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

Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

(Junior) IT Systems Administrator / Infrastructure Analyst

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly ...

Sales Engineer - Cowes - £30K-£40K

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Sales Engineer - Cow...

Web / Digital Analyst - Google Analytics, Omniture

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Sales Perfomance Manager. Marylebone, London

£45-£57k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice