Monday, January 21, 2019

All pistes open

How will the Unsworth-Ahmed axis at BBC News approach Davos 2019 ? The previous management liked going to Switzerland - James Harding famously interviewed thought-leader Kevin Spacey in front of eager deep-thinkers from around the world back in 2016. The video is still available, courtesy of fellow-state broadcaster Russia Today.

So far this year we have "10 Things You Didn't Know About Davos", by Katie Hope. Katie's Twitter profile says she's a freelance, and we have no idea if she's actually there. And there's a companion video "What exactly is Davos ?", by correspondent Joe Miller, which looks like it was filmed in front of a green screen.

The UK's key delegates ? David Attenborough and Prince William. I'll keep you in touch if and when others turn up...

Sunday, January 20, 2019

How news worked

Readers who noted the death of Kevin Ruane might appreciate this letter, unashamedly lifted from the London Review of Books, from former BBC Foreign Duty Editor and Occasional Man in Moscow, Graham Webb....

BBC World Service news editors have always reacted with terror when they realise they might actually have a scoop. When I worked in BBC News and Current Affairs in the 1970s I was aware of one correspondent who repeatedly had scoops that External Services (radio) news editors were too nervous to touch. This was the Moscow correspondent Kevin Ruane, who died a few weeks ago at the age of 86. He had such good news sense and mastery of Russian that he got stories from Soviet dissidents no other journalist had. The rule was that if a BBC correspondent or reporter had the story, the desk should run it; it did not require the otherwise statutory confirmation from an independent ‘second source’. Despite this, Bush House news editors would always chicken out and decline Ruane’s scoops. His tactic became systematically to give his scoops to the Daily Telegraph’s Moscow man Richard Beeston. When the early edition of the Telegraph landed on the World Service news desk, Ruane was rung up by the next shift and asked if he could match Beeston’s dispatch; as its source, he obviously could, and did so immediately. If the news editors had been doing their job the story could by then have been running on all BBC outlets for many hours.

Graham Webb
Saint-Mandé, France

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Charlotte's web

For those of you who have found the latest Fortunately podcast, now available less exclusively on BBC Sounds (and more easily through the superior iPlayer Radio app, and internationally by visiting the BBC Sounds website) you'll hear a brief 'explanation' of the strategy from a woman identified only as Charlotte. This is Charlotte Lock, Launch Director of BBC Sounds, who claimed making this podcast available only on BBC Sounds was an 'experiment', to drive subscribers to BBC Sounds so that the BBC can pick up more data on them, and make their lives even lovelier.

I'm delighted to say that Fi's ears pricked up at this, and although they all ended up joshing about identifying eligible wealthly heterosexual males, I suspect this isn't the only conversation Fi and Jane have had with their bosses about this cack-handed strategy. I wonder if they know Charlotte's on £183,500 p.a. Alan Davey, the Controller of Radio 3, is on £171k; Jonathan Wall, running Radio 5Live is on £147,841; and Mary Hockaday, Controller, World Service English is on £168,800.

Shell like

The end of January is barely in sight,and the slow, deep thinkers at Tortoise have already announced the topics of their think-ins for February - motherhood, #MeToo and what it means to be British.

There's a sensation of the centre pages of a broadsheet here, and Tortoise is also releasing to open reading some articles, by staffers and starry freelances, just as The Times and Telegraph selectively lift their paywalls.

If you're feeling left out from this concerned, supra-academic approach to hackery, take a look at this video of a practice 'think-in' and assess how much fun you'd have in taking part.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Podded off

The latest Midas survey from the radio audience figure research team RAJAR shows a slight drop in podcast listening, quarter on quarter. 6.9 million people a week used a podcast in the Autumn, 13% of the population; 6.5m a week tried a podcast in Winter, 12% of the population. I'm sure it's a blip.

The Winter survey shows that 22% of those asked said they listened all podcasts they downloaded; 38% listened to 'most of them'. And then, 67% said they listened to complete podcasts, with 22% saying they stayed with 'most of them'.

Where next ?

Janine Gibson, once courted by Mark Thompson for the NYT, is leaving Buzzfeed UK after three years' at the helm as Editor-in-Chief.

Mmmm. Does BBC News still have a vacancy for a Digital Director ?

Thursday, January 17, 2019


In February 2013, Anne Bulford Superwoman arrived from Channel 4 to take over two jobs at the BBC - Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer. It seemed a bargain - her new salary of £395k rather than Zarin Patel and Caroline Thomson, earning £337k and £328k respectively (discount the redundancy payments, if you would).

Five full financial years later she's announced her departure as Deputy DG, looking to set up a portfolio of non-executive roles - she heads to her sixtieth birthday in September. She's kept Lord Hall on the straight and increasingly narrow, stripping millions out of business plans quietly and firmly - and, it has to be said, with a minimum of disruption. But the road ahead looks likely to dwindle further, from a bridleway to a footpath, if the Over-75s Licence Fee consultation ends badly - and it's probably time for someone with a new set of iron-tipped walking sticks and satnav to lead rambler Lord Hall in the right direction. 

Is there room for re-invention of the role ?  Could the nuts and bolts of the operation be left to Anne's No 2, Glyn Isherwood, and the Deputy DG responsibility passed to another executive ? That's a possibility, with Lord Hall set on hanging in there til the centenary of 2022, and will keep me amused for weeks.

Meanwhile, thanks to Ms Bulford for providing this blog with a good number of posts over the years. My favourite - from a Public Accounts Committee of 2015

Margaret Hodge: "You're avoiding the question"
Anne Bulford "Not yet..."

Premier Out

BBC Studios CEO Tim Davie has told his team that he won't be using his commercial brain and muscular legs in the service of the Premier League after all.

This comes three weeks after Susan Dinnage did a volte-face on the top job, and the recruitment process of November, where Davie was apparently runner-up, was revisited.

BBC Sport informs us that Mr Davie "has now decided he is happy at the BBC."

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

England re-invented

They're calling it the biggest change to the structure of BBC England in 50 years. And if in doubt about reinvention, why not restructure ?

There are currently ten head of regions and a head of digital. These posts will close. There will be six new senior editorial roles - a Head of News, a Head of TV Commissioning, and four regional leads covering the North, the Midlands, the East and South East and the West and South West. Chris Burns, who was announced last year as the Head of Audio and Digital, will continue to lead local radio. It means the number of senior managers will reduce from eleven to eight. (And the redundancy money comes from a central pot).

Totting up

Some figures from last night's Meaningless Vote coverage

BBC News: 4.9m (31.1%)
ITV News at Ten: 1.7m (11.4%)
Newsnight: 0.86m (8.3%)
Politics Live Special (BBC2, 7pm): 1.88m (9.4%)
Channel 4 News: 0.80m (4.0%)

Other people who read this.......