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The BBC's Flagship Newspaper Review Is Finally Going To Include Websites

Welcome to 2017.

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The BBC's flagship news show is preparing to replace its review of the day's printed newspapers with a round-up mixing stories found in traditional publications with headlines from online news sources and coverage by foreign media outlets.

The change to Radio 4's Today programme is due to be announced shortly, according to an internal memo obtained by BuzzFeed News.

The breakfast programme – which shapes the daily news agenda for most UK politicians and much of the British news media – currently features two substantial newspaper round-ups during every three-hour show. The programme has recently hit record high numbers of listeners, reaching 7.6 million Britons a week.

Ensuring a story appears on the Today programme is an easy way to reach the ears of the prime minister, cabinet ministers, and journalists at other outlets. As a result, the current system helps perpetuate the influence of newspapers despite the majority of publications suffering from severely declining print readerships in recent years.

The decision will open up a new debate over which outlets count as "the media" in 2017, whether there is a such a thing as a homogenous, easily summarised news agenda in modern Britain, and which websites are credible enough to be included in round-ups.

The show's paper review currently includes headlines and lead comment pieces from printed national newspapers, which tend to skew towards right-leaning publications – often ensuring substantial coverage on the radio for pro-Brexit, pro-Conservative headlines from the likes of the Daily Express, which rarely go viral.

The most popular online publications tend to be more left-wing, meaning the new feature could result in far more pro-Labour headlines appearing on the nation's agenda-setting radio programme.

Newspaper reviews, which remain a prominent feature of UK broadcast news on radio and TV, have become a regular target of new pro-Corbyn online outlets such as Another Angry Voice, The Canary, and Evolve Politics. These sites believe their growing readership has earned them the right to be heard and debated on a national scale. The author of Another Angry Voice has previously told BuzzFeed News he considers himself to be more of a campaigner than a traditional journalist, although his coverage was reaching millions of people during the election.

There have also been complaints that the existing system of reading out newspaper headlines results in newspapers being given credit for stories that were first reported by online news outlets – and ensures certain political columnists receive more coverage when online pieces may have been read far more widely.

During the general election Labour's shadow trade secretary, Barry Gardiner, attacked the programme on air for reading out headlines from The Sun, the UK's biggest-selling newspaper.

Barry Gardiner attacks #r4today for reading out The Sun during it's paper review because it's critical of Corbyn. Says it's "beneath you"

The Today programme briefly tested a similar feature for "major websites" in May, resulting in radio coverage of stories by BuzzFeed News, HuffPost, Guido Fawkes, and ConservativeHome.

The BBC's Andrew Marr Show already incorporates some online news outlets into its paper review, while the daily paper reviews on the BBC News channel and Sky News – on which some BuzzFeed News staff have appeared – still tend to rely on front pages.

@jimwaterson @janinegibson On this we are all agreed - is ridiculous that when digital media break a story it is th… https://t.co/qzBD8Sa8qG

Deciding which online news outlets count as major sites could be problematic for Today, with the potential for even more accusations of bias if some outlets receive more coverage than others and nontraditional fringe outlets are excluded.

Genuine A: 1. Because we report facts, and the Canary often doesn't. 2. Papers generally dominate in paper reviews… https://t.co/vSg3M2ts6i

A BBC spokesperson confirmed the Today programme is looking at changes to which news sources would be included in daily round-ups of headlines, although they were unable to confirm whether this would apply to similar features on the broadcaster's other shows.

This is the Today programme memo sent to staff.

Confidential

Colleagues,

For some time now a debate has been going on between the newsroom, the Today programme and R4 about the paper review. It is an important and popular part of the programme and the network but, as we know, fewer people are getting their news from the papers while an increasing number rely upon new media for news and comment.

We have been asking ourselves how best to ensure the review remains modern and relevant. We have concluded that the review needs to evolve or as someone once wrote: for things to remain the same, everything must change.

Consequently, we are going to change the way we do things if the slot is retain its relevance. The papers will continue to form the backbone of the review but we are going to include some of the "new" news sources found online and elsewhere. We think too there is a case for including foreign news titles more regularly.

Of course, changing the format means we will have to train those who write the review. Details about how we will do this will follow. We are looking to make the changes in the middle of September in time for the party political conferences.

I'd appreciate it if we could keep this information to ourselves for the time being as the BBC will be making a publicity announcement nearer the time.


Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Jim Waterson at jim.waterson@buzzfeed.com.

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