Should we take the BBC’s 100-reporter olive branch seriously?

As Abraham Lincoln used to say, you can’t believe everything you read on the web.

sun spoof

So it was that this cutting has been doing the rounds on Twitter.

It was originally tweeted as a genuine Sun story, until it became clear that it was one of a series of spoofs produced by that paper in a history education project.

But that satirical headline isn’t a bad summary of the British newspaper industry’s initial reaction to the web.

With a few notable exceptions – the Guardian, perhaps – most newspapers were complacently dismissive of the promise offered by what we might now call the digital world.

Papers were making plenty of money, and this internet thing looked like a here today, gone tomorrow flash in the pan.

One organisation that did see the potential of the web was the BBC.

And so, while our industry was busy looking the other way, it began pioneering computer projects and experimenting with online news.

The BBC news website is now 18 years old and, for national and international news, it remains a force to be reckoned with, a gold standard of journalistic integrity and rigour.

But its regional news pages aren’t always so impressive, with little sense of a regularly-updated, fast-moving product.

So I’m always surprised when figures in the regional newspaper industry complain about the threat posed by the BBC’s licence fee-funded local websites.

Leaving aside the fact that two decades ago we sat on our hands as others creamed off much of our advertising, I just think our sites are now much better than the Beeb’s.

But there is much that we can still learn from each other – and I always tried to strike partnerships with BBC colleagues where I could.

So I think the plans unveiled by director-general Lord Hall today for a 100-strong army of reporters writing stories for both the BBC and local papers are worth exploring.

There’s a suggestion that media groups may be able to bid to provide the service.

There are clearly some logistical issues to overcome.

But this is ring-fenced money for the sort of journalism that many reporters say they have too little time to do.

It’s an olive branch that we should take seriously.


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