News for Cheshire

News for Cheshire is the blog of the campaign to get the BBC news website to provide dedicated news coverage of our county, which it doesn't do. Currently, users of the BBC's news website have to hunt on the pages for Merseyside, Manchester and Staffordshire if they want Cheshire news. Other contributors are welcome, just get in touch if you'd like to write for the campaign.

Monday, November 24, 2008

BBC all ears

The BBC Internet Blog has been reviewing coverage of the BBC Trust's decision not to go forward with local video news online. We have a mention, linking to yesterday's post here, which is good. We await responses with interest.

Watch this space, as this issue is unlikely to be tomorrow's chip wrappings just yet...
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Labels: , ,

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The end of BBC local news plans?

A couple of days ago, the BBC Trust announced that it was vetoing a £68 million plan to provide a network of 65 hyper-local news sites providing video news content. On the face of it, it seems that any possibility of Cheshire's licence-fee payers finally getting some dedicated content have been abandoned. However, closer examination of the Trust's statement reveals that the money must be returned to central funds and may be used only with the Trust's agreement. So, the cash has been ring-fenced - at least temporarily. The statement also makes it clear that the BBC needs to look again at existing regional news provision and find other ways of addressing the gaps, and it has been invited to put forward new proposals to the Trust.

We await new developments with interest, as the Trust's announcement does not mean that there will be no Cheshire news site on at all, only that there will be no video news service.

Journalist Dave Lee points out that the real losers are the viewers and listeners, and notes that the regional media needs to up its game.

Regional newspapers are , as expected, heaving a huge sigh of relief. It's understandable as the BBC's video news proposals would undoubtedly have had an impact on local news provision. However, they should not feel threatened by the addition of one single web page to Aunty's sprawler of a site. They now have an opportunity to get their act together. If they are so worried about the BBC muscling to provide local news, then they need to provide it themselves in a more consumable form than they currently do. Robert Andrews has also raised some interesting ideas about how the BBC could offer local content in a manner that would enable the regional media and BBC to work together to offer useful content.

The biggest problem the regional press in Cheshire needs to resolve is frequency of delivery. In a large, mainly rural county most local papers are weekly and those that have websites tend to update them only weekly, instead of when news breaks. Coupled with many local FM radio stations that buy in their news feed from London and thus offer no localised bulletin, it is clear that the media Cheshire has a massive service gap to fill.

If they want to stay ahead of the BBC, those newspaper websites need to be updated daily to offer a genuinely local service to readers. Dave Lee has identified some of the major problems regional news websites need to tackle. Newsquest and Trinity Mirror should, I sincerely hope, being closely examining the issue of differentiation. It's understandable that these huge local media conglomerates want to push a brand identity but it should never be at the expense of their end-users, who want local news round the clock in a useable format.

The regional media and the BBC are probably never going to sit comfortably together, but there is a real opportunity now for both to do what they can to improve localised news provision.

In the meantime, the campaign will be asking the BBC if the axing of the local video proposals affects the proposal to offer Cheshire licence-fee payers equality of service on the website.
Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, September 05, 2008

O'Brien resigns

Tamsin O'Brien, head of North-West Regional Programming for the BBC, has announced her resignation from the post.

The news gives no indication if her departure is immediate (but presumably it is), or her reason for standing down. We await news of her successor with interest.

And, of course, the burning question is - what happens now to O'Brien's promise that news and other online services will be provided for Cheshire licence-fee papers at the end of the year? It is to be hoped that the proposals submitted to the BBC Trust will be given the green light, but the arrival of a new broom at BBC Manchester HQ could see a clean sweep.

We will be watching all developments very closely.


Friday, May 30, 2008

BBC online budget scandal - the truth at last

News broke yesterday of the BBC Trust's review of, the corporation's gargantuan website, of which News Online is a major part. The results make interesting reading and have been widely analysed in the media.

First up, even the press release offers some intriguing statistics.

In 2006/7 the BBC spent 3% of the licence fee on compared to 70% on television channels and 17% on its radio services, yet it is now the BBC's fourth most widely used service.
Right - so it gets a snippet of the cash available... But wait - there's much more going on. Scroll down the press release and you'll see an appended table detailing the budget, the overspend and misallocation costs, accompanied by a very dry statement.

It fell to the Guardian to get stuck in. Its PDA blog made a scathing analysis of the financial mismanagement afoot.

The world's biggest news and entertainment website breached its 2007/2008 budget by a staggering 48%. About two-thirds of the £35.8m overspend was down to "misallocation of general overheads and costs'' - accountants at the BBC had, apparently, failed to include costs such as the buildings that house its digital teams. Then there was the £3.5m in unauthorised overspend and a further £7.4m in overspending that - bizarrely - is permitted under generous BBC rules that allow for "10% leeway either side of the target,'' as a spokesman put it.

So who gets fired? Well, no one. In part, because no one, it turns out, is in charge of the sprawling network.

Shocked? There's more:

How will the Trust rein in the spending? They won't. Instead, the Trust's recommendation is simply to accept the overspend, integrate it into the budget and add an extra £4.4m of additional padding. So the baseline budget for 2007/2008 of £74.2m is bumped up to £114.4m - a healthy 54% increase at a time when the BBC's private sector rivals are feeling the full whiplash of a global credit crunch. was also scathing of the figures.

From the point of view of media rivals, that sounds threatening. But it's not the place of this blog to detail the long-running war between Aunty and regional news outlets that feel threatened by the BBC's dominance. From the licence-payers' standpoint, it's mixed - bad that things ran over budget but good because it's still committed to investing in what is, after all, a heavily used site.

Sitting here in Cheshire, I can only look at the report from the angle of value for money for us licence-payers in the county. It is quite staggering that the BBC can throw licence-payers' money around like this - losing control of budgets, no one apparently in charge, spending at least £3.5m on "additional content", etc. Yet, the BBC continues to claim that there is no budget as yet to provide dedicated Cheshire content (either news or other regional content) and a million residents in the county are still expected to wait until January 2009 for the BBC Trust to give official approval to provision of equal coverage for Cheshire...

Personally, I'm not massively surprised at the financial waste - stories abound of vast budgets being spent on pilot TV shows that are scrapped before transmission. Neither am I surprised that no one was "in charge" of the whole sorry mess. But let's be frank - if the BBC was a modern plc, it would be a lean, mean, fighting machine accountable to shareholders and expected to rein in costs. Us licence-payers are sort of shareholders but without the control, so this kind of profligate waste continues to abound while the very people that this world-renowned public broadcasting service is to supposed to serve renain unserved.

A scandal? You bet.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, May 23, 2008

Cash for local news at BBC

The journalism resource site has reported more news on the BBC's plans for local news sites.

That pot of £68 million is a nice little sum. No surprise that regional press editors are unhappy about Aunty's plans as they've long seen this as the BBC muscling in on their patch. It's a shame they don't understand that local papers can and should provide a more detailed service to their community than the BBC will ever be able to achieve.

What we'd like to know is if Cheshire is included among the 60 sites that will be sharing the £68 million. The BBC has yet to specify if the 60 sites are the existing county web pages or if these are to be new ultra-local pages, which has been hinted at previously. Just when are they going to clarify this?

Labels: , ,

Friday, May 02, 2008

Results not just in but visible

It took a while, but finally all the votes were counted, the results were declared and the Tories took control of both the new unitary authorities of Cheshire East and Cheshire West and Chester.

In another historic first, BBC News Online reported the election results on all three of the Manchester, Merseyside and Staffordshire pages across which Cheshire news is normally spread (if we actually get any).

After two years of campaigning for one solitary Cheshire news page, perhaps we should now be demanding two - one for each half of the county...

The question is, is Aunty up to the challenge?

Labels: ,

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Election? What election?

It's polling day today. Hundreds of councils across England and Wales are up for re-election and, in case you have been living in the Gobi desert for the last six months and hadn't heard, so is the Mayor of London. Ken, Boris, Brian, whoever... even in Wick (that's in the north of Scotland) they are probably aware of who the main mayoral candidates are.

Here in Cheshire, we are about to vote for our two new (and unwanted) unitary councils. Not that you'd know from reading BBC News Online. Aunty has barely reported on the change in the last year, a change that will affect a million people and split the county in two forever.

Today's BBC coverage just ignores Cheshire, as usual. The main story this morning focuses on the general situation, then switches to the fight for London. The electoral news on the Manchester page, where some Cheshire news occasionally gets shunted, ignores the split, as does the report on the Staffordshire page.

Early this morning, there was no news at all on the Merseyside page about the elections. It took until 8.22am for the BBC to acknowledge what's happening. Even then, we are only offered two measly sentences on this momentous change. It would be fair to say that anyone outside Cheshire probably has had no clue of the impending split because it has been so woefully under-reported. Only the county's many local papers have kept Cheshire inhabitants informed, in a fragmented manner. The BBC offers no information today on the number of seats up for election in either authority, which boroughs are disappearing for good alongside the County Council, or what the expected turnout might be.

Eight other unitary authorities will be created today in these elections: Shropshire (minus Telford and Wrekin), Bedford, Cornwall, County Durham, Exeter, Ipswich, Wiltshire and Northumberland. All these areas, however, have their own county news page on News Online, meaning licence-payers in these places have been able to follow the BBC's coverage of the changes.

We shall await tomorrow's results reports with interest - just where on BBC News Online will we be able to hunt down the results of the Cheshire West & Chester and Cheshire East polls?

Labels: , ,

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wales, Staffordshire - what's the difference?

A quirky story has appeared on the BBC website today - Audlem in Cheshire (on the border of Staffordshire) wants to become Welsh, even though it is 9 miles from the border with Wales.

Village residents are running a poll to drum up support, although some local inhabitants would prefer to join Shropshire. It's not clear why (apart from free prescriptions) they are so desperate to leave Cheshire, but as usual finding the story meant scouring various regional pages because of the lack of a Cheshire news feed.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Rebranding for BBC News

The BBC has announced it is to spend yet more money revamping its news service. Following an across-the-board redesign for News Online in March, Aunty is to rebrand all its news channels using various versions of its red globe logo. The exercise will cost £550,000 and see channels such as News 24 renamed and regional news programmes have their own colour schemes.

It all sounds very nice and will undoubtedly look very pretty, while strengthening the BBC's news branding and global image. Here in Cheshire, though, it's hard not to see it as yet another lost opportunity to provide licence payers with equality of news coverage. The truly cynical no doubt wonder how it is that Aunty can afford to spend so much money on looks yet cite an inadequate licence fee settlement (and thus poverty) when it comes to providing a couple of pages of content for the licence-paying residents of Cheshire...

Labels: ,

Friday, April 11, 2008

And still more media coverage...

The media site,, has also picked up on last Friday's Newswatch broadcast and published a story on the campaign. You can read it here.

Labels: , ,