A call for the BBC to halt plans to expand its local online news coverage by a group of the senior regional press editorial executives has been backed by our Group Editorial Director Emily Woolfe.
Six local editorial directors have joined forces to demand the “neighbour from hell” BBC abandons expansion plans to move into local news marketplaces already served by commercial providers.
In a message published across local titles this week, editors have warned that the public broadcaster poses an “equally potent threat” to the sustainability of local journalism as the tech platforms will impact local media readers, advertiser businesses and the jobs of their journalists.
“If the BBC was a family and lived in the house next door to you it would be the neighbour from hell,” the editors said, adding that the attack on local news media would be a “shameful legacy” for BBC Director-General Tim Davie.
The editors added: “That’s the verdict of some of the most experienced local newspaper editors in the country who now regard the BBC as little more than a state-funded juggernaut on course to suffocate independent journalism in every city, town and village in the UK.
“The BBC seems to be on a mission to be the only show in town – having taken an axe to its much-loved local radio stations so it can start writing news stories online which you can already get from local newspapers which are currently battling with tech platforms like Google, Meta and Apple.”
Group Editorial Director Emily Woolfe has lent her support to the editors’ demands. Emily said: “No one is debating the role of the BBC as a whole, but its impact on local media and journalism cannot be underestimated.
“Ours is an industry which is fighting for survival, and yet facing a daily battle against a state-funded media. They have no advertising and so are more appealing to some readers, as well as being ranked higher by search engines.
“They are not reliant on advertising revenues or Google contracts to stay afloat. How can we compete? I stand with those regional publishers as they call for action now – for better national support, but also a stronger working relationship with the BBC and publishers.”
Responding in a blog post, Rhodri Talfan Davies, Director of BBC Nations, claimed the editors’ claims were “misplaced and misleading”, saying they “failed to tell their readers is that the BBC is already investing millions of pounds every year to support high-quality news jobs within the local commercial sector”.
He said: “The BBC has always recognised it has a unique responsibility to support our partners in the local community and – like all good neighbours – we are committed to deepening that collaboration in the years to come.
“But that won’t deter us from setting the record straight when our role in local journalism is misreported.
“Back in October 2022, we laid out our plans to strengthen local online news provision in communities across England.
“The plans will deliver a stronger and more distinctive local online news service for 43 different local areas in England – all available on the BBC News website and app.”
The editors’ message was signed by Ian Carter, Iliffe Media editorial director; Toby Granville, Newsquest editorial development director; Gary Shipton, National World editorial director; Jeremy Spooner, News Media Association Independent Publishers Forum chair; Paul Rowland, Reach Regionals editorial director; and Martin Wright, Midland News Association editor in chief.
The call is believed to represent the first time that editorial chiefs from local publishers have co-signed a joint message.