Peter Salmon BBC interview with UKFast: Part 2 The BBC Goes North.
ONE OF the most ambitious projects ever undertaken by the BBC — to develop a northern HQ in an aspiring city west of Manchester — attracted thousands of column inches and has been the subject of often fierce debate.
He’s sitting on the fifth floor of Quay House, looking out over MediaCity and reflecting on the content that has come out of BBC North to high acclaim, with pride, but also a feeling of unfinished business — with further aims of delivering more benefits to the region, increasing the quality and services for all audiences across the country and squeezing more financial benef ts, all high on his agenda.
But the journey to the BBC North of today — an awe-inspiring building where almost 3,000 staff now mingle between thriving news desks, space-age style meeting pods and live studios — hasn’t been plain sailing.
Asked about the biggest challenge of the move, Salmon’s response is automatic: “The recruitment of 1,000 people, together with making sure that our staff moving up from London, was given the best care and attention.”
Looking at the ratios, it’s obvious why. For an initial 700 jobs the BBC received 70,000 applications.
“It was scary,” he says. “But we just had to be very clear on the culture we wanted to create, the values we have and the attitudes we wanted here with us.
“We can be leaders of the digital age in the north of England but we need the right people that are going to thrive in our business and get the message out there that this is a wonderful region with huge opportunities.”
While Salmon could be described as an old boy of the BBC — he worked for the Corporation in 1981 as a trainee but left and returned, first in 1997 and again in 2006 — he’s determined in his mission to create a fresh attitude to jobs at the BBC.
“It’s about not getting too self– important, not forgetting your roots and not losing touch with how people live their lives every day in all sorts of occupations and places,” he says.
“Doing this job is like being an explorer; you should be fascinated by different towns, cities, professions and ways of life. Hopefully you can bring that back and plug it into the BBC. After all, the BBC is meant to be here for everybody, so the more experience of that you can get, the better.”
The headache for most of Britain’s bosses, staff churn, is a positive for the BBC North chief.
“I think it’s great that people come and go in the BBC,” he says.
“If someone comes to me and says they have been offered an opportunity elsewhere, on the most part I will say go for it. I think it’s really important to stay dynamic.
“I know there are a lot of talented people looking to join us here. I think the BBC should be about growing the next generation of talent all the time. We should be confident enough to do that.
“That’s part of what public service broadcasting is all about. It’s not just about looking after the same people for 25 or 30 years, though that is important too.”
Everything about BBC North, including recruitment and the design of the building, is focused on openness, fluidity and putting “digital” at the heart of output.
“I wanted it to feel more collaborative, more fluid and more accessible to audiences because I think that’s what the modern media should be like and I think that’s what the north needed,” he says.
“In the north you can’t be too grand. I like being on an open site; it’s great that licence-fee payers can stick their noses up against the window and spot Stuart Maconie, Louise Minchin or Nicky Campbell.
“I like that; there’s something more democratic, open and levelling about that and I think that suits the north. You can’t get ideas above your station in the north and I think that’s good for the BBC because the BBC can get a bit up itself. The north helps us put the BBC in a better place.”
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