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04 January 2018

Talking Titles

It was all going so well for BBC Local Radio, with the announcement that £10 million of proposed cuts to the network are to be shelved, and a promise that local stations would in future be loved by DG Tony Hall, with a renewed purpose serving "everyone", not just the older demographics ignored by everyone else.

As I wrote at the time, a new hope for the Cinderella service.

Then the Corporation announced today that Managing Editors (known as Station Editors in some places) are to be demoted. Ouch.

OK, that's not what they really said. As such. The Beeb actually said that they're aiming to reduce the number of job titles across the organisation, and bring the pecking order within local radio into line with that existing in other departments.

This means that current "Station Editors" or "Managing Editors", who have the overall responsibility for running a BBC local station, will in future be known as "Senior News Editors". Now, does that sound a more important or less important job to the listener in the street?

To make it crystal clear, Assistant Editors (who report to the soon-to-be Senior News Editors) will in future be known as .. Assistant Editors. And News Editors, running the station's newsroom, will remain News Editors. Editing news.

No possibility of confusion there, then.

But what's in a name? Does it actually matter? I think so, and here's why it does.

It goes against the idea of immediate community relatability.

I liked the old form title of "Station Manager" - no doubt there what they do, they're in overall charge of the station. "Station Editor" or "Managing Editor" conveys much of that gravitas.

If you're a punter with a complaint, or a Lord Mayor's secretary with an invite to a civic do, it's pretty clear who's the figurehead for the station, who exactly it is that represents the BBC in this parish.

"Senior News Editor" suggests the bod with the title is in charge of news bulletins. So who's in charge of the presenters? Who runs the charity campaigns?

Unless this is actually the start of a move to marginalise news a bit. To pave the way for a new generation of super managers, running "content" across "clusters" of local stations. With news less important in the overall mix.

Important people brought in at group level to hire and fire talent, decide what the station will sound like, and do strategic stuff - just like commercial radio, in fact - whilst the Senior News Editors get on with supervising the News Editors. And the Assistant Editors assist, generally. At least, that's what it could look like.

No-one can deny the BBC has form in creating new layers of management, however hard it pleads the latest moves are actually designed to do the opposite.

True, it's only a name, and relatively few people in the real world will notice any difference at all.

But it does seem a silly, mistimed step in the wrong direction just at a time when Tony Hall is promising so much for local autonomy and accountability.

A shot in the foot following a shot in the arm.

(I've not forgotten about the Horsman test, by the way, as a measure of whether local commercial stations are meeting their local news and information obligations in the light of Ofcom's latest moves. That post is coming soon)

1 comment:

  1. Interesting Richard....they've been managers, managing editors and now senior news editors over a 20 yr period...as you say maybe preparing for the day when cluster managers do the hiring and firing....maybe the current spate of HRLPs who currently pretend to run the regions.
    It sounds like it's back to the old (90's) and discredited idea of news hubs and spokes run by regional news editors.
    Plus ca change...it's a pity local radio isn't more valued by the BBC centre for its innate worth.
    BBC gives with one hand and takes away with the other.