Posts Tagged ‘BBC’

Committed to journalism – the Reuters Institute’s 30th anniversary

September 11, 2013

by Monique Villa

Reproduced by kind permission of The Baron

Spending a week-end in Oxford is always a treat, but spending it with the likes of Mark Thompson, CEO of The New York Times, Nathalie Nougayrede, Director of Le Monde, John Stackhouse, Editor-in-Chief of the Globe and Mail, and more than 100 fellows from the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, was a real uplifting experience. Uplifting because a large degree of optimism in the future of journalism emerged from the two days’ celebrations and discussions.

The fellowship programme was the first launched by the then Reuters Foundation 30 years ago, and its anniversary was celebrated in style with almost 200 participants, mostly still journalists, coming from all around the world, with their suitcases full of memories and ideas. Seven years ago, the fellowship became the Reuters Institute, a partnership with the University of Oxford.

Mark Thompson kicked off the two-day event with the Reuters Memorial Lecture. And no, he didn’t talk about the BBC. Instead, he gave a fascinating insight into the complex dynamics of pay-per-read and digital advertising.

It is remarkable to see how the rise of social media is forcing long and well established publications such as The New York Times to re-think the entire business model, making video a key asset of their offering. “It’s one thing” – said Thompson – “when you compete with other newspapers in terms of digital impressions – it’s another when you compete with players such as Google and Facebook with their billions and billions of impressions”. He said the newspaper he manages leaves money on the table with advertisers because they don’t produce enough videos, the holy Grail of advertising online.

Mark Thompson stressed the importance of quality journalism, highlighting how time, accuracy and authority are even more precious at a time when everybody creates and circulates news via twitter. I agree with him, social media is not a substitute for journalism, and newspapers brands are surely not becoming obsolete.

What I found fascinating about this Oxford gathering was the palpable level of optimism shared by the executives of prestigious newspapers.

Both Nathalie Nougayrede and John Stackhouse depicted a future where newspapers will become more and more competitive, both commercially and editorially. It was refreshing to see an outspoken French woman outlining – in flawless English – the challenges and the opportunities ahead of the French media landscape. And it was captivating to find out how the Globe and Mail had shut down its print edition for a day – this past Labor Day – to drive users to a new, and enhanced online edition. The risk is part of a wider and bolder strategy at the Canadian newspaper that gives editors a financial premium if their audience online grows. The move, so far, has paid off, but it has also raised eyebrows among those who fear the red line between editorial and commercial could be blurred.

The role of women in journalism was also on the agenda. I was the moderator of an interesting panel which included: Suzanne Franks, Professor of Journalism at City University, Sue Lloyd Roberts, Special Correspondent at the BBC, and Laura Saarikoski, Sunday Editor at the Helsingin Sanomat, the biggest Finnish newspaper. Despite the recent boom in the number of female students enrolled in journalism courses around the world (in some cases up to 90 per cent of the students are in fact women), only a tiny percentage makes it to the very top. Why? The panelists were unanimous: childcare and family responsibilities. Even in Finland, where the government has a clearly progressive agenda when it comes to equal opportunities, maternity and paternity leave, a good number of women make it to middle management positions, but not to the role of Editor-in-Chief. According to Laura Saarikoski, this is due to the fact that women have an embedded guilt complex, which prevents them from putting career at the very top of their priorities. I don’t fully agree with such view, and the fact that two women are leading the editorial teams at The New York Times or at Le Monde is there to prove that things are changing fast.

I agree more with Suzanne Franks when she says that the career of most female TV presenters ends at 45. Sue Lloyd Roberts puts it in a very powerful way: successful female journalists are seen as a “third sex”. “They simply don’t know what to make of you”, says Sue – admitting that while reporting from tribal Afghanistan she was allowed to drink tea in the company of local men, while their wives remained segregated to the kitchen.

Seeing over 100 fellows from more than 40 countries in Oxford this weekend is direct evidence of the great success of the Reuters Institute that the Foundation partly funds. Great credit goes to David Levy, its Director, who has in four years succeeded to transform the Institute into a global player, with its trusted publications massively downloaded around the world. The Institute is today at the forefront of providing trusted information and data for media and policymakers adapting to the new challenges of the profession.

As Mark Thompson puts it: “Why did Jeff Bezos buy the Washington Post? Has he seen anything that the rest of us haven’t?” We don’t have the answer. And that’s why we need the Reuters Institute to pursue its mission of shedding light and provide analysis in the fast evolving media landscape.

The Thomson Reuters Foundation is fully committed to journalism and to supporting the RISJ. Our Chairman, David Binet, came all the way from Toronto just for the event, as a testimony of this lasting bond. ■

Monique Villa is a French journalist, business leader and women’s rights advocate who joined Reuters in 2001 as managing director of media after a career as an Agence France-Presse correspondent and manager. She became chief executive of the Thomson Reuters Foundation following the acquisition of Reuters by Thomson Corporation in 2008.

BBC: news or entertainment? Resolve the conflict of interest.

November 12, 2012

What is the BBC for? That’s the fundamental question thrown up by the disasters the corporation has got itself into. Was the cancellation of a news programme on Jimmy Savile’s reported abuse of young girls influenced by the BBC’s plan to air a celebratory review of his life which was bound to draw in large audience figures?

Quite possibly not, and in light of the BBC’s latest howler over mistaken identity, the journalists working on the Savile exposure may have been right to hold back if they were not sure. But the BBC clearly had a conflict of interests. Should it broadcast a positive programme about Savile because it was bound to be popular as entertainment? Or should it give journalism priority, even if that results in cancellation of the entertainment?

Journalists take it for granted that news has overriding importance. But that is special pleading. Many people are not that interested in the BBC’s news. They have other sources. They are quite content to watch the BBC’s wide range of other programmes.

In any case, it is hard to define news, current affairs, education and so on. How do you categorise yesterday’s Remembrance Day coverage or Andrew Marr’s History of the World series? For most people they were just good, enriching television, and the BBC did it well.

The BBC’s output is so diverse that one head cannot oversee everything effectively, even with capable lieutenants. As talk is of a radical overhaul, perhaps the post of director general should be abolished and the BBC split up into autonomous divisions responsible to its Trust. Or at least relieve the director general of responsibility as editor-in-chief, which he cannot carry out properly alongside his other responsibilities, since they may conflict.

As for the second catastrophe over mistaken identity of another alleged child abuser, all journalists dread them. To get a top story, you have to go to the edge, and only experience and instinct tell you how to avoid going over the cliff. In this case, the BBC journalists made a glaring but elementary error and will have to pay the price. But they will get over it. The BBC will always be able to attract excellent journalists who will get it right in future.

For the moment, they are in disarray. One of their top investigative journalists, John Humphrys, tore apart his boss, director general George Entwhistle, on prime time radio. However the BBC’s other great scourge of interviewees, Jeremy Paxman, said Entwhistle was a “talented man” and it was a shame he was forced to resign. Two more top news executives have since been “asked to step aside.” Somebody will have to bring all this together again.

This now falls to Lord Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, a retired politician, and Tim Davie, acting director general, who until 2005 was marketing director with Pepsico.

Want to make award-winning documentaries? Find good story-tellers

January 19, 2012

The BBC starts another of its multi-programme political documentaries tonight (2100 BST BBC2): Putin, Russia & and the West. Award-winning documentary-maker Norma Percy told students at the Reuters Institute in Oxford how they do it:

– A series typically takes 3 years to make and is costly: the BBC pays half and other TVs the rest.
– Based on interviews with protagonists, they aim to show how the closed-doors decisions in major political events were made.
– A good time to tackle an event is when many of the protagonists are out of power writing their memoirs.
– The politicians who come across best are those who are good story-tellers.
– Do the interviewees ever complain? “Only that we didn’t use enough of what they said.”
– How do you get the politicians to tell good stories? “I ask them to tell it as they did to the person they were negotiating with.”
– “We only broadcast what we believe is true. We don’t use obvious lies.”
– How do you know? “Either another politician corroborates it, or our researchers check it out.”

Previous series have covered Gorbachev, the break-up of Yugoslavia, Milosevic and American hostages in Iran. The BBC can attract big audiences, secure sizeable funding, and persuade world leaders to talk. That’s the drawing power of a broadcaster which has built its reputation carefully over decades. Worth learning how to do it.

Timothy Corsellis – a war poet’s struggle with conscience

December 20, 2011

On 11th December, BBC TV showed original manuscripts of war poet Timothy Corsellis, killed in 1941 at the age of 20, and an art expert estimated their value. Timothy was an airman trained for the Royal Air Force at the time of its crucial need. His plane crashed. Another young life was cut short tragically in the service of his country.

But there’s more to it than that. Timothy Corsellis had decided he was a conscientious objector before the war broke out, so volunteering to fight as a pilot implied challenging his innermost beliefs.

After being assigned to train as a bomber pilot, Timothy asked to be switched to fighter training as he could not countenance indiscriminate pattern-bombing of civilians. Flying fighters would scarcely have put him at any less risk, and he would have still served his country in the front line at the height of the battle.

In response, the RAF gave him an “honourable discharge” and he was set to the lowly civilian task of ferrying military aircraft from one place to another. On one of these flights, his plane stalled and he dived into the ground.

On television, his role as a war hero was presented simplistically. I find him even more admirable knowing that he had to conquer his conscience first, endure rejection by his own side, and then give up his life for his country all the same.

A year before he died, at the height of the Battle of Britain, Timothy Corsellis wrote:

The faces at the window
Smiled back ‘goodbye’
Blood coursing in my breast
Told me it was the last time.
‘Good-bye’ they spoke, and I
“Never again or God knows when”
Death, a word of empty meaning
Comes to pluck me from a great and happy past
Into a vapid future
For life in this twentieth century knows no present
Life moves too fast.

The expert valued the manuscripts at £8,000, but no publisher has ever brought his poems out, even though they are well known in literary circles. It is time for a change of heart. They are part of our cultural heritage, forged at a dramatic moment in history.

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