Now to rescue the print media

posted by Steve Bowbrick

Emily Bell in yesterday’s Media Guardian wonders why the print media should expect to escape the present unpleasantness unscathed, what with banks falling around our ears and all that. She thinks it’s quite likely we’ll lose a handful of national papers: The Mirror and The Express both being vulnerable.

A conversation in a corridor here at the BBC’s Broadcast Centre got me thinking and suggests a way out for the struggling papers: nationalisation (public service-ification anway). With the BBC’s mission shifting from informing, educating and entertaining the British people on TV and radio to creating public value across multiple platforms and media, the BBC should make an experimental foray into newspaper ownership.

Waiting prudently until the share prices of the threatened rags have fallen to bargain levels the Trust should authorise the purchase of one paper from each part of the market: a broadsheet, a mid-market and a tabloid. An initial investment of no more than £100M (3% of the BBC’s annual income) should secure, say, The Independent, The Express and The Mirror at next year’s fire sale rates. Once acquired the papers should be radically retuned to meet their new public service goals.

Each paper should retain its identity and its position in the market and each should keep its own editorial function: although it would be difficult to deliver the BBC’s values via the papers’ jaded old-school editorial teams, the autonomy and diversity of voice they’d provide would be essential to the project. Production and distribution should be centralised, as should Internet and new media production. The papers should be moved to new regional bases: one each for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (London would still have plenty of papers of its own).

With the papers acquired and reengineered to deliver an updated public service mix of content and interaction the next phase would be very exciting: the new BBC papers should begin to pump out a democratic mix of quality content, innovative user-generated material and the kind of tools for democratic and civic engagement that could really kick-start a post-recession cultural boom.


Comments so far.

  1. Posted by Podnosh Blog » Archive » Compact, concise, connected - why Birmingham (Post) must change. on Tuesday 21st October

    [...] Steve Bowbrick muses on whether we could nationalise newspapers, and Mark [...]

  2. Posted by Nick Reynolds (BBC) on Tuesday 21st October

    Very funny and unlikely to happen to say the least.

    Rather than the BBC buying up newspapers – and don’t forget that the BBC already has a a suite of commercial magazines (maybe BBC Worldwide could buy the Mail – imagine the furore!) – newspapers should reinvent themselves as content producers and then the BBC could buy in that content. There’s no reason why the Guardian couldn’t develop a TV or radio arm as an independent production house and then the BBC commission some content from them as it does from other independents.

  3. Posted by Steve Bowbrick on Tuesday 21st October

    Much better idea Nick. Still, as a thought experiment I like the idea that the BBC might smear its public service obligations across a number of media, old and new. I know that buying national newspapers is not very likely (to say the least) but I do like the idea of yoking together diverse outlets to achieve PS goals…

  4. Posted by Ryan Morrison on Tuesday 21st October

    An alternative idea – mainly for local newspapers could be for part of the new BBC Local proposition to include an element of external spend and have the sites (which tend to cover a fairly large patch) buy a number of features or pieces of content from local newspapers every week/month.

    This could also include a content sharing arrangement that would allow those local newspapers to use BBC Local video content for free and would see the newspapers headlines displayed on the BBC Local site.

  5. Posted by David Flisher on Tuesday 21st October

    An outstanding idea, but one that’s unfortunately unlikely to see the light of day. Can you imagine the (a)moral indignation of the Murdoch free-market cheerleaders? I also can’t see any politicians being prepared to stand up against such, given that so few are prepared to unequivocally defend the licence fee of the notion of public service as inherently good. Shame though.

  6. Posted by Mike Dorey on Wednesday 22nd October

    “With the BBC’s mission shifting from informing, educating and entertaining the British people on TV and radio to creating public value across multiple platforms and media” What does this mean to licence payers exactly? Especially since TV Viewing is increasing and Radio audiences are as high as they have ever been? Are these licence payers happy with the the BBC’s mission ‘shifing’ in this way? Is the ‘shift’ an aspiration or a statement of what is actually happening?

    If you are advocating Newspaper ownership, is this actually any better than using top-slicing to release money to spend on other non-BBC projects? I don’t agree with top-slicing myself, but I also worry about viewing the BBC as some kind of ‘investment bank’ in this way…

  7. Posted by Peter Copping on Sunday 23rd November

    Just to say Guardian Group already has a TV station, at the moment in Manchester, (Channel M) Sky203, Virgin878 an band3 ch39 (but the singal in awful there) Is it just Guardian TV in waiting?

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