The BBC opens its drawers

Sometime Monday morning, the BBC will open up its editors’ blog, an attempt to get the heads of its many news networks to open up and talk about the process of news.

I’ve been reading their pilot posts behind a wall for a few weeks. And it’s pretty good. I just spoke with Giles Wilson, the BBC online editor in charge of the project, who said the initial plan was to launch the blog in August but it seemed to be going well, so they decided to take the wraps off now. And, of course, a blog that no one can read is the tree that falls in the forest with no one to hear it. So the reaction to and interaction with the blog and the shows’ editors will be what really makes it.

Wilson said they had the editors of all the BBC’s major news shows signed up, except for the new chief of Today, who’s still scoping his turf.

This is another move toward transparency by another big news organization and I’m glad to see it. Considering that the BBC, like monopoly papers in the U.S., tries to insist that it is unbiased, it will be interesting to watch how these editors deal with questions about their editorial choices, which inevitably carry prejudice, presumption, and bias.

I’m hoping that once the gates come down, the editors will join in conversations not only with their audiences but with other blogging journalists.

I see that healthy rivalry already. In the latest post, Peter Barron of Newsnight complained about Guardian Unlimited editor-in-chief Emily Bell (and I sent the post to Bell, who said they’re having Barron on the Media Guardian podcast to duke it out). Barron wrote:

The estimable Emily Bell of the Guardian is always at it, complaining recently about the BBC’s digital plans and asking “is it really necessary, useful or at all enhancing to have a Newsnight podcast?”. The viewers of course have answered resoundingly by propelling our weekly offering to number three in the news podcast chart.

Having bragged about his popular podcast, the then complains he’s not No. 1. Here’s what is:

No, it’s something called Kitcast.

Kitcast is, according to the blurb, “a ten-minute weekly videoblog covering the world of sex. ” Each episode, it goes on, is “hosted by a lingerie clad (non-nude) hostess Ms Kitka” – a little red box warns of explicit content.

Does that matter? Well, consider two developments in the digital revolution this week. First, that traditional showcase of musical popularity Top of the Pops was summarily swept away. Then, the BBC’s website launched an ingenious new device which tells you at any moment of the day or night what the most popular and most emailed stories are. With every passing day, what viewers watch is being decided less by editors and more by algorithms which place one thing or another at the top of the pile. And in that world, how content is categorised is everything.

When the gate comes down, here are a few links to posts on the blog:

: Paul Brannan, deputy editor of the BCC news online, says that they’re facing a new issue: people who want their quotes from a few years ago removed because, for some reason, they’re embarrassed now.

: Kevin Marsh, of the BBC College of Journalism, wonders whether newspapers can really represent readers.

: Alistair Burnett of The World Tonight explains a decision to lead the broadcast with news in Somalia over Sri Lanka.

: Peter Rippon of PM explains the use of the F-word in the afternoon. Kevin Bakhurst of News 24 did likewise]. And in another discussion of no-no words, Kevin Marsh links to this helpful ranking of them.

: Fran Unsworth, head of newsgathering, talks about different policies regarding “user-generated content.”

: LATER: Here’s Director of News Helen Boaden’s welcome. She says: “We are committed to being impartial, fair and accurate – these are the qualities which BBC News is rightly expected to uphold. But we also want to be open and accountable….”

: See also Steve Hermann, editor of the BBC News web service, analyzing traffic to what’s popular there.

  • Will Pollard

    I completely agree about the way Emily Bell is always knocking the BBC and anything it attempts that might compete with the Guardian digital future. The editor’s week (June 24th) mentions that the BBC has “advantages not afforded to the rest of us” such as live streaming of world cup football over the web. Still, the Guardian had 200,000 downloads of their World Cup podcast. Could be more of course if the BBC was banned for putting football free to view on TV.

    More disturbingly she writes today about the “poisonously horrible” linking of BBC strategy with “anytime, anyplace, anywhere”. Apparently the BBC is shifting from a “UK-focused public-service broadcaster to an international multi-platform media brand.” I think the spin here is that other media organisations might accept some public-service defence for BBC activity in the UK but claim any international space as their own.

    In my view this is foolish. Most web stats show the UK as only of marginal significance. There is only one UK brand that stands a chance. That brand is the BBC. And it is a public service, in my honest opinion.

    Turn over the page and you get a report that “commercial rivals” object to the BBC rethinking their service for 12 to 16 year olds. They want to add a mix of media to Radio One. Apparently this market should be off limits for the BBC. What nonsense.

    Emily Bell has previously used the word “horrible” about the term “citizen journalism”, hardly a threat to the Guardian on the same scale as the “poisonously horrible” anywhere anytime anyplace BBC. Or so you might think. I don’t know. What do you think, Jeff?

    Could it be the term “citizen”? Maybe we don’t really know what a citizen is in the UK. We are subjects after all. The royal prerogative is well supported by our Labour prime minister.

    Jeff, could you have a few words on the theme of “what is a citizen?” ready for your next visit to the UK? Or put something in draft in the blog? Or show a few links to something previous? I think once that was sorted out it could get easier to understand the special position of public service broadcasting.

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  • Will Pollard


    found this by searching on ‘citizen’

    this is on the right lines, but could be expanded

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  • Hi,

    I’m the chief of staff at

    We’ve been doing something similar to this for some time, though on a less structured basis. The introductory post – in April this year – is here and the index is here.

  • Web9.0

    Why is it that those who tout the web2.0 mantra of edge content moderate their blogs and censor any contra-comment?

    Umair Haque: “Comment moderation has been enabled. All comments must be approved by the blog author.”

    Stowe Boyd: “Comment moderation is on”

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