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  • The BBC’s online dilemma


    by Sunny
    16th October, 2007 at 1:27 am    

    Yesterday evening I was invited to a consultation held by the BBC Trust, in charge of holding the Beeb to account on behalf of license fee payers, to talk about its online operations. How could BBC.co.uk be more open? How could it involve the blogosphere in its discussions and be more accountable?

    I was invited along with more intelligent, accomplished and thoughtful bloggers, who mostly write on issues around technology, society and culture etc. David Wilcox hosted it. Charlie Beckett and Anthony Mayfield, who I already read, were there too. The mighty Mick Fealty, aka Sluger O’Toole, was the only other political blogger apart from myself. Also nice to meet JP, Simon Dickson and others. Both Simon and Charlie have written about it already. I feel a bit slack in comparison.

    So what does the BBC Trust want to do? Two things. Firstly, they want to tap into a bunch of well known bloggers to spark conversations about what the BBC is doing. That is of course like herding cats and in the political blogosphere there is already enough conversation about the corporation. Though, my last article on the BBC sparked lots of reaction. In this case they probably weren’t thinking enough about political blogs.

    They also wanted us to suggest ways in which the corporation could better engage with blogs or do stuff on their own website that would help more people to participate. In coming up with practical solutions, we barely had any time left so it was quite difficult. Do you folks have any solutions (they’ll be reading this)?

    Charlie makes two good points; that the Trust can’t consult bloggers in the traditional way, and that this should be more a process than simply one or two events. In other words, it needs to experiment with lots of stuff and see what works.

    I have my own recommendations on this that I’ll write about in due course. But I raised another point early on in the discussion. The BBC Trust and BBC management believe that having interactivity on their web is inherently a good thing. I refer to the now infamous Have Your Say (HYS) messageboards that are plagued by all sorts of loonies on controversial issues.

    My question was: has there been any research to show that interaction on the BBC website, which basically consists of HYS, is helping the BBC brand than harming it? Because if people go to the website and get turned off by the comments on there, which can frequently be quite vitriolic, then the brand loses credibility. And does the BBC actually benefit by allowing people to provide their opinion on a wide range of issues on their website? There’s this assumption this interactivity is a good thing, but no one really complains about the fact that Channel 4′s website is pretty rubbish in comparison.

    On that last note, I was at a Channel 4 round-table before the BBC event (must be the season) yesterday and they were patting themselves on the back about how great C4 programming in comparison to the BBC’s. Well, their news output is, but Channel 4′s online strategy is positively medieval.

    Oh, and Dave Hill has uncovered more right-wing bias on the BBC.


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    25 Comments below   |  

    Reactions: Twitter, blogs
    1. Bishop Hill

      Chutzpah…

      You have to admire the brass neck of a man who can bemoan the loonies that inhabit the (D)HYS forums on the BBC website in the same articl……


    2. Designing for Civil Society

      Reaching out to bloggers? Admit limited transliteracy…

      I wrote recently about how large organisations may be able to reach out to bloggers to promote conversations in the public interest, and the sensitivites involved. Here’s some news of a project along those lines that I and colleagues been…




    1. Desi Italiana — on 16th October, 2007 at 5:56 am  

      “My question was: has there been any research to show that interaction on the BBC website, which basically consists of HYS, is helping the BBC BRAND than harming it? Because if people go to the website and get turned off by the comments on there, which can frequently be quite vitriolic, then the BRAND loses credibility.”

      Are you talking about a product, or news? ;)

      IMO, the media underestimates people and take them to be idiots. Not arguing that many people aren’t, but everyone knows that comments left by commentators do not necessarily reflect the news medium.

      So no, I don’t think people will read vitriolic comments and then never visit the BBC website again. If anything, it’ll probably drive traffic.

      “They also wanted us to suggest ways in which the corporation could better engage with blogs or do stuff on their own website that would help more people to participate.”

      1. International version of the BBC website sucks. It’s an eyesore, and no one wants to read something whereby everything seems blurred due to the two different shades of blue, etc. Also, push the “explore bbc” box down. No one really cares, it’s not a priority, and it is a distraction and makes the website look flimsy.

      2.Framing of issues: this is tricky, because “liberals” will see a conservative bias whereas the conservatives will see a liberal bias. But what the BBC can do is stop framing issues that are redundant, predictable, and tell us little.

      3. In “HYS”, a lot of the topics are real politik style which either 1) makes it an attractive playground for international relation schooled folks to strut their stuff and/or 2) rarely gets to the bottom of the issue and provides something informative that can make an impact on your average everyday person. For example, one of the topics today is “Is the MidEast Quartet failing Palestinians?” This in my view belongs on the front page. Here, you can paint the picture of Palestinians dying of hunger (as some are) or bring up an interesting fact that goes beats back our assumption; for ie, since the “withdrawal” from Gaza, some human rights reports such as AI have pointed out that it has been anything but. Provide a quick snippet of personal testimony and let people talk.

      And please, quit talking about religion.

      http://newsforums.bbc.co.uk/nol/thread.jspa?forumID=3666&edition=2&ttl=20071016054918

      It’s boring to people like me, it’s beating a dead horse, and we’ve been having the same discussion- plastered everywhere- ever since 9/11 and it hasn’t gotten us nowhere. Mostly because it detracts from the real fundamental issues which are inequalities, imperialism, resources, and so on.

      On the other hand, I really like the HYS that asks questions to politicians/powerful people/those who have been given the mantle, like the President Karzai one. Maybe BBC can try to get that monkey Bush to respond to Americans’ questions which aren’t preselected and filtered as they are when the “debates” come around for us in America. Even if we don’t understand the English he is speaking/writing, at least we have an opportunity to decipher what he has to say (under the condition, of course, that he doesn’t get someone else to write his answers for him on HYS, which he probably will.)

      I also find the country profiles immensely useful.

      I prefer the BBC over the NYT.

      But I like the Guardian more than the BBC.

    2. Desi Italiana — on 16th October, 2007 at 6:41 am  

      Hey, maybe the BBC can hire me…

    3. Simon Dickson — on 16th October, 2007 at 9:12 am  

      Actually, I am (apparently) a political blogger: somehow I made it on to the ‘long list’ for Iain Dale’s book. Never saw myself as a political animal per se, but it does seem to keep coming up…? :)

    4. Anna Coghen — on 16th October, 2007 at 10:56 am  

      Sunny
      Good meeting you last night - thank you for coming!

      And this is a super quick post. Any chance of tagging it (and here my tech knowledge fails me but what I’m hoping for is some magic bbctrust marker leading me right back here)

    5. douglas clark — on 16th October, 2007 at 11:32 am  

      Sunny,

      I think the BBC’s web site is a confused wee beastie.

      It looks as if it has grown without any strategic vision whatsoever. Like Topsy.

      There are at least four objectives that I think it should try to achieve:

      1) Tell me when Heroes is on, let me download missing episodes, and let me read or discuss whether Hiro’s second name is a clever marketing ploy. You take the general point - that it needs to provide a focus for those of us who are looking for a one stop 24/7 shop to BBC services.

      2) Provide me with all sorts of news

      3) Provide a Question Time, Comment is Free, type of forum for folk to argue, and link.

      4) Provide the sort of static information, either directly or through links to the sort of stuff CeeFax used to provide, hopefully jazzed up a bit.

      So, their home page should be like a Cross of St George, with four boxes - programmes, news, comment and facts.

      The home for bloggers is the third one.

      Oh, and in the ‘facts’ box they could have a section where they tell me how not to get full screen video on their downloads.

      It would also be very nice if the BBC insisted that there was as much respect for the views of commentators as there was for the views of authors. Now that would be revolutionary!

    6. sonia — on 16th October, 2007 at 11:40 am  

      channel 4 can afford to be take more risks and be more innovative. when they get into trouble, they won’t get into as much trouble as the public service broadcaster will.

      the problem the BBC has if it it tries to do anything, it will have media commentators, politicians, the lot, jumping on them.

      of course they want to be seen to be having ‘participatory’ discussions with ‘stakeholders’ - i.e. the people they consider to be ‘opinion leaders’.

    7. Riz — on 16th October, 2007 at 12:29 pm  

      They should launch an ‘invite only’ BBC8.co.uk net channel, for people who are twice as high brow as the BBC4 audience. I feel my needs are not being addressed.

    8. ChrisC — on 16th October, 2007 at 1:31 pm  

      By “loonies” I assume you mean people who disagree with you. Self-selecting contributors of course, but the “recommended” comments always seem to be dominated by non-left views!

      Douglas Clark - very sensible

      Dave Hill - excellent - keep it up. Only a few thousand more examples and you might catch up with BiasedBBC’s tally of left-wing bias!

    9. Ravi Naik — on 16th October, 2007 at 1:55 pm  

      “They also wanted us to suggest ways in which the corporation could better engage with blogs or do stuff on their own website that would help more people to participate. In coming up with practical solutions, we barely had any time left so it was quite difficult. Do you folks have any solutions (they’ll be reading this)?”

      I think the BBC should try to focus on maintaining its integrity as a neutral news source, with investigative reporting, and not following anyone’s political agenda. Something that once was called journalism. Traditional media in Britain is highly polarised and I don’t think it is a good thing. If I want opinions (which are biased) on a particular subject I go to blogs, not to get my news. So why would I want to get opinions from my news source?

      If the BBC wants to tap on blogs, why doesn’t it outsource it to… well-established blogs? It could automatically aggregate posts from different blogs that relate to a particular news story and provide a portal for people to participate in those blogs (sort of like news.google.com). Since blogs are external to the site, there is no danger of people becoming alienated by fringe comments that sometimes dominate in the BBC “Have your say” forums.

    10. Sunny — on 16th October, 2007 at 2:06 pm  

      Hi Anna, thank you for inviting us. I’m not sure what you mean by tagging it so you can come right back here. I could give this post a technorati tag but that wouldn’t help you. You’lll have to bookmark this page I think.

      Or you can post it to your Facebook or save o del.icio.us ;-)

      Riz - haha, love it.

      keep those ideas coming folks! But let’s focus on the BBC’s interaction with the blogosphere rather than on its left-wing / right-wing bias.

    11. ChrisC — on 16th October, 2007 at 4:09 pm  

      “But let’s focus on the BBC’s interaction with the blogosphere rather than on its left-wing / right-wing bias.”

      Er, you started it!

      Ravi’s comments sound very sensible.
      Is this yet another example of the BBC feeling it has to do *everything*.
      And of course it will never be able to do “blogging” if every comment has to be moderated in advance.
      The most ludicrous aspect of “Have Your Say” is the stats, with hundreds sometimes thousands of comments “awaiting moderation”.
      People aren’t put off by the “loony” comments - those are the ones which readers tend to recommend as far as I can see.
      People are put off by the lack of interaction.

      If they want to use blogs as a source of feedback - that’s not a bad idea. How surprising that they did not invite BiasedBBC to your cosy get-together!

    12. Sunny — on 16th October, 2007 at 4:21 pm  

      How surprising that they did not invite BiasedBBC to your cosy get-together!

      Because they wanted to avoid conspiracy loons?

    13. Morgoth — on 16th October, 2007 at 4:26 pm  

      Or rather they wanted a cosy little club of BBCophiles to reinforce their existing prejudices. Only in liberal-lala-land can a “wide variety” of voices actually be a bunch of BBC-lackies. But then that’s liberalism for you - “screw what the people actually want, we’ll tell you what you can watch, see or think, and we’ll charge you for it”

    14. Jem Stone — on 16th October, 2007 at 4:29 pm  

      Hi Sunny

      Thanks for the write up.

      There’s a misconception (I work at the BBC in the bit that deals with this) that the BBC pre-moderates comments for all of of its website. In fact over 1m text comments are published on the BBC site via Have Your say or our message boards every month “live to the server” being dealt with by usually reactive moderation (user alerts us to an issue).

      Have Your Say have also started to adopt reactive moderation for their forums over the last year or so but you’re right they are still pre-moderating around sensitive issues. However forums devoted to 606, 5 Live, Today don’t pre-moderate their comments.

      Also interaction on bbc.co.uk is a bit more than HYS.

      That said should the BBC’s role be to link and curate conversation as opposed to actually hosting it. Increasingly we’ve started to do the former (although only in pockets. Trying to aggregate blog posts is something we’re looking at in a number of ways).

      Anyway an interesting thread. Thanks for everyone’s contribution.

    15. ChrisC — on 16th October, 2007 at 4:49 pm  

      “still pre-moderating around sensitive issues”

      i.e. interesting issues!

    16. ChrisC — on 16th October, 2007 at 4:51 pm  

      “Sensitive” issues being premoderated right now are:

      Who should lead the LibDems?
      Should there be more 20mph speed limits?
      Are the middle classes drinking too much?

      Phew! Sensitive or what?!!

    17. Sunny — on 16th October, 2007 at 5:00 pm  

      Hi Jem, thanks for clearing that up. I’m still unconvinced primarily, I think, because of the format. Sure it allows people to spout off. But its very limited nature you basically readon short quips rather than a proper discussion. At least on Comment is Free (there are lots of trolls admittedly) one can have a debate that goes on for a bit in the comments.

      Phew! Sensitive or what?!!

      Like wow, pedantic or what? I remember seeing something on the Palestinian peace process there yesterday. I assume that is what is being referred to here. But well done on that little point you managed to score ChrisC. Must be well proud of yourself.

      Or rather they wanted a cosy little club of BBCophiles to reinforce their existing prejudices.

      We sat around smoking cigars and drinking wine and plotting how to further destroy the right. I don’t know if that’s what you’re referring to Morgoth.

    18. ChrisC — on 16th October, 2007 at 5:06 pm  

      Cuban cigars I assume!

      Pedantry (aka accuracy!) is my middle name.

      “I remember seeing something on the Palestinian peace process there yesterday. I assume that is what is being referred to here.”
      But it isn’t just the “controversial” stuff is it - as I have pedantically pointed out?
      My point is that the BBC will *never* be able to loosen up sufficiently - leaving aside (cf Ravi) whether this is something they should be doing at all.

    19. Rumbold — on 16th October, 2007 at 5:47 pm  

      Sunny:

      “But let’s focus on the BBC’s interaction with the blogosphere rather than on its left-wing / right-wing bias.”

      You know that you put in the Dave Hill bit at the end just to wind us critics of the BBC up. I agree with you though that for the BBC, interactive does not necessarily mean better.

    20. newmania — on 17th October, 2007 at 9:50 am  

      No-one invited from the right of centre Blogasphere then which has been the engine of calling the BBC to account for its undemocratic use of public funds top promote its political views.
      Sunny, you are someone who holds the bizarre view that the BBC is not left wing enough you are not exactly representative .

      This blog , which I like , is most atypical of the blogasphere . I imagine what they are trying to do is to spike the guns of the growing revolt against thei arrogant paternilist assumptions .

      It will not work no matter how many puppets perform. This organisation is beyone reform and if you were in any doubt you shouod have seen the Politics show which was devoted to anti Ashcroft propoganda. Hardly a mention of Union money or the Communications allowance so abused by Labour. There followed a deathly hushed romp around the care probalme refferring to “Government money “throughout but misrepresenting the problme along usual lines .
      For afters it was thicko Lammy by which time I was writhing in agony .

    21. Anna Coghen — on 18th October, 2007 at 6:07 pm  

      ChrisC, newmania, Morgoth

      I can tell you why we (the BBC Trust) didn’t invite Biased BBC and it had nothing to do with conspiracy or other “loons” of any political hue

      What the Trust is trying here is a pilot, a toe in the water as it were - and as such the numbers we could invite were limited by default.
      We tried to invite a range of bloggers and in fact had only 2 truly political ones (excuse me if I miscategorise anyone) - Sunny and Slugger O’Toole, with some interesting debate on the size of political blogging within the wider blogosphere and the importance of impartiality to the scope of the debate.

      I think our main criterion was to have people willing to consider how governance and accountability to licence fee payers can be improved by the involvement of blogs and bloggers. If the underlying review was about impartiality Biased BBC would be top of our invitee list.

      We will be holding another event later on in the process, I hope, which should have a much wider invitee list (assuming they turn up!) - any blogger who feels they’d have a useful thing or thousand to say, or online engagement ideas to share would be more than welcome to attend that.

      Incidentally, the pilot is both about online engagement by the BBC Trust and the service review of bbc.co.uk I’m currently running. Feel free to look it up on the BBC Trust website (very old net). The issues we’re looking at may sound dry but go to the core of what BBC does online.

      And I’d never dream of imagining some Greek wine would result in any cannons being spiked.

    22. Jem Stone (BBC) — on 23rd October, 2007 at 11:14 pm  

      Sunny

      I take your point about Have Your Say and reservations about its format. Most of the negativity unfortunately seems to stem from perceived censorship or moderation for quality. Comment is free also suffers from what i once heard Lee Bryant (from http://www.headshift.com/) call “drive by commenting” and still struggles with either developing community or maintaining quality via comment threads.

      However the BBC’s *does* engagement in more ways than just Have Your Say. Comments and links via numerous blogs, communities such as 606, message boards such as Today, Five Live and the long running (and well hosted) Archers, and increasingly spaces away from bbc.co.uk on sites such as Flickr, Last FM and YouTube.

      When judging the BBC and engagement then have a look beyond the Have your Say forums.

      who are these “loons” of which Anna and others speak ??

    23. Sunny — on 23rd October, 2007 at 11:53 pm  

      Comment is free also suffers from what i once heard Lee Bryant (from http://www.headshift.com/) call “drive by commenting” and still struggles with either developing community or maintaining quality via comment threads.

      That I agree with. But to a certain extent communities take a long time to develop and even then CIF is so large and concentrated in one place that its near impossible to do that. But there are changes planned ;-)

      The drive-by-commenting scenario is certainly true. I try and avoid that here but it happens all the time.

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