"The Way I See It" - William Perrin, founder, Talk About Local and former advisory board member, Digital Government Review (UK)
In this interview series, we ask digital media professionals, innovators and commentators to share their perspective on approaches to comprehensive newsgathering.
I’ve worked with local websites and I’ve seen how they gather news in their own way. They’ve developed a native, independent set of skills, thanks to the fact that anyone who can write and hit the return key can publish online.
Big broadcasters and newspapers rely on an existing infrastructure, supporting a stereotyped means of production, with a fixed production schedule. It doesn’t come naturally to them to disrupt that.
Even the BBC’s iPlayer app has seen growth plateau while online video consumption is exploding.
I think that’s because it’s not reaching the ‘small click’ audience. It’s true that it’s a tool for getting out big lumps of content, not short snippets. Nonetheless, it doesn't help itself by not allowing deep linking within shows (without hassle), so if I want to share a good bit that is 23.5 minutes into a local radio chat and news show, it's very hard to do so.
“Broadcasters need to think hard about what they’ll do when they are no longer broadcasting”
What’s the biggest challenge facing broadcasting?
Broadcasters need to think hard about what they’ll do when they are no longer broadcasting. The recent Ofcom report shows that children now spend more time online than they do watching TV, and that is a portent of things to come. TV is no longer the primary visual medium.
In twenty years, broadcasters are not going to be transmitting stuff from towers on the tops of hills. They’ll be using an IP network instead, and that will transform the content they produce.
Instead of watercooler moments, we’ll have audience fragmentation; and the content the audience consumes is unlikely to look like TV.
TV and radio need a big, radical plan to manage the transition from an electromagnetic spectrum to IP network, and I’m not sure they have one.
Where does the hyperlocal fit in?
Major news groups have been reducing the number of journalists per square mile of distribution area. That means, for example, that only a third of local authorities have a local newspaper to hold them to account.
Local websites have stepped into the breach. A great example is On the Wight, which supplies local news to the Isle of Wight.
Publicly-funded broadcasters should do more with publicly-funded and owned content, including news, than just playing it out once then keeping it to themselves.
Other people in the hyperlocal movement can create more social value with that content than the publicly-funded originator. I first floated the idea of giving away BBC-owned news content six years ago and the BBC is tentatively and slowly starting to do this.
What about user generated and social content?
Broadcasters over electromagnetic spectrum in the UK are regulated by OFCOM or the BBC governance body, and an important part of this is being regulated for accuracy and impartiality.
Broadcasters quite rightly view their licence as the goose that lays golden eggs and they won't do anything to damage it. Heavy engagement in social media, especially for news, makes it tricky to maintain the impartiality on which the licence depends.
Indeed, as recent events in the US have shown, news successfully disseminated on social media seems to have an entirely opposite set of values.
What is the single most important thing broadcasters must get right in 2017?
Public trust in their organizations must be rigorously protected and nurtured. At a time of massive turmoil, news must take enormous care not to attribute the same value to reputable and extreme positions in the name of ‘balance’.
A good example is climate change. Giving false prominence to the views of climate change deniers because you’re seeking to be ‘impartial’ is outright harmful in a time of fake news.
Interested in finding out about the power of localization and personalization? Read more in Newsgathering 3.0: Developing stories in a polarized world to build trust, engagement and audience.
This article does not express the views of Reuters. The views and opinions expressed are those of the interviewee.