Frontline 'unaffected' by the switch to multimedia

With a radical reorganisation of the BBC newsroom set to start in three weeks, head of TV news Peter Horrocks has insisted ‘frontline journalists’will not be significantly affected by the changes.

Initially, the new converged newsroom will be at Television Centre in White City. But before the sale of Television Centre in four years, it will move to the newly refurbished Broadcasting House in central London.

The managerial changes in the newsroom will come into force from Monday 12 November. Peter Horrocks will head up the new newsroom department, which will be an umbrella for all areas of online, radio and TV news.

A separate news programmes department, which will include Newsnight, radio current affairs and news teams including Radio 1 and FiveLive, will be headed by the BBC’s head of radio news, Stephen Mitchell.

In the London newsroom, 180 jobs will be axed over five years. The bulk of these – 87 are journalists’ jobs and 26 in areas such as studios and graphics – will go in the next two years. Nationwide, up to 490 news posts will be shed.

According to Horrocks, staff most affected will be middle to senior managers, as news teams merge. In television news, 40 per cent of editors’, 30 per cent of assistant editors’, 20 per cent of senior producers’ and five per cent of producers’ jobs will go.

In the new programmes department, which produces shows such as Newsnight on BBC Two and Today on Radio 4, 131 out of 916 posts will go and 28 new roles will be created.

Horrocks said that the brunt of jobs were going from news output, to save newsgathering. ‘That’s tough for our journalists who are selecting and processing the editorial in London. But in the end, it must make sense to keep the journalism that’s out in the field and to keep that unique strength the BBC has got and organise ourselves more coherently in London. But in London, the frontline journalists aren’t significantly affected, it’s mostly at middle and senior editorial grades the cuts are at their heaviest.”

Insiders at the BBC have voiced concern that cuts are being made at a senior level. One said: ‘The older, more experienced editorial brains are the ones going, rather than the younger broadcast assistants and broadcast journalists who are also the least experienced.’

There is further concern that the new jobs promised would be technical rather than creative and therefore not interesting enough to keep the top talent within the newsroom.

The newsroom plans include the introduction of a multimedia production unit called Mediawire. It will be a multimedia version of Newswire, used by the BBC radio newsroom, which takes clips from BBC news interviews and distributes them across BBC programmes.

Production will be centralised, Horrocks said, but staff working on programmes will be focused solely on their programme or platform, but they will be asked to take a more multimedia approach to using their material.

A multimedia editor’s role has been created, which senior editors will share on a rotational basis. They will be responsible for resolving differences between platforms.

Radio news staff are concerned that the merged newsroom will affect their own bespoke coverage. One source said: ‘You send a TV reporter who knocks out a radio report – the radio people don’t get their own four-star service. That’s the worry.”

‘It’s constructive ambiguity,’said Horrocks. ‘Rather than everyone fighting over resources and the alternative of a centralised regime – it’s about a balance between those two extremes and we’re putting in place a system that allows that to be struck by those key editors.”

Insiders at the BBC have criticised plans as a re-run of the bi-media initiative to converge TV and radio under director general John Birt. But Horrocks said the new changes would be more gradual.

The physical reorganisation of staff will begin in the New Year. By April, News 24 and BBC One will have moved on to one floor and by autumn, the online operation will be in the newsroom.

‘We’re changing things very quickly,’said Horrocks. ‘Daily editorial meetings will change that day and people will see things happen in a multimedia way rapidly, in terms of how their bosses are thinking and the decisions we are taking.”

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