Reorganising BBC News
Just possibly, you might have noticed that this is a big day at the BBC – a day when our vision for the future has been laid out and its consequences in terms of job losses. (You can read an edited version of a speech I gave to the staff of BBC News earlier today.)
Essentially, a reduced licence fee settlement, together with tough efficiency targets, mean that we need to radically change the way we work to best serve our many different audiences. In the biggest overhaul of BBC News in 15 years, we are going to become truly multi-media. You can get an idea of what we have in mind from my speech to the staff of BBC News.
We may be reducing posts in News but we don’t plan to reduce quality. As you can see from our list of investments, we’re putting money into good old-fashioned journalism as well as new services via our web. We treasure our specialist talent because we know their skills, expertise and range of contacts add immeasurably to our authority and distinctiveness.
Under our plan, they all come together to deliver their work in audio, video and online. And our big programmes – Today, Newsnight, Panorama – will continue to deliver their excellent journalism on radio and television but with the best websites we can offer, allowing audiences a truly interactive experience if they want it.
Most change is difficult and at times, painful. Undoubtedly we will not find the implementation of all this to be plain sailing. But standing still is not an option because our audiences are changing and we must change with them. As the brilliant architect of our plan, deputy director of news, Adrian Van-Klaveren, wryly pointed out to me today: “This is just the end of the beginning.”
This is an edited version of the speech I gave earlier today.
Welcome – thank you for coming here or tuning into this. You’ve heard Mark Thompson and Sir Michael Lyons talk about the coming six years for the BBC and I am going to give you more detail about the plans for News. I’m sorry that this is going to be a long speech with no jokes because there’s a lot to tell you which is serious and it’s important for me to be as clear as I can.
First let’s talk about the reason BBC News exists – to serve our audiences – and let me talk a little about how audiences are changing the way they consume news and information.
• Consumption of Television News is in decline though I think we should be pleased with how audiences to our big bulletins, especially the Ten, are holding up in a very competitive world. Lots of audiences have stayed loyal but we really struggle to get the younger and C2DE audiences. We've lost 2 million under 35s from TV News since 2001.
• Radio is increasing – remarkably - but under pressure and Online is growing sharply but not enough yet to compensate for the decline in TV viewing.
This pattern of consumption really gets to the heart of our current challenge. There’s a revolution going on in the way people get their news and information driven by digital technology and the growth of on demand platforms like the web. We can see that revolution happening in our own figures: the BBC News website is reaching a weekly unique average of 6 million users in the UK. BBC mobile has reached an all time monthly high for News, Sport and Weather at 2 million users. And seventy-five percent of consumers of news on mobiles are under 44 years old – compared to 25% for the television news bulletins.
Those are real successes. But we urgently need to build on them as our competitors rev up. Newspapers such as The Telegraph and The Guardian are bringing together their print and online operations, moving into podcasting and even broadband television. Sky is putting video at the centre of its websites while Google is expanding and refining its news aggregation service. And we have a powerful new competitor in Channel 4 Radio on DAB and the web.
We can’t afford to rest on our laurels. And fortunately we start from a very good place.
Firstly and most importantly, we are the world’s most trusted provider of News. People rely on us to deliver accurate, fair, impartial and accessible news and current affairs whatever the pressures upon us. We need to hold that trust very dear and make sure we never abuse it.
Across our News and Current Affairs output, we currently reach 80% of the UK’s population every week. By 2012, we aim to have maintained that 80% reach and still be rated number one for Trust and Impartiality. That’s a pretty tall order in a highly competitive world. It means we can’t afford to stand still.
We already have a great track record in keeping ahead in technology. Those who remember the John Birt savings regime may have hated it at the time, but it put BBC News in an incredibly strong position. From those savings came News 24, the BBC News website and Radio 5Live - as well as the creation of the best newsgathering operation in the world and a special place for News and Current Affairs at the heart of the BBC.
Once again, we’re at a moment in our history where we have to make a radical shift in response to our audiences. We have to overhaul the way we do things in BBC News from linear production to non-linear. We have to deliver the journalistic quality people expect of us on the platforms they increasingly take for granted – from mobile phones to YouTube; from digital radio to podcasts; from red button TV to the iPlayer.
We’ve already invested in this new world – both for the technology and for the changing stories we need to cover. We now have a wide range of audio podcasts and have started to develop our on-demand services, like SMS text alerts. We’ve developed both the User Generated Content hub and Newswire. And we’ve invested in our journalism with the new Sports Editor, Mihir Bose, and the Manchester Investigations Unit, which has produced a string of good stories like Allan Little’s report on the conditions facing migrant workers.
But – as Mark Thompson made clear - our savings are not at an end. Over the coming five years, we have to live within a Licence Fee that’s much smaller than we’d hope for - and tough efficiency targets. And from within that smaller pot, we have to take money to invest in the digital future.
In essence, we in News are going to have to find a total of 155 million pounds of savings over five years – that’s an average across News of 3.5 per cent savings a year on Licence fee funding. In return, we’ll get back 75 million pounds between this year and 2012 for investments in our future.
At the heart of our investment plan is My News Now which is crucial to giving people the information they want, when they want it. We believe that in a broadband future, the web will become the chief platform for getting our content out to our audiences. As someone put it “everything will bounce off the web”.
We’ve had a cracking good ten years with our website but it now urgently needs to be updated and overhauled for a web 2.0 world where audiences expect a high level of personalisation and complete ease of navigation.
So through our investments, we’ll be creating major new teams which will develop both video and audio on-demand content. This includes everything from News updates and breaking news to specialist subjects which we know some audiences love – like Technology. We’re investing more in our User Generated Content which has strengthened our journalism through its fresh insights and stories. We’ll build our weather service on the web and further develop the sites of our big brand current affairs programmes like Today, Panorama and Newsnight.
On key topics and issues like health for example, we’ll pull together everything we do including audio and video, into one place on the web so that audiences can find their information easily. And we’ll create new teams to come up with ideas about what audiences will want in future on the new platforms, be it mobile phones or big screens.
As I’ve said, we struggle to reach the Young and C2DEs so
so we’re investing in the new 8 o’clock summary on BBC1, a much better Newsbeat website as well as the new BBC teens service, BBC Switch.
We’ll put more money into reflecting all parts of the United Kingdom through regional journalists working across all platforms. And we’ll strengthen our investment in countries which are increasingly important to the news agenda, notably China and Afghanistan.
And there will be investment in technology which will help us achieve better delivery of material to and from the field.
All these investments – which will pay for technology and coverage as well as people - will create over a hundred new jobs and will be crucial in maintaining the relevance and value of BBC News to all audiences.
But obviously there’s a major challenge here. How are we going respond to the audience revolution in the consumption of news and current affairs – which will only intensify – with less money? How are we going to maintain the quality people expect of us, on the platforms they want – within a much tighter financial regime?
Well the answer is easy to say, but hard to do.
In essence, like the rest of the BBC, we’re going to produce less content overall but aim for much greater impact by making it go further across all platforms.
When I became Director of News I talked about getting rid of “stupid duplication” and I think everyone has made real headway on this over the past three years.
I’m not daft – I know that sometimes you need several people working on the same story simply to make sure we get it first and we get it right. But the truth is that time and again, people in News still complain to me of too much duplication, too many levels of decision making, too many hands touching a single piece of output and not enough sharing of good material.
In the leaner world of the new Licence Fee – we simply can’t afford inefficiency and unjustifiable duplication.
So to make our news simpler and more efficient without damaging its quality, we’re going to change what we do and how we are organised.
We are going to create a multi-media newsroom; a multi-media programmes department a multi-media newsgathering and a multi-media political newsgathering operation at Millbank – all supported by News Production Facilities.
When I arrived here , I was very struck by how much News Interactive and News 24 were sometimes regarded as the outsiders of BBC News. They were just about acknowledged but certainly not loved or given the credit they deserved.
Three years on, they are both even stronger and utterly central to what we do, and we will continue to put them both into the heart of our Newsroom operation.
I am equally sure that some in Radio regret that the bulletins and the programmes are going into different parts of the new structure.
But the truth is that we can’t make the relationships that we think are critical for a new, multi media world without breaking some of those that have worked successfully in the past. However, we will put arrangements in place to make sure that we preserve the best and most important parts of the existing relationships.
So, how will this newly shaped BBC News work ?
I’ll start with the multi media newsroom which will be run by Peter Horrocks, as this involves the largest amount of change. The new Newsroom will include this output.
By bringing our core news services together in one department, our aim is to simplify and speed up decision making, doing less overall but focussing on quality and distinctiveness against the competition on all platforms. Of course, we won’t forget that different audiences need different things. It’s not going to become one homogenous, bland BBC News. The 1800 Bulletin on Radio 4 is not suddenly going to have the same agenda as the Six on BBC 1. The Ten will still have a distinctly different feel from the Six. But there undoubtedly will be much more sharing of material between Breakfast, News 24 and the One and between the Six and the Ten where it’s appropriate.
We really want to reduce the demand on Newsgathering to get the best value from the limited resources we have. And we want to help staff in the new Newsroom develop a range of multi media skills over time.
Decision making should be faster and sharper through the creation of a Multimedia Day Editor, who will oversee the department’s journalism and ensure we get the maximum impact across all platforms. This person is really important and will resolve conflicts within the Newsroom as well as helping us manage the demand on Newsgathering. It’s not a new post but an additional responsibility taken in turn by senior Newsroom editors from TV, radio and Online.
We’ll streamline output by creating a single television team looking after News 24 and BBC1 bulletins based on the first floor. Staff will work across all output but there will be dedicated effort for the Six and the Ten. News 24 will broadcast from N6, while the Six will move to TC7.
All these changes will mean a simpler and more coherent commissioning process with material shared more effectively across TV News. The simplification also allows relatively higher savings at senior editorial levels, retaining as many producers as possible.
A new Media On-Demand area will focus on the commissioning, production and publication of audio and video content for On-Demand platforms. As I’ve already said, this is a key area for new investment though it will mean the phased closure of the existing AV unit as its functions become part of the new operation.
We’ll simplify how we do things by having decision makers in the same place on the first floor, this will mean a simpler and more coherent commissioning process with material shared more effectively across TV News
The Newsroom has taken the biggest share of our efficiencies at five per cent a year over five years. I know some of you think that is incredibly unfair. The phrase Year Zero has been used by some in Television News. Equally, others think this is all simply a take over by Television News of Radio and Online.
On the money front, I think it’s easier to make significant savings if you’re a new department embracing new ways of working and bringing together teams which overlap.
It’s also worth remembering that the Newsroom is getting the highest level of reinvestment through My News Now. So it’s not a simple story of the newsroom losing out but of the shift from linear to non-linear output which we believe is vital and urgent.
I can also see why Online and Radio fear a Television takeover given the power of TV in the dynamics of any newsroom. But our new Newsroom will have failed if it short changes our radio bulletins or website. There’ll be no brownie points for those who focus solely on the big Television Bulletins for example. Indeed, the creation of the Multi Media Editor is precisely about making sure everyone in the top team has an investment in making this work for all platforms.
The other new pillar in BBC News will be the Multi Media Programmes department which will be headed by Steve Mitchell. Here are some of the big brands which will be going into the new department.
This new department will bring together our major daily and weekly current affairs brands outside Political Programmes, our investigative journalism and our big interview programmes – as well as those services for audiences we find hard to reach like Newsbeat and the Asian Network. It will be the powerhouse for the kind of original journalism which distinguishes the BBC from all its competitors – be it a brilliant interview on Today or Hard Talk, a joint Panorama and 5Live investigation; a collaboration between Newsnight and File on 4 or a great grass roots story from the Asian Network which crosses to Radio One and the World Service. What’s more, the Programmes Department will have the benefit of the best and most sophisticated websites for its key programme brands – the so called Gold Sites.
The Programmes Department will of course get a good service from Newsgathering – the idea that programmes like News Night or Today being stranded without the right Newsgathering talent on a big story is plainly ridiculous and will not happen. But it won’t all be one way traffic. The Programmes department will be expected to ensure its original journalism and interviews are widely shared across BBC News.
I believe that the creation of this new multi media department is a huge opportunity to capitalise on our original journalism and our people. By joining up in this way, we can make much more of the exceptional current affairs expertise we have to find and break genuinely new stories and to add analysis and insight to the main agenda. No other broadcaster in the world has our rich portfolio of programmes. And frankly, up till now I don’t think we’ve made the most of their collective power. The Programmes Department should change all that.
The savings target for the Programmes Department is just over three per cent a year over five years – overall less than for the Newsroom because they have less intrinsic duplication. As with the Newsroom, there are different targets for areas commissioned by Audio and Music, the Global Division and Vision.
For Television Current Affairs, this is a big change. Like Radio Current Affairs, they’ve long cherished their independence as a free standing department. But the economics of the new Licence Fee as outlined by Mark and Jana Bennett this morning, make that an unrealistic ambition.
All the channels will still fulfil their Statements of Programme Promises but there are likely to be fewer opportunities for Current Affairs, as a department, beyond its core output. However, the total picture of Current Affairs from all its suppliers remains strong - with of 48 Panoramas a year plus 8 hour long current affairs specials, 12 and a half hours of the One Show, 13 and a half hours of This World and some strong Landmark series on BBC 2 and seasons on BBC 3.
In this situation, I don’t think TV Current Affairs can sustain itself as a small stand alone department. But its journalism is too important for it simply to become merged into Vision Studios, although its funding will continue to come through Vision. That’s why I have made it a key part of the new Programmes Department.
In this way, I’m confident that TV Current Affairs will get all the editorial backing it needs to continue do tough and challenging journalism which upholds BBC News values.
However, it can’t afford to lose touch with the production processes of long form Television. So the department will physically sit alongside Factual where staff will have the chance to work on a range of Factual projects as well as Current Affairs.
I hope that these changes will mean that TV Current Affairs will benefit from an even closer connection to BBC News and our journalistic ethos without losing its vital creative connection with Vision.
For 5Live there’s a different challenge. There are two things going on: the move to Salford and the need to save money. By 2011, Radio 5Live will be based in Salford. We plan to have a vibrant and cohesive Radio Station with a clear remit to report the whole of the UK. At that point, it would be taking parts of the a core audio service produced by the Multimedia newsroom in London and adding a marginal amount of bespoke versioning by using material from within its own programmes. That’s along the lines of the model already followed by Radio One in Yalding House and the Asian Network in Leicester.
But because 5Live must bear the brunt of the savings on News from by Audio and Music, we have decided it makes more sense to start that new arrangement right now. That means responsibility for collating 5Live’s bulletins and summaries from a core audio bulletin will move from the Newsroom into the programmes that contain them. We’ll also integrate into 5Live all the out-of-London radio reporter effort currently managed across Radio News.
There’s also some change ahead at Bush House.
Formally, the newsroom and World Briefing will now be part of the new Newsroom while Current Affairs, The World Today and News Hour will be part of the Programmes department.
Operationally, World Service News and Current Affairs will work as a team so there will still be movement of people between different areas. These arrangements will allow us to maintain and enhance the quality of our output for World Service as well as offering more possibilities for collaboration between radio and online activity. It will put us in a great position for how we will want to work when both News and World Service move to W1 in 2012.The World Service savings target for output over the next three years will be 7 per cent in total and in Newsgathering five per cent in total over the next three years.
So, we have the new multi media Newsroom and the new multi media Programmes department and of course we have Newsgathering which, along with Millbank Newsgathering, has an efficiency target of 3% a year.
The difference in targets is deliberate. Although not immune from the efficiencies, it is essential that Newsgathering remains equipped to service both the new Newsroom and the new Programmes Department. We can’t afford to jeopardise our story-gathering capacity or specialist content.
Specialism is at the heart of what makes BBC News distinctive and authoritative. But we need to make much more of it across all platforms. By bringing together the specialist journalists currently working for News Interactive with those working for Newsgathering, we can create specialist units which are genuinely multimedia.
These will concentrate on these subject areas – though the titles here aren’t definitive.
The Newsgathering Sports News team will transfer into BBC Sport with whom they already work closely on a daily basis. We hope that will improve the impact of our sports journalism.
In the future, clear decisions about priorities will be even more important than they are now.
Our aim is for the new Newsroom to talk to Newsgathering with a much more coherent voice than currently. And the Programmes Department will have a figure whose job is to be a single point of contact with Newsgathering for the varied range of output in that department.
However, it will still be important for Newsgathering to use its usual good sense and judgement about how to prioritise between the Newsroom and the Programmes department should conflicts ever arise.
Finally there are two other departments:
Millbank – the home of our Political Newsgathering and Political programmes like Question Time, remains extremely important for the BBC. In future, it will fully integrate its website operations into the rest of its activities.
And News Production Facilities, which will continue its responsibilities for technology, support and operations across News.
So there you have the new shape of BBC News – and the senior team.
Our range will be narrower at the margins – though still far richer than any of our competitors – but its quality should be as high as anything we do now. And through multi platform working, all our audiences should have more chance to enjoy the best of our work.
The reality is that we have to get used to a tougher financial environment. Because of the smaller Licence Fee, every part of the BBC will have less money in six year’s time than it has now. But Journalism will in fact be getting a higher proportion of the BBC’s total spend on content in six year’s time than it is now.
It’s true that within the Journalism family, we’ve made strategic decisions about where to invest most money. And Nations and Regions and their ambitious plans for a comprehensive broad band service across sixty different sites – My Local Now - have been given more investment money than News or Sport. I was part of that strategic decision and I think it’s the right call. My Local Now is as fundamental to the long term success of the BBC and its journalism as my News Now. It’s an entirely fresh way of delivering local news and information and it forms a great complement to My News Now and My Sport Now.
My Local Now will give a great news and information service to an audience which we in News find very hard to reach – the C2DEs. They form over forty percent of the population and right now, they don’t think the BBC gives them enough value in our journalism especially in our local coverage. My Local Now aims to change that.
And it’s also worth remembering that over the next six years, the British public – through the Licence Fee – will pay six billion pounds for BBC journalism. That’s six billion pounds guaranteed to News, Sport and Nations and Regions.
Now it’s true that there are a lot of calls on that six billion pounds. But I imagine that there are several poor countries and most of our competitors who would give their eye teeth for guaranteed income on that massive scale.
As we enter what will undoubtedly be a period of turbulence for BBC News and the whole of the organisation, it’s worth remembering how we look from the outside. How we look to the people who pay our wages and that six billion pounds of guaranteed income for all of BBC Journalism. And it may be worth reminding ourselves – possibly with a touch of humility – that the Licence Fee is a privilege, not a right. And we should never take that privilege for granted.
Everyone in the BBC - including all of us in BBC News - is going to have to get used to the fact that we’re becoming a smaller organisation. That means we’ll be doing less original output and that will feel very odd. Nothing in our DNA is about doing less.
But as we get used to that, we’ll discover that what we do deliver for our audiences can be just as good as now – possibly even better - and that BBC News can still make a real difference to their understanding of the world.
And that is the point of all of this. We must never lose sight of how our audiences are changing.
There’s a phrase I sometimes use: “You can’t sack the audience. But they can sack you. “
Whether we like it or not, cheap digital technology means audiences of all ages have more choice than ever before and with that choice, comes the freedom to find their news from any source in the world.
If the BBC is to remain the world’s best and most trusted source of news for people who can get their information from anywhere, then this is the moment when we start on our difficult journey of change into a truly multi media world - while never losing sight of our values or our journalistic purpose.
I honestly believe that BBC News has everything to gain from the changes I’ve outlined. Yes – it would have been easier to be doing them in a more benign financial climate; yes, there are likely to be set backs and difficulties as the changes work through. Nothing in history has ever worked 100% first time and we must be open, honest and flexible when things go wrong.
And certainly for those whose jobs are at risk, I am acutely aware that this is a painful and anxious time. Nothing I say about the future of the BBC is of any comfort if your job is closing. And since most of us find most change difficult, the coming months of uncertainty are likely to be tough for everyone.
But we have to deal with the world as it is not how we might like it to be.
Looking ahead, the potential prize for BBC News is huge and incredibly important.
In our online, radio and TV news services, we’re already the market leaders in UK journalism. By coming together in the way I’ve outlined – in an equal partnership – I have no doubt that we can create the best multi platform news service in the world, founded in our reputation for trust and our values of accuracy, impartiality and fairness. Our audiences deserve no less.
Our competitors and our enemies would love to see us flinch and slowly fade away like an empire whose time is over.
We mustn’t let that happen.
We owe it to our audiences to embrace the changes in technology - as they are doing - and take this new world in our stride.