Opinion: Trying to catch up with social media Aunty acted in haste over ‘traditional’ Derbyshire

After just three weeks from the Victoria Derbyshire Show first airing in April 2015 The Guardian reported; ‘Derbyshire has never pulled in more than 100,000 viewers’.

Never in three weeks? Suppose that’s the rate time passes by in this ‘modern age’.

It takes time for things to establish. More time than three weeks, (and don’t tell me in TV land three weeks is three hundred years).

Derbyshire, which began life as an experimental simulcast format that attracted a very modest 30,000 viewers, was supported by BBC News at the time, who filtered out the noise and chose to stick with the show. That faith was rewarded.

In five years Derbyshire flourished, growing its audience (which was last reported at 280,000) while carving itself out as an award-winning news programme which gained the trust of older audiences as well as the much sought after millennials through producing the highest standards of journalism (to remind everyone, that’s reporting accurately, objectively and with balance). It also showed the way to handle information with sympathy and sensitivity in the exceptional way it broke the 2017 scandal about former footballers who were sexually abused.

What BBC News has done in choosing to cancel Derbyshire contradicts with many of their targets, specifically one (the most important tenet in the BBC Charter) – providing the highest quality of journalism.

– BBC cuts; a shift in what BBC News generates and how it’s shown

BBC News wanting to become Disneyland

It was announced in 2016 there would be eighty-million-pounds of cuts to BBC News. Forty-million-pounds worth were implemented this week which involved the loss of four-hundred-and-fifty jobs, cuts to the schedules of Newsnight, BBC World Service and Radio 5 Live and the cancellation of the Victoria Derbyshire Show.

Gareth Allen attempted to sugar coat these cuts (which is what they are – cuts – cost saving measures – that’s it) as BBC News trying to change the style of what it makes to suit a more digitally friendly form that it believes will attract a younger audience.

Allen described to Samira Ahmed on Newswatch last Saturday that in order to do this BBC News has to “shift resources” and that means, “looking at our cost base on television”. Having decided to do this the question I ask is has the BBC actually been on social media?

Of course it has! The crux here isn’t the lack of BBC experience in the social internet realm (every journalist in the news division has to be able to send a tweet). The question is what is BBC News’ experience in ‘young people’s’ social media? Bare in mind it’s already decided to shift its resources from award-winning ‘linear’ programmes like the Derbyshire Show and Newsnight to……well….what?

Tiktok news

“Digital culture” writer at the New Statesman Sarah Manavis suggests the answer to the future of news and what it should look like is ten-second videos of atrocities and newsy features wedged between 16-year-old girls twerking in skin-tight tracksuit bottoms and guys doing stupid shit in their homes.

Sarah Manavis – Why the BBC is so bad at engaging younger audiences

Tictoc is a short form video platform that lets anyone upload nearly anything to the network. This is the platform identified by Manavis and, seemingly, BBC News as where news resources of the British Broadcasting Company should be shifted towards.

In TictToc all people have to do is swipe up to go through the infinite list of video-clips of people falling over, miming, or doing the dance up the step thing (and being overtaken by young people there’s loads of sexually loaded content).

Overtaken! That’s the essential word here.

The app could be a valuable tool in news reporting – a simple and fast way to upload videos, and nothing tells a story better than video – but the platform has been overrun by people who want to ‘shitpost’ (refer to Manavis’ article for the meaning of the term).

How can you create an editorial argument for wedging a video on a court report, or bank interest rates, or the ‘B’ word, between a girl with big breasts in a low slung top miming a quote from Modern Family or a perma-tanned guy in a vest tripping up his mate in his kitchen?

The fact is these social media platforms are no longer compatible with news. You cannot report accurately, with balance and to legal constraints (which I hate to tell you folks actually makes for quite boring news) next to someone making a fart sound with their hands or an impression of an angry Scotsman. In choosing what to watch the angry Scot will beat whatever Mark Carney and Angela Merkel are saying every time.

Manavis does highlight two brave and, in comparison to what is generally posted, fantastic attempts at displaying stories on Tictoc, done by BBC employees Sophia Smith Galer and Emma Bentley. Their videos are made to give a ‘fun’ snippet of what it’s like to work at the BBC but they don’t answer the problem of trying to portray major, hard hitting incidences on the platform.

The Youtube debate (tacked-on)

YouTube is also mentioned as “the future of news” and where young people are, but again it’s overrun (this time by nearly everyone on the planet). It’s said that in hindsight the BBC needed to be there ten years ago to develop an “original presence”. Hindsight is useless and they are not.

BBC News’ decision to drop the more traditional and established media format of the Derbyshire Show for experiments in trying to squeeze into the most overcrowded media market ever in existence seems both a wrong decision and a waste of time.

It was surprising Manavis’ article was retweeted so widely (including by Derbyshire herself) in support of the show when what Manavis actually did was provide nine-hundred words of describing a scenario where traditional journalistic values, which the Derbyshire Show was built on, will be very difficult to follow. Manavis seemed to try to make up for this by tacking on the end a farewell note to Victoria and the team which totally contradicted her argument.

Traditional shows refusing to incorporate ‘internet culture subjects’ into their agendas

I’m not against social media, or Tictoc. If people want to have fun, great. I don’t deny that used in the right way these are extraordinary tools of communication. And I’m not idiotic enough to reject social media all together and say it has no place within news. Of course it does, and traditional BBC news formats do need to up their game.

There is far too many editorial resources currently being devoted to Brexit. BBC’s flagship current affairs show Newsnight has been entranced by the political saga the last three years. These days, if you go through its last ten shows or its twitter feed they are both utterly dominated by Brexit related issues.

If BBC News wants to shift its resources to focus on digital formats made for a younger audience The Next Episode is a great example of what it could build on.

The current affairs podcast made by the BBC specifically for young people discusses modern newsy “internet culture subjects” like ‘dealing with death while studying’, ‘black influencer pay gap’ and ‘I lost my job because of my hair’. I can’t speak for young people because I’m not young, but to me, these discussions seem different, interesting, and there’s no mention of Brexit.

If BBC News can generate more products like this, the recent “shift in focus” (cuts) might help reinvigorate the organisation. But this is very difficult to do. In arriving late to the digital party BBC News finds itself in the hardest of competitive spheres to play catch-up.

The Next Episode is a BBC podcast aimed at young people. The first episode aired in May 2019

All is not lost

The old saying still rings true – the most important thing in life is to be first. And while BBC News was no way near first in penetrating the social media market of under-25s, it was first in creating the best form of journalistic practice that can be applied.

The initial signs of these recent “changes” suggest BBC News has acted in haste and sold itself short at the behest of kids or parents or whoever is saying auntie’s news channel needs to follow the curb and be different.

In being led by these opinions the BBC has not taken a step forward into the ‘new digital age’, but a step backwards in losing a show that held up the nation’s news corporation for what it used to want to be – the exceptional news outlet.

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