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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Is Newsbeat suffering from Crowded Cabin Syndrome?

John Myers' independent report on Radios One and Two came up with one eye-catching fact. Newsbeat, Radio One's news service, employs 52 full-time staff. I've no idea how busy they all are but that figure caught my eye because it seems to demonstrate how all institutions grow first and then post-justify the increased head count.

According to my old colleague Trevor Dann, who used to be part of the management, in the 80s Newsbeat had just 15 staff. That means its staff has grown by a few hundred per cent in a period when the number of listeners has gone down by, well, quite a lot. Newspapers have responded to the same decline by shedding staff. Newsbeat seems to have gone the other way.

I'm sure you could point to lots of things that keep them all busy: the digital station that they also have to do work for, the website and the increased sophistication with which all forms of news are put together. But still that wouldn't account for a staff of 52 in what it increasingly a small-portions world. I can only assume that it's succumbed to Crowded Cabin Syndrome.

This is inspired by the scene in the Marx Brothers "A Night At The Opera" where more and more people come into the room and nobody leaves. Crowded Cabin Syndrome particularly affects the media because media folk have one key objective - staying in the media. Thus when junior employees get bored with doing mundane tasks they take on even more junior employees to perform them. Senior staff, unless they're exceptional, have nowhere else to go so they stick around longer and longer.

In the private sector this growth is reversed every few years by bankruptcy or corporate takeover. In the public it just keeps on growing until somebody commissions somebody else to write a report to tell them what they shouldn't need to be told.