If There's No Money, There's No Journalism

Posted April 24, 2018
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A few years ago, OFCOM, the British government agency that is in charge of communications (somewhat like the FCC in the US), announced that it was offering up local TV licenses.

Unlike the US, where there are a plethora of local TV stations in each city, there are almost none in the UK.  Then Culture Minister Jeremy Hunt thought it would be a good idea, and commercially successful. If it worked in America, why not in Britain.

A British partner, a very successful businessman in his own right, and I jumped at the chance. It is not every day that you get a chance to snag an over the air broadcast licsense.  

In order to secure the license, we had to join a complettion and submit our plan to OFCOM for approval.  The group with the best plan would get the license. 

We drafted a plan based on what we thought the revenue would be, and that was based on what the local newspaper was able to earn, driven by its local ad sales. Our station would be economically similar in many respects.

Looking at the projected ad revenue, we backed out the number of hours of local news, sports and so on that we could provide and put in the bid. It looked pretty solid.

We only had one other competitor for the local license of our community, so I thought we had a pretty good shot.  When I read the other party's plan, also submitted to OFCOM, I thought we had it in the bag.  

Their plan was, in a word, crazy.  A sports show, a politics show, an arts show, non stop local news, a chat show, a music show, a movie review show. Their projected schedule went on and on.  It looked like The BBC. The only differnce is that The BBC has guaranteed funding. This station was supposed to be self- supporting.

When the licenses were awarded, our oppostion got it.  

"Much better programming plan. Serves the community better," we were told.

Two years later, that station is broke. Out of money. Finished.  This is not a surprise.

Also, not a surpise, is that the same thing has happened all across Britain, like a virus. Yesterday, The BBC announced that OFCOM was, in fact, scrapping the local news initiative. 

This is too bad, but not a surprise.

Most of the licenses were granted to journalists with a great enthusiasm for journalism but not much enthusiasm for running a business.

That is also not a surprise.  

From the first day at work, journalsits are inculcated with the idea that in some way, and they are often not sure in what way, but some way, business is inherently evil.  Business is bad.  Making money is dirty.

The maxim of Finley Peter Dunne rings true in their hearts:  The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

Here's a better maxim for journalist and journalism in general - If there is no revenue, there is no journalism.  


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