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Central question

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 14:37 UK time, Monday, 19 November 2007

I should have known that in asking BBC News users about their views on editorial diversity (see my last blog), I would inevitably get a highly diverse range of views in response. Many commenters raised general editorial concerns, which I will deal with later. On the main question I posed – whether BBC News should move in the direction of greater diversity or greater coherence - there was a split with a small majority in favour of greater editorial range.

Many of you who supported stronger editorial coherence expressed surprise that the BBC had previously been organised in separate platform-based teams (ie different newsrooms for TV, radio and the internet). These users were concerned that the BBC deploys too many reporters to stories and they want us to be more efficient - but they also saw the advantage in having a similar agenda on our different services. And that seems largely about having a less tabloid agenda, especially on TV.

The other camp was keen to ensure that BBC News on the web does not reduce its range, in the words of one contributor that “however efficient a centralised news gathering service is, it’s the very diversity of styles and editorial decisions that gives richness to what the BBC does”. And some respondents replied, not unreasonably, that they would like both depth and range.

However, providing quality in both dimensions is a costly exercise. Under the BBC’s new financial settlement the Newsroom department that is responsible for the core news TV, radio and web services is due to make efficiencies of 5% a year for the next five years. So we need to find ways of being more cost effective while meeting the demands of users.

And you, our users, are very demanding. We wouldn’t have it any other way. But in the responses of a group of news enthusiasts, such as the respondents to the Editors’ blog are likely to be, there is a strong desire to have all BBC News on these users’ terms. We certainly will ensure that the largest part of BBC News meets your requirements for depth, complexity and sophistication. However the BBC benefits from a compulsory levy and, in return, should provide news that touches a large proportion of the population. Our aim is to ensure that 80% of the population watches, listens to or reads something from BBC News at least once a week.

Our most popular services are on mass audience channels such as Radio 1, Radio 2 and BBC One. Our aim for the news on those services is high quality, but accessible to a wide audience. Some news aficionados may occasionally find some of the news items on those popular services insufficiently in depth. I would ask such users to consider the good public reasons why the BBC seeks to keep its news accessible.

By reorganising, we can be more explicit in using these popular services as shop windows to the richness of BBC analysis and context, especially that which is available on the web and in longer TV and radio programmes. We will make it easier for our audiences to find their way between our different services, so that they can all get the news and information they need. And in doing so, we hope we will provide a common reference point of high quality information - for our audiences both in the UK and around the world.


Shorter Peter Horrocks: "We're dumbing down even further, and there's nothing you can do about it."

  • 2.
  • At 04:13 PM on 19 Nov 2007,
  • Adam wrote:

So to put it another way: "It's official: the news on BBC 1 has been dumbed down and will continue to be dumbed down."

That's a shame. I can see why you feel the need to dumb down (sorry, of course I meant "make accessible to a wide audience") some news programmes, but why the news on BBC 1? It used to be a flagship serious news programme. Did anyone really have a problem with that? If it's too intellectual for some of your viewers, they can always watch the 60 second news bulletins you have on BBC 3 or tune into Radio 1.

  • 3.
  • At 04:21 PM on 19 Nov 2007,
  • Kris Jones wrote:

An interesting post, though I've only just found your last post. Would it be possible when writing science stories to reference the papers that the article is drawn from? For those of us who want the original paper for more detail it can be quite arduous finding the paper.

  • 4.
  • At 04:44 PM on 19 Nov 2007,
  • Ben wrote:

Radio 1 listeners do not want news. The few that are interested know where else to find it. Why not scrap news on Radio 1 completely?

Oh wait I know why. The only reason Newsbeat exists is to provide a public sector broadcasting figleaf for a station that otherwise serves no different function from the myriad of commercial stations out there.

I want my money back.

  • 5.
  • At 03:58 PM on 20 Nov 2007,
  • Kate wrote:

This is a disaster. Does anyone there know or care that to get the best out of people you expect things of them: that they will rise to the expectations you have of them? Obviously you don't want people to think of the BBC as hard work but that's where you market learning as something to seek - and being fortunate enough to have such a diverse monopoly that should be easy enough to do. I have noticed that you have a plethora of requirements of presenters, just require them to promote and respect learning in various ways, especially from role models. I had the repulsive experience the other day at 6.05am of being exhorted by a rapper to 'just lay back and enjoy a spliff' when I tuned into 1extra. It's revolting enough to think that's the level you've lowered yourselves to and would promote to the young, but it defies belief that you'd lower yourself and consequently all the rest of us, across the board. I hope you have people who can tell you how to engage people without patronising them and ruining the country and if not you are spending our money the wrong way. You represent authority (though perhaps our faith in you is misguided) and you set a tone which others will emulate or look up to, especially if the direction you take is commendable (which believe it or not people can identify) and you may be alone for a bit but I'm certain there will be sea change (and many communities value education above all) as there already is with regard to faith for instance. We are becoming more aspirational and class boundaries are blurring - people know education is allied to success. You were, I thought, going for a drive to promote lifelong learning. The people we surround ourselves with and their values and standards rub off on us. You are in this way showing us that elitism underpins things there, those of us deemed able enough to manage this will be directed there quietly so the thickos don't realise there is another world they could belong to if only they weren't so thick or touchy. Why don't you try helping your fellow man, showing him how he can help himself rather than pretending rubbish is all there is? You are cowards and money-grabbers in my view, taking the easy way out. Perhaps it says more about how limited you are in being able to pull anything more impressive off, and/or your recruitment process. You do not have to abandon humour or entertainment to do what I am suggesting, far from it (though you clearly realise as much as everyone else - you aren't alone) that it should be classier. People change and grow, why don't you offer them frienship: quality? People can identify this. For God's sake don't become Americanised like Fox. Why don't you want to be proud of yourselves, don't you see this will demotivate everyone? Please do the right and not the commercial thing. People respond to familiarity and security and don't respect those who scheme so blatantly, and pretend not to. You may gain aimless viewers but you won't have anyones respect. You can grade language without saying basic things. That was Wittgenstein's thing, and Yungs'. They both began believing everyone else was too thick to understand philosophy or psychology and there wasn't any point making complicated points in accessibly, but they both came round to the other way of thinking as their thinking became more mature, and they both wrote highly accessible texts at that point. We aren't so great and grand. If society deteriorates and standards decline further still, you will be at the front of the queue of responsible parties. For the love of God, I beg of you, don't do this to us.

  • 6.
  • At 12:09 PM on 21 Nov 2007,
  • JillP wrote:

A very strange blog this. Indepth news on appropriate channels is the one thing that may distinguish the BBC News from soundbite news available on (almost) every channel. Dumbed down news has many, many competitor-providers and the best blog sites can be better than standard news channel output. Perhaps if Peter H does not want to defend indepth news, he should move to a post where he is happier?

  • 7.
  • At 03:53 PM on 21 Nov 2007,
  • gregor aitken wrote:

You guys feel free to dumb down as much as you want, you stopped being a news organisation years ago. What you deal with is entertainement and stories.

News consumers can bypass the bbc and just check the same news you guys do on AP and Reuters.

Just put Richard Bacon as the new chair of question time and be done with it, (maybe davina could stand in when he is on his holidays)

  • 8.
  • At 07:15 PM on 21 Nov 2007,
  • Kate wrote:

Thanks for posting my enormously long message.

Thank you for Radio 4 and the World Service and Question Time and Newsnight (except for the reviewers who don't read the books or watch the films but feel able to critique and destroy them) and the Daily Politics (except for Andrew Neil's chauvinism) and This Week (except for Michael Portillo's appearance on the Moral Maze last week or the week before when the age of criminal responsibility was being discussed when his snobbishness was almost too much for me to bear) and News 24 and the dignified and exceptional reporting across so much of the BBC. And I'm really looking forward to getting BBC4 and BBC Parliament.

I can spell Jung.

  • 9.
  • At 09:25 AM on 22 Nov 2007,
  • Martin wrote:

I'm glad we have this environment to bounce around thoughts about this subject area. It is unfortunate that it seems to point in a negative direction - perhaps there'll be something positive for people to rant on about soon!

Is there a reason we can't use our regular BBC forum log-ins to post feedback here, btw?

This is, of course, an uphill battle. These are cuts none of the BBC wanted, and there is a difference of opinion amongst the public about it too. As a BBC employee you're trying to sell bad news in the best way possible, and it is a thankless task.

I realise the BBC needs marketable talent on its schedules, and I'm not a Jonathan Ross basher per se, but when difficult decisions are on the cards and it is a balance between the basics and good celebrity chat... it seems like a tough but straightforward choice really.

Under the BBC’s new financial settlement the Newsroom department that is responsible for the core news TV, radio and web services is due to make efficiencies of 5% a year for the next five years.

I still don't understand how you can dedicate an entire channel to news and yet effectively reduce news output.

btw - should more news be available as podcasts, or is there a very much increased cost in this? I'm thinking of news shows such as Newsround, which may well help connect with the younger side of the BBC market.

  • 10.
  • At 10:36 AM on 22 Nov 2007,
  • Adam wrote:

The more I think about this blog the more annoyed I feel. What you are essentially saying is "we have to make a choice between high quality news and chasing ratings, and we're opting for the latter."

Well, maybe I'm being old-fashioned here, but isn't the whole raison d'etre of the licence fee that you can concentrate on providing a quality service without having to worry too much about ratings?

  • 11.
  • At 11:37 AM on 22 Nov 2007,
  • M wrote:

1) Are the political journalists at Millbank a special case that does not need to become a part of the multimedia on demand newsroom at TVC?

2) If this process is so gradual and slow, why don't you just invest in systems that make these synergies happen naturally and easily, rather than deciding every couple of years that there might be some functional overlap needing a restructure? What's the main factor slowing down these evolutions?

3) If you were serious about on-demand and multimedia, why didn't tv and radio become a part of the existing web department? Isn't this more functionally objective?

4) And finally, the BBC has managed to filter out diversity in senior positions over the past many years, with very few black and Asian people in top roles. Why do you think your judgement is any more objective?

  • 12.
  • At 05:23 PM on 22 Nov 2007,
  • Catherine Cupit wrote:

Shame on you, BBC, for leading the main early news slots on this morning's Today programme with the English football team's tribulations against Croatia last night. Sad as this news may be there are surely far more important issues to report. It is a great disappointment to many of us that an organisation that has commanded such a great deal of respect in the past can be dumbing-down at such a rate. I spend a fair bit of time in the mornings shouting at the Today programme for leaving such ridiculously short time slots for important issues where people are unable or not allowed to give their points of view. Having said that I do enjoy the programme enormously but would appreciate keeping football, rugby and cricket for the sports bulletin and real news and current affairs for the rest of the programme.

  • 13.
  • At 11:01 PM on 22 Nov 2007,
  • Joseph wrote:

A pragmatic approach, and one that may yet prove successful.

For all the cries of 'dumbing down', I can read no practical advise in any of the comments posted.

The BBC is doing what many of it's critics have been demanding, it has reduced the middle management fiefdoms, and it has done this by removing excess management, unfortunatly these cost cutting measures are not going to balance the projected loss in the license fee charge.

For the BBC to balance it's books it must look at efficency measures elsewhere, this will naturally impact various departments, I find it naive if people really believe that the BBC would allow 'dumbed down' news to reach our ears.

Some other areas of news reporting also require urgent attention, the constant cry of bias reporting is becoming a constant mantra for the Conservatives and other right of centre groups to use as an argument to not pay a license fee, the BBC has hardly discouraged further accuasations of bias with amazingly poor judgements on topics as diverse as the Balen report to the BBC's recruitment policy of using the Guardian for the majority of job vacancies to it's reporting of climate change.

The BBC need to start addressing the growing voice of dissent, it needs to show how wrong these accusations are by presenting the news, and not making the news.

With a combination of cost savings, structural changes in programme making and a return to 'real' journalism then the BBC can actually come out of it's present crisis in better shape than that which it has entered it.

  • 14.
  • At 01:05 PM on 23 Nov 2007,
  • Darren Stephens wrote:

Ah, "accessible" news. I see.

Those people who want "accessible" news are much more likely to look to alternative sources, such as ITV and 5 to provide it.

The BBC has a public serivce remit. Depth and quality of news coverage is not something to be found easily elsewhere, especially not if you watch ITV News at 1030 - rapidly becoming the televisual version of Heat magazine. for that reason the BBC's output MUST be distinctive from the others. What is now happening that BBC One news is rapidly becoming more like its commercial counterparts. Don't get me started on Panorama, which now seems to have the depth of a very shallow puddle. All you have now is a fairly shoddy copy of Trevor Macdonald's Tonight.

Thank God for Newsnight.

Sometimes you just have to swallow and admit that ratings and audience share are not everything.

  • 15.
  • At 12:49 PM on 24 Nov 2007,
  • claire wrote:

Dear Editor,

I found this comment whilst looking at green isues, it is from Mr Dickie Strawbridge TV's favourite moustache.


The best idea I’ve seen to tackle climate change is…
I’m working with a company that has found a way of capturing CO2 emissions from internal combustion engines, which could mean that soon cars, power stations and any form of motor powered by fossil fuels won’t contribute to climate change.

If this company has achieved this as Mr Strawbridge is saying then we are looking at the next Industrial revolution as discribed by Mr Gordon Brown earlier in the week.

The comments were of this being worth Trillions to the British Economy and a million new jobs for UK workers.

Does anybody know who they are as every company in the country, nether mind the world will need there services. If Al Gore got a Nobel peace prize for a film on Climte Change, what will these guys get for actually halting it?

I look forward to reading the next issue, maybe finding out who they are?

Yours truly


It's ok, we understand the need for efficiency - it happens in all industries all the time. So you will be leveraging technology to collaborate on a news story but you will also be able to take that content down different paths within each news bureau based on editorial druthers, audience and mission of the BBC dimension at hand.

That is all good.

A point made earlier was that some organizations report good stories without video feeds, and this is a good thing. Another thing some news agencies are doing is leveraging the digital cameras around the globe in an event like that, and telling the whole story, even if the video is from an bystander....again, the technology and an economic model to encourage this exists - if embraced and promoted it may empower the world to help you report the news until your newsman and cameraman can get onsite.

A respodant also credited our own US publications the NY Times and the Wash Post sites with creativity, but I would suggest you can do even better and leapfrog their creativity in leveraging rich media to report more effectively. It is a wide open opportunity at this point, and your new organization is well poised to leverage collaborative, cross funtional, user generated content globally, and then edited by your staff for the most impact possible.

In spite of a few negative comments above, and we all know the media is full of people with biases, agendas, families and political baggage - I think the BBC is doing a great job, and I look forward to your ongoing contributions in all media types, to my understanding of what is going on in the world.

Keep up the good work, and keep the BBC angle on it streaming to the rest of us in the US,

Ed C.

  • 17.
  • At 11:50 AM on 08 Dec 2007,
  • John Marshall wrote:

You make great store on the latest report from the IPCC but you do not say that the report is based on cherry picked data. Data that does not fit in with current model forcasts is ignored. This is not the way to do science. In fact the seeming total reliance on climate models that don't even predict past climate is not proof of theory. To prove a theory one must collect reliable data and this is not being done.
Temperature measurement is not now as reliable as it was 20 years ago. In fact many remote stations have been lost, many in Russia since the breakup of the Soviet Union, so the IPCC is predicting more and more problems using degrading information.
We have now had two years of the quietest hurricane seasons on record which flies in the face of forecasts after Katrina, which by the way was only a cat 3 storm which struck in the wrong place.
The increasing cases of flooding in this country can be put down to poor or nonexistance maintenance not climate change. Watercources must be dredged to maintain flow and government has reduced spending in this very important area. In fact they have stated that maintenance of sea defences is not cost effective so I expect that after the next tidal surge the flooding will be blamed on climate change when in fact it will be down to the sea walls collapsing.
We don't know enough about the climate systems of earth and governments are making decisions based on this inadequate data as if it was gospel. It is not!
The latese data (Aug 2007) is that temperatures rise before the rise in CO2 concentrations so CO2 can't be the cause of climate change. As a geologist my theory is that climate is driven bu solar activity modified by the Milankovic Cycles. This can be shown to predict past climate so is more probably able to forecast the future.

Speaking on behalf of the United States I would like to say that it would be crazy to make changes to the BBC. If you want a taste of the after effects of "diversification", all you have to do is watch a one hour news program in the US. Basically what happens is that journalism goes out the window. You are left with is a bunch of fluffy stories that are rehashed and regurgitated by every news outlet. Just to save a buck. Thats why here there is a gaining audience here for BBC news. In fact the BBC News Hour is so popular that our local public news station is beginning to devote a station to BBC news 24 hours a day. Its coming in January and I can't wait. So heed the caution. We need real journalism not commercialism...

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