Category Archives: broadcasting

Dreaming Spires branch Inspires

digitally-converged-summer-social

More than 60 journalist from every sector came to Oxford NUJ branch’s ‘digitally-converged summer social’.

Those attending included a sizeable contingent from BBC Oxford – whose chapel co-organised the event – on-screen reporters from Meridan TV’s newsroom, Chapel representatives from the Oxford Mail and Oxford Guardian and members working in book publishing.

Anna Wagstaff, branch secretary, explained the thinking behind the event:  “Our local media is interlinked. And in this fast-changing media sector, we all have an interest in fostering a local media ecosystem that offers opportunities to earn a decent living, doing whatever we do to the best of our ability. We wanted to bring together the broadest possible range of members to start to explore common areas of interest.”

The energy generated by the event – which was held in an arts centre near BBC Oxford – was palpable.  Alison Campbell, a Banbury-based PR said: “I can’t believe it when I meet PRs who aren’t in the NUJ – this event is another example of how relevant the NUJ is to us”.  Several others at the event were equally committed to building NUJ membership.

Paul Jenner, BBC Oxford FOC, said: “I was delighted at the wide range of people who came to the social, and as a result we have had several new membership enquiries. We truly are stronger when we work together.”

NUJ president, Tim Dawson, who was invited to the event to speak, later described the social as one of the best NUJ branch meetings he had ever attended.  “The plan to bring people together from every sector really worked.  The mix of people made for an enormously stimulating event – if other branches could emulate this success it would be an enormous boost to the entire union,” he said.

Cross-posted from the nuj.org.uk

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Our first digitally converged summer social: will you be there?

If you play a role in Oxfordshire’s interlinked and multi-platformed media ecosystem then  you’re invited to our summer social. Don’t let us down.

When? Thursday July 7th, 7.00-9.00pm

Where? North Wall Arts Centre, South Parade, Summertown, Oxford, OX2 7JN

Who? News reporters, photographers, documentary makers, press officers, comms workers – staff and freelances, print, broadcast and online, working for small outfits or global giants, serving hyperlocal or international audiences…

Why? Because news and information know no boundaries, because we all care about ethics, quality and professionalism, and getting a fair return for what we do, because you never know where you might find an opening to change job… and because all of the above are a good excuse to party

The social is being hosted by the BBC Oxford NUJ chapel, complete with free buffet and first drink and a bar. Continue reading

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Making journalism pay in the digital age – a networking event

Thursday July 3rd, 7,00pm, upstairs in the St Aldates Tavern,
Opposite Oxford Town Hall, St Aldates

 

An open networking event for journalists and would-be journalists working online and/or in broadcasting and print, as reporters, feature writers, photo/video-journalists, editors, PRs, designers, bloggers, front-end developers and more.

 

This is the second in our new-style branch meetings which aim to be more informal and inclusive, and follows a very successful June meeting where we piloted the new format.

Tim Dawson, chair of the NUJ’s Freelance Industrial Council, who writes regularly for a range of national newspapers and magazines including the Sunday Times, New Statesman and Times Education Supplement, blogs at http://tim-dawson.com/ and is co-publisher ofhttp://newmodeljournalism.com/, will present a short overview of some of the innovative ways journalists are using the internet and digital media to find new ways of working, and new ways to promote themselves and earn a living from what they do.

Steven Mathieson, a freelance member of the Oxford NUJ branch who has spent many years on the Guardian, specialising in information technology in healthcare and government, will talk about his experiences using the internet to reach a wider audience, build his profile, gather information, advertise his book CardDeclined, and crowdfund his reporting on the Ends of Britain via the Beacon journalism platform. He will set out why he thinks raising money from subscriptions is a more workable model than advertising for sustaining quality journalism.

We will also have contributions from Sonja Francis the editor of Thame.net, who moved from a background in local newspapers to set up the web-based news service, as well as from members who started off on the web development side and are now looking to expand into creating content.

If you have experiences good or bad in using digital media to earn money from journalism – offering web-based services or using the internet to boost your profile, find new clients, network within your specialist area, gather information – please come to the meeting and share them. If you are looking for tips and advice on getting started, or maybe for opportunities to collaborate, then this is the place to be.

The meeting is open to all NUJ members, whatever media sector you work in.

If you are not a member but are interested in joining or learning more about the union and getting started in journalism, you can apply to attend the meeting by sending an email to oxfordnuj@gmail.com subject line ˂making journalism pay˃

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How BBC Oxford won the 2013 best news story coverage award

ImageBBC Radio Oxford bagged the Gillard award for best news story coverage, against stiff competition, for its reporting of the ‘Bullfinch’ child grooming and exploitation storyPaul Jenner, NUJ Father of Chapel at BBC Oxford, was the producer for the story. He writes here about the challenge of reflecting the severity of the story with sensitivity, whilst protecting the anonymity of the victims.

Paul is pictured receiving the award, alongside  BBC Chairman Lord Patten, and Radio Oxford News Editor Alison Dawes

 

The Bullfinch trial, focusing on grooming and child sexual exploitation, is one of the largest cases handled by Thames Valley Police and one of the biggest stories BBC Radio Oxford has ever covered. The trial lasted five months and involved seven defendants facing more than fifty charges. Many of the details were horrific and unbroadcastable.

With the story attracting national interest, we focused on the Oxford community, asking how and why these crimes happened here and what is being done today to ensure our teenage children are safe? We spent months preparing interviews, including an exclusive with one of the victims and her adoptive mother. When the verdicts came through, we broke the story from the Old Bailey with our Home Affairs Correspondent Alex Forsyth.

The following morning we broadcast a special programme from the Cowley Road, gauging reaction from the community and calling those in authority to account. It generated reaction on our Facebook site.

Andrew Trinder: (it) was an extremely good programme – informative without being sensational and seamlessly produced. Congratulations to all involved.

Jules Paxton Carr: The coverage of this was really good! Well done to all involved!

After sentencing, we gained two further exclusives with another mother whose daughter was abused, and a mother whose son attends a school where one of the children of the convicted men is being bullied.

As a result of our output, we won a coveted Frank Gillard Award in the “Coverage of a News Story” category at a ceremony held in Windsor in October. The awards celebrate the best of BBC Local Radio and we were up against stiff competition.  Our colleagues at BBC London had entered their coverage of the murder of Lee Rigby in the same category.

The judges commented that the entry “showcased a station which displayed wonderful commitment in covering a sprawling and highly sensitive story of child abuse, institutional failure and crucially demonstrated real enterprise in unearthing new testimony.

They added: “There was breadth and ambition in the coverage the judges heard, and a tremendous sense of team effort from all the reporters, producers and presenters involved. It added up to a very impressive body of work. Any BBC station – local or national – would justifiably be proud of what Radio Oxford achieved.”

The story does not, however, end here. A Serious Case Review is underway, investigating the failures of police and social services. It is due to be published next year.  When it does, we will continue to hold those in power to account, and examine how they plan to stop such heinous crimes taking place in our community in future.

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BBC Oxford on strike in defence of jobs and an end to overwork, stress and bullying

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NUJ members walked out of BBC Oxford in Summertown at noon today (Thursday March 28th) as part of a national strike. The NUJ and sister broadcast union BECTU are on strike over the unholy mix of compulsory job losses, overwork and bullying and harassment. The extent of the latter became shockingly clear after the NUJ invited members at the BBC to give evidence in confidence in the wake of the revelations about how the corporation dealt with allegations about Jimmy Savile at the time and more recently.

Michelle Stanistreet, the NUJ general secretary, said: “Members are taking strike action today in a clear message to the BBC that it needs to listen to its staff and address properly the problems created by its ill-conceived and badly implemented cuts programme.”
She called on Tony Hall, who takes up his position as BBC Director General at the start of April, to come in “with a big broom to sweep away management complacency and set new priorities.”
“We know that the cuts are already having an impact on the quality of work. We know that it is leading to unacceptable workloads and stress. We know that management is using DQF [the so-called Delivering Quality First programme of cuts] as a means to harass and bully staff – making worse an already entrenched problem of bullying that has been largely ignored by those in positions of power. 
“It is clear to everyone that the BBC management is now in turmoil,” said Michelle. “The new DG needs to have a new start – to put the disastrous decisions made by Mark Thompson and the lack of leadership of George Entwistle behind him and have a major rethink of DQF.”
The midday walkout had an immediate impact on BBC programming, with BBC 24 news service forced to repeat its 11.00 o’clock bulletin at 12.00 noon.

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A winning strategy for Radio Oxford?

bbc

Report by Dave Campbell, branch vice-chair

 

BBC Radio Oxford have enjoyed their biggest audience boost for years with the disclosure of the latest independent audience research figures. They are now making a big deal on-air of the fact that the last quarter of last year showed they picked up 19,000 new listeners over the period. At 81,000 listeners it was also 10,000 up on the corresponding last quarter of 2011.

Audiences for BBC Radio Oxford have fluctuated widely over the years, particularly when there was a disastrous merger with Berkshire in the 1990s. The other significant statistic is the share of the radio audience in the county. Three years ago that dropped to 5.6% in the face of competition from national BBC radio networks and a varying number of commercial radio stations. But the latest figures give an audience share of 9.5%, putting the station fourth in Oxfordshire behind Radio 4, Radio 2 and Heart Thames Valley. It is ahead of neighbouring BBC stations in Berkshire, Wiltshire and Three Counties (which includes Buckinghamshire) and Coventry and Warwickshire; although still behind Gloucestershire and Northampton. Radio Oxford Assistant Editor Will Banks is delighted and admits: “It was unexpected that there would be such a big jump in such a short space of time.”

This puts Radio Oxford in a strong position. The only other media focussing solely on Oxfordshire are the Oxford Mail and Oxford Times. The latest audited daily sales for the Oxford Mail are 17,556 and for the Oxford Times 14,210. Weeklies from the same stable such as the Herald series (Abingdon, Didcot, Wallingford and Wantage) weigh in at 10,733, the Witney Gazette at 6,483 and the Bicester Advertiser 3,851. Other paid-for papers in the county include the Banbury Guardian, selling more than 13,000 a week, and the Henley and South Oxfordshire Standard at 10,000-plus.

Even bearing in mind that most newspaper copies are read by more than one person, this gives Radio Oxford a major stake in news coverage for Oxfordshire and means the station has a responsibility to set an agenda in coverage of health, education, local politics, business, travel, weather, sport, social and community issues.

ORIGINAL JOURNALISM

Will Banks points to a newsroom shift which is dedicated to original journalism. “I don’t think we are embarrassed that there are stories in the Oxford Mail that we pick up. It goes in both directions. We love it when the Oxford Mail puts out a story that was on our radio station a day or two before. But I think it is a symbiotic relationship and I don’t see us in competition with the Oxford Mail. I celebrate local media and I think we can work together in a very difficult marketplace. If we are just repeating stories you can get elsewhere then there is no reason to tune in. However, what we can do with a story that might not be original is that we can do something original with it. Nowhere else can listeners have a direct conversation with the people behind a story.”

Ever since it was established in 1970, BBC Radio Oxford has kept the Oxford tag, rather than its editorial area Oxfordshire. In terms of population Oxford makes up less than a third of the county and most BBC stations covering counties adopt the county name. “As long as we are regularly getting to different parts of the county then it doesn’t matter that we are called Radio Oxford,” says Will Banks. Currently there is a project to tour Oxfordshire communities week by week and flood selected locations with staff to bring a flavour of local news and issues. “It’s a big undertaking but it will reflect life across Oxfordshire.” That started with Chipping Norton and Blackbird Leys. In particular they would like to build up a bigger following in the Banbury area.

Countywide media has the problem of reconciling Banbury in the north, where Birmingham can be a focal point, with Henley on- Thames in the south, irredeemably part of the Home Counties. “The biggest tension in delivering a news service is maintaining a balance in getting a range of stories from across Oxfordshire. On any given day we want stories which resonate with other people in the county,” he says.

The majority of the Radio Oxford audience, as much as three-quarters, is aged 45 and over. “I think there are certain parts of the BBC that want a younger audience, such as Radio 1, but I wouldn’t say that is the overall position of the BBC. The BBC belongs to everybody and it has to serve everybody. The fact we are such a popular choice for that age range is a plus point.”

Like other areas of the BBC, Radio Oxford had to make budget cuts. Will Banks says most were achieved through voluntary redundancies. Are there more to come? “Not that I am aware of. We have a licence fee settlement until 2016. We were reminded out there how much listeners valued us because there was such a vociferous campaign against cuts to local radio.”

 

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Support the BBC strike

Strikers on the picket line

The BBC Oxford picket line

Today BBC journalists all over the country will be striking to defend jobs and quality journalism.

The national NUJ website explains why: 2,000 jobs are at risk in addition to the over 7,000 posts which have already gone since 2004.

The disastrous Delivering Quality First initiative is destroying the quality of programming while wasting public money on needless redundancy payouts.

Jobs are at risk at BBC Scotland, Newsbeat, Five Live, the Big Screens, the Asian Network and the World Service. But while there’s no money for hard-working journalists on the ground, the BBC has somehow found the cash to reward senior management when they leave. The national NUJ website explains that:

According to the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee, since November 2010, the BBC has made at least 10 severance payments to other former senior managers, each worth more than £250,000. The highest payment was £949,000 given to the BBC’s former deputy director general.The BBC’s former chief operating officer received a severance payment of £670,000. These payments do not include additional payments for legal fees and ‘outplacement’.

Meanwhile, regular journalists are working way beyond their contracted hours just to keep programmes on the air, causing unprecedented stress levels. Some are doing more senior jobs to those described in their contracts, for no extra reward. Cutting more jobs can only make the situation worse – and leave communities around the UK deprived of real news coverage.

If you support the BBC strike, please say so. Email the BBC Trust on trust.enquiries@bbc.co.uk to say that you care about quality news coverage. And if you don’t have time to even do that, a quick message of support on Twitter with the hashtag #BBCstrike will give us a boost too.

This post has been edited to include a picture of the BBC Oxford picket line being set up first thing in the morning.

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The model behind the curtain

Branch chair Kate Griffin tells the story of how she tried – but failed – to interview someone from Witney TV for our branch newsletter. This post originally appeared on her blog.

Jeremy Hunt has now announced plans to give out licences for local television stations. Ofcom has identified 65 towns and cities where local terrestrial TV is technically possible and these places will be invited to bid for licences.

One of the inspirations for Hunt’s ideas about local television is Witney TV, the online news station based in my home town. As I wrote back in October, Witney TV was set up by volunteers who worked for free and established a policy of avoiding any bad or controversial news.

A local “news” source that doesn’t require state funding and doesn’t report anything controversial? It’s not surprising that Jeremy Hunt found the idea attractive and tried – but failed – to secure a meeting with the station’s founders.

The tiny station received coverage in the Guardian and the Independent after a Jeremy Clarkson scoop. But none of the attention so far has made it clear quite why Witney TV was created or what its business model is.

Back in October, I tried to find out. I thought that Witney TV would make an interesting subject for a piece in the local NUJ newsletter, so I emailed them asking for a ten-minute chat. My email didn’t get an answer; I wasn’t sure if it had been missed in a crowded inbox or if they’d chosen to ignore it.

However, a few days later I went to Witney Town Hall for a town council meeting about the controversial Cogges Link Road. Many members of the public, including me, were turned away from the crowded meeting. (The reason given was “fire regulations”.) Among the people leaving was Barry Clack, co-founder of Witney TV.

I mentioned on Twitter that I’d seen him being “kicked out” of the town hall and was surprised when he got in touch to correct me. He emailed me to explain that he hadn’t been “kicked out” at all:

We weren’t kicked out or turned away. We had chosen to leave to allow 2 members of the public to have their democratic right to speak – its [sic] a shame other members of the media decided not to do the same.

(Instead of starting a new email, he’d simply pressed “reply” to my ignored request of a few days previously, somewhat giving the game away on the “did they read it?” question.)

Let’s recap. A videographer in charge of a local news service believes that “the media” should leave a public meeting on an issue of local importance so that more members of the public can squeeze in. Are news reporters supposed to restrict their reporting to events where there’s lots of room? By that logic, court reporters should stop working when there’s overspill from the public gallery, to make more room for members of the public.

The point is: journalists are members of the public. And part of the point of the job is reporting events for other members of the public who can’t be there.

Anyway, I now had Barry’s attention and he couldn’t pretend not to have seen my interview request. So I made it again. He flatly refused:

Witneytv would not have contributed to an interview for the NUJ.

Why not? Flannel time:

No email to witneytv is ignored. We reply to all but clearly none of us expected WitneyTV and its media exposure to be as big as it is. We all work as well as produce the show and are unable to respond to every request.

Really? I replied.

My original message to you was sent three days ago. Did you really have any intention of replying? Can you honestly tell me that you would have contacted me today if it wasn’t for me saying something incorrect about you personally on Twitter last night?

I realise it’s a volunteer effort and I realise how huge it’s become. I’ve made both those things clear in my article. But if you’ve got time to pick at my choice of words on my personal Twitter feed, you’ve got time to say a simple ‘no, sorry’ when I send you an email directly.

This was met with silence. I took the hint and wrote the piece without chasing Barry again. But a month or two ago, there were strange developments at Witney TV. Viewers visiting the site for their fix of upbeat news found a rant written by Barry detailing a falling-out between him and the other volunteers. This was hastily taken down and replaced with a holding message saying “Witney TV will be back very soon”. The site now seems to have had a redesign and is up and running again.

During the downtime, I tried again to find out what was going on. I contacted Witney TV asking if I could interview someone about the relaunch. My email was answered by someone called Adrian from a PR firm called Harold Strong.

We handle the press and PR for WitneyTV. Can you advise what questions you’d like answered and I’ll do my best to get this back to you for Wednesday. Where is the interview likely to appear and to how many readership [sic]?

Clearly I was mistaken in thinking that a news station which regularly does interviews would understand what an interview is. I emailed them with my list of questions anyway. That was in early July; I still haven’t received an answer.

You might wonder why I’m making such a big deal of all this. Well, it’s important because we know that Jeremy Hunt showed great interest in Witney TV as a possible model for local television. And if you’re going to use something as a model, you need to know how it works.

A recent consultation on the government’s Local Media Action Plan sheds some light on what the public want from local media. According to the summary report, there was “a general consensus that the mainstay of the local TV services should be news”. Some were also of the opinion that “national quality” newsgathering and impartiality standards should apply to local services.

Witney TV’s exclusive focus on “positive” news prevents it from covering many of the stories that other local news channels see as bread and butter: crime, controversial council decisions, traffic problems, local job losses, fires and so on. As for standards, we have no idea what Witney TV’s internally applied standards are. They may never have been codified at all; the station may be working on the premise that “common sense” is enough.

As for money, we know that the founders of Witney TV paid out of their own pockets to get the station started, and we know that they’ve said they would refuse licence fee money. The site carries advertising and there have been rumours of a lottery grant, but we have no idea whether the station’s income covers its costs. That means we can’t know whether or not the model is financially sustainable.

There’s no transparency because there’s no accountability. Witney TV doesn’t have to explain itself to its viewers because it’s run by an independent company. That’s fine, in itself. The real problem will arise if companies run in this way are given licences to provide local news coverage. I hope that the new licensing system will oblige participating companies to recognise that they have a duty to local people. If Witney TV’s combination of secrecy and fluff is replicated, it could damage the credibility of all local news provision.

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Why we should save the opt-outs

Branch chair Kate Griffin explains why regional news services are important for Oxfordshire. This post originally appeared on her blog.

The BBC is currently considering axing three of its regional news services. The local “opt-outs” for Oxfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Jersey (plus surrounding areas) may be closed as part of the BBC’s money-saving drive, misleadingly branded “Delivering Quality First”. This blog post was written to answer some of the more common questions about the proposals.

What exactly is an opt-out?

Local broadcasting stations are said to “opt out” when they stop broadcasting from the central “feed” and start broadcasting local content instead for a limited period – for example, for a half-hourly local news programme. So the stations providing regional content, such as BBC Oxford, are known in the industry as “opt-outs”.

Clear as mud? What I’m trying to say is: “opt-out” is a rather confusing industry term for the simple concept of a regional broadcast news service.

Which areas are under threat?

The three news services under threat are:

  • BBC Oxford News, covering Oxfordshire, Swindon, parts of Wiltshire and Buckinghamshire
  • BBC Cambridgeshire, covering Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire as well as parts of Norfolk, Suffolk and Northamptonshire.
  • BBC Jersey, covering all the Channel Islands.

Why is the BBC considering closing these services?

To save money. The projected savings are:

  • For closing BBC Cambridgeshire: about £1.4 million
  • For closing BBC Oxford: about £1.1 million
  • For closing BBC Jersey: about £300,000

To put these figures in perspective: until he left the BBC, Jonathan Ross was earning £5.6 million a year. Anne Robinson is reportedly on £3 million and Jeremy Clarkson trousers £1.8 million.

What will happen if we lose these services?

If the opt-outs are shut down, the areas they cover will have to get their BBC television news as part of a much bigger “super-regional” service. For example, Oxfordshire will have to get its news from BBC South Today, which covers a huge area including Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Berkshire and parts of Sussex, Surrey and Dorset. One BBC Oxford news viewer complained on the Support BBC Oxford TV Facebook page that South Today is just “endless stories about yachts in the Solent and seaside towns”.

Without more tailored news coverage, a lot of important stories in these areas will be missed. Gawain Little of Oxford & District Trades Council commented in a press release: “Without good local news coverage it difficult to hold people in authority – politicians, councils, private companies – to account. Closing down BBC TV Oxford will create a ‘democratic deficit’ and increase feelings of apathy and helplessness in the current political and economic situation.

This is doubly true now that Newsquest Oxfordshire, which owns most of the newspapers in Oxfordshire, is cutting staff numbers and dragging its heels over pay. Newsquest Oxfordshire confirmed recently that Oxford Times editor Derek Holmes, who recently left, will not be replaced. Oxford Mail editor Simon O’Neill is now (theoretically, at least) editing the entire suite of Oxfordshire newspapers. (Ironically, BBC Radio Oxford ran a story about Newsquest Oxfordshire’s cuts on the same day that the Oxford Mail splashed on the cuts to BBC Oxford.)

Are the cuts a done deal?

No. Far from it. We don’t even know yet if they’re what the BBC calls a “firm proposal”. If there’s enough public opposition, they won’t happen. If you don’t want them to happen, you can:

Kate, what business is this of yours?

I’m chair of the Oxford & District branch of the National Union of Journalists, which means it’s my (sadly unpaid) job to stick up for other journalists when their jobs are under threat. I also feel very strongly that good-quality local journalism is worth fighting for. And like a lot of British people, I’m very proud of the BBC. Other countries look to our BBC as a model; we shouldn’t be jeopardising that world-famous quality to save relatively small sums of money.

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The good news station

“I liked The Stig. He came round my house, he had drinks… and all the time he was writing a book.” For the first time since “Stig-Gate” unfolded, Jeremy Clarkson publicly shared his feelings of betrayal. But the interview wasn’t with a national paper or broadcaster. He was talking to Witney TV, an online news station that didn’t exist six months ago.

Witney TV is a volunteer-run website hosting video reports of events in Witney and surrounding areas. It was created by residents Barry Clack and Gavin Hyatt to fill what they feel is a gap in local coverage: BBC Oxford is spread too thin to cover the area in depth, while ITV’s Central News lost its Oxfordshire studio in recent cutbacks.

So how much news coverage does Witney need, exactly? More than you’d think. It might look like just another Oxfordshire market town, and it has a population of less than 23,000, but Witney punches above its weight when it comes to newsworthiness. In May, national media descended on the town and helicopters hovered above the polling station as David Cameron’s victory was declared. It was the election more than anything which prompted Barry Clack to set up Witney TV: “There was so much going on…But I felt that there was an opportunity missed, because somebody from Witney or West Oxfordshire couldn’t see their neighbour at the count.”

However, Witney TV doesn’t claim to deliver all the news. “We made a very tough decision right back at show number 1 that we didn’t want to feature a negative story on the show. We wanted someone to be able to sit down at their computer and watch light-hearted news that nobody would be offended over.” This means no crime, no car crashes, no hard-hitting investigations. A recent memorial football match posed problems for the Witney TV team; it was held to celebrate the life of a local sportsman who died aged eighteen, and this was considered possibly too serious a subject to cover. (They did eventually decide to cover the match on the grounds that it was a “happy, happy occasion” with a minute’s clapping instead of a minute’s silence.)

You might be wondering why this matters to the average NUJ member. Well, it matters because Witney TV is being held up as a possible model for the future of local TV news. Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt has contacted Witney TV because he wants to find out more about how the station works, but no meeting has taken place yet because Clack and Hyatt are too busy.

It’s not yet clear what Hunt’s plan is for local media. In June, he gave a speech in which he said: “We need strong local media to nurture a sense of local identity and hold locally-elected politicians to account.” But it seems unlikely that he will be allocating any public money to support local media; we already know that Labour’s plan for Independently Funded News Consortia, funded by the television licence fee, has been scrapped.

In the same speech, Hunt talked about the desirability of  a “modernised, updated regulatory environment” nurturing “hungry, ambitious and profitable local media companies”, which strongly suggests that his plan for the future of local media will have a lot to do with the private sector. Great news for big players like Sky (whose head of news, John Ryley, happens to be a Witney resident); not so great for smaller news organisations trying to make a living.

Hunt has commissioned banker Nicholas Schott to look at local media and make recommendations on how to support it. An action plan based on the findings of the Schott report is due some time this autumn.  His interest in Witney TV suggest that there will also be a role for smaller organisations in what he calls the “local media landscape”, but whether or not they will be able to make a living is another matter. The £11,000 start-up costs for Witney TV were paid by four volunteers. Barry Clack’s comment about setting up the station –  “Anybody can do it. There is no hard and fast rule” – sounds inspiring, but the reality is that Clack runs the station on top of his day job as a freelance photographer.

Will local news be another casualty of Big Society, handed over to the voluntary sector? And if the Witney TV model is reproduced in other parts of the country, what will happen to the “difficult” stories: the deaths, the crimes, the local authority corruption? We will know more when Hunt’s action plan comes out. Perhaps the Witney TV team will have time to meet him before then.

Written by branch vice-chair Kate Griffin. A shorter version of this article appeared in the October 2010 issue of our paper newsletter. In the course of writing this article, Kate attempted to contact Barry Clack for an interview, but got no response from him, so all quotes by him are taken from an interview by Simon Ford of the BBC College of Journalism.

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