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Specialism online

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:18 UK time, Monday, 2 April 2007

Will small-scale, independent online journalism like Rick Waghorn's website about Norwich City Football Club come to represent a threat to larger news organisations like the BBC?

A graphic of the BBC News websiteI met Rick at a seminar last week about the economics of online journalism organised by POLIS, a joint initiative from the London School of Economics and the London College of Communication. After years as a football reporter and commentator on the Norwich Evening News, he left to set up his own website dedicated entirely to coverage of the city's football club.

He's made a successful business out of it, with a regular readership and a stable of local advertisers gathering around what is in effect his own personal brand.

Can that economic model be replicated across a wider range of subjects - and for news as well as sport?

I'm not sure anyone knows yet, but what he and other specialist journalists and some bloggers certainly can - and do - provide is absolute focus on the subject in question and a high degree of expertise about it. If they can get readers to recognise this, people will value and maybe pay for it. So when POLIS Director Charlie Beckett quoted me as saying this model could be a threat to larger news organisations, that's why.

The BBC has to be aware of these specialist online news sources and indeed should link to them too, helping our audience find out more about the stories. And it's also going to be more important than ever for us to signpost the authoritative reporting and newsgathering of our own specialist correspondents.



Our company has been publishing for 6 years, it's syndicated across a number of services including Google news and most days hovers just under the BBC in a Google for 'london politics'.

Despite all this and us having in-depth coverage of London issues, interviews with leading Assembly Members and a level of knowledge of devolved London Government few of the BBC's own reports show your colleagues in BBC London refuse to respond to any request that they link to us in their 'other local news sources' list.

I'm sure you do need to make some changes in the way you treat specialist news sources but they're not new and nor is the BBC's indifference to them.

  • 2.
  • At 02:36 PM on 02 Apr 2007,
  • JG wrote:

But isn't the real problem that the BBC is going to a more local model, and thus is a direct threat to these specialist/local news providers rather than the other way around? For example the 'Where I live' local interactive news services must be direct competition to local news providers who do not have the vast amount of money to compete. Again, the BBC distorts the market, yet tries to spin this on its head.

  • 3.
  • At 01:29 AM on 03 Apr 2007,
  • Jim-UK wrote:

They are not a threat to the BBC, the BBCs detachment from communities outside London and the other big cities is the problem. I live just outside the capital and I certainly feel I have nothing in common with the BBC and wonder sometimes if you know there is life outside London.

  • 4.
  • At 10:07 AM on 03 Apr 2007,
  • Richy wrote:

Yes, I also had the impression that local provision of news and information by the BBC was effectively crowding out other providers.

The BBC should provide a link where possible, but be wary of seeking to duplicate this information and undermine entrepreneurial activities.

To 1: Martin – thanks for your posting and your e-mail. The link’s been added. We are not indifferent to specialist news sources – as I tried to explain, we can’t afford to be.

To 2 and 4:

The BBC’s Where I Live websites have been around for a number of years and indeed the BBC has provided the UK’s nations, regions and counties with their own news for decades. It’s a key part of the BBC’s remit in serving audiences under its charter. At the same time, non-BBC local news provision has also continued, with local newspaper groups, for example, investing in their own online operations. The real competitive impact in those local markets would be around advertising in them which is something the BBC’s local and regional news services don’t do. Also, any new service the BBC undertakes has to undergo market impact and public value tests before it gets considered for approval by the BBC Trust.

To 3: Regional and local coverage is a key part of what the BBC does – see above. The Scotland coverage for this website, to take just one example, is done from Scotland by our news desk in Glasgow with a network of regional reporters across Scotland. It is a similar model elsewhere across the UK.

I've been running my own specialist website for a while now, after 10 years as a reporter and commentator on energy markets. Blue Skies China has paid the bills for the last nine months, and, after a marketing campaign before Easter, I hope it's on the verge of being a serious money-making business.

It's a no brainer for a journalist.

It's not for the money or economic model.. I quit a $1m job to do this. So far this year I've earned about $80k.... so obviously it's not for the money! But under Web 2.0, the single-minded journalist, (like Norwich City's Rick, Martin above, and me) can suddenly have an outlet which goes beyond a shabby printed newsletter. We can be experts with a cause. We can write what and when we feel like. And yet, unlike the average blogger, we have certain standards to maintain which stop us becoming pyjama-clad ne'er do wells.

I presume the cycle will keep on turning, and in a few years Rick's site Mayorwatch and Blue Skies China will be part of a United Meglomaniacial Business Media Brand, and people like Rick and Martin and me, or our successors, will be spinning off from that corporate hell to do one-man-shows with whatever delights Web 4.0 has to offer the creative individual.

Until then - BBC, I would be very happy if you use some of my stories!

Please visit
as the "" domain suddenly refuses to open the index page properly and technical support is closed until after Easter. OK, so that would be a good reason to work for the BBC rather than a one man band, huh?!

  • 7.
  • At 08:39 PM on 10 Apr 2007,
  • Jim-UK wrote:

"To 3: Regional and local coverage is a key part of what the BBC does – see above. The Scotland coverage for this website, to take just one example, is done from Scotland by our news desk in Glasgow with a network of regional reporters across Scotland. It is a similar model elsewhere across the UK."

I live in Hertfordshire, not a million miles from the BBCs Elstree Studios and my local BBC news is the London one. Stories from outside the M25 were once quite common, now we get nothing at all. It's not like you don't have people in the area. BBC Three Counties radio is not much better, thankfully we have a few decent independent stations to get news from. The local papers website is also quite good.

The key thing is the BBC cannot ever compete with small town or village websites unless it sinks the entire licence fee into its local online coverage. I for one am glad for their more 'global' coverage of my home city, Bristol. I write which covers one small part of Bristol - the BBC makes a larger city-wide site. The BBC site helps give users a wider perspective, my site gives a granular approach. Everyone's a winner!

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