Why competition is actually quite a good thing

Posted on March 3, 2010

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Mark Thompson’s announcement made yesterday a bit of a dark day for a lot of people at the BBC.

It’s always an odd feeling when the BBC is in the news. On occasion it’s felt how I imagine it would feel if a younger brother’s developing interest in shoplifting had been headlined in the local press. One knows it has to be referred to, but at the very least it makes you wriggle uncomfortable in your seat when it does.

What I took away from the DG’s announcement and – to a certain extent – from the subsequent coverage, is the extent to which the BBC is answering to the cries of ‘unfair competition’. The BBC gets the funding, but it shouldn’t have carte blanche to do anything it wants at the expense of the existing market.

It’s not the only point made in the DG’s rally, but it’s the one I’m focussing on here, largely because to digress would render my self-conglatulatory observation I made during my today’s troublesome commute redundant.

It might be ‘inform, educate and entertain’, but there’s an equally important tagline to bear in mind now: it’s all recycling, reversioning and wringing the idea dry.

And so it should be. And – as it happens – just as I was taught during my radio production course a year or so before I joined the Beeb.

Back then our tutors nodded sagely at the assembled wannabees in front of them gently reminding them that it was important to think of how the material we gathered on a particular story could be distributed across multiple outlets. It made sense. After all, after you’ve put the effort in making the pastry why throw out the offcuts if all you’ve got to do is refashion it a bit? Be resourceful.

Oh yes, of course. The commute. Back to the smug self-congratulatory observation.

So I’ve finally made it to Lewisham Train station after my local sleepy starting point has advised that most London-bound services have been cancelled due to a line-side fire.

Lewisham station isn’t much better however. Crowds of people are milling around outside the ticket hall looking around as though aliens have landed.

No problem, I think. I’ll trot down to the Docklands Light Railway and take the toy-town train to Bank. The only problem is, crowds of people are being stopped from getting on to the station platform by gruff looking DLR staff dressed in blue and sporting shades. I’ve never seen it like this. And what’s with the shades? Are they trying to play down the gruesome colour of their uniforms with a sly illustration of their underlining sense of style?

It’s moments like these which flick a little switch inside of me. Does this mean I have to work from home again ? Or am I going to battle my way through, arriving triumphant at White City just in time to board another tube back to Oxford Street for my 5 o’clock meeting?

A man wanders passed me dressed in smart pin-striped trousers and shiny black shoes (amongst other things). He looks a little cold when he looks straight at me. A question can be clearly read from the look of confusion on his face. What the hell are you looking at?

I was looking at the video camera attached to the Manfroto tripod he was walking around with. I’d seen him as he pointed it at the crowds of people outside London Bridge station. And as I watched I couldn’t help thinking that he must have been a video journalist. Otherwise what the hell was he doing wandering around with a camera on a tripod across London at commuter-time?

And, the geek in people then went further and thought, he’s going to have to digitise whatever he’s filming before he distributes that anywhere and as far as I can see he hasn’t got a laptop with him either.

That’s when a healthy dose of competition started charging around my veins, shortly after which my hand clamped on to my iPhone and I started taking pictures.

After I’d taken as many as I figured I needed to illustrate the point to both my boss and anyone else who might be interested that the journey into work really had been troublesome, I figured I’d need to go back to my desk at home to upload it.

No, I reminded myself. I didn’t. All I needed was somewhere to sit down. I didn’t want to just tweet a picture and be done with it. I wanted to write something to accompany the pictures too. All I needed was somewhere to sit down. With my laptop and my USB dongle I’d be publishing it in no time.

And – at the risk of really sounding like a smug twat – I published four pictures and some text in no more than half hour, eager to meet the search requests made by the significant few equally eager to find out about the line-side fire at London Bridge.

OK, so it was hardly ground-breaking journalism. In fact, Thoroughly Good sort @redmummy summed up the blog post as my bid to be BBC London’s travel reporter.

The point is that I didn’t wake-up this morning wanting to write something newsy or travelly or whatever.

I just saw the moment. And the moment was intensified solely because of someone I saw from the local rag – incidentally the local rag I subsequently linked to in the blog post. It was a sense of rivalry which spurred me o n and the same sense of rivalry which made me feel quite proud of my subsequent achievements.

Dominance is unquestionably bad. Monopoly’s not terribly BBC either.

Competition however is a good thing. We need competition. Rivalry is even healthy. I certainly appreciate it.

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Posted in: Journalism