- 'Future of News' report: 'Parts of the country are not properly reported'
- Says BBC may need to explore asking foreign audiences to 'fund its future' on global scale
- Under 'tone' heading study notes: Vice News's 'pace of growth is really quite remarkable'
BBC News should seek to improve its local news coverage as regional newspapers shrink, a report commissioned by the corporation has found.
According to research by Mediatique, more than 5,000 "front line" journalism jobs were lost across the regional and national press between 2003 and 2013.
The report, commissioned by the BBC's director of news and current affairs James Harding, said: “Devolution and the decline of the regional press are creating a real need for local news coverage: the BBC is going to have to do more to provide local news that properly serves all parts of the UK.”
The "Future of News”, published today, singles out Wales, Scarborough and Bradford as areas for concern over lack of local news.
The study, which was made up of work from BBC journalists and media academics, cited a study by Andy Williams of Cardiff University, which found that Trinity Mirror employed 700 editorial and production staff across its Welsh titles in 1999 – compared with 136 in 2011.
Johnston Press announced it was stopping the daily publication of five regional newspapers in 2012, including the Scarborough Evening News, the report noted.
“Today in Scarborough there is a small commercial radio station, no daily newspaper and perhaps surprisingly, very little local or community blogging about the news," it said.
"Considering the town hit the national headlines earlier this month as its hospital declared a major incident, there were very few news boots on the ground to hold those responsible to account.
“Where did local people go to find out what was happening at their hospital? If the media fails to invest in local journalism will this become the case in many more towns across England?”
The report noted that the BBC 6.30pm regional news “is the most watched news bulletin in the UK in terms of daily audience”, but said that the corporation was also guilty of neglecting areas.
“The BBC can’t claim to be better than any other parts of the media,” it said.
“It is as guilty as others of cutting the budget of its local services. The metropolitan district of Bradford is home to over half a million people; it is one of England’s most diverse cities and one of the youngest cities in the country.
“George Galloway is one of the city’s MPs representing the Respect Party. Three years ago the BBC closed its office in this city, and closed its website – leaving no-one on the ground reporting day to day.”
The report makes no mention of Newsquest-owned daily newspaper the Bradford Telegraph and Argus, which has an average print circulation of around 19,000, according to ABC.
It also noted that the BBC's local radio stations are “mostly only local for 12 hours a day” and that “work is needed to improve the frequency of News Online updates”.
It said: “Today, there is a democratic deficit in the UK. Parts of the country are not properly reported; in others, public services and people in power are not effectively held to account. The BBC is the only news organisation that is required to serve all audiences in all parts of the UK. BBC local radio and regional TV news epitomise public service journalism – providing essential information, underpinning communities, connecting people where they live and holding public figures to account.
“But we are going to need to do more. The changes in the news industry mean that there are gaps in the coverage of our country and they are growing. At the same time, power is devolving. The BBC is going to have to make the most of digital services, alongside radio and television, to ensure people have the information they need where they live and work.”
It added: “If the UK is to function as a devolved democracy, it needs stronger local news, regional news and news services for the nations.”
The report also discussed the BBC’s coverage on a global scale, highlighting various rivals cropping up around the world and indicated that it may have to consider asking global audiences to “fund its future”.
It said: “The BBC will need to ask itself if it has the resources to compete in global markets and invest in digital. The BBC will have to consider whether the combination of licence fee funding and advertising revenue is sufficient to meet the requirements of reporting the world for the world.
“If not, it will have to weigh the possibilities of asking global audiences to fund its future as well as exploring new commercial opportunities.
“China, Russia and Qatar are investing in their international channels in ways we cannot match, but none has our values and our ability to investigate any story no matter how difficult.”
The study said: “The World Service faces a choice between decline and growth. Competition in global news is growing, both from big state-sponsored news organisations such as Al Jazeera, China Central Television and Russia Today and from digital platforms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter.
“If the UK wants the BBC to remain valued and respected, an ambassador of Britain’s values and an agent of soft power in the world, then the BBC is going to have to commit to growing the World Service and the government will also have to recognise this.”
The report also addressed how BBC News can better gather and present stories. Under the headline “Tone”, itappeared to suggest that organisations like Vice News could provide a lesson.
“Much has already been written about Vice News, but its pace of growth is really quite remarkable,” it said.
“With around 100 reporters operating in 35 countries around the world it has amassed over 180 million views and over 1.1m subscribers to its YouTube channel in little over a year. It has demonstrated that a market exists for in-depth foreign news using a tone that is particularly appealing to younger audiences.”
The report suggested an “open journalism” approach should be “part of the future news environment” and indicated that the corporation should do more to explore data journalism.
It also said that the future “could lead to the creation of new journalistic ‘beats’”, and that the BBC’s health coverage could concentrate more on “personal health” to follow people's interests.
The study, which “is intended to capture the many different views of what’s happening in the news industry as a whole and set out the thinking that will shape BBC News’ plans for the future”, is the first part of the BBC’s Future of News project.
The second part, the corporation said, will follow when BBC News “presents detailed proposals as part of the BBC’s overall case for the renewal of the Royal Charter”.
James Harding said: "This is the most exciting time for journalism since the advent of television. But, more than ever, it’s going to be the job of the news to cut through the noise. The BBC must be the place people come for the real story – what really matters, what’s really going on, what it really means.
“To make this happen, the BBC is going to have to think about how to deliver on its mission to inform beyond broadcasting. It has a singular responsibility to provide the best quality global news coverage to people in the UK and audiences who sorely need it around the world. In local news, devolution and the relative decline of the regional press are creating a democratic deficit – the BBC needs to consider how it can better serve people in the cities, the regions and the four nations of the whole of the UK.”
“The job of the news is to keep everyone informed – to enable us to be better citizens, equipped with what we need to know. In the exciting, uneven and noisy internet age, the need for news – accurate and fair, insightful and independent – is greater than ever.”