Friday, April 29, 2005

Post-British Media Strategies

While this blog concentrates on the British media in the US, it is important to consider the overall British strategy as well because their seemingly increased presence and influence here appears to be part of an overall global strategy mentioned in earlier posts by HDougie on Poco-Globalization.

This same two-headed strategy by different British based/trained players seems to have become increasingly visible in India. Some players seem to be aiming to create a global “elite” or quality media for the Anglo-sphere, while others are indigenizing the tabloid genre.

Consider this:

At the end of March, Rupert asks the Indian government to open up to greater foreign media investment. (For an interesting take on Rup in India, listen to an interview from “On the Media” circa 2003 detailing how Murdoch successfully Indianized Star TV’s content but also used America’s Fox News as a model. Indian broadcasters got crash courses in important news issues such as appropriate makeup and hiring airline hostesses as anchors. A media columnist for the Indian Express says that Murdoch’s strategy is to be “more of a patriot than you are! I mean Fox News is even more patriotic than, let’s say CNN has been. So I think he also holds that – that look, whichever country I go to, I’m quite willing, if we go to war with Pakistan tomorrow – I’m sure Star news would support us – to the hilt!”)

At roughly the same time, the Financial Times CEO Olivier Fleurot appears before an Indian media trade group to also argue that foreign media should be allowed to publish in India. The Asia Times quoted Fleurot saying: "We would like the Financial Times to be at the door of Indian readers every morning. We would like to invest in Financial Times in India.” He also went on to say India and China were the only growth markets for newspapers globally.

And finally, in addition to off-shoring US reporting jobs to India, Reuters announced just days ago that it would launch a TV channel with the Times of India. The venerable wire service already has 5 bureaus and some 821 employees in India.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

On British and U.S. electorates, and their media

The New York Times' Adam Nagourney returns to what is a familiar theme for people interested in US-UK relations: the growing political, cultural, and ideological divide between these two countries. The news peg is of course the upcoming British general election, slated for May, 2005. This promises to be one of the most boring, lacklustre elections in modern UK political history - but only because Prime Minister Tony Blair has managed to dominate the UK with his center-left approach even more comprehensively than Bush has done with his hard-right approach in the U.S. In particular, this has hobbled Britain's main traditional party of the right, the Conservatives. As Nagourney puts it:
    In many ways, the Conservative Party in its post-Thatcher era is like the Democratic Party in the post-Clinton era. Each is struggling to find a new defining theme in the face of an ideologically changing electorate and declining support.

In some key regards the contrasts between the UK and the U.S. are quite stunning, indicating "what analysts describe as a growing divergence between the conservative movements here [in the UK] and in the United States, a decade and a half after the end of the era of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan." Hot-button social issues like abortion and gay marriage have no traction in the UK. Meanwhile, the post-Thatcher electorate is much more lukewarm on tax cuts and much more supportive of strong government action to cure society's ills. This prevailing social-cultural sentiment is something that Blair has capitalized on with great skill - much as Bush and the Republicans have capitalized on the prevailing mood in America to push their radical conservative agenda.

The implications for media editorial policy are equally fascinating. The media in Britain - not only the BBC, but also most of the press, including the conservative tabloids - have, with the exception of immigration policy, effectively indexed themselves to the dominant center-left political-economic climate manufactured by Blair and finance minister Gordon Brown. Even Murdoch's Sun newspaper has endorsed Blair "in what was widely seen here as an example of Mr. Murdoch's placing pragmatism (he has a history of going with a winner) over ideology." (The difference between the political orientations of News Corporation's media operations in the U.S. and Britain is a study in itself - and something I'll definitely return to.) And conservative Americans are staying out of the proceedings, not wishing to offend Blair (whose foreign policy has so closely aligned itself with that of Bush). Thus Nagourney notes:
    While it is hard to walk through Labor Party headquarters without spotting some familiar Democratic Party face who has flown over to help out - Bill Clinton appeared by satellite hookup to speak in support of Mr. Blair at a rally on Sunday - there are few if any American Republicans helping out the Conservatives. Mr. Bush, grateful for Mr. Blair's unwavering support on Iraq, has kept out of the contest.

When it comes to each country's national media and their relationship to their respective populations, the differences between America and Britain might be even more pronounced than the political positions of Bush and Blair, respectively, might suggest. Certainly this seems to be the case in relation to the Iraq War. While it is clear the the agenda-setting U.S. media effectively neutered criticism of Bush's policies, the UK media generally took a much more critical stance on the Blair-Bush policy (as we've talked about in the past). And when Blair attempted to use the Hutton inquiry to punish the BBC over the Kelly/Gilligan affair, it was public opinion that persuaded Blair to back off. This reflects not only the dominant political climate in both countries, but also the greater trust the British public seem to have for the socially and culturally liberal BBC (compared to the increasing disdain Americans have for all their domestic media.)

Of course the key thing for this blog is to understand the relative impacts of each country's media on the other. This is something I'm working on, but I think it's fair at this point to take a position that, in news terms, direct U.S. political influence on British news media is not as strong as you might think. Again, the best place to look for evidence of this is with News Corporation's activities on both sides of the Atlantic. Jane Kirtley, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review back in December 2001, favorably compared UK news media - including Murdoch-owned Sky News - with the U.S. networks’ submission to a Bush administration “suggestion” that they don’t run tapes by Bin Laden, or broadcast his voice. Incredibly, it seems (to someone based in the U.S.) Sky News (as well as ITN) sided with the BBC’s position. Notes Kirtley:
    Ironically, on October 15 [2001] when British Prime Minister Tony Blair's director of communications tried to persuade the BBC and the other two British TV companies, ITN and Sky, to similarly censor themselves, they politely turned him down, reserving the right to make their own editorial judgments. And they don't even have a First Amendment to protect them.

Of course the other side of the question is discerning UK media's impact on the U.S. - or at least those parts of the U.S. and those populations in the U.S. not defined by Bush's agenda. Some good stuff to be getting on with here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

In the pink or in the red? News from Financial Times

The Independent reports the Financial Times may go up for sale soon with Murdoch's News Corp. as one of a number of potential bidders. Executives from Pearson, which currently owns the pink paper, have said they would like to unload the newspaper as it isn't the moneymaker they had hoped for.

Editor Andrew Gowers has aimed the publication toward a more global audience and, in doing so, the Independent reports, has lost the confidence of some of its core British readership: "Unfortunately for Gowers, globalisation is an expensive and unprofitable business model which has not attracted the level of global advertising he hoped for."

A lesson for other British media attempting to become post-British products?

Saturday, April 23, 2005

BBC in the podcasting vanguard(?)

Since I'm getting right into podcasting these days (it gives me something new to listen to in my car during my daily 35-minute commute to and from school) I'm thrilled to see the BBC jumping on the podcast bandwagon early. The Beeb has announced that it is making 20 radio shows available for its listeners to download as podcasts into digital media players. The ones on the list that U.S. audiences are likely to be particularly interested in include:
  • Today (Radio 4, daily) - 8.10am interview
  • In Business (Radio 4, weekly)
  • From Our Own Correspondent (Radio 4, weekly/twice weekly)
  • Mark Kermode film review slot (Radio Five Live, weekly)
  • Go Digital (World Service, weekly)
  • Documentary archive (World Service, twice weekly)

In announcing the move on its web site, the BBC quotes Simon Nelson, controller of BBC Radio and Music Interactive, who claims: "The BBC was the first British broadcaster to podcast when we made In Our Time available last year". The same article notes that Virgin Radio - also quite popular among Americans listening on the web - "has also started to make talk-based highlights of its breakfast show available as podcasts" (although they avoid podcasting music, as the right issues haven't been sorted out yet).

All well and good. Unfortunately the podcasts don't seem to be up yet - or at least I haven't found them when I checked on the Today and In Business program websites (on Radio 4). But I did notice that BBC/NPR's co-production "The World" definitely is available on podcast here. So that'll be something else to listen to in the car.

WPP leads the way for UK ad agencies

MediaGuardian reports on the latest success of the British-based advertising conglomerate, WPP, which saw its sales rise 16 percent in the first quarter of 2005. For WPP, run by Sir Martin Sorrell, it was a reward for its decision to buy U.S. rival Grey Global - as well as "big account wins from Samsung and Unilever." WPP, which also owns the J. Walter Thompson and Young & Rubicam advertising agencies, is (with the purchase of Grey Global) now apparently the world's second largest advertising services operation - just behind its number one U.S. rival Omnicon. WPP got a huge boost in profits last year with the Olympics, Euro 2004, and the U.S. presidential elections - profits that surely helped it in its latest U.S. acquisition.

It's sometimes forgotten just how important the advertising industry is to Britain and its influence around the world (and in the U.S.). The UK was for a long time the world's second largest market in terms of media advertising revenue, after the United States. Television advertising got an early boost in the UK in 1955, when the Independent Television (ITV) network began operations - the first national commercial television operation outside the U.S. Over the years British ad agencies became true global players, taking on and often beating their U.S. counterparts - even in the U.S. Even as famous UK agencies such as Saatchi & Saatchi got gobbled up by competitors, WPP emerged as Britain's main "flag carrier" in global advertising.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Another defection

In more serious immigration news, the deputy editor of The Economist, Clive Crook, has been wooed away by the The Atlantic. The Guardian reports that The Economist has been thriving post-911. Having refused to dumb down its content, the conservative magazine has instead attracted ever more readers, leading the editor of the men's magazine, GQ, to proclaim that reading The Economist is like a "badge of cool."

The Guardian speculates that The Atlantic is hoping to start up an American version of the magazine but with its sales figures of 500,000 per issue in the US versus 153,000 in the UK, isn't is pretty much an American magazine already?

Tally Ho, Tabs

The Guardian has more important news on the on-going saga of the attempt to revive the declining gossip rag, The National Enquirer. (Is it possible to build an entire beat on keeping up with the tabloids or maybe it would work as a new reality show. . . ) at any rate, in article documenting the "brain drain" of tabloidistas to the US, the UK newspaper reports that one Louise Oswald (no relation to Harvey, apparently) will "defect" to the US as part of the campaign to revive the once grand dame of American supermarket tabs.

Her departure from the UK's "Closer," is said to be a "major blow" to that publication. The Guardian notes that she will join more than 20 of her countrymen across the Atlantic.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Format programming: UK rules

ABC has purchased BBC One’s wildly popular show “Strictly Come Dancing,a sort of “American Idol” show focusing on dancing. The (London) Times reported that BBC’s Head of Format Entertainment, Richard Hopkins, was asked to produce it for the US.

As HDougie explained earlier, The Office is the most recent import from Britain joining a range of British imports -- from the successes ("Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" and "Wife Swap") to flops ("Men Behaving Badly" and "Coupling.")

The big picture here is that so-called format programming has been a huge success – especially so for Britain. Screen Digest recently reported that “the success of formats is a European and particularly a British success story – during the past three years 29% of all formats broadcast originated in the UK (19% originated in the Netherlands – home to Endemol, the world’s leading format company.)” The report found that "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and “Big Brother” opened the door to the US television market for European formats, and goes on to note that “the UK is the world's most important format exporter.” Biggest importer? Germany.


Monday, April 18, 2005

Murdoch as blogger in chief? Be afraid

As the BBC launches some of the most far-reaching moves to incorporate citizen journalism, the anti-thesis of quality, Rupert Murdoch, called for his minions (and they are legion) to rethink the intersection between their products and the Internet.

The Guardian reports that in his recent address to US editors at the Association for Newspaper Editors and Publishers, he said: “consumers wanted ‘control over the media, instead of being controlled by it’, pointing to the proliferation of website diaries known as ‘blogs’ and message boards.” Full speech here.

Nevertheless, the future could unfold this way: An interactive public service model (that may face its own difficult issues as HDougie points out) vs. a sensational, pseudo-grassroots corporate model. If the blog swarms that have been brewing across controversial issues in the US are any indication, a corporately funded and managed attack posing under the Murdoch banner as citizen journalism would make Fox news look like milk biscuits.

Jim McGuigan, Georgina Born, and the BBC

Yes, I know, it's another post on Auntie Beeb - and there's lots of other UK media and their impact in the U.S. we need to keep in mind - but this is worth reading. I found a piece, by Loughborough University's Jim McGuigan, in the latest issue of Flow. McGuigan's commentary is on the future of the BBC in an age of neo-liberalism, though in effect it turns into a book review of Georgina Born's Uncertain Vision - Birt, Dyke and the Reinvention of the BBC (2004). Born's book, which I haven't yet read, is an ethnographic study of the BBC, in the tradition of Tom Burns's The BBC: Public Institution and Private World (1977) and Philip Schlesinger's excellent Putting 'Reality' Together (1978). Born combines ethnographic study, critical analysis and policy prescriptions as she "draws upon Seyla Benhabib's notion of a 'politics of complex cultural dialogue'" to call on the BBC and public service broadcasting to "'cultivate commonality, reciprocity and tolerance'".
McGuigan concludes his piece with the following:
    Born identifies 'five structural forms of mediated exchange' that may be facilitated by broadcasting organizations retaining a genuinely public service purpose in spite of the forces that threaten to destroy it in our current age of neo-liberal dominance. These are when:-

      1. 'the majority hosts divergent and contested minority perspectives';
      2. 'minority speaks to majority and other minorities [-] inter-cultural communication';
      3. 'via radio, video, cable and satellite television or the net, minority speaks to minority (or to itself) [-] intra-cultural communication';
      4. 'territorially-based local and regional community networks' are facilitated by 'interactive project[s]' and 'experiments in online local democracy';
      5. 'issue-based, non-territorial communities of interest are linked by point-to-point networks'. (2004, 516)

    Born's list registers the BBC's pioneering role in the development of online services to supplement conventional broadcast material.

    In conclusion, it is important to stress the need for public services delivered online without charge, exemplified by the BBC's efforts in this respect, as well as through broadcast-scheduled television and radio. Otherwise, the communications field is abandoned entirely to commercial, market-based services that represent the overwhelming privatization and commodification of information, knowledge and culture, which has been taking place and seems, to pessimistic observers, unstoppable.

I wonder if BBC Director-General Mark Thompson, currently engaged on decimating his workforce (actually, double-decimating, since he wants to get rid of 20% of his employees), is paying attention?

Saturday, April 16, 2005

BBC's success under fire from all (commercial) sides?

I love the fact that the BBC is able to put so much of its material on the web. I absolutely love it. But I fear that with every time I get some wonderful new piece of information - in text, audio, or video - from the BBC's enormous free web archive, I (and millions like me) piss off numerous commercial operators who would like to charge fees for similar services, but who are unable to do so because of the BBC's dominant presence. I worry that the government, pushed on by the increasingly powerful commercial lobby, will continue to try to undermine the BBC's funding and its editorial independence. And, most of all, I worry about the anti-BBC fight being taken from the shores of Britain to the boardrooms of the global media corporations and the halls of Republican-controlled Congress.

Some background. Of course, the BBC has been under British government assault for years. Margaret Thatcher and her "rottweiler press secretary" Bernard Ingham hated the BBC in the '80s, especially in light of its relatively balanced news coverage of the Falklands/Malvinas conflict and the IRA campaign (Click here to see how Peter Snow covered the Falklands for BBC Newsnight in 1982; and Gavin Esler's piece on the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA)). Thatcher's ideological opposition to public service broadcasting also led her to push hard for commercialization of the corporation in the 1980s - though the 1986 Peacock Report rejected that strategy and helped preserve the license fee funding model. (See this piece by Jean Seaton in British Journalism Review for some more context).

The BBC survived - somehow - the era of director-general John Birt and succeeded in having its charter renewed again in 1996. However, the Blair government itself became a source of opposition to the BBC, especially with the Iraq War. Blair attempted to use the Hutton Inquiry (into the suspicious death of a UK weapons inspector, Dr. David Kelly) as a stick with which to beat the BBC into quiesence. Again, Lady Luck was on the Beeb's side, and an outporing of public support for the corporation over the duplicitous government persuaded the Blair administration to back off (especially after the resignation of communications director Alastair Campbell).

Another source of attack has been the growing power of the commercial media in Britain. the private press has always been lukewarm about the BBC. But the proliferation of new over-the-air, cable, and satellite channels brings with it new battalions of media lobbyists committed to the U.S. commercial model and fundamentally opposed to the notion of public-financed broadcasting. In particular, the BBC's massive presence on the Web has drawn fire from commercial operations complaining about their inability to compete against this free treasure trove of news and information (and this has led to occasional calls for the elimination of the BBC's web presence. More broadly, commercial pressure groups have attacked the BBC and its license fee financing system. (To get a flavor of the debate see the following selection of articles from The Guardian and The Observer, tracking pro and con arguments: pro-license fee; BBC's excessive commercialism; BBC web operations; Channel 4 attack; anti-BBC.) The BBC is, as DoctorMedia points out, certainly winning awards, and it's even getting more "cool" again. It still has strong public support - that's what has saved its bacon a number of times during disputes with the government - but the corporation is steadily amassing enemies all over the place. As a British Journalism Review editorial reminded us at the height of the Andrew Gilligan/David Kelly affair: "Among journalists who work for rival news media, the BBC has never had a great number of friends." And, to paraphrase Elrond's reminder to Gandalf in "The Fellowship of the Ring": The BBC's list of allies grows thin.

But the BBC battles on regardless. British governments setting out to hobble the BBC for one reason or another have usually pulled back from the brink. (Incidentally, for a quickie guide to BBC-government controversies down the years, check out this Answers.com page, titled "BBC Controversy".) And the BBC's commercial opposition has failed - so far - to land a telling blow. The BBC is to get its funding renewed for another 10 years, taking the current system potentially to 2016. And the BBC continues to argue for its unique position in British society - and indeed, as DoctorMedia's post makes clear, it seeks to expand that role, most prominently in cyberspace (see the Beeb's own arguments in its Future of the BBC report.)

But here's what really worries me. The question arises as to how the BBC would fare if it came under sustained assault from the much more conservative global and especially U.S. political-business establishment. As the BBC expands its reach - geographically, around the globe, and rhetorically, through providing a broader range of opinion both from within its walls and from greater interactivity with its audiences - it is open to the threat of retaliation not only from domestic commercial media in the UK but also, increasingly, from global (mostly U.S.-owned) transnational media corporations. This is a potentially fatal development for the hard-earned integrity and political/economic independence of the BBC. It is not unreasonable to speculate that if the BBC continues to extend its reach into the U.S. market, becoming dependent on U.S. revenue and coming to be perceived as “domestic” U.S medium, this could have a deleterious impact not only on its “alternative status” in the States, but also on its independence from American political forces. In others words, if the BBC moves from being considered an alternative news outlet to being a mainstream outlet it risks being drawn into the same political-economic pressures that have so successfully constrained U.S. news media in recent years.

That would be very bad.

Friday, April 15, 2005

BBC's future: It's the people, stupid

Amidst all this turmoil among the leading British news media, let’s consider this: BBC’s embrace of interactive journalism. The turn to innovative technologies is expensive, no doubt (is this why they’ve just pink slipped a fifth of their employees?); nevertheless, the BBC’s Internet presence is impressive, and honchos are hoping this keeps them a global media powerhouse in the future.

How exactly this may happen starts to become clear in this Q & A with Richard Sambrook, director of BBC Global News Division. He argues that participatory media “strengthens the BBC's core values” and that the “BBC's role [is] shifting from broadcaster and mediator to facilitator, enabler and teacher.” Heady stuff, this.

HypergeneMediaBlog conducted the e-mail interview with Sambrook in March focusing on BBC’s turn toward these innovations. They note: “2005 could be the year that the BBC emerges as the world leader in participatory media and citizen journalism.”

Here is a particularly interesting excerpt from the interview:

“[HypergeneMediaBlog:] U.S. media clearly have economic and shareholder
pressures
that the BBC does not. In your opinion, why does U.S. media fear participatory, bottom-up publishing? Why are they so hesitant to collaborate with their audience, when the BBC is not?

“[Sambrook:]Perhaps they should answer this not me! I guess it's because there is no clear business model which is as robust as the old one was. The BBC, being publicly funded in the main part, can concentrate on quality and reach. Commercial providers have to satisfy shareholders and the bottom line. That probably means we can afford to take risks, by focusing purely on the public value of a new service, that a commercial broadcaster can't.

"The success criteria for a public broadcaster is about the quality of the audience or user experience, not financial. I'm sure robust economic models will emerge. Their dilemma is the old business model is in rapid decline before a new one is proven. In my view that should be the moment to take a risk … but it's their call not mine!”

Certainly the tech world seems to see Auntie Beeb as pretty hip: The Webby Awards recently announced their nominees for best of the web. Established in 1996 by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, the Webbys are considered one of the premiere awards for online communication. BBC snagged what Cyberjournalist called “record-breaking” 9 nominations. Winners will be announced May 3.

BBC nominated sites include:

BBC News (which won last year’s competition)

BBC Radio Player

BBC One Music

BBC Sports

BBC 6 Music

BBC America’s The Office

Open2.net (collaborative site with The Open University)

BBC WW2 People's War (interactive site on the war)

BBC Onion Street (interactive site to help kids with homework

Beyond winning awards, this technological creativity has seen the BBC introduce a couple of other notable online projects:

BBC Creative Archive License. Working with Channel 4, the British Film Institute and The Open University, BBC will make available clips from radio and TV programming and eventually much more. Audiences can do whatever they want with these clips as long as their use is non-commercial. The service will only be available to British citizens who pay the yearly TV license fee and who thus technically own the BBC and its content. While critics fear the only content will turn out to be nature shows, proponents of making content freely available say it could be a model for other large media companies.

Can you imagine public radio or television in this country (mush less the corporates) simply giving away content and letting users do anything they want with it?

Media outlets can chose to charge for access, to horde their “product” and follow the old models of distribution such as US music companies have done (see how successful that has been), or they can opt for the Creative Commons model which encourages innovation and participation. (Lawrence Lessig explains the concept to Yahoo.) Not to sound too much like a bunch of techno-worship dreck from Wired, but it does appear that the BBC has realized that.

In the same interview, Sambrook describes another endeavor, BBCICan: “It is aimed at people who feel that the mainstream process of politics — at Westminster and the town hall, and its coverage in the media – is too remote and irrelevant to their lives.” The site enables visitors to organize campaigns to change the world – or just their neighborhood. Folks are invited to start discussions about problems in their neighborhood, publish advice and tips on grass-roots political activism or link up with other like-minded people.

Will these sorts of cutting-edge projects be their national model, while serving up centralized, watered-down fare for their global (read: American) audience? Will their money be made on pitiful Americans desperate to escape the ever expanding world of Fox for some crumbs of quality? Or will BBC share the love with the rest of us? Stay tuned.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Rocky road ahead for First World news?

An iceberg dead ahead, or a rocky road? I don't know. But DoctorMedia's piece on Reuters news agency offshoring its jobs to outposts of the former British empire (here's another piece on the subject, from globaljournalist.org) is fascinating - and ironic given the company concerned. Reuters came of age during the late 19th century era of transoceanic telegraphic cabling of the globe. Its early economic success was largely dependent on its close association with the British government and the Colonial Office, and the company was obliged to operate effectively as the mouthpiece of the all-powerful British empire. At one point the company was so powerful that it effectively held the United States in a neocolonial news relationship when it came to U.S. access to international news. Reuters has of course long since divested itself of its overtly colonial role, as it has endeavored to become a truly global player in transnational financial and business as well as political news. However, at least until recently, its operations still largely followed the neocolonial core-periphery news model. Now it seems, perhaps, that global capitalism is catching up with the old colonial news centers, and some postcolonial chickens are coming home to roost.

Finally, I'm tempted to speculate whether many or any of those threatened U.S. Reuters journalists gave a thought or care to offshoring back when it only seemed to affect blue-collar workers in rustbelt towns. It's a little different now that the middle-class information sector is under threat as well. What's next? Higher education? :-(

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Iceberg ahead?!

Multiple reports over the last couple of months suggest that the British quality media are facing big time financial and other problems.

US-based Reuters reporters held a byline strike to protest their jobs being off-shored to India. The Newspaper Guild told Editor & Publisher that "Reuters became the first major news organization to try to cover Wall Street from India last year when editorial managers started replacing their work force in the United States and London with 'cheaper, far less experienced journalists in Bangalore.' " The job of editing photos will move from London and Washington to a desk in Singapore. 3,000 jobs will be cut in total.

To add insult to injury, Reuters' global managing editor's internal memo was later leaked in which he bad-mouthed the company's reporters, saying they had "terrible quality problems" and their news was "perceived as not having enough insight." Not to worry once the call-centers in Bangalore take over, eh? Heck, why even bother having reporters at all? They could just hire a couple of guys to sit around the pub and make it all up.

Meanwhile the Guardian reports that the Financial Times' owner was told: Your time may be running out and that other management might bring in more bucks. The venerable FT is owned by Pearson, the educational publisher that also runs Penguin books. US investors (we call that striking a bargain with the devil) have demanded more synergy between these entities. The FT had earlier reported that they were starting to break even after having been bought by Pearson two years ago although they were facing weak advertising sales in the US. Again, not to worry as they are hoping to get permission from the Indian government to move into that market.

As noted earlier, the BBC has axed 1 in 5 jobs, though not touching its global operations. The unions are saying they will shut down live TV in Britain. Wish they could do that here.

BBC: Quality a myth?

On the opposite end of the spectrum from the British tabloids, we have the elite British media, which have become increasingly lauded within the US as the last bastion of quality reporting. Many Americans are convinced.

For example, a couple of weeks ago Editor & Publisher reported the results of an American University survey of more than 200 war journalists that concluded the reporters “self-censored their reporting on the Iraq invasion.”

A follow-up by E&P’s Greg Mitchell pulled some quotes from the anonymous survey, and this one particularly struck me:

“It seems to me that the American TV network coverage of the war and its aftermath was pretty disgraceful. There was virtually no skepticism about official claims. Americans who relied on TV for their news would have been utterly surprised by the current turmoil. I don't think that's true of British viewers.”

Perhaps so.

Yet British researcher David Miller writing for SpinWatch several weeks ago first revealed that the BBC used reports during the war from an outfit called Services Sound and Vision Corporation which was run by the British Forces Broadcasting Service, which is a project of the Ministry of Defense. It was, alas, propaganda on the BBC no less.

The "reporter" was embedded with the Scots Guards and the stories broadcast on BBC Scotland (ah yes, give the Scots a little autonomy and watch your standards drop.)

After Miller's first report, the BBC told him that it would not happen again.

Monday, April 11, 2005

British style reporting, snicker, snicker

If the NYT is on the story, then NPR can’t be far behind. In a report titled, “ ‘National Enquirer’ to Get Facelift,” Morning Edition interviewed Paul Field, the new editor of the tabloid, last week dutifully bringing up Field’s British journalism credentials. Asked to explain how his British background would influence the publication, Field responded: “British newspapers are famous for their stunts” and described creating a photograph in The Sun for the hottest day of the year by helicoptering a reporter to the top of a mountain to sit in a pair of thongs next to a pile of snow. Maybe it was more amusing in Earl’s Court.

Field also mentioned that their core readership was American women in their late 30s, 40s and 50s – perhaps the same lot so dutifully following Cowmilla’s marriage to Charles.

The implication of all this coverage seems to me to be that the elite US press is protecting its authority by suggesting that the British Fleet Streeters are the ones who pay for stories, obsess on celebs and otherwise degrade the profession. They can also make sure everyone still remembers that they are not tabloids (even if they do have to run corrections that they were, um, wrong about that little conflict over in Iraq, ran columns by paid propagandists, salivate over Michael Jackson, the latest royal wedding, etc.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Nudge nudge, wink wink?

The New York Times seems to think that the U.S. media coverage of Charles & Camilla has been a little cheekier than I give them credit for. Headlined "For American Royal Watchers, Wink-Wink, Nudge-Nudge," Alessandra Stanley paints a picture of royal wedding coverage that is perhaps a little less obsequious than the typical American fare - but there's still the sense of an enduring love for all things British and Royal. Again, not like those nasty Brit tabloids.

Nudge nudge, wink wink?

Say no more.

Now that's a good idea.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Pomp and circumstance rule!

Today was, of course, Charles and Camilla's big wedding day - one day late, since in this media age even Brit royals have to concede to a papal funeral. But no matter - it seems that the royals have won what has seemed like an internecine battle with Fleet Street. Back on March 20, I asked whether the U.S. media would frame this royal union as a tacky affair, or would they "fall into line with the whole royal pomp and circumstance/Ye Olde Englishe fairytale thing?" Well, from the limited amount of media coverage that I've forced myself to watch, it definitely looks like the latter. Pomp and circumstance seems to have won the day. I also wondered whether the U.S.media would take their cue from the British press. Well they have, in a way - if only to make the reporting of the "rabidly" anti-wedding British press a key part of the Charles and Camilla "story." In fact, the state-side pundits - at least on CNN - seem quite happy slamming the nasty old British tabloids for having dared to tear into this somewhat tacky union that has finally been made legal. It seems that quite a bit of the U.S. media are now becoming more "royally" respectful than their tawdry, muckraking Brit counterparts. Am I surprised at this development? Well, no: It's been a long time coming. I've been thinking for some time that the Royal Family would find a more natural home in the conservative bastion that America has become. Nothing I've seen from the current U.S. coverage is likely to change my mind on this. Britain, like Australia, is simply becoming too disrespectful, too cheeky, to take the royals seriously. The royals would be much happier over here - say, in southern California or Florida - where they could set up shop in a specially constructed Royal Theme Park. The tourists would come, and the British press would stop paying attention - at least until someone "Royal" got their kegs off or their tits out!

Friday, April 08, 2005

Drudge match

Intending to counter-balance right-wing media cog -- the Drudge Report -- British-expat and reigning blog king Nick Denton launched Sploid.com this week.

Oxford-educated Denton, who got his start reporting for the Financial Times, is the guy behind Gawker (chatter about celebs, parasitic media types, hipster culture mavens, etc.), Wonkette (DC gossip babe tells all), Gizmodo (gadgets, electronics) and other popular blogs. Denton once described Gawker as “ ‘standard-issue bitchy, gossipy, un-fact-checked British tabloid journalism,” explaining its US success this way: “This is the biggest market on the planet - and they have crap media.’ ”

Spolid will apparently draw on the same British-inspired take-no-prisoners style of writing found on the other blogs he sponsors, following what Denton told the New York Observer as “ ‘anarcho-capitalist’ ” politics “pitted only against ‘all the lazy incumbents who thrive on hypocrisy.’ ”

Meanwhile, another name-brand Brit media figure, Tina Brown, whose years in America have apparently shrunk her brain (see below) is planning to join Arianna Huffington's new group blog. The blog is intended as well to counter Drudge and the myriad of right-wing "grass-roots citizen" blogs funded by the Republican Party, corporate-sponsored think tanks and other average millionaire Americans. Ahem.

Writer Greg Lindsay says Brown's jump into the blogosphere would "signal blogging's entry into the mainstream and the end of its subversive, outsider reputation." Um, didn't that happen the minute the first (fill in the blank: politician, corporate CEO, advertiser, PR hack, etc.) blogged on?

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Tina, now depraved and American: BBC "sends me to sleep"

Confessions from British magazine maven, Tina Brown, she who helped lead the British charge to dumb down American magazine culture (or at the very least she took the New Yorker down a few notches on the brain wave scale before crashing and burning with her comeuppance, the idiotic Talk magazine.)

In a Washington Post story, America's endless news loop, Tina writes:

"It's the snob thing to say that the only way to find genuine information on the box anymore is to watch the nightly broadcast of the BBC news. But that's like pretending to read the Economist. The kind of news I crave -- the BBC's admirably sober graphics, calm unchatty voices, generous dollops of detailed foreign reporting -- sends me to sleep every time. Yes, I miss the whirling graphics and eyeballs of the cable wars. Auntie Beeb now feels like she's broadcasting from Toad Hall. My electronic news tastes, I realize, have become hopelessly depraved -- and there's no going back."

Enquiring wags, er, minds want to know

This update just in from London Calling's on-going, on-the-spot, up-to-the-minute, live, live live (not to be confused with girls, girls, girls) coverage of the travails of that bastion of American journalism, the National Equirer.

In a vicious "bloodbath" to restore the Enquirer's crown in the tabloid wars, new editor-in-chief Paul Field gave the boot to still more American staffers, bringing in more British mercenaries to rejoin the battle. The West Coast bureau chief, Jerry George, proclaimed after the axing: "Don't cry for me, Los Angeles!" Or maybe not. (We cannot insure the accuracy of our quotes; we're only a blog, after all.) Meanwhile, circulation numbers are in a free-fall that even Michael Jackson's Neverland activities might not be able to stop. Can the mighty British wags save the voice of America's oppressed celebrity addicts? Stay tuned.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Back to "The Office"

OK, I might have to admit I'm wrong about NBC's Brit transplant, "The Office". I wrote the other day that it might well follow other Brit comedy clones and bomb Stateside. But early indications are that the show in fact did quite well with its pilot episode, securing 11.3 million viewers, according to the Nielsen ratings. Overall, it ranked third in the ratings for the Thursday night it ran, behind only Fox's "American Idol" (itself a Brit reality TV transplant) and NBC's "ER" (which now, incidentally, includes Asian-British actress Parminder Nagra as one of its stars). Not bad. Perhaps this show can buck the trend, survive the Anglophile critics' barbs, and become a genuine success. We'll see.