It’s not all about the money

Everytime a public organisation comes up with what is basically a good idea, something that will provide interesting content for free for the public in an easy to use way – somebody, usually somebody running a private company – jumps up and down and screams about it hurting the ‘commercial sector’.

I can completely understand a newspaper group getting a little anxious when they’ve got a big new service ready to launch, advertising in place and then someone like the BBC, the Government or another publicly funded body launches an almost identical service with tax payers money – but how often does that actually happen.

Most of the time the excuses for objecting to a cool new public service site, channel or project is that it would stop the private company from being able to create something similar in the future – thus cutting off a potential revenue stream.

But for me that is where the argument completely falls down – in most cases the public service version would be advertising free and as the commercial version would probably be advertising funded – I don’t see where the competition is?

OK so there would be a little bit of competing for eyeballs but I like to think that people are smart enough to rely on more than one source for their news and information – I use Twitter and Facebook even though Facebook is fast becoming Twitter.

I read every major newspaper website, I read more than one blog, even if they’re on the same subject and belong to several forums covering the same subject area.

What I’m saying is – why does it matter if the BBC runs a service similar to one a commercial company might run when the commercial company will live or die by advertising revenue (charging for things on the web doesn’t work unless its a mobile app) and the BBC won’t be taking advertising?

Equally why shouldn’t a local council create a local online television service to let people know what is happening in their town if they can afford it – although if they’re cutting other services I would suggest maybe thinking again?

In fact, scrap the example above as that really just seems to be about promoting the council – what councils should really be doing, and this would help local newspapers – is filming all council meetings and then providing a feed – for free – to all the newspapers, radio stations and other media in their area.

Those media services could then broadcast that feed on their sites, cut up videos/speeches to publish with articles and even be able to properly cover local council meetings without having to send a reporter – it could just be on a TV in the background in the newsroom.

This would provide local news services with free content, would allow them to have a journalist doing something else and would hopefully encourage greater transparency in local government.

If councils have the money to launch a TV service or newspaper promoting the council – surely that money would be better spent actually covering council meetings.

In fact, maybe that is something the BBC could help fund with some of the ‘digital switchover money’ instead of giving it to ITV or other broadcasters.

It could be an extention of the digital democracy project but instead of it all being broadcast on the BBC – it could be part of BBC Parliament with a branding free feed offered to each of the relevant local newspapers, websites, blogs and radio stations.

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