College of Journalism faces funding shortfall

Cojo website

It was ten years ago in May that ex-Today journalist Andrew Gilligan made some serious allegations about the government's knowledge of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

His source was weapons expert David Kelly.

What followed was a deep and profound BBC crisis, a 328-page report and the resignation of the director general.

Start Quote

There are chill winds blowing through training, just as there are through other parts of the BBC”

End Quote Jonathan Baker Head of Cojo

It does have a familiar ring to it. But unlike more recent crises, the events of a decade ago prompted the establishment of the College of Journalism in 2005, a far-reaching virtual training tool for BBC journalists.

Originally envisioned to be a residential college with a faculty, the plan was scaled down substantially. Today, the College is responsible for training the BBC's 8000 journalists in traditional craft skills and legal basics, but it also runs a compulsory one-week course for new joiners to News.

The Journalism Foundation Course has now trained 900 people on what it means to be a journalist at the BBC and the responsibility this carries.

The College's expertise has also been used to train the wider industry and it has a comprehensive website that was relaunched last year.

But despite its high profile and an expanding portfolio, Cojo - as it's familiarly known - is experiencing some rocky times.

'There are chill winds blowing through training, just as there are through other parts of the BBC,' says Cojo head Jonathan Baker.

Cuts of 35%

These chill winds refer to 'a funding crisis' because of recent cuts. Now under the BBC Academy umbrella, the College of Journalism has made cuts of 35% in the last two and a half years. Thirteen posts have been made redundant, which means it now functions with about 40 staff on a mixture of full-time and part-time contracts.

Jonathan Baker Jonathan Baker says the College is trying to do more with less

The journalism training budget, which is now centralised as a result of the foundation of the College, peaked at £7m in 2009/10 and dropped to £5.5m in 2012/13. It will drop again in the next financial year.

In 2005, however, the BBC said it was going to double its investment in journalism training. Mark Byford, who was then deputy director general and chair of the BBC's Journalism Board, announced in a press release that investment in journalism training would double from £5m to £10m per annum by 2008.

It's fairly clear that the numbers have been contracting. In what is now a familiar refrain at the BBC, Baker says, 'We are trying to answer an increasing demand with less.'

Increasing demands include big projects such as BBC North and the migration to W1; a 'gigantic' interest for new social media training and standard courses such as basic and advanced Twitter; and responding to changing technology.

Start Quote

Training was a bit like getting jabs for a trip abroad, it was a bit like that in the old days”

End Quote Jonathan Baker

Newsgathering, he explains, is equipping its journalists with MacBook Pros, while smartphones are now the norm in the field. All of this requires a trained and up-to-speed workforce.

'The key thing about the training we offer is that it has to be relevant and it has to be related to what people are doing in the workplace,' explains Baker. 'We need to try to stay ahead of the curve and it has to be really professionally delivered, because journalists are just about the most demanding audience that you can expect to deal with.'

A culture divided

Baker should know about journalists, having been one himself. Some of his recent incarnations include being a deputy head of newsgathering and an editor for the Ten and Six.

He took up his current post in 2010 after the original head of the College of Journalism, Vin Ray, stepped down.

Currently, Baker is taking a break from his job leading the College and is on attachment to News. He's also been working on Newsnight temporarily, which has suffered setbacks and lost an editor because of recent events.

'People on Newsnight are absolutely 100% committed to Newsnight and don't really care about anybody else,' he judges. 'In a way, Newsnight is more allowed to be that way than, say, a mainstream news bulletin, but they still need to collaborate and share information.'

This territorial attitude was referred to in the recent Pollard report, which found that the culture in News led to internal divisions. In his concluding paragraph, Nick Pollard said: 'I have been struck by what I view as a "silo mentality" at the BBC - the notion that everyone knows what his or her job is, but there is reluctance to step into someone else's territory and, indeed, someone who does would be criticised.'

At a glance: Cojo

  • Established in 2005 after Hutton Report and recommendations from Ron Neil, a former BBC director of news and current affairs
  • Remit: to train the BBC's 8000 journalists - 3000 of which are in the English regions - to do their jobs better
  • Current budget: £5.5m
  • Number of staff: about 40
  • Courses include: Legal Online (which is being relaunched shortly); a week-long Journalism Foundation course for new joiners to News; and an Editorial Leadership course
  • 900 people have been through the Foundation course; 350 through Editorial Leadership
  • Rolled out Safeguarding Trust for the BBC
  • Is facing a serious shortfall in training rooms with the closure of White City and a funding crisis, implementing cuts of 35%
  • Charges for access to the Cojo website outside BBC and for external training

Can the College of Journalism fix something as hard to pin down as culture at the BBC?

'We do have a role to play as enablers, encouragers and facilitators, but it's not about setting up a course; this is something that has to get into the bloodstream over a period,' he argues. 'It's a mind-set issue and it's about people moving around.'

Positive changes

He believes there is more collaboration as the BBC moves into a multimedia environment, with more opportunities for sharing journalism.

A recent piece filed by security correspondent Frank Gardner from Los Angeles went out on Newsnight, but was picked up by the Ten O'Clock News and BBC radio in shorter form. He also says that recently the flagship current affairs programme put out a message alerting other parts of News to a high-profile interview.

'Three or four years ago you would never have done that. The first that BBC News would find out about a Newsnight scoop would be when they saw it on Newsnight.'

Baker is a straight-talking man. He doesn't think a course could have got the BBC out of its recent editorial troubles. 'Training isn't always the answer,' he admits. He adds that most journalists 'don't warm to the idea' of more courses. None of Pollard's recommendations, unlike with the Hutton Report, referred to the need for more training.

But Baker would like to see an investigative journalism training course that touches on basics that could be covered in perhaps a two-hour module.

He also says that lessons learned from incidents such as the one in Woolwich will become part of the compulsory, week-long Journalism Foundation Course. 'We use real situations all the time. Although the basic structure of the course is the same, we are continually changing content and refreshing it.'

'Underused resource'

The Cojo website, which has been given more pizzazz, is also a massive resource, although Baker believes 'it's an underused resource for BBC journalists'. Outside the BBC, the website is used by other newsrooms and academic institutions, but they pay a subscription for access.

Asked to name the College's success, Baker touches on centralising the BBC's training of journalists and the budget, and being more strategically placed at the top table (Baker sits on the News board). He also hopes, in an optimistic frame of mind, that BBC journalists are now better equipped to do their jobs.

He believes the Academy, which is part of BBC People and not the News division, has put training in the forefront of people's minds.

'Training was a bit like getting jabs for a trip abroad, it was a bit like that in the old days; it was a bit of an adjunct and now it's much more part of the DNA of the operation, I would say.'

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