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06 October 2011

DQF - Don't Kill the Grassroots

Think of the BBC as a delicate houseplant, much loved, carefully nurtured but overgrown.

The risk to its future health lies not in the pruning ordained today through 'Delivering Quality First', but in the longer-term danger of destroying its roots. And that could be the unintended consequence.

DQF pruning will be painful enough for the people filling the 'posts' being cut in Local Radio, the bit of the BBC dearest to my heart. Eleven people will be losing their role in BBC Radio Leeds, 7 or 8 at Radio Sheffield, some 280 in Local Radio as a whole.

But the longer term threat lies in the 25 percent cuts in operational budgets for those same local stations.

Implemented in full, it'll mean an end to virtually all freelance news shifts. No first opportunity for the best new talent coming through professional courses, such as mine at Leeds Trinity.

In a worst-case scenario, editors could come to rely on a supply of free labour on placement from the more reliable training institutions. But without the chance for trainees to progress to that first paid casual shift, no chance to convert odd days of freelance work into a contract, no chance to bid for whatever staff jobs do become available.

That's a potentially disastrous situation for the BBC, for prospective journalists, trainers and most importantly listeners.

People risk becoming trapped in unsuitable roles by following the oft-repeated advice to take a job - any job - to get into the building and then bide their time until the ideal role is advertised internally. That's what my trainees have been doing, with remarkable success, for almost twenty years.

Journalists on the inside when the doors are slammed shut will become increasingly tired and jaded.

They'll feel the kind of pressures we used to feel in my newsroom in the nineties; no money to cover sickness or holidays, so staff are 'persuaded' to come in with a cold, or give up leave, to avoid letting the side down. Then and now, broadcast jobs are hard to come by and it's in the culture to keep the needles wobbling no matter what toll that takes on individuals.

National reaction to DQF wil focus, understandably, on the overall job losses - 2,000 - and less justifiably on the plan to finally vacate the antique Television Centre and the unloved White City in West London.

But that's a distraction.

Crucially, the BBC must take care not to kill the grassroots - local radio news shifts, offpeak specialist music programmes, regional current affairs, and the rest - or the whole, delicate, organic system for growing future talent will wither and die.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Richard,

    I'm a former grad of one of the 'professional' courses and I have to agree with you. Even though I have had quite a bit of freelance experience, coming back from an enforced career break (I couldn't afford to feed my family on £35 a shift in commercial radio, who knew?), aside from a few paid shifts at the BBC this year, and, although I was very reluctant to, an unpaid placement at a local station to gain yet more recent "experience", I have been told that DQF is basically scaring the heeby-jeebies out of everyone. Yet, I'm also told that to progress in the Beeb and at the bigger stations, I need to secure a contract/staff job.

    How, pray, do we do that when those paid shifts to gain that experience aren't released to you? If I were being told when I did the work that I'm not good enough, it would be one thing. However, on the shifts that I have done on a paid basis I'm consistently producing original work and being praised on it. So, at a loss really I suspect, like many of those with accredited postgrad qualifications and plenty of 'unpaid' experience.

    It is pretty depressing at times because I know I'm a competent journalist (based on the feedback of others in commercial and BBC outlets), and that I would be a valuable asset to the BBC. But, it seems at times, like the BBC just can't be bothered. In the culture of the organisation it appears as if you have to send several emails/phone-calls etc even to be given a polite response of "Oh, can you get more experience?"

    I unfortunately do not have the benefit of an Oxbridge upper-middle class background, so any contacts or opportunities I have had have been entirely on my own merit and sometimes balancing a mundane 9 to 5 takes its toll. However, at times you do wonder whether it is all worth the effort.