#newsrw: Forget the tools, it’s all about original content

In the first keynote speech at news:rewired, Peter Bale, executive producer at MSN, proudly boasted how his team had grown from 11 to 50 – made up almost entirely of journalists and web producers.

Their collective job is to provide content for MSN’s platforms, many of which are quite niche, thus making it an appropriate topic for news:rewired, given it was all about niche opportunities in journalism. Next week, MSN will actively market a new section about cars, full of content about celebrities and their cars, the top cars of all time, etc etc. The message was clear: MSN, while buying in content from a range of sources, is committed to generating a lot of its own.

Bale made the point that he’d also dispatched his team to cover big stories too – and would like to do more of that in the future. That sort of content is perhaps part of the reason why MSN is the UK’s leading portal home page. Bale also reported that news – especially hard news – continues to grow in popularity online, so is worth investing in.

As with many of these sorts of events, it’s the conversations which carry on after the speech which are most interesting. Kevin Marsh, who set up the BBC College of Journalism, was keen to explore the following, via Twitter:

Interested that @peterbale at #newsrw not telling me yet how new tools originate content – only how they tell and retell existing content

Followed by:

@hendopolis #newsrw excellent question … what’s being originated? investigated? found out?

To which Bale replied:

@kjmarsh Is that so? What would you like to see about “originating” content, other than hiring more journalists? Seriously. #newsrw

Marsh, on one level, is right: Just because you employ lots of journalists doesn’t mean you are originating new content. It is quite possible to have the largest newsroom in the world and not actually generate any ‘new news’, just repackage up stuff which is already around. However, that doesn’t appear to be the case at MSN, with the examples Bale gave.

I spotted a certain irony in Marsh making the point that he couldn’t see where the new content was being generated – to me, the BBC is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to using different media to repackage stories which didn’t begin within the corporation.

In newspaper newsrooms up and down the country you’ll hear the joke about being able to hear the newsreaders turn the pages of the paper when reading the first bulletin on the radio after the paper is published. That, of course, isn’t what really happens, but every newspaper journalist will know the frustration of seeing their story picked up by BBC regional news, often helping the reported with a question, only for the promised credit or reference to the newspaper to be forgotten, until the next time.

At a national level, the BBC seems to be better at saying where stories began life – so why not do the same at a regional level? There used to be a time when you could almost guarantee that a story which began in a newspaper and was followed up on TV would involve a shot of the subject reading said newspaper. Not anymore. No credit, and generally no payment either.

Yet when there is a story coming out on a documentary, such as Inside Out or Panorama, which the BBC is keen to promote, they’ll send their spin machine into overdrive to get the story teased in the local media – but only if they get  promotion for the programme.

I’ve lost count of the number of times reporters at TV stations say something like ‘I’ll return the favour.’ The irony being that such a situation will rarely arise. It’s happened twice in my career as a reporter – once with the BBC, who were very difficult,  and once with Granada, who couldn’t have been more helpful.

So it’s refreshing to hear someone so senior within the BBC pointing out that large volumes of staff mean lots of original content.  The shrinking size of newspaper newsrooms hasn’t reduced their ability to set the agenda for local broadcast media.

And the same applies to hyperlocal sites too. Often one or two-man bands, they generate loads of original content which won’t have been anywhere else.

In the case of MSN, it appears they are originating their own content – and have the tools to present it in many different ways. The BBC too, can present things in many different ways – here’s hoping they’ll start pushing their regional news teams to start being fairer with the local newspaper newsrooms too. After all, surely that’s what networked journalism is all about?

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