ITV’s proposed regional news restructuring will deny a generation of young journalists the chance to develop new skills, according to a former ITV News Channel and Granada journalist.
Mark Owen, now a presenter on English-language rolling TV news network France 24, said the well-established career path starting in a regional ITV newsroom would no longer be an option for “generations of journalists to come”.
Owen started out as a researcher in the sports department at Granada Television in Manchester and presented its daily regional news magazine programme, Granada Tonight, for more than a decade before moving to HTV West, now part of the ITV network.
ITV has announced 430 redundancies at its regional news operation as it merges 17 news regions into nine. The move has been provisionally approved by media regulator Ofcom but has angered Bectu and the National Union of Journalists.
Owen, who joined France 24 when the ITV News Channel closed in 2006, told Press Gazette: “I think it’s incredibly sad, but given that it seems to be driven by cash, there seems to be an inevitability in that happening.
“A whole generation and generations of journalists to come won’t get that chance to develop, to learn new things, to work with different people, to increase their creativity, to really learn their trade from top to bottom.”
ITV director of regions Michael Jermey told an Ofcom conference in Salford last month that reports that the broadcaster is pulling out of regional news were “premature”.
He said ITV remained “very much in the regional news game” until at least 2012 and said the group’s proposals were a better alternative to imposing across-the-board cuts.
The broadcaster has argued that it should be allowed to concentrate on producing quality regional news bulletins at peak times – in the evening – and drop its mid-morning and weekend lunchtime output.
This would lead to its regional news output in England falling from five and a quarter hours to three and three-quarter hours a week.
ITV’s non-news regional output, which includes sport and local interest programmes, would also be cut under the proposals, which are currently the subject of a public consultation by Ofcom.
“It’s very sad that that raft of programmes will no longer be there,” Owen added.
“There’ll be no choice, no variety, no fun. A lot of the creativity at Granada came from the regional programmes.”
Owen said the contraction of ITV regional news would also mean that more aspiring journalists would avoid the commercial sector and look straight to the BBC for their first job.
“The BBC clearly looks like the better place,” he said. “The whole UK media market seems to be in a complete state of flux.
“Hopefully in a few years it will settle down and people will find the opportunities emerging again.”
Owen was speaking to Press Gazette in an interview to coincide with France 24’s second anniversary.
The TV news channel, which broadcasts simultaneously in French, English and Arabic, was threatened with closure by French president Nicolas Sarkozy earlier this year.
A full interview and news of France 24’s international expansion plans appears in the January issue of Press Gazette, published in the new year.