Ian Burrell: One casualty of the digital revolution we should not lament – the old-school newsroom bully

It is at the BBC, of all places, that allegations of bullying have been loudest

A soldier signs up in the knowledge that he might, one day, be obliged to take another human life; a nurse is sure to face the sight of blood and a police officer must be able to arrest a criminal suspect. Even in the apparently cushioned and glamorous world of the media there are certain dangers that come with the job. Some happily accept the risks, heading off to the front line of war zones, investigating corrupt networks or filming rioters at close quarters. But should physical and psychological harm be a threat even inside the newsroom?

Bullying, I’m sad to say, has become a potent topic in modern British media. For some it will be a non-issue, particularly those old-stagers who argue that it was forever thus in an industry that rewards ruthless ambition. Whether bright graduates will be so ambivalent to the problem is another matter entirely.

Traditional media is under pressure – surely a factor in workplace tensions – but for the multi-skilled, digital natives emerging from colleges with a hunger to tell stories there have never been so many career options.

British newspapers and broadcasters – in my view, the best in the world – are now in competition with myriad other employers for this talent. Today’s young film-maker might be sent on foreign assignment by a sports drink company and would not be criticised by their peers for selling out to such a paymaster. Why then should they subject themselves old-media atmosphere, where fear stalks the office?

It is at the BBC, of all places, that the allegations of bullying have been loudest. After an inquiry in which more than 900 people came forward with information, the director-general Tony Hall has prioritised the problem and encouraged staff to use a new anti-bullying hotline.

How could this happen at the most revered of British media institutions, a place that many assumed was a sanctuary of intellectualism and decency where some of the nation’s finest minds endeavoured to educate, inform and entertain?

Some of the most alarming allegations have centred on BBC Radio’s youth news service Newsbeat, attached to Radio 1. More than 30 serving and former Newsbeat staff and contributors lodged complaints, as this paper revealed. They talked of a “climate of paranoia and fear”, citing bullying and favouritism. Many were reduced to tears. One journalist described how she was in such a state that she shut herself in a cupboard. The BBC held a year-long inquiry at the end of which the Newsbeat editor Rod McKenzie was moved out his job to another part of the BBC.

It’s not a very encouraging picture of how the BBC treats some of its best young talent. Some of the editor’s supporters say he was the victim of a campaign by staff with a grievance. But one claim – that McKenzie’s behaviour was “entirely in keeping with a pressurised news environment” – says it all.

The newspaper trade title Press Gazette has conducted online research among its readers on bullying in the press industry. “I suspect that some of the BBC bullies are angels compared to some of the characters in Fleet Street,” says its editor Dominic Ponsford. “Journalism is quite an unusual profession. It’s a macho industry where people are expected to suck up what’s thrown at them and just crack on. It’s not good for diversity in the newsroom and does help explain why there’s a scarcity of women in senior jobs.”

Maybe we can laugh at the editor who told a colleague he could eat alphabet spaghetti and “shit a better headline than that”, or the boss who responded to being bid “good morning” with the words: “If I wanted a fucking weather report I would have asked for one.” But reports of physical attacks by male executives on female reporters are different altogether.

It has been argued, convincingly, that bullying played a part in the phone hacking that has so tarnished the newspaper business. The scandal inspired Lord Justice Leveson’s attempts to reform the industry’s culture. He hardly succeeded – a senior figure told me recently that one editor’s famously aggressive style is what the bosses feel is needed to get the most from staff.

Over at Telegraph Media Group, editor-in-chief Jason Seiken wants to do something different; Taking the shackles off reporters and encouraging them to find their inner broadcaster by auditioning in the company’s video studios. Some are sceptical, seeing this as the misguided vision of an outsider who doesn’t understand Fleet Street. But Seiken is right in at least one respect. If traditional British media organisations are to survive in a future where every corporation is a publisher, they must give the young writers and film-makers whom we need to become the next generation of independent storytellers an environment where they feel confident enough to do their best work.

Twitter: @iburrell

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Marketing - London

£60000 - £85000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Interim Head of Marketing / Marketin...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Digital Project Manager

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Digital Project Manager is needed to join an exciti...

Paid Search Analyst / PPC Analyst

£24 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Paid Search Analyst / PPC...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam