A Stalinist approach at the BBC

The latest news of redundancies – six photographers and picture desk roles – affecting a regional daily and its sister weeklies obviously comes as no surprise. Is it another small step towards the demise of local newspapers? Possibly. It’s certainly a reflection on local papers’ acceptance that they will print more photographs sent by PR firms (often employing professional photographers, but not always) or digital pictures sent by members of the public.

For the enthusiastic amateur, digital photography has been a godsend. A lot of us, aided by technology, now think we have an “eye” for a good picture.  Foolishly, I include myself.

However, there is a line – and unfortunately too many media organisations have crossed it. I left the BBC when the regions were introducing video journalism. We were assured by the American consultant, employed at vast cost by the licence-payers, that this was not a cost-cutting exercise nor would quality suffer.

However, to justify the BBC’s investment regional editors were given quotas to ensure that x number of pieces in a programme were provided by a video journalist. And, out of fairness, technical staff (engineers, graphic designers and even cameramen) were also given the opportunity to train as video journalists. The result was reporters producing stories which were journalistic but looked horrible, while technical staff produced something visually acceptable but journalistically all over the place.

As a bloke I’m not a great multi-skiller, but this was more akin to a Stalinist, not Reithian, approach to television production.

Ten years on I’m told the madness has subsided, but you can still see glimpses – and they are just glimpses because most of the shots are out of focus!