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Those BBC cuts

March 3, 2010

by Jean Seaton, Professor of Media History.

The BBC Trust had been battling away at the need for the BBC to focus and get out of every platform.

However someone leaked the document…..but it could all be quite wise as the politicians have got into the habit of thinking that doing things to the BBC is fine as the Mail likes it and ditto News Corp.

But they may have forgotten that the British public likes, uses, takes for granted BBC web and everything else and there may be and is a big political reaction.

BBC throws digital lambs to the slaughter

March 2, 2010

Proposals by the BBC to cut back their digital radio offering along with large sections of their website look pretty alarming, writes Matthew Linfoot

There may be some succor in the annals of media history, as the BBC had to mull over the possibility of swinging cuts in the past. During the 1970s for instance, the axe nearly fell on either Radios 1 and 2, and BBC Local Radio because of one financial crisis or another.

Of course they were spared but the political forces marshalling now, alongside the commercial opposition make drastic changes to the BBC’s output look pretty certain.

Westminster University Professor Jean Seaton in the Guardian points out that the time is nigh for the BBC to work out what it’s for, and to cut its cloth accordingly. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/feb/26/bbc-cuts-digital-television-funding). But whichever way you look at it, the sacrificial lambs on the altar are hard to justify.

The removal of the two digital stations, 6Music and the Asian Network, would leave two groups of listeners out in the cold. If a digital station has got to go, you can’t help wondering why these two communities have been singled out – why not BBC7 or 1Extra? They may not be huge audiences in terms of numbers, but then the services don’t cost that much, comparatively, to run (6Music £7million; Asian Network £9million). And the commercial sector certainly can’t or won’t cater for either of these audiences. Xfm is the closest you get to 6Music (and that’s the station that tried to phase out its presenters a while ago: 6Music’s presenters are one of the keys to its distinctiveness). And commercial Asian stations regularly fall by the wayside (Club Asia was the latest, shutting down in August 2009).

From a university and training perspective, 6Music would leave a big gap. Our students do very well with work placements on programmes like Tom Robinson, and the station has provided first destination employment for Westminster graduates too. Equally worrying, looking further afield, is the proposal to ditch the Blast website, which caters for teenagers and those in their early twenties. Blast runs workshops and placements within various areas of production at the BBC and provides a useful stepping stone into the world of media for young people of different backgrounds and experiences. Surely this kind of access to media outlets is what the licence fee should be supporting? What can be the justification for cutting adrift the next generation of producers, reporters, editors, presenters, web writers?

There’s also one more serious implication of the severance of 6Music and the Asian Network, which is harder to avoid. That’s the future of digital radio in the UK. The BBC and the commercial radio industry, with great government encouragement, have promoted the DAB system. But frankly it’s not working. The technical quality isn’t that good (there’s not even decent national coverage), it’s expensive to broadcast on and other countries are adopting a different technology (DRM – Digital Radio Mondiale).

Global Radio cut back on their digital offering, and if the BBC does the same, there must be a very big question mark over the whole enterprise in its current form.

One glimmer of hope might be the ‘realpolitik’ of this kite flying: perhaps the government will tell the BBC that the digital enterprise is too valuable to lose and will ask it to look elsewhere for money-saving ideas. Meanwhile fans of 6Music and the Asian Network will take to their Twitters and Facebooks to persuade the BBC to stop picking on radio.

Building the future of learning environments (video)

November 27, 2009

In this short video, David Gauntlett was interviewed at the BCSE World Learning Environments Conference, 12 November 2009, where we invited delegates to build representations of the key ideas or values that would be embodied by an ideal learning environment.

This is part of ongoing research where we give people different kinds of tools to communicate their ideas. These are sometimes online, Web 2.0 tools … at other times, it’s more hands-on and physical. Here, to give a voice to diverse delegates at the conference, and to share ideas, they are building their ideas using the familiar medium of Lego. Clip courtesy of Gleeds TV.

Also, and more crucially, you can view photos of the models that were built. They are helpfully labelled by the people who built them. Six appear below, and you can view the complete set on Flickr.

Media Training – providing First Aid.

November 23, 2009

The journalism department’s commercial arm WestMedia extended its range on Saturday working with St John Ambulance young volunteers to give them media training.

The youth and enthusiasm of the 20 or so “pupils” we had for the day was refreshing.

The organisation’s Media Day was to teach these young volunteers how the media can be used for profile-raising and recruitment. I had not realised quite how big SJA is, or indeed how many young people it covers and the range of skills it teaches. As well as the obvious First Aid, it works with young carers as well as teaching  teamwork and “soft” skills.

Given their age profile (from 14 to 20) we created a different type of course for the day with much more emphasis on the internet as a means of communicating as it is in that generation. David Gyimah author of View Magazine, and one our Senior Lecturers, gave an all-singing, all-dancing presentation about how the web can be used, even creating a video in the lecture theatre to put online.

Simon Fyles, the editor of our Harrow community site TheHA1, reached back to his experience in news radio to put some of the youngsters through a radio interview in our studio at New Cavendish Street. What impressed me was not only how media-fluent the interviewees were already, but how quickly they took on the lessons we taught.

Organised through the youth department we were supported by the the St. John Ambulance PR department who were excellent at providing supporting details behind the key messages they wanted these students to understand. For many of the young people it was perhaps the first time they had been able to see the wider picture of the organisation and appreciate its truely national role.

Overall I think it was an excellent experience for those of us teaching and I think the trainees got a lot from it too.

Geoffrey Davies

Building ideas at Reboot Britain (video)

August 2, 2009

Reboot Britain, which took place in central London last month, was a big event bringing together an impressive range of keynote speakers and other people interested in ways in which digital media can help people to foster a better society, by enabling them to collaborate, connect and communicate in ways which were previously difficult or impossible for geographically dispersed ‘ordinary people’. (The Reboot Britain website has a handy video record of some of the key sessions).

Although speakers included big names, such as virtual communities guru Howard Rheingold, there were also more than 700 people who had come along to listen and discuss, but did not necessarily have a platform or a way to share their ideas. In order to open up the dialogue a little more, I had been invited to do something, and suggested running a table where people could build their ideas in Lego, label them, and have them photographed and displayed for others to look at.

This might sound odd, and you might not be able to picture what such a thing would look like … so I put together a video which explains the process, and explains why it’s a useful tool for expressing and sharing ideas (rather than just being a quirky novelty), and also shows you the results, with two tables covered in meaningful Lego models.

And here it is: 

Radio is all a twitter

July 2, 2009

Radio’s top people at the Radio Academy Festival Nottingham this week, all suited and well-behaved, are actually twittering away, having the debate online that should be setting the conference floor alight.

That is why the Shadow Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt MP had such an easy ride, and only Ofcom got an ear-bashing in a mostly tame conference.

Over three hundred people enrolled for the 2009 radfest. They were the studio audience for BBC Radio Four’s Media Show with Steve Hewlett (listen again on i-Player, hear them coughing!).

But it was the top brass who weren’t allowed to go to Nottingham who attracted the most attention on Twitter. Global’s management pulled all the company’s speakers and guest appearances from the festival because ‘they couldn’t speak with one voice as it’s such a new brand’.

So although it’s been months since GCap Media merged with Chrysalis and re-branded dozens of local stations as Heart FM they still, apparently, cannot be trusted to agree with each other in public.

Prison radio

This prompted the bitchy tweet: ‘It’s easier to get day-release from jail than it is from Global’. A reference to Sony Gold Award-winning broadcaster and convicted prisoner ‘Tis,’ who was let out from HMP Highpoint to travel to Nottingham and collect a gong for the show he presented on Electric Radio Brixton earlier in his sentence.

Prison Radio isn’t the only new kid on the block and delegates enjoyed a feast of community radio from the Nottingham area as well as a session proving that ‘student radio should make the rest of the industry jealous.’ The student/community feast would taste of Pot Noodle, rice n peas, curry and err.. whatever LGBT people like to eat and again you can hear it on the Radio Four Media Show. It’s good to taste of something different.

In the multi-platform future of course there might be a danger that radio will cease to exist. Luckily for us in the Journalism Department at the University of Westminster, though, it’s the journos who will survive. The living proof is Greg Burke at Jack FM in Oxford. On his radio station only the news is live and local – the rest of the presenters voice-track their links from as far away as Australia! He proudly played delegates his coverage of Michael Jackson’s death when the station became Jacko FM for a day, playing nothing but the dead icon’s hits. Listeners loved it or hated it – but they listened and responded.

That’s the spirit that will keep radio news going, even in the worst recession…

Jane Whyatt

BBC Expenses – “Are you having a laugh?”

June 28, 2009

The onslaught about the BBC executive expenses is a pathetic farce drummed up by their enemies.

This is just more of a campaign by Murdoch and the Mail, who see an opportunity, with the possibility of top-slicing, to attack the institution.

The BBC is not in a position to put its case in the way the press are, exactly because of its relationship with the public via the licence fee. However, Kirsty Wark’s tough interview with Caroline Thomson on Newsnight, came as close as the BBC can to presenting a defence itself.

Frankly the amount of money the BBC executive spend as expenses is tiny for the business they are running. Now, I take the point it is “public money”, though not in the same way that Parliamentary expenses are – though you could argue that the Licence Fee is a form of taxation.

But do we expect the Head of BBC Vision to stay in a Travel Lodge? Do we really think the DG  is going to drive himself around London? How much less value would that give us for his time and salary if he were looking for parking space!

Yes, there might be a case for the salaries being out of kilter – John Birt was paid about £350,000 and Greg Dyke – his immediate successor – £500,000 – so yes there has been a huge inflation in the salaries. But Mark Thomson was attracted from Channel 4 and like the rest of us would want an increase in salary for a promotion. Why should the perceived status be compensation alone?

Another line of attack in todays Sunday Times appears to be the pensions. If the BBC has a well-managed scheme and employees stay for 30 years then that is the compensation they get. Yes a £2.7m pension pot is a lot, but after 30 years with one employer and earning six figure salaries for many years, thats what Mark Byford gets.

The BBC will ride this one out. They have much more support than elected MPs and Parliament and the BBC’s own openness must surely count in their favour. And they are right not to reveal star salaries for commercial reasons anymore than the News International or the Mail would tell you what they pay columnists? Anyway, did we not find all that out a year or two back?

Geoffrey Davies

Snow – not blinded by technology

June 20, 2009

Channel 4 anchor Jon Snow says this is the most exciting time in history to be a journalist.

I agree with him

But for those like me who have only recently swapped the rapidly-changing world of a multi-platform, 24-hour newsroom for the world of academia it also poses a question about what exactly we teach the generation who will replace us.

In an entertaining, unscripted speech at the Association for Journalism Education, Jon Snow compared the situation facing the modern reporter to Man on Wire – the documentary about the 1974 tightrope walk between New York’s Twin Towers.

Revealing that he blogs three or four times a day and “twitters endlessly” he believes that “if we are good” we will get across to the other tower.

How do we make student journalists that good though? Friday’s conference was exercised by the tussle between academic study and practical journalism and what should be in those curricula.

In the very early days of internet journalism I learned to use rudimentary HTML. I’ve tried to shield students from equivalent hard coding, preferring instead to concentrate on writing clean copy, imaginative headlines, web strategy and online communities.

New technology is changing the process of newsgathering and presentation at an incredible rate – and editorial job adverts are starting to include a shopping list which aims to service those changes. My colleagues at the University of Westminster, in common with other degree courses across the land, offer tuition in cutting-edge software to try to match those requirements.

So do we concentrate on widgetry or old-fashioned journalistic first principles to cross the wire?  Can we do both?

Jon Snow has a firm view. “Widgetry only will produce incredibly dull people. Teach them to ask questions… develop their interests. Bring to the table something that no-one else had got.”

The veteran newsman who has covered huge stories all over the world and taken part in the information revolution which has seen the move from tape to digital has perhaps the best advice of all: “Better to train them to take advantage of change.”

Dave Gilbert

Carter Report – Westminster comment

June 17, 2009

It is good to see that for informed comment on Lord Carter’s Digital Britain report, the Guardian has come to  Westminster University.

Today’s paper has major pieces from Prof. Jean Seaton and former visiting professor David Elstein.

Refugee Week Radio – Live from Westminster

June 12, 2009


With the British National Party winning its first two seats in the European Parliament, immigration has again become a hot political topic . Instead of throwing eggs, University of Westminster staff and students are providing informed and well-researched debate on Refugee Week Radio (15th- 22nd
June ).

Tuesday’s transmission (1600-1800, 16th June) on the web-based international community radio station, features documentaries by students on our Masters in Journalism programme.

Rose Hawkins presents a harrowing account from three women who have fled rape and torture in various African war zones. She also exposes a secret plan to impose quotas on the number of asylum seekers who will get British citizenship.

Helen Catt explores the possibility – backed by London Mayor Boris Johnson – of an amnesty for some illegal immigrants who can prove that they are working and integrating well into London life.

And Sibusiso Mvitsho delves into the archives and her own family history from the early days of Zimbabwe’s independence from British colonial rule, and the pressures that meant her relatives had to leave their home country.

The radio shows coming from our London studios form part of a rolling network of broadcasts from all parts of the UK joining the worldwide celebration of Refugee Week.

Janet Whyatt