It’s now 3 weeks since the BBC announced 360 online staff were to lose their jobs as part of a 25% cut to the online budget. It’s a sad but unsurprising part of a number of cuts which John Naughton summarises as: “It’s not television”, a sign that “The past has won” in the internal battle between those who saw consumers as passive vessels for TV content, and those who credited them with some creativity.
Dee Harvey likewise poses the question: “In the same way that openness is written into the design of the Internet, could it be that closedness is written into the very concept of the BBC?”
If it is, I don’t think it can remain that way for ever. Those who have been part of the BBC’s work online will feel rightly proud of what has been achieved since the corporation went online in 1997. Here are just 3 ways that the corporation has helped to define online journalism as we know it – please add others that spring to mind:
1. Web writing style
The BBC’s way of writing for the web has always been a template for good web writing, not least because of the BBC’s experience with having to meet similar challenges with Ceefax – the two shared a content management system and journalists writing for the website would see the first few pars of their content cross-published on Ceefax too.
Even now it is difficult to find an online publisher who writes better for the web.
2. Editors blogs
Thanks to the likes of Robin Hamman, Martin Belam, Jem Stone and Tom Coates – to name just a few – when the BBC did begin to adopt blogs (it was not an early adopter) it did so with a spirit that other news organisations lacked.
In particular, the Editors’ Blogs demonstrated a desire for transparency that many other news organisations have yet to repeat, while the likes of Robert Peston, Kevin Anderson and Rory Cellan-Jones have played a key role in showing skeptical journalists how engaging with the former audience on blogs can form a key part of the newsgathering process.
Unfortunately, many of those innovators later left the BBC, and the earlier experimentation was replaced with due process.
While so many sing and dance about the APIs of The Guardian and The New York Times, Ian Forrester’s BBC Backstage project was well ahead of the game when it opened up the corporation’s API and started hosting hack days and meetups way back in 2005.
Backstage closed at the end of last year, just as the rest of the UK’s media were starting to catch up. You can read an e-book on its history here.
I’m sure you can add others – the iPlayer and their on-demand team; Special Reports; the UGC hub (the biggest in the world as far as I know); and even their continually evolving approach to linking (still not ideal, but at least they think about it) are just some that spring to mind. What parts of BBC Online have influenced or inspired you?
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Couldn’t agree more about the writing. It’s still a model for clarity. I like the way the design has evolved as user habits have changed as well.
Thanks for the mention, Paul.
One other thing that I feel the BBC has contributed is a framework for the management of online participation. That is, moderation and discussion hosting guidelines, training and implementation.
Lizzie Jackson and I wrote the first moderation and host training course and manual used by the BBC back in around 1999. I’ve subsequently seen it in use, almost verbatim, at dozens of organisations over the years.
It recognises a split between moderation – the transparent and consistent policing of user comments and other contributions – and disucussion hosting, which is about building engagement through activities such as starting new topics, framing the boundaries of debate, thanking participants, highlighting interesting contributions, summarising, etc.
We worked closely with BBC Editorial Policy and Legal to come up with audience facing roles, and internal procedures, which have protected users and encourage a high level of debate, as much as is possible, across the BBC websites and beyond.
It’s interesting why companies are making job cuts and redundancies to online services considering the rapid expansion of online and social media over the past few years
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thanks Paul and ta for the name check. Few points / additions…
Editors blogs. The template there in BBC News (launched by Giles Wilson) has since been adapted to further parts of the BBC including Radio, Online, Sport and TV. (Disclaimer: I launched some of these) There’s still a tension between the human voice, sharing a message and PR and this transparency has now extended to Twitter etc but its still a real shift in how the BBC communicates. However the motivation behind their launch was very much inspired by US newspaper ombudsmans, the Guardian’s adoption of a Readers’ Editor and the mixed success of similar ventures in, mostly, US, online publishing outifts. Many of which have now ceased…
I agree with Robin above about the community management/guidelines framework which was pioneering and to which I’d add that the BBC was relatively quick out of the blogs (ho ho) having publicly available, and sensible, guidelines for staff blogging since 2005 (and now tweeting) which similarly have been copied by other companies. Certainly not the only company to do this but perhaps not what you’d have expected. (Disclaimer: I contributed to these)
2 further additions: Although obviously the Guardian (and others) started this ? then the BBC for both sporting events and now long running live events has fully embraced live blogs or networked journalism. Both the Ashes and Eygpt fully embraced this new(ish) way of storytelling weaving in multiple sources, user comment, leaning on correspondents blogging/writing stories/tweeting, and other publishers/journalists etc.
And although its not technically a part of BBC Online (but it couldn’t exist without it) then i’d ask for a brief mention for the (online) College of Journalism. A remarkable resource.
Something else that the news website certainly contributed (rather than BBC online as a whole) was the idea that stories should have a unique and permanent URL. Story pages are never removed, unless there is an extremely pressing reason for it. Currently, the deletion of a page requires senior editorial approval.
The result of this is that even pre-official launch stories are still available on the web (eg http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/17475.stm). This might seem an obvious way of working now, but in 1997 it was unusual – it was still two years or so before the birth of permalinks on blogs. And even in 2011 there are still news sites that don’t assign permanent and unique URLs to their stories.
This approach – now embedded in the BBC News website mission – is completely contrary to the bizarre idea that we should sweep away old pages from the rest of BBC online in some sort of manic spring-cleaning process.
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I agree with Robin above about the community management/guidelines framework which was pioneering and to which I’d add that the BBC was relatively quick out of the blogs (ho ho) having publicly available, and sensible, guidelines for staff blogging since 2005 (and now tweeting) which similarly have been copied by other companies.
Hi it’s interesting why companies are making job cuts and redundancies to online services considering the rapid expansion of online and social media over the past few years
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