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November 28, 2006

Michael Who?

What will Michael Grade’s departure from the BBC mean to Auntie? Well, I don’t think she’ll have been crying into her cornflakes when she read the Daily Telegraph this morning.

Michael GradeCertainly, Grade has steadied the ship through two very turbulent years, and nearly negotiated a licence fee for the next five years, but as Chairman his role wasn’t crucial to the BBC’s future direction. It seems he was lukewarm about becoming Chair of the BBC Trust (which takes over from its Board of Governors on January 1st). In fact, he was a slightly odd choice for Chairman in the first place, as he’s a producer at heart and will have missed not getting his hands dirty.

His new job at ITV allows him to do that, and comes with a hefty payrise too. It’s a massive boon for the ailing broadcaster as he’ll effectively be Chairman and CEO for the next two years, before appointing someone to take over as Chief Executive. It might be a more worrying appointment for BSkyB who since last week own 17.9% of ITV. He doesn’t like them, they don’t like him, and he won’t take any interference from them if he doesn’t like it.

But for the BBC, Grade himself accurately described the effect his leaving will have:

The BBC’s bigger than one person. People leave the BBC and a hole opens up. It’s amazing how quickly that hole fills up. Yes there’ll be a few days where they sort themselves out. But I can guarantee you by Monday it will be: ‘Michael who?’

And who will fill it?

David Attenborough probably won’t be interested now. David Dimbleby probably didn’t get the job last time for reasons which will still be the case now. Which leaves Richard Lambert, Baroness Jay and anyone else from the ether. After last night’s scoop, I can only really predict one thing: expect the unexpected.


November 27, 2006

British Sport: An Annus Horribilis?

Name one British sportsperson who has had an outstanding year.

You can’t, can you? Looking down the list of contenders for BBC Sports Personality of the Year, you begin to realise that there’s either been a dearth of major sporting events this year, or we’ve just been crap at them.

  • According to the betting, Darren Clarke is the current favourite. This is the golfer who, in the four major tournaments this year, came 22nd, 56th, didn’t make the cut in the third and didn’t play in the fourth. Yes, he won the Ryder Cup, but aren’t we making more of that tournament than is appropriate? I think his nomination is only because of the death of his wife, which while tragic, surely isn’t reason enough to give him this award?

  • Zara Phillips is second favourite. She’s now the Eventing World Champion, but aren’t we clutching at straws to say that’s the best achievement of the sporting year?
  • Joe Calzaghe is third. He added the IBF Super Middleweight Championship to his WBO title. Whoop-de-do.
  • Beth Tweddle is fourth. She’s the World Champion at “Uneven Bars”.
  • Andy Murray is fifth. His main achievement is being more exciting than David Coulthard. But that’s not hard.
  • Monty Panesar is sixth. He wasn’t good enough to be picked to play in the Ashes. Steve Harmison was. Enough said, I think.

But my personal choice for sports personality for 2006 is….... David Walliams at 40/1. Which I think says all you need to know about the state of British sport at the moment.


November 16, 2006

*BBC embracing the world wide web

The BBC has been online for over nine years, but only now is it about to join the World Wide Web.

Pete Clifton, head of BBC News InteractiveYou might think I sound slightly mad, but this is basically the point that the head of BBC News Interactive Pete Clifton made today when he spoke to students in Cardiff.

You see, while the Beeb’s news website – imho the best website in existence – has very much been part of the internet, Mr Clifton and his team are hoping to reconnect the site with the ‘web’ through aggregation, wikis, APIs and better use of blogging, vodcasts ( such as the superb STORYFix ) and video.

What does this mean?

It means you’ll be able to use BBC content on your own blog or your website, whether that’s a text story, video (embedded onto your page like a YouTube video), graphic or interactive guide. It means you’ll find more BBC content on places like iTunes and the like. And it means on the BBC website you’ll find far more links to other websites, in recognition of the fact that other people can do many things better.

One example of this is the BBC’s Country Profiles – such as this one – which will continue to have some static information provided by the BBC, but will increasingly have content from further afield, such as a list of the latest stories from Argentina created by other news providers, as well as the latest news in video from the country. What’s most exciting is that this model is likely to be used elsewhere on bbc.co.uk, and we saw some very impressive examples.

Other interesting parts of the talk were about how far the Beeb’s blogging might go (not very, says Pete), and his views on the BBC iPlayer, due out next April (not very useful for BBC News).

But as an aspiring journalist, the best part of the talk was on how people should apply for a job. Pete Clifton’s mantra was:

If they can’t spell they can f**k off basically.

Good point, well made.


November 03, 2006

News or Magic?

Are the BBC in the business of journalism or magic?

I only ask because they seem to be pulling ‘news’ stories out of thin air, and I’d love to know how it’s done.

I’m referring to this story which may have been edited by the time you come to read it, but at the moment is an unattributed piece (other than to Nick Robinson) that says Gordon Brown won’t face a serious challenger in his bid to be Prime Minister.

Says who!?!

There seem to have been a spate of stories recently which include the words:

“The BBC has learned…”

There will then follow some information which often has no source attached to it, leading us to speculate that the article could have read:

“A BBC’s journalist’s uncle, who knows a man who knows a guy, says…”

Didn’t the Hutton affair teach the BBC to always have two sources for every story? Shouldn’t they attribute their sources as well? Otherwise we seem to be in the dark about which patch of sky the news is falling from.


The shoddy production values State Within

What do you get if you put Doctors on in Primetime?

Answer: The State Within, the new serial drama on BBC One.

Now you might think I’ve gone barking mad, as the show had nothing to do with doctors and was indeed about a transatlantic conspiracy.

But what I mean is what happens when you put the daytime TV soap Doctors on in Primetime?

Because despite my high hopes for this show, it had more in common with a cheap British soap opera than the glossy American drama it aspired to be.

Principally, the direction was abysmal. Camera angles were predictable, static and so blindingly poor that you noticed them. That’s not supposed to happen. There were virtually no tracking shots, and as a viewer I felt like my eye-lids had been stuck together with glue because it was all so uninteresting to watch.

The script was unbelievable. A U.S. air marshal apparently goes up and down the plane telling people to turn off their laptops. Wrong. The governor of Virginia rounds up Muslims. Wrong. Two men start kissing despite showing no interest in each other beforehand. Wrong.

The editing was shite. There was one scene change that was so badly done you didn’t realise they’d moved to a different room! One minute the U.S. Secretary of Defense is giving a press conference, the next she’s addressing one man. What?!

Some of the actors, such as Jason Isaacs, did their best with the appalling material they were given.

But essentially this show was hackneyed tripe. If only they’d bothered to watch a few episodes of CSI, Prison Break or 24 they’d have realised how it’s done. Instead they seem to have tried to create an Americanised drama without actually checking it out first.

Eejits.


October 20, 2006

Sentences that don't make sense, No. 934

Chancellor Gordon Brown refused to comment but added: “It has been known for some time she wasn’t voting with the Labour whip.”

from here


October 15, 2006

BBC's move to Salford is nonsense

The Beeb is planning a £400m move to Salford, Manchester, moving departments like Sport and Childrens’ TV out of London. But they’re only doing it to try and convince the government they need more money, and this week they threatened to pull out of the move if they’re not given an above-inflation rise in the licence fee. The broadcasting minister, Shaun Woodward, said pulling out would “damage [the BBC’s] standing with the public”.

But this is nonsense. They couldn’t really care less whether programmes are commissioned from London or the North Pole. They wouldn’t notice the difference. Improvements have been made in recent years because more dramas especially have been filmed and produced in the North and the regions. Many were commissioned from London. But did anyone complain? No.

There are good reasons to move departments out of London. Office space in the capital (and of course, wages) are unnecessarily high. Excepting news and current affairs, there’s no good reason to be situated in the capital. And regeneration of Salford is a fantastic idea, with the plans for the site looking incredible.

Salford Quays plans

But let’s not get carried away like Shaun Woodward. The move won’t greatly benefit the public and won’t really be noticed on screen. There will be small economic pay-offs for the local area and jobs will be created. But it’s not exactly equivalent to finding a huge oil reserve under the Manchester Ship Canal.

The reality is that it’s a political move, designed to promote the BBC as earnestly public-service-minded in time for the renewal of its Royal Charter. So far it’s worked, but realistically the move to Salford has always been exaggerated, a bargaining chip in the BBC’s political game. If Mr Woodward didn’t realise this, he’s being quite naive.

And what should the BBC do? Well, if they wanted to save money then they shouldn’t move from one to metropolis to another. They should just pitch up in a field or disused airfield and start from scratch.


October 12, 2006

The Science of Headlines

Amanda Powell, editor of BBC News Wales websitesWhat makes a good headline?

According to Amanda Powell (right), editor of BBC News Online in Wales, there’s far more to it than you’d imagine, and it’s all about trying to feed you the bare bones of the story as quickly as possible.

At the moment, users of BBC News Online spend an average of 3.12minutes on the site every time they visit and Amanda says they’re trying to get you to view more stories in those 3.12mins.

How do they do this? By feeding you as much information as they can at the top of the story, and that means in the headline and the summary. As a result, a lot of work goes into getting these right.

BBC News WalesBelieve it or not, the BBC’s content production system makes you choose a headline of 31-33 characters, which is pretty precise. This is so it can work on Ceefax and mobile phones, as well as the web.

Check out this story from the Press Association:

“European Commission enters UK cheese row”

This headline seems to strike a delicate balance between describing what is essentially a dull, albeit amusing story, and grabbing the reader’s attention. The words “UK cheese row” offset the audience-killing “European Commission”.

But if the aim of the exercise is to help you read as little of the story as possible in order to understand it, is that necessarily a good thing? Aren’t journalists shooting themselves in the foot if they try and help you consume as little as possible of their work? It’s an interesting one and makes me feel reporting can sometimes be a little artless.


October 11, 2006

A Good News Story

People always complain that the news is full of bad news, so here’s something that cheered me up this morning:

ITV1’s Trinny and Susannah Undress was more prêt-a-porter than haute couture last night as the style show lost out to both of the BBC’s terrestrial channels as BBC2’s Autumnwatch with Bill Oddie claimed 3.7 million (16.6%) viewers.

Brilliant. It serves ITV right for putting pictures of naked people in the newspapers to promote this dead horse of a programme. Didn’t they realise that Trinny and Susannah were so last year!?!


October 08, 2006

8.2m less than merry men?

Robin Hood (BBC)

Like John Kentisbeer I was disappointed by last night’s Robin Hood on BBC One. The trailers promised much but the first programme delivered little. There was none of the humour that I’d expected and very little chemistry between Robin and some of the other characters.

Keith Allen was a notable exception when it came to the acting – his Sheriff of Nottingham was very funny and if he’d had the lines to read, would have hit a home run.

But the plot was laboured. Yes, it was an opening episode, with a lot of exposition, but the whole programme plodded along. 8,200,000 watched it (helped by an England match just before it), but I’d be surprised if 7m tuned in next week. Reaction to it seems to have been lukewarm, and the show that promised much, delivered very little.


I Don't Feel Like Dancing

BBC One ident (No, it’s not a reference to the Scissor Sisters’ latest track, but to the end of the fairly poor BBC One idents that have graced our screens for the past four years. When the former BBC One controller, Lorraine Heggessey, introduced the ‘dancers’, no-one much liked them. True, the hot-air balloons that preceded them were slow and didn’t exactly make the channel pacey, but at least they were well shot and easily identifiable as BBC One.

So when Peter Fincham announced the end of the dancers, many believed the only way was up. And they were right.

BBC One presentationThe new idents, based on the theme of a circle, are far better shot than the last batch. Apart from ‘Hippos’, there’s minimal use of CGI, and they’re all in HD. And with the exception of a football-based one, they’re all fantastic. My personal favourites are Surfers, Hippos and Bikes.

As well as this, the general presentation of the channel has changed (left picture). Trailers for upcoming programmes are very nicely done, with a much better graphics effect than the previous – very lazy – shutter effect.

Generally the channel looks a lot nicer, and rather than some meaningless ‘cultural’ idents, we’ve now got something that’s a) nice to look at, and b) has a common theme which gives the channel a much-needed identity which has been missing since the balloons burst.


October 02, 2006

David Cameron and the BBC

Why did the BBC have a non-story as their main headline on tonight’s Six O’Clock News?

This isn’t a matter of subjective opinion. Even the BBC’s Political Editor said after his news piece that it wasn’t really a big issue.

So why, dear BBC, was it the main headline on the UK’s most-watched news bulletin? I am in no way a Conservative supporter, yet this story was clearly nonsense.

The story was that the Tories were unsure about David Cameron’s tax policies (not that he really has any), preferring tax cuts to stability. This was based upon a fringe debate which was carried 60/40 in favour of a motion calling for tax cuts. The main proponent of the motion was Norman Tebbit, a well-renowned nutter who in the same debate called for the Tories to pull out of the EU. The people in the room were more than likely not typical of Conservative members, let alone voters. They were in all probability Tebbit-fans who wanted to see their idol.

Another Tory MP claims that 100 Conservative MPs are doubtful of Cameron’s tax policies, a statistic that he seems to have no way of proving.

Yet this fringe debate became the main story on the BBC News.

My usual reaction to this is that someone was spinning the story and trying to bump it up the agenda. But realistically the only person who would want to do this is Norman Tebbit himself. So who decided to make this angle not just the most important one from the Tory party conference, but also the main story of the day?

The media seem to want this conference to be a critique of Cameron’s “style over substance” problem, and yet they’ve realised it’s not entirely true and doesn’t make for sexy television. Far better to report splits in the party, even if they’re so small they’re almost invisible.

When Nick Robinson comes on TV and says:

David Cameron’s not too upset about this sort of news item

you know someone’s screwed up.


October 01, 2006

Never seen in the same place.


Nick Robinson….........................................................Pob


September 06, 2006

What the political journalists aren't telling you…

It’s clear that things are shifting pretty quickly in Westminster. Today seven members of the government have resigned because – essentially – Tony Blair won’t resign.

But we’re not quite getting the whole story, because we never do. The way these things work in Westminster are a bit complicated and full of as much conspiracy as you can probably imagine. I’m afraid I am speculating, but here’s what’s probably going on at the moment:

  1. The Labour backbenchers are furious that Tony Blair has announced a date for his departure, without actually saying so himself. Instead you had David Miliband explain the “conventional wisdom”, Hilary Armstrong tell us of the “perceived wisdom” and poor Hilary Benn speak of the “growing consensus”. It was pretty clear they were all singing from the same hymn-sheet, written by No 10. What’s more, the Sun were more specific in naming a date, which anyone who knows Westminster knows it will have come from No 10 too. Interestingly the leaked memo saying how Blair would enjoy a ‘farewell tour’ of the country is rumoured to have come from Gordon Brown’s allies. It may even have been written by them to embarrass Blair.
  2. The seven Labour backbenchers who have resigned their positions will have been getting a) a lot of stick from the Labour whips, who work for Blair and b) a lot of love from Gordon Brown’s allies, who have probably promised them jobs in his government. Expect more to sign-up for the Brown revolution as soon as his henchmen can convince them of their future opportunities for employment.
  3. While 17 Labour MPs signed a letter yesterday, calling for him to go, another 49 signed one declaring their undying love for the leader (practically). What’s interesting isn’t that the Blair-lovers trumped the Blair-haters, but that they could only drum up support from 13% of the party. The rest are conspicuous by their absence.
  4. May 31st is an interesting date for Blair to choose to leave. Notably because it’s after the local, Scottish and Welsh elections next year. Blair is pretty unliked in Scotland and Wales, as he is seen (not surprisingly) as a stupid Englishman. So staying in power during their elections will piss them off no-end.
  5. News organisations like the BBC and Sky are having real difficulties in finding ministers who will stand up and support Blair. Hilary Benn did so last night because he was told to, but few others are coming out of the woodwork voluntarily. Note that the 1 o’clock news on BBC One could only drum up a Welsh Lord, whose praise for Blair was extremely conditional on him going before May 31st. High praise indeed.
  6. While Labour backbench MPs want Blair out, they’re not entirely sure how to do it. There’s no formal mechanism for removing the leader (for some reason Blair decided not to create one!!!), and their best bet seems to be for the Cabinet to turn on him. As soon as you see a single member of the Cabinet say that they think it would be best for Blair to step down, he’s finished. They wouldn’t say so openly unless they thought they had support from others.
  7. Some of the Labour MPs who have resigned were slavishly Blairite before today. It suggests that their political career was built upon brown-nosing (no pun intended) whoever appears to be in charge. Now that Brown is in the driving seat, people are switching vehicles.

Personally it’s very frustrating I can’t sit in on the Lobby briefings that take place at Number 10. The tension must be incredible. Maybe they’d like to invite me? Ha ha! You can get some idea of what’s been said here, but you really have to read between the lines to figure out what sort of body language the PM’s official spokesman would have been using! I rather suspect he was trying hard to hide his dejection.

P.S. I notice from the PMOS briefing this morning: “As he had already said… David Miliband had decided to go on the Today Programme himself.” The question is whether he decided what to say himself…

P.P.S. The seven members of the government who’ve resigned all have one thing in common: their seats are in danger at the next election. They’re all from the Birmingham area (where Labour reckons it’s going to get wiped out) or Wales (see above for explanation). So it’s not about Tony going – they’re worried that if he doesn’t go soon, they’ll be following him shortly!


August 30, 2006

PM:

Writing about web page http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/pm/

Loving the PM blog.

It's enough to make you want to become a journalist. In today's entry, Eddie Mair described what was going on outside his window (until being told to do some work). Yesterday, Eddie noted he couldn't think of anything to say. And on Friday he reassured us that journalists would fight tooth and nail to get the whole story:

If we were journalists of any merit we'd phone Serge to get the answer. Don't hold your breath.

Brilliant. But I'm undecided as to whether it's better than StoryFix.


Twitter Go to 'Twitter / chrisdoidge'

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