BBC in Bowdler’s Sights

The chief executive of The Scotsman owners, Johnston Press, has described plans by the BBC to set up 60 ‘ultra local stations’ as “ultra nonsense”, not least because his company will be soon providing internet-based radio and TV up to an editorial standard comparable to the Corporation.

Taking part, yesterday, in the flagship meeting at this year’s Newstec conference – for senior editorial and IT managers in the newspaper industry – Tim Bowdler described the BBC’s
plans as a “travesty”, by using public money to fund something which the market is already providing, or about to do so. The meeting’s topic was the future of news delivery.

Speaking in Brighton, where Newstec is taking place, he said: “We will become broadcasters and the lines of demarcation between newspapers and broadcaster will become blurred.”

And he claimed that user-generated content and reaction to stories being put online were influencing the content of some of his company’s newspapers.

“We’ve moved to convergent newsrooms, in some titles, and we are watching the stories where reaction to online coverage is proving to be popular, and that is influencing the content of the printed edition. The online user today is having a big influence on the stories we are carrying in the printed editions.”

He also said the company was using the “powerful” branding of existing titles to promote their online offerings, having previously kept them separate.

“We started branding sites with the ‘today’ tile, such as Falkirk Today, but are now moving back to including the newspaper title in the site name, as that resonates better with the reader.”

Despite the company’s move towards online content delivery, Bowdler still sees a future for traditional newspapers over the next few decades, although he expects circulations to decline. “We will be selling fewer papers in ten to twenty years. There will be more free newspapers and the mix will change, but there will still be paid-for papers.”

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