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Digital media departments at regional newspapers have expressed their surprise and dismay at comments made by National Union of Journalists (NUJ) head, Jeremy Dear, in parliament yesterday.

As Press Gazette reported yesterday, the NUJ general secretary said he was 'slightly bemused' at regional newspapers' complaints over plans to develop BBC Local, which if approved by the BBC Trust, could see £68 million invested in on-demand local news video across a network of BBC websites covering 60 local news regions over five years.

Speaking at a Federation of Entertainment Unions debate in parliament, Dear called the BBC and regional press 'two very different beasts'. His speech followed comments by Trinity Mirror's CEO Sly Bailey earlier this month that the corporation's plans are 'unfair competition' to regional media.

Ian Davies, director of business development at Archant, told Journalism.co.uk that in Dear's 'rush to be critical of those nasty commercial organisations called "regional newspapers"', the NUJ chief had 'ignored the very real impact' the BBC proposals could have on the regional press.

The enhancement of the BBC's local online news services will damage the development of local multimedia offerings from newspaper companies 'trying to rebuild their model as a combined print and online proposition', he said.

"In supporting the BBC plans he [Dear] is legitimising a form of unfair competition which will reduce the opportunities open to his members in the future," Davies said.
 
"Local newspapers provide an alternative to the BBC voice."

Unlike the BBC, regional newspapers are not funded by a public tax which increases every year, Davies said, who added that revenue reductions of 30 per cent or more are a real issue for the regional press.

"The BBC is looking at £26 million a year more for its local activities. This is not an uneven playing field; it is a stadium built on the side of a mountain," Davies added.
 
"The regional newspaper sector knows it needs to change to be able to continue to offer good journalism. It has been changing at a rate which it has been able to support financially. That financial ability is being constrained by banks going bust, estate agents not being able to sell homes, and companies downsizing rather than recruiting.
 
"Put in a tax-funded competition upgrade at the same time and you have the capacity for mortal injury. It is surprising that Jeremy Dear can't see this," he said.

Christian Dunn, digital editor at NWN Media, told Journalism.co.uk that he is 'amazed at Jeremy Dear's apparent naivety and lack of understanding of how the regional press makes its cash'.

"Of course he's right when he says the BBC is not competing for advertising – but this is only because they don't have to," said Dunn.

"They will however, be competing for audience and the regional press makes money by selling advertising off the back of this – whether it is online or print. If everyone is going to a BBC website for their area's news then a local news site is going to find it very hard to sell adverts."

Dear's 'bemusement' with the regional press' opposition to the BBC plans is 'worrying' as the the NUJ represents so many journalists at these titles, added Dunn.

"He seems to be forgetting that unlike the BBC regional news organisations are businesses and need to make money otherwise we're going to see even more job losses in the future," Dunn said.

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