Analysis: The BBC is still open for business

As the BBC prepares to welcome in Robert Peston to replace Jeff Randall as the face of its business output, Tom Williams takes a look at the corporation’s evolving attitude towards the business world

The BBC has replaced its first-ever business editor with another business insider. A former Independent and Financial Times journalist, the incoming Robert Peston worked for broking firm Collins Stewart before joining The Sunday Telegraph in 2002 as City editor. His predecessor, Jeff Randall, was deputy chairman of City PR firm Financial Dynamics in the mid-1990s.

Randall, who has left to join The Daily Telegraph, arrived at the BBC from his role editing Sunday Business, when the BBC had only an economics editor. Randall has been widely credited with drawing in a wider audience to business programmes and winning the trust of the City, partly because he worked there.

'This job is about promoting the business agenda and internally persuading BBC News to give business stories [greater priority],' says the corporation's Economics and Business Centre editor Daniel Dodd. 'When Jeff joined, we spent a lot of time telling PROs why they should be talking to the BBC. The result has been a big improvement in the availability of executives for interview.'

Hudson Sandler deputy chairman Alistair Mackinnon-Musson says the business community had been traditionally suspicious of a left wing or anti-corporate agenda at the broadcaster. 'Jeff's legacy has been to gain the confidence of business to engage with the BBC,' he says.

Taking the reins
Peston, whose start date was yet to be announced as PRWeek went to press, puts the BBC's perceived political bias prior to Randall down to employment-type stories such as strikes and redundancies: 'I think the BBC just didn't know a lot about business and didn't give it a high priority.'

Working alongside economics editor Evan Davis, Peston will lead a team of reporters providing TV news reports and radio bulletins.
Dodd oversees the many-headed beast that is the BBC's business output (see box). Some PROs complain that its coverage is so diverse it can lead to a lack of co-ordination: researchers and reporters from different parts of the corporation, they say, often demand the same piece of a CEO's tight timetable.

Dodd says he cannot tell Newsnight's editorial team, for example, who it can and cannot call. But emailing his unit allows journalists to filter PROs' releases to the relevant division or programme. A smart PR practitioner will, he points out, notice which journalists take a particular interest in the relevant business issue.

Coverage, Dodd explains, is driven by 'big global themes such as the rise of China and India, outsourcing, trade, energy sources and oil prices'. The subjects that will interest BBC journalists are 'about our lives as consumers, employees and investors'. So the BBC favours covering business issues that resonate with this wider audience.
The array of TV, radio and online outlets all carry regular business
bulletins. Major shows include World Business Report, an international business and financial markets programme on BBC World. BBC1's Breakfast and News 24 have fixed business slots, while Radio Five Live runs weekday morning show Wake Up to Money, and Randall continues to present Weekend Business on Sundays. BBC2 has its weekday afternoon programme Working Lunch.

BBC Radio's weekly business output, overseen by business programmes editor Stephen Chilcott, include Radio 4's personal finance show Money Box and its phone-in offshoot (with 750,000 listeners) Money Box Live. R4's Thursday show, In Business (384,000 listeners), is refashioned for the World Service's Global Business.

Radio 4's Shop Talk is to come off the air 'shortly', to be replaced by a 'conversation programme to bring the world of business to a wider audience' at the end of February. Presented by Davis, the as-yet-unnamed show will feature former BBC director-general Greg Dyke. 'We do not make programmes for business people,' Chilcott says. 'We want information about thoughtful topics to interest a general audience.'

BBC2's The Money Programme celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. But series producer Mark Gregory says because programmes are planned 12 weeks in advance it can not be 'news reactive', and does not usually use PROs for generating programme ideas.

Financial nous
City PROs point to the business segment of Today, presented by Greg Wood, as an important business agenda setter. The 15-minute piece is transmitted at 6.15am, early enough to catch analysts and traders before work.

But even Peston questions whether the City pays as much attention to the BBC as it does to print media. 'Business people are more likely to be watching Bloomberg than Working Lunch,' he argues. 'If you were to ask business people who they turn to for coverage, I suspect the BBC would come pretty low down the list. The challenge is to pool resources and let the world know about the BBC's expertise in producing timely, intuitive and competitive business news.'

Peston says he is unlikely to change his investigative style. His view of PR is as 'an extremely important conduit for getting relevant information... but only one out of several possible conduits'.

Randall's push to move business coverage up the BBC's agenda seems set to continue under Peston. For PROs it can only be good news if the BBC means business.

Contacts at the BBC

BBC Economics and Business Centre
Editor: Daniel Dodd

News team (bizplan@bbc.co.uk)
Economics editor: Evan Davis 
Business editor: Robert Peston

TV (020 8576 7572)
Editor: Peter Eustace
BBC1, News 24: Breakfast
BBC2: Working Lunch; BBC World: World Business Report, Asia Business Report, Middle East Business Report

Radio (020 8624 8900)
Editor: Julian Bailey
Radio 4: Today; Five Live: Wake Up to Money, and 'Money' slots throughout day

Local Radio (020 8624 8984)
Business reports from 7.30am
(including afternoon and evening slots) for 40 stations across the UK)

World Service
Editor: Martin Webber
Fourteen editions of World Business Report (12 minutes) a day;
News Hour and The World Today (daily);
Weekly Business Review (a 15-minute weekend broadcast);
Newsgathering reports for World Service news summaries and bulletins

BBC News Interactive and Ceefax business desks
Editor: Tim Weber

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