Thursday, 14 January 2010

Media battalions in TV war

IT is more than half a century since Lord Thomson of Fleet’s famous remark that ITV was a licence to print money.
How things have changed. Lord Thomson was head of the famous media family that owned the Times and several of the larger regional newspapers, as well as Thomson Directory, Thomson Holidays and other world brands.
When the company decided to ditch its regional newspaper interests back in the 1990s most of them were bought by what was to become Trinity Mirror. Others gravitated to the ownership of Johnston Press.
Now these two groups are on opposite sides in a bid to save independent regional TV news services.
Licences for the pilot projects will be handed out in March with the eventual aim of them taking over the running of all Channel 3 regional news services from 2013 when the ITV licence expires.
Preferred bidders in each of the three pilot regions are due to be selected by the Government in March and the final contracts are set to be awarded in May.
Another ironic twist of fate means that former Trinity Mirror Birmingham Post editor Marc Reeves will help oversee the award of licences for a pilot TV news project.
The Department for Culture Media and Sport has appointed five other senior media figures on the panel to decide which groups will be allowed to run the independently funded news consortia to provide regional news in Scotland, Wales and the Tyne Tees and Borders area of England.
The panel will be chaired by Richard Hooper who is a former deputy chairman of Ofcom and was awarded a CBE in 2005 for services to the communications industry.
The others are Val Atkinson, who spent 27 years at BBC Scotland; Fru Hazlitt, former chief executive of GCap Media and Virgin Radio; Glyn Mathias former political editor for ITN at Westminster; and William Perrin, former civil service policy advisor on technology, culture, media and sport to Tony Blair.
Former editor of Channel 4 News Stewart Purvis will act as an advisor to the panel.
Trinity Mirror's bid to run regional TV news in the North-East and Borders region has been joined by The CN Group, publishers of the News and Star, Carlisle, and the North West Evening Mail, in Barrow, joining the Press Association and production company Ten Alps.
It will do battle for the right to broadcast regional TV news on Channel 3 with a rival team featuring Newsquest, publishers of the Northern Echo, and Johnston Press, which owns the Sunderland Echo and Hartlepool Mail.
Johnston Press and Newsquest have joined forces with ITN, Metro Radio and the University of Sunderland to form a consortium to provide broadcast news in Border and Tyne Tees.
The group is together seeking to win the public funding which is had been made available for one of three broadcasting pilot projects to replace ITV news in Wales, Scotland and this English region. If the pilots are successful, Independently Funded News Consortia could be rolled out across the UK.
Staff involved in the current ITV service in the regional will also be involved in the bid. And broadcaster Melvyn Bragg is acting as a special adviser to the consortium.
ITN chief executive John Hardie said: "We’re excited to bring together this compelling consortium which combines the very best of commercial journalism in the region, spanning television, print, online and radio.
"This unprecedented alliance will act as a catalyst to revolutionise local news, delivering a ground-breaking new service for viewers. Using the considerable skills and capabilities of our partners combined with ITN’s proven journalistic and creative pedigree, we will offer an unparalleled strength in regional and local news coverage available across all platforms."
Current ITV head of news in the area Lucy West represents the existing ITV staff who are involved in the consortium.
She said: "We will aim to build on our strengths and deliver a first class news service to viewers across the North East, Cumbria and the Scottish Borders. We are looking forward to developing new, exciting and ambitious ideas with our partners to provide the best local news service to audiences across all platforms in the Tyne Tees and Border region."
Johnston Press chief executive John Fry said: "Johnston Press boasts an army of journalists on the ground, embedded at a grass-roots level and very much part of their communities. We look forward to playing a central role in this new era for local news to best serve readers, surfers and viewers in the area."
The question is why these major battalions of the regional press want to run a TV news service which the current ITV bosses just see as a drain on resources they cannot sustain.
Convergence of media means that journalists currently employed by the regional press have been trained on podcasts and video for the internet, so will probably be expected to film for TV at the same time as taking notes for their newspaper versions of stories.
Whether they are really willing and able, while being paid in most cases less than £20,000 per year, is yet to be seen.
For the major newspaper owners to be battling to run local television news services shows just what a traumatic change there has been in the media industry since the advent of the internet.
Lord Thomson’s words now seem an age away, which in today’s fast moving world they are.

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