You assign the journalists

This is cool: After joining in a blogfest at the BBC this week, the editor of the showcase news program (programme, I should say while I’m here) took a suggestion to heart and handed over a bit of control to the people formerly known as his audience. The BBC’s Jem Stone explains:

One of the guest speakers; Jeff Jarvis, suggested at the beginning when being gently grilled by BBC tech correspondent; Rory Cellan Jones, that news organisations should be commissioned or assigned by their audience to go report on stories.

As it happens one of the guests at the back was Peter Barron, from Newsnight who it appears was quite taken with this idea. The Newsnight blog that afternoon…

“You can tell our editor’s just returned from a blogging conference. Fresh faced and with fists clenched, he’s pushing another Newsnight experiment in audience participation. It’s quite simple – opening up the Newsnight running order to the people who watch us.”

And so for the past three mornings; Newsnight’s daily output editor has been sharing with users their morning email to the production team outlining the potential running order for that night’s programme. . . .

I don’t know how long that NN will keep to this approach but Peter, in a comment to the blog post on wednesday highlights how the running order changed that night to include a story about lifestyle/cancer risk.

“We won’t always be able to oblige – tomorrow for example we have a long film from Mark Urban in Pakistan whether you like it or not – but there’s no doubt that what you tell us will help us form our thoughts. If you’d rather leave it to us that’s fine, if you’re worried that what others say is unrepresentative get on here and lobby for what you’d like to see us do.”

Radio 4’s new iPM programme has gone even further and has been sharing the actual running order from the BBC’s internal news cps for this magazine show. iPM doesn’t air for another 10 days but they’ve been doing pilots leading up to the launch.

What’s doubly gratifying is eeing the helpful comments viewers make. The BBC asks for other stories and possible treatments and the people oblige. A few examples:

* How about covering the ‘creativity’ in education report from the Commons education committee. I find it astonishing that creativity isn’t an integral part of a child’s school and college experience.

* the election hypothetical just sounds desperate. [This refers to a story in the rundown.]

* I think you should cover the WCRF report on lifestyle / cancer risk. I especially like the direct comments about reducing red meat and cutting out processed meat entirely (BACON!?): surely the meat industry have something to say about this? [This refers to the story that was big in papers in London saying that eating bacon and such can kill you]

Dan, an editor on the show, responds:

Thanks for the suggestions. In particular the World Cancer Research Fund report on the links between lifestyle and cancer has attracted lots of interest. Their recommendations seem pretty harsh – try not to gain weight as an adult, avoid sugary drinks, alcohol and bacon. Are they serious? Do these reports do any good or do people just switch off? It would be good to cover this tonight if possible. What do you think?

A viewer responds to him:

The WCRF report is really interesting because it’s not a ‘new study’ – lots of comments on the main story are saying “enough with the new, conflicting advice” – but instead this report brings together all the advice over 50 years and comes up with some pretty stark conclusions. And they’re deadly serious! Whether people have had enough of being drip fed seemingly conflicting advice is another important issue.

And the viewers are grateful for this opportunity:

Wow! We have an interactive Newsnight. There are so many channels that let the viewer decide what they want to see, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it done for a news programme, and I love it. What I’d really like to see is Jeremy grilling Gordon Brown on his latest fiasco – the numbers of migrants in the UK! Failing that GB could talk about his upcoming role in The Simpsons :-)

And then here’s Peter Barron, the boss, with the bottom line: The viewers had an impact:

Thanks for all the suggestions today – I’m not sure what you make of this experiment but we were pleased, and have included the cancer story in tonight’s programme as a result.


  • It’s kind of like the whole idea of being called to follow up on a tip, but more direct and more honest. It’s a refreshing idea.

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  • Rory Cellan-Jones

    Just a quick word of caution. A number of those who responded to Peter’s innovation of throwing open the running order to the audience wondered why they were being asked to do his job. Here’s one:

    “Sorry, you’re the producer – I’m a computer programmer. Let’s all stick to what we do best.
    You decide how to tackle the story, I’ll watch it, and we’ll take it from there.
    I’m afraid this whole “you decide what you want us to tell you tonight” thing might have gone a bit far. What next? Blank pages in the Times so I can fill them in myself?
    Asking us for feedback after the event is one thing, asking for input before the event is a bit different.”

    It will be interesting to see how long this experiment lasts and how often the running order responds to the blog suggestions. Mind you, if I were one of Newsnight’s reporters I might be tempted to start using the blog – anonymously – to start punting story know, why not send Fred off to California to see how the weak dollar is helping the wine industry there…

  • So THAT’s why Rory keeps pestering me for his own blog!

  • World Have Your Say on the BBC World Service have been doing this for sometime. They are the pioneers here, but its good to see others following their lead.

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