Posts about bbc

Blasted Broadcasting Corp.

In a case of any-enemy-of-yours-must-be-a-friend-of-mine, the Guardian PDA blog invites sworn enemy Edward Roussel, head of Telegraph digital, to comment on their mutual bete noir, the BBC, and a report of tremendous overspending on its digital efforts. Emily Bell, head of digital at the Guardian, and Jemima Kiss, doyenne of tech and media bloggers there, weigh in. So did I:

I know this is naive (and American) of me but I wonder about turning the discussion around and asking what the BBC can do as a platform to support diverse voices not controlled there, including those of the Telegraph, Guardian, Times, et al, not to mention bloggers and media and information entrepreneurs.

For example, shouldn’t you all be demanding access to the iPlayer?

Shouldn’t you demand access to any and all code created with license fees?

Shouldn’t the BBC make it part of its mission to support diverse and quality voices throughout media — again, commercial newspapers, blogs, podcasts, anything — with promotion, traffic, technology innovation, open-source invention (and even, as I suggested at the Online Publishers Association panel I moderated with the Guardian, the BBC, and Reuters, the BBC taking on ad sales of UK sites’ international traffic as it begins to sell ads internationally).

What if the BBC became an open network? What if you could build upon it the way many have built businesses atop Google?

I know that Ofcom (with Tom Loosemore) have been grappling with the question of what public-service publishing/broadcasting/internetting means. But how about this:

What if the BBC were to become the public-service platform?

Peter Day, podcast star

The BBC’s amazing Peter Day is the best reporter I know on the radio. As a story-teller, he stands alongside the U.S. radio icon, This American Life‘s Ira Glass. But his shows are entirely different; Peter reports on business and the world but with stories instead of numbers. He is a great interviewer and a genius at tying together his questions, answers, facts, and observations into a compelling narrative. I listen to his show on my iPod every week and play it for my students at CUNY as an example of both good interviewing and effective radio.

The Daily Mail is properly impressed that Peter’s In Business podcast is the top among BBC ‘casts, outdrawing even entertainment shows with big and expensive names: “More than 730,000 people downloaded Mr Day’s weekly podcast during September – 110,000 more than those who downloaded the second-placed show, Best of Chris Moyles, a weekly highlights compilation of his Radio 1 breakfast show. . . . Stephen Chilcott, the editor of In Business, said: ‘Peter may not be a household name but he’s an institution inside the BBC. People rave about him in their blogs and young entrepreneurs talk about him in hushed terms, saying he’s changed the way they think about business.’ ”

In the same edition, Peter writes with characteristic humility about how he does it and with characteristic eloquence about what radio really is:

Until now listeners have been remote: all we had was ratings to tell us who was listening, and a few appreciative or moaning letters. Now we have a new democracy of broadcasting: listening habits made manifest, ratings created by listeners making an active desision to download a particular programme.

Radio is music, chat and news but most of all it is ideas, and podcasting is going some way to redefine the ideas that interest our listeners. Podcasting is a new kind of listening, much more active and involved than merely sitting back to wait for what comes next.

It makes us broadcasters think much harder about who what and why we are talking to. It moves broadcasting much closer to conversation.

I wonder how many broadcasters in the U.S. would think that radio is about ideas but, of course, it is. If it’s only about sound, as too many of our stations are, it’s boring.

(Here is Peter’s show about blogs, featuring me talking so fast I scared even myself.)

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.



After starting yesterday with great conversations at Sky News, I traveled more than an hour on three trains to get to the BBC. It’s as if they tried to find locations that would put them as far apart as possible.

Robin Hamman invited me to be part of a session on blogs with BBC staff and it started off with Hemma Kocher of Headshift sharing lessons from a study of the Beeb’s blogs. The numbers aren’t final, so I won’t share them. But I was fascinated with what they studied: how many posts — and how many per blogger — on how many blogs at what average length with how many comments and how many links to BBC sites and to the world outside.

: At the end, Richard Sambrook — who may just be the highest ranked journalistic blogger, as measured by both size and title — talked about his blog:

Closing the day, I mentioned a colleague who loftily declared that anyone who blogs is merely engaged in an act of narcissism. Some truth in that of course. But it overlooks some more interesting reasons.

There’s no better way to understand the huge changes sweeping the media than getting your hands dirty online. It’s fallen to us to reinvent the industry and we won’t do it with heads in either the sand or the clouds…

The god impartiality

The BBC just released a report on its own impartiality. As I’ve said before, the irony of British media is that the BBC and TV must, by law, be impartial while the press is transparent about its perspectives; in the U.S. the opposite is occurring: the press thinks it is objective while TV is headed in the opposite direction (see FoxNews, Lou Dobbs on CNN, Keith Olberman on MSNBC). Here’s Media Guardian’s coverage; the BBC’s own coverage; and the complete report with its 12 principles of impartiality (my emphases):

1. Impartiality is and should remain the hallmark of the BBC as the leading provider of information and entertainment in the United Kingdom, and as a pre-eminent broadcaster internationally. It is a legal requirement, but it should also be a source of pride.

2. Impartiality is an essential part of the BBC’s contract with its audience, which owns and funds the BBC. Because of that, the audience itself will often be a factor in determining impartiality.

3. Impartiality must continue to be applied to matters of party political or industrial controversy. But in today’s more diverse political, social and cultural landscape, it requires a wider and deeper application.

4. Impartiality involves breadth of view, and can be breached by omission. It is not necessarily to be found on the centre ground.

5. Impartiality is no excuse for insipid programming. It allows room for fair-minded, evidence-based judgments by senior journalists and documentary makers, and for controversial, passionate and polemical arguments by contributors and writers.

6. Impartiality applies across all BBC platforms and all types of programme. No genre is exempt. But the way it is applied and assessed will vary in different genres.

7. Impartiality is most obviously at risk in areas of sharp public controversy. But there is a less visible risk, demanding particular vigilance, when programmes purport to reflect a consensus for “the common good”, or become involved with campaigns.

8. Impartiality is often not easy. There is no template of wisdom which will eliminate fierce internal debate over difficult dilemmas. But the BBC’s journalistic expertise is an invaluable resource for all departments to draw on.

9. Impartiality can often be affected by the stance and experience of programme makers, who need constantly to examine and challenge their own assumptions.

10. Impartiality requires the BBC to examine its own institutional values, and to assess the effect they have on its audiences.

11. Impartiality is a process, about which the BBC should be honest and transparent with its audience: this should permit greater boldness in its programming decisions. But impartiality can never be fully achieved to everyone’s satisfaction: the BBC should not be defensive about this but ready to acknowledge and correct significant breaches as and when they occur.

12. Impartiality is required of everyone involved in output. It applies as much to the most junior researcher as it does to the director general. But editors and executive producers must give a strong lead to their teams. They must ensure that the impartiality process begins at the conception of a programme and lasts throughout production: if left until the approval stage, it is usually too late.

I hear a note of protesting too much. The notion of impartiality comes from monopoly: the need to be one-size-fits-all, except one size doesn’t fit all. What’s impartial, objective, true to one person or community may well not be to the next.

I think a better exploration of this comes from the head of BBC TV news, Peter Horrocks, who in December 2006 gave a speech exploring the fate of the BBC and impartiality in a niche media society: If you make a show or network aimed at one segment of society it is no longer one-size-fits-all; it now has a perspective and so is it impartial? Horrocks’ rhetorical pas de deux was to call for radical impartiality: more voices, more opinions, more perespectives. But this still begs the question: Is impartiality possible? Is objectivity possible?

I always find it necessary in this discussion to say that I’m not advocating that all news be opinionated — that we all become the aforementioned cable newsers — but I do say that we all have perspectives and as hard as we may work to be — cough — fair and balanced, it is still necessary to reveal those vantage points: the ethic of transparency over the god objectivity.

(I think I may be on PBS Newshour tonight discussing this. It has been rescheduled three times, so who knows.)