Will Harding, Group Strategy and Development Director at Global Radio has been answering questions from Exeter MP Ben Bradshaw at a recent Culture, Media and Sport Committee meeting on the Future of the BBC.
Also present was Travis Baxter, Director of Content and External Affairs, Bauer Radio, and Kip Meek, Board Member of RadioCentre.
Whilst the topic was the provision of services by the BBC, the topic turned to the news services of Global Radio. But the commercial radio representatives pointed out that BBC local stations should offer a service not provided for by commercial radio, and that BBC Radio 1 and Radio 2 have combined content budgets, programming budgets, for Radio 1 and Radio 2 that are greater than the entire programming budget for every commercial radio station in the country.
Mr Bradshaw said in the 1980s, when he started off in local radio, commercial stations used to give the local BBC station a run for its money, but now you (Global) have kind of withdrawn from news pretty much now at local level. Will Harding replied: “No, I do not accept that at all. All our local radio stations deliver local news every hour throughout daytime. We are absolutely committed to delivering local news. It is very near the top of the list on any listener research you do on what people want from a local commercial station. We are absolutely committed to delivering local news. We are investing more in it not less.”
The conversation then talked about new news hubs which are being introduced at Global Radio at the end of March. It went as follows:
Mr Bradshaw: “Why is Heart, in effect, closing its Devon newsroom from the end of March, retaining one reporter to cover the whole of the southwest from Gloucester to Cornwall and having a single person in a studio in Exeter only until 1 pm just reading bulletins? That is not journalism.”
Will Harding: “We are combining newsrooms, because in the modern age it is not about how many studios or broadcast facilities you have. It is more than one journalist in the southwest, I can assure you. I can give you the information, and obviously I know this is important to you in that part of the world. We can send journalists out and all they need is an iPhone in order to record stories.”
Mr Bradshaw: You can’t send journalists out if they have to be in a studio, and only for half a day, doing bulletins. They can’t do bulletins and news gathering.
Will Harding: As I say, it is not one journalist.
Mr Bradshaw: I am told that your proposal is for there to be one roving reporter for the whole of the southwest between Gloucester and Land’s End from the end of March.
Will Harding: I would need to check that with my colleagues in news. What I would urge everyone to do is gauge everything on the quality of the output.
Mr Bradshaw: As a local representative—I don’t know about my colleagues—you are completely invisible when it comes to news and news gathering in my region, in my county, in my city. You do not figure.
Will Harding: If you asked your constituents, our listeners, I do not think that is what they would say. That is not what they tell us. We have limited resources; I make no excuse for that. That is the commercial reality of the situation we are in. But, as I say, we deliver every hour, throughout daytime, local news. We split that news across our stations in the southwest, even though they are coming from the same broadcast centre in Devon. We are able to do that because we use technology to deliver that. I do not think it is fair to say that we have abandoned local news. We have not. It is a different kind of local news than probably will have been produced 20 years ago, but that is because listeners and technology have evolved. There are aspects of what we do locally that we would like to change, but we have no desire to change the output that we deliver on air. This is about changing the way we do that, about using technology better to do that. I don’t think that is what listeners would say if you asked them about the output on Heart in Devon and Cornwall.
RadioToday understands a news-hubbing programme is being implemented across Global Radio and Communicorp stations next month, but Global Radio could not confirm the details.
A number of local stations will only have one local newsreader/reporter, with the majority losing local journalists in favour of hubs in central locations including Milton Keynes, Brighton and Bristol.
Global Radio issued a statement to RadioToday, saying: “We’re not closing the newsrooms in Devon, Kent and Essex. Across Global, we’re increasing the number of people working in our newsrooms across the country.”