BBC reps fear new format will "dumb down" local radio news
BBC local radio journalists are deeply concerned that a restructure of jobs will result in hard and investigative news being played down in favour of "fluffy" stories and more music.
A meeting of NUJ reps from across England said the new format will result in less robust political reporting and holding those in power to account as some existing journalist roles will be moved to the "content job family" meaning that their roles go beyond producing news-based output and could include duties such as music scheduling, creating entertainment-based features and creating non-news material.
The union has warned this will dilute the news output and could block the career path of news journalists.
The reps wanted assurances from management that the scope for covering breaking news will remain. Another concern is that local radio stations will lose their distinctive nature as bulletins will be made shorter and follow a set format.
Local radio in England and the Channel Islands has been hit by over 140 jobs cuts, as part of the latest BBC's savings programme which will result in more than 2,000 journalist posts going across the corporation. The BBC made annual savings of £618 million in 2019-2020 and has increased its annual savings target to £1 billion by 2021-22.
The reps were also appalled at the way news of the plans were released, including an announcement of BBC management speak at its worst. One example included the creation of two "Portfolio Partners" to oversee aspects of the output; a job title that currently doesn't exist within the local radio structure. Managing editors – those who run the stations – will now be called executive editors.
Paul Siegert, NUJ national broadcasting officer, said:
"Local radio news is about connecting with local communities. It is about reflecting their lives and producing warm-hearted human interest stories. But it is also about holding local politicians, businesses, health trusts and schools to account. Our reps in local news believe the new format will downplay "serious" news and are deeply concerned. This must be seen in the context of commercial radio producing less locally-produced news and the lack of investment in local newspapers. BBC management needs to answer these questions about the future of local radio news content."