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.


  1. 52 people to break the news that Jedwood are playing the o2? How many gadgies must the Today Programme have on its books?

  2. Several years ago I went to the Rover plant in Longbridge to fit some prototype parts to a car. I was met by my two regular contacts and we started the work. During the next hour a procession of people arrived in the workshop to look at what was going on. At the peak 22 people were stood around the car, few spoke and less made any valuable contribution. After an hour they had drifted off to their next non meeting. A few weeks later Rover was no more.

    Allan Williams

  3. Are they really employing 52 people or are half of them unpaid interns? I just read Ross Perlin's Intern Nation, and also heard one of the judges of the Orwell Prize for political journalism, Martin Bright, say that they struggled this year to shortlist any journalists under 40, as they're not moving up the ranks.

  4. In the report, which has been welcomed by the BBC, he says "Newsbeat employs 52 full-time staff in addition to its own technical and production personnel". You can download it at And I don't know that I've come across any interns at the BBC in recent years.

  5. David, your last sentence lets down the rest of a well-written post, especially as it's not factually accurate. Hundreds of people (including me) are losing their jobs across BBC online in a process that the BBC decided to carry out all by itself. (FWIW I think it's the right thing to do and I'm quite excited about life post-aunty)

    Next year, thousands of people will lose their jobs as a result of another process agreed between the BBC and the government ... so the BBC is pretty similar to any other organisation in that respect ...

  6. What a shame that DH doesn't mention this part of the report.

    "The BBC's four popular music radio networks are producing high quality output, with a great team at every level working alongside the best talent in the UK. "

    But that wouldn't fit in with the regular BBC-bashing that appears on this blog.

  7. It does sound like a very crowded cabin. Pleased to hear the BBC does pay the minions, at any rate, and hasn't gone down the road of intern culture.