speculation that The Independent newspaper will become the latest, and biggest, casualty of the credit crunch/digital revolution which has finally cut the rug out from under most newspapers.
The demise of the newspaper is a sad, but inevitable, result of the growth in digital media which began 10-15 years ago, and which has already claimed many smaller titles around the world, including the Seattle Post-Intelligencer which switched to online only earlier this year.
But while the obit writers are wringing their hands about The Indy already, there were a couple points which jumped out at me, and which I am very curious about:
1. Why does a sell-off automatically mean The Independent and The Independent on Sunday have to close completely? What’s the state of their new media and what kind of balance sheet does that have? Even respected commentators like Roy Greenslade and Dan Sabbagh aren’t addressing the Seattle PI.com option. Why?
2. Why is everyone so worried about these newspapers in the first place? According to all reports The Independent titles are losing £10m a year, but their parent company, Independent News & Media made a loss in 2008 of £142.6m. So what was responsible for the other £132.6m in losses, and isn’t that a bigger priority than the newspapers? It might seem like a corporately naive question, but since no-one’s answering it, maybe someone should at least ask it.
3. What happens when the newspapers move to their new home, sharing a building with the Daily Mail in Kensington, a move which could reduce its losses by up to 75%?
4. Isn’t anyone giving The Independent some credit for having reduced costs substantially in the last couple of years with several rounds of swingeing cut-backs and redundancies?
5. How much has the feud between the owners and “dissient shareholder” Denis O’Brien added to the company’s woes? Someone should be asking some serious questions about his corporate responsibility and holding him to account.
The bottom line though is that there is a much bigger picture here – people simply aren’t buying physical newspapers anymore, and having established the formula of giving content away for free on the web (supported, just, by advertising), newspapers have pretty well backed themselves into a corner.
Local newspapers in the UK have also been feeling the heat, though they didn’t help matters by shooting themselves in the foot over the issue of video news.
(Regional newspapers objected to an ultra-local video news service being pilotted by the BBC, and forced the BBC Trust to stop it, on the grounds that it would undercut their businesses; what the idiotic lemmings didn’t grasp was that they couldn’t actually afford to make video themselves anyway, and that their only realistic way to achieve it was to have someone like the BBC invest £68m in an ultra-local video news service which they could then syndicate … D’OH!!!!)
Until someone makes robust and affordable electronic paper and a ubiquitous Wi-Fi delivery system for content (as seen in Minority Report), it seems the decline of the physical newspaper is inevitable, and the demise of The Independent will simply be a sad milestone on that long and painful road.
[EDIT/Update: Looks like the BBC may be trying again, and making it painfully clear to local newspapers where they went wrong, while other agencies like the Press Association are also spotting the potential]