Why doesn’t the BBC give reporters a by-line?

GUEST POST: Mo Metcalf-Fisher is Head of Press at the Countryside Alliance. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

It’s easy to get frustrated, but after a few months on the job you quickly get used to it. The main reason for this is that you learn the quickest and easiest way of addressing a problem with a news item is to liaise directly with the author of the piece.More often than not, issues can be resolved amicably and professionally.

At all levels of news output, from local to national, the ability to speak with a specific journalist about their story is incredibly important.

I am not talking about articles you simply don’t like, of course, but items that are genuinely badly written, factually incorrect or lacking in balance. Sometimes, even, the absence of a basic right of reply.

Obviously, depending on the severity of a grievance, press officers may have no other option than to immediately escalate their complaint to the highest levels. In most cases (certainly from personal experience), a basic acknowledgment is often provided promptly.

More often than not, though, the preference is to keep it between the two parties without involving editors or, in the most severe cases, IPSO or Ofcom.

Thankfully, in most cases, online news websites make the process of identifying a journalist incredibly easy.

Their name is often placed at the top of an article with a link to their portfolio.

Frustratingly, I have often found this sensible process not to be applicable in the case of the BBC – specifically, its news site.

Most BBC articles lack any mention of an author, which makes the process of complaints incredibly hard to follow, should it be required.

It is difficult to know exactly who to complain to and, in the real world where minutes count for hours, press offices cannot wait for days to hear back from a centralised complaints department.

If there had been no attempt to make contact with your press office in the first instance, it is almost impossible to know how to identify the reporter behind a piece.

When I have been afforded the opportunity of working with a BBC reporter, I have found them to be courteous and professional.

However, this can be overshadowed by a frustration – which I know many in the PR industry share – about the lack of author transparency.

If the BBC is to enjoy the confidence of press offices, it must ensure that its reporters are accountable for their own work and easily identified.

I see no reason why this cannot be the case, given that every other significant news outlet does so already.

The BBC should promptly follow suit.

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This piece was written for PR Week

The elephant in the countryside

GUEST POST: Edward Rowlandson is Political Relations Manager at the Countryside Alliance. Follow on Twitter. Connect on LinkedIn

There is a stark contrast in fortunes between the Conservative Party and The Labour Party when it comes to the rural electorate. The Conservatives hold 177 of the 199 rural seats in England and Wales, Labour hold 17. The complete dominance of the Conservative Party has in turn awarded the Party the keys to No.10 in 2015, 2017 and 2019. The Conservatives know how to win in rural seats, whereas Labour has a problem.

The Countryside Alliance’s recent report explores Labour’s relationship with the countryside. The report focuses on Labour’s electoral fortunes in rural England and Wales over the past three general elections. As first recognised by Maria Eagle, Labour MP for Garston and Halewood, after the 2015 election, Labour had (and still has) a rural problem. However, it has been widely ignored by most in The Labour Party.

Labour did not always ignore the rural electorate. When it won the 1997 and 2001 general elections it boasted over 100 rural MPs reaching into the Conservative rural heartlands. At that time, Labour chose to engage with rural voters. However, over time the countryside and Labour have grown further and further apart. Constituency boundaries may have changed, but that cannot hide the situation Labour now finds itself in.

After the 2019 general election much has been made of Labour losing its ‘red wall’, but not much analysis or thought has been given to the complete collapse of Labour’s rural vote – losing 15 seats and going backwards in every rural seat it held. Yet, despite Labour’s worst result in the countryside (and country) since 1935 Labour continued, under Jeremy Corbyn, to prioritise the activities taken in the countryside rather than on the priorities of the countryside. During the Agriculture Bill Committee stages Labour attempted to stop anyone who had used a dog to hunt (including rats) from receiving future agriculture subsidies. Even when drafting problems were highlighted with the junior Shadow Defra Minister, she pressed the amendment to a vote. If it were not for Conservative colleagues in the committee, every farmer would not be entitled to any agricultural subsidy. This was a party that clearly did not understand the countryside nor was it willing to listen to those rural colleagues to the impact that their proposed amendments would cause. Defra Secretary of State, George Eustice, is right when he said: “Nationally, the Conservative Party has always had a much stronger affinity and understanding with rural communities, whether that is agricultural communities, but many others besides who have been farmers themselves and so understand that particular area.” In this instance, Labour’s actions proved the Secretary of State completely right.

However, under Sir Keir Starmer, The Labour Party has been more open to engagement with rural voters, and Luke Pollard, Shadow Defra Minister, wants to make Labour “the party of the countryside” and has even acknowledged Labour’s rural problem: “I think what we need to understand is that the route back to power, the way of winning back many of those communities is to recognise that we need to be there.”

It remains to be seen whether Labour will be able to fulfil their ambitions, however their admission of its rural problem is one that the Conservatives should note. If Labour start to challenge in the countryside Conservatives will have to match that challenge. Ironically the Labour 2019 general election strategy of targeting only urban seats worked – it now holds most of them. Therefore, the sooner it closes the gap in the countryside the closer it gets to No.10. The task for the Conservative Party is to maintain its dominance – currently at 89%. To do that the Conservatives have to show the rural electorate why they were right to put their trust in them. Polling from ORB International found that issues most important to the rural electorate are housing, healthcare and transport. These issues are the ones that need to be addressed; and will ultimately secure the Conservative Party continued success both in the countryside and in the country.  

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This piece was written for our website.