BBC staff expect news output to bear brunt of cost cutting

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The Independent Online

BBC journalists are growing increasingly concerned that huge cost cuts will affect the quality of the corporation's news output.

News is expected to be one of the worst-hit departments when Mark Thompson unveils plans to cut costs across the BBC this week. While the director general is seeking to make 3 per cent annual savings across the board, in news that rises to 20 per cent over five years.

When Mr Thompson announces his plans to staff on Thursday, after presenting them to the BBC Trust on Wednesday, he is expected to reveal that 500 jobs will be axed in news out of a staff of 3,000.

Across the BBC, some 2,800 jobs will be cut, while 1,000 new posts will be created. Senior editorial staff on high salaries will bear the brunt of the cuts but frontline journalists will be protected.

Several assistant editors, a senior grade which has traditionally been exempt from going on strike, have indicated they may support any industrial action taken by the broadcast unions.

As the BBC moves towards an "integrated newsroom" – with television, radio and online news operations being converged to save doubling up on stories – journalists in the BBC's radio and online divisions are warning of a "TV takeover". By moving to a multimedia newsroom, the core BBC news operation will achieve savings of 25 per cent, while specialist news-gathering will save 15 per cent.

The 1pm, 6pm and 10pm news bulletins and BBC News 24, which are currently run by separate teams, will become one operation.

Only Radio Five Live will retain its own news operation, in preparation for the station's move to Salford.

News bosses want to move away from the current situation where – when a major news story breaks, – journalists from several different programmes pursue the same information.

Instead, although individual programmes will retain editors, news production will be streamlined and journalists will be trained to work in a tri-media environment. The intention is to produce more expensive journalism which is shared across outlets, but to have less of it. BBC journalists are concerned, however, that in reality they will be asked to do more work with fewer resources. Radio journalists also fear they will be forced to use material from television interviews, in which the sound quality may not be as high as they are used to, while online journalists are worried they will be required to use fewer professional photographers and to rely more heavily on pictures taken by staff, or on user-generated content.

Peter Horrocks, currently head of BBC television news, will be in charge of the new integrated newsroom, while Stephen Mitchell, at present head of radio news, will head a new department, news programmes, which will include Radio4's Today programme, BBC2's Newsnight and BBC1's Sunday AM.

One insider described the changes as "the biggest multimedia reorganisation in British journalism".

The NUJ's general secretary Jeremy Dear said yesterday: "Nobody is under the illusion that the BBC doesn't have to make changes. Integration can be a good thing if done properly, but the biggest issue is quality if people are expected to do more work with fewer resources."

The broadcast unions have warned that, if they believe the cuts will affect quality or lead to compulsory redundancies, they will hold a ballot on industrial action.