Thursday 30 October 2008

BBC World Have Your Say end external comment moderation

The World Have Your Say team have been experimenting with allowing external comment moderation on their programme blog. The idea was that regular contributors to the blog would help moderate comments to ensure debate continued while the WHYS team weren't in the office.

Although Editor Mark Sandell praised the majority who were dedicated to making the scheme work, he explained why he was taking back full control:
"Gradually - and despite several warnings from me and [presenter] Ros [Atkins] which got a little less friendly each time- things deteriorated.

"I spent too much time sorting out petty disputes and boring bickering. Newcomers to the blog (and last Friday was a record for hits) complained of feeling intimidated. The last straw for me was a blindingly idiotic dispute which saw one of our valued newcomers clear off in disgust.

"Great message to send to the community, i thought. So that’s it i’m afraid. It was a bold experiment and i’m glad we tried it. In the end, it fell because of people with a myopic, paranoid world view and i’m happy for you to peddle those views on your own blog, not ours."

Read Mark's full post on the WHYS blog.

Stuff I've written elsewhere recently

1. I was at a talk on the representation of political violence in literature earlier in the week. I did a review for the Complex Terrain Laboratory.

2. I have a Frontline Club post up on the potential use of Twitter by terrorists.

Wednesday 29 October 2008

BeebCamp at the BBC

Yesterday was BeebCamp at the BBC in White City. An opportunity for people at the BBC interested in new technology, new journalism, and new entertainment to come together to share some ideas.

If you want to know more about the format of what was billed as an 'unconference' there's some more details here.

Panel 1: Are we obsessed by audience feedback?

Alex Murray, 5 Live
  • Proposed by Alex Murray at 5 live Interactive, the panel discussed whether the people who get in touch with the BBC have too much influence on what the BBC do.
  • Seemed to be general agreement that while some common editorial sense should be employed when using contributions from the audience the BBC could and should be doing more to engage with the audience. It was acknowledged that saying 'thanks for your comment' wasn't really good enough.
  • Suggestion was that a reprioritisation was needed. A journalist from Radio Current Affairs said he found audience feedback and interactivity useful but was doing it after work in his own time to keep on top of it.
  • Perhaps more BBC journalists should be working full-time in engaging with the users?
  • What we didn't note was the tremendous success of the UGC hub in recent years for news stories, contacts and guests.
  • I also spoke to Steve Bowbrick, the BBC's blogger in residence, at lunch about the possbility that new software could be designed to deal with comments more effectively. We talked about replying to clusters of comments rather than just individuals.
  • Further Reading: Tom Van Aardt's notes on this panel here.
Panel 2: Global navigation on the BBC website
Mat Hampson, Future Media & Technology
  • To be honest, I didn't really have much to contribute to this panel. I'm more interested in journalism rather than the user-functionality of the website, so skip these notes and read these instead.
  • But Mat Hampson, who led the panel from FM&T, seemed to have lots of good ideas about how to improve the website and was collecting some more from other panelists.
  • There was some discussion about customisation and personalisation. Around 30% of users customise the existing home page.
  • The BBC he said needed to get away from gargantuan technology projects and begin to use smaller modules that connect to one another - this after all is the Web 2.0 way.
  • Reassured when Mat said "The message from the Trust is clear - we need to link to the rest of the Internet".
  • Further Reading: Tom Van Aardt
Panel 3: Ten things I learnt about the Internet Blog
(Accompanied by ten random pictures ((including plate of raw sausages)) and punctuated with occasional "Dan, don't blog that"s. Hopefully Jem won't mind me mentioning the sausages)
Jem Stone, ex FM&T, now Audio and Music
  • Jem provided several key words of advice on how to make an openness and accountability blog work.
  • You'll need:
  • A good, independent-minded blogger like Nick Reynolds
  • Some senior people who are willing to get involved in the making of the blog and actually respond to issues flagged up.
  • Blog posts that take part in conversations about the BBC and the Internet
  • A good working relationship with Press Relations
  • A cool head when things go wrong - see the fall out and turnaround from these comments about Linux.
Panel 4: Online Video
Philip Trippenbach
  • Phil wanted to know how the BBC could make some awesome online videos.
  • Again he has a full blog post on this so if you want a more detailed view click here.
  • Acknowledgement that video on the web is different to video on the TV. Polished production values seem to be a bar to web videos. Some of the most popular YouTube videos are by people with a shaky camera producing something funny or amusing.
  • Authenticity and 'cultural currency' the key to online success. And indeed Jo Twist had some interesting things to say about social viewing - something she also discussed in her own panel (scroll down to 11.40am).
  • What was the BBC doing in this area?
  • Change in production values needed. But important to realise that quality still important in some cases even if the style might be different.
  • There seemed to be quite a lot of emphasis on how BBC videos, hosted on the BBC YouTube Channel, for example, could be made more popular and get more page views. I asked whether this should be the only consideration. Yes, it fulfils one part of the public service remit but there's also a charge for the BBC to represent minority interests. Afraid this wasn't really taken up as discussion moved elsewhere.
  • Afterthought from the memory bank - is the new Gary Lineker sport promotion video with the football shirts not based on a YouTube idea?
  • Further Reading: Phil's blog post on online video.
Panel 5: External/Internal Blogging by BBC people Roo Reynolds, Social Media, Vision
  • What, where and why should BBC staff be blogging was the general gist here
  • Of course, three categories here - External personal blogs, public-facing BBC blogs, Internal BBC blogs.
  • Is there much value in the BBC's internal blogs? Roo suggested there wasn't much going on here.
  • Might be better to use different tools other than a blog. There's an internal wiki to discuss BeebCamp for example and Yammer is being used as an 'internal' Twitter.
  • Grace Davies, from the World Service Trust found it difficult to know how she fitted into the BBC's editorial blogging guidelines. The World Service Trust is a separate campaigning arm of the BBC, not connected to journalism, so she was unsure how far she could discuss controversial issues like AIDs and poverty. (Where is your blog, Grace?!)
  • Further Reading: Roo Reynolds
Panel 6: Using Blogs in News Me
  • Aim of my panel was to start a general discussion about the use of blogs in news - where the BBC might go next with blogs and what are the limitations to using blogs in news.
  • Obviously this was with the intention of creating some great research material - in academic speak it was a ready made focus group. Hopefully though it sparked a useful conversation and some new ideas.
  • I was pleased with how it went. Had a good range of input.
  • I kicked off by outlining what I believe to be three general models for the BBC using blogs in news - other people's blogs, BBC reporter blogs, and BBC programme blogs to build a news community.
  • Tom Van Aardt felt what Watchdog is doing is slightly different but I felt it still fitted with my last category
  • Short discussion on what is a blog
  • 'Liveblogging' or live text commentary
  • A few panelists wanted foreign correspondents to use Twitter - thought it could be really interesting.
  • Obvious but important reservations about whether news people have time to do all this
  • Afterwards Daniel Morris from BBC Switch told me how he used several different Twitter accounts to cover a live event. Could that sort of thing be replicated in news?
  • Further Reading: Roo Reynolds; Tom Van Aardt (coming soon?).
Panel 7: Where next? Tom Van Aardt
  • Will have to see. But I felt it was a really positive day.
  • Thanks to all the people who organised it and for extending me an invite
  • Further Reading: Jason Da Ponte who went to a completely different set of panels.

Friday 24 October 2008

Blog 08: Blogging is dead 2 - or at least it's harder now

Pete Cashmore, founder and CEO of Mashable, is at the Blog 08 Conference in Amsterdam. In the keynote address he picks up where Rory Cellan-Jones left off the other day:
"Q&A: Apparently blogging is dead, it’s all about microblogging. Blogging is hard now. How do you compete with blogs created by established media empires who create blogs? Find a niche. What’s the future of blogs? According to Pete it is about how do you aggregate the dispersed conversation that’s on FriendFeed and Twitter, or do you want to completely distribute content as a brand?"
For more see Anne Helmond's blog.

Docu-web journalism

This is a 20 minute film called the Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard. In the film, she says the world's current production process is fabricated by a consumption society and ultimately unsustainable.

It's based on extensive research and uses the story-telling tools of the Web. Should we be seeing more of this kind of thing from 'mainstream media' organisations?

At the moment, I can't see how they'd do it but it's a thought.

Wednesday 22 October 2008

The death of blogging - cancel the research?

Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC's technology correspondent wants to do a piece on the Today programme on the death of blogging:

Ruskin147: "so who will come on Today prog tomorrow to talk about the death of blogging?" he asks on Twitter. Here's some of the reaction to his shout out.

Rory's been reading this article, on Wired (I think), which says:
"Thinking about launching your own blog? Here's some friendly advice: Don't. And if you've already got one, pull the plug."
Twitter is the new blogging, the author, Paul Boutin, argues:
"Twitter — which limits each text-only post to 140 characters — is to 2008 what the blogosphere was to 2004. You'll find Scoble, Calacanis, and most of their buddies from the golden age there."
This BBC journalist agrees and demonstrates how Twitter can form a blog post.

So should I just cancel the project now? After all, I've still got two years left to look at the impact of blogging on the BBC's coverage of war and terrorism. I was worried it would all take too long. Maybe it's time to admit I was just too slow. (Or craftily justify studying Twitter as well).

Tuesday 21 October 2008

Research update

Just been talking to Robin Lustig about his World Tonight blog at Television Centre, which was all very interesting.

At the moment, I'm working on a historical chapter for the PhD about how the BBC blogs started and how they began using them for news.

Of course, the BBC doesn't presently have a blog exclusively focussed on defence or security, which would be the project ideal. But Robin's foreign affairs blog does regularly cover war and terrorism so I thought it would be worth talking to him. (It was!)

I don't post up much stuff about the interviews I do which is a bit of a shame. But I'm afraid I'm reluctant to get into the difficulties of working out what I'd be allowed to publish and what I'd not. More than anything else it would be quite time-consuming to liaise with the various parties involved and work it out.

Monday 20 October 2008

RSS: Ssshhh...don't tell anybody, they might start using it

Iain Dale recently asked his readers a few questions on his blog. He got 1,100 responses. Here's one of the questions and the results:
"How do you read the blog[?]

* 15% via an RSS reader
* 61% via your favourites on your toolbar
* 10% via another site
* 15% by typing the domain name each time"
I am intrigued that as many people type in the domain name each time as use an RSS feed. When will RSS go mainstream? Who's promoting it? Who's teaching it? Does it get taught in schools? Is RSS really that complicated? Does it need simplifying further? Or is it just a case that it's not that useful for most people?

It seems to me that people stumble across RSS by chance - one journalist I spoke to the other day said she only discovered Google Reader when she was shown how to use RSS feeds by her flatmate.

Thursday 16 October 2008

Links for today: Blogging and the BBC

  • Paul Bradshaw is blogging a series on how journalists are using blogs. Which is the same as what I'm doing really. So pretty darn useful. Here's Part One and you can use your own Internet initiative to find the others.
  • Using a quote designed for Search Engine Optimisation, Andrew Neil says blogs are 'print journalism pornography'. He also said blogs were "entertaining". But in the race for the spot in's headline, this quote was clearly never in the running.
  • Shane Richmond at the Telegraph has been asking the website's bloggers why they don't engage in comments.
  • John Simpson says the future of the BBC is bleak. But he is kind of fond of the place.
  • Re: Peston and that pesky blog. We've been here before - I pulled this article out of the World Wide bag the other day.
  • And while we're on the topic Peter Preston in the Guardian says danger is lurking for the BBC's bloggers.
  • Alfred Hermida on the BBC reaching out in online conversations.

Wednesday 15 October 2008

The blog as scrapbook

A while ago, I interviewed Stuart Hughes, Defence and Security Producer at the BBC about his blog. I'm just transcribing it now.

In the interview, he describes his blog as a "scrapbook" - "a scrapbook for all the stuff that falls on the floor when you're working".

I've never heard anyone else describe a blog like this. Maybe a blog is more of an interactive scrapbook but I like the idea.

Friday 10 October 2008

Blog: Genre? Literary Form? Medium?


Carolyn Miller and Dawn Shepherd in Blogging as Social Action: A Genre Analysis of the Weblog
'When a type of discourse or communicative action acquires a common name within a given context or community, that’s a good sign that it’s functioning as a genre (Miller, 1984). The weblog seems to have acquired this status very quickly, with an increasing amount of attention and commentary in the mainstream press reinforcing its status.'

Literary Form?

Kathleen Fitzpatrick quoting Himmer 2004 in The Pleasure of the Blog.
'It is, according to Himmer, the shared codes among bloggers and blog readers that result in this process of narrative completion that produces the primary experience of reading blogs, an experience that he understands as "a distinctive literary and creative mode, something richer and more nuanced than viewing it as simply the outcome of a specific toolset or formal structure allows for” (Himmer).

And, as he goes on to note, such an understanding of the "literariness" of blogs makes clear that this quality is not one "achieved by some weblogs and lacking in others.... This literary nature of the weblog is instead the loose set of shared criteria that allows us to speak of a plurality of ‘weblogs’ in the first place” (Himmer). All blogs, for Himmer, are in some sense literary, because of the nature of their readers’ interactions with them.'


Danah Boyd in Reconstruction 6:4 (2006)

"Moving away from [a] content-focused approach...blogs must be conceptualized as both a medium and a bi-product of expression. This shift allows us to see blogs in terms of culture and practice. Furthermore, this provides a framework in which to understand how blogging has blurred the lines between orality and literacy, corporeality and spatiality, public and private."

Do bloggers think they're writing journalism?

Taken from a Pew Internet Research Project 2006, which was based on a telephone survey of American bloggers:

Only one-third of bloggers see blogging as a form of journalism. Yet many check facts and cite original sources.
  • 34% of bloggers consider their blog a form of journalism, and 65% of bloggers do not.
  • 57% of bloggers include links to original sources either “sometimes” or “often.”
  • 56% of bloggers spend extra time trying to verify facts they want to include in a post either “sometimes” or “often.”

Thursday 9 October 2008

Links for today: The influence and history of blogging

Blogging - contributing to the crunch?
  • Ok, so shares are tumbling, banks are being bailed out all over the world, and you really know there's a crisis when Iceland's economy is in meltdown. (Honestly, since when did Iceland become such an important cog in the global capitalist machine?) Anyway, I digress. When things go wrong, blame needs to be apportioned. So who or what to blame? Well what about Robert Peston's blog? This post apparently caused banking shares to fall the other day and here we see just how much influence Robert Peston has. (Take note of the tiny numbers on the graph).
A history of blogging
  • Scott Rosenberg is writing a history of blogging. I'm looking forward to the publication and he talks to Mediashift about it here.
The Future of Journalism
"Overall, though, what also struck me during the event was the very blinkered vision of many in the mainstream industry. I got the sense that there's something not unlike Stockholm syndrome at work here - the longer you work in the industry, the harder is it to imagine any other way of working than by following the routines established long ago."
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Tuesday 7 October 2008

Twitter and BBC blogs continued...

In reply to yesterday's short offering, Tom Van Aardt (tomVS on Twitter - he's the Communities Editor at the BBC) has written a couple of posts on Twitter and the BBC's blogs.

The first is about Twitter and the potential for miscommunication.
"...there is no context on a microblogging platform. That’s sometimes the problem. Online all the other subtle forms of communication is lost - voice, body language, etc - and you’re only left with the words. In general a blog post (like this one) provides little information compared to a conversation, but it still provides vastly more information than a single sentence."
The second is a short justification of why he prefers Robert Peston's blog to 'official BBC News stories':
"All in all, it’s a more complete source of information than an unnamed BBC story. The fact that it’s a blog from the BBC gives me even more faith - to me it’s better than a usual BBC news story."

Here, in the latter quote, I think we see evidence of something of a culture change in the BBC's approach to the authority of information online.

In the distant past, the culture of attempting to remain impartial and objective meant the BBC tended to take the voice out of journalism. Most obviously this was seen in the reading of the BBC news which was always undertaken in a very neutral tone.

As Tom alludes to here, the philosophy of taking the individual out of news is also evident in the BBC website where most 'standard' news articles are not attributed to individual journalists.

The thinking is that the information carries authority because the biases, prejudices and opinions of the journalist have in theory been put aside to present the facts in a balanced and fair manner.

The thinking behind blogging runs counter to this idea and says that actually a piece of information can have more authority if we know who is behind it.

Hence, because Tom knows Robert Peston is writing his blog - an expert on the financial crisis and clearly in the know - the information carries more weight than if it was written by any other journalist at the BBC. The individual does make a difference. (Of course, the BBC brand still has a role to play here too.)

There may well be room for both approaches to news at the BBC and other organisations, and perhaps the key challenge is getting the balance right.

Indeed, I don't think the latter approach is entirely new. In both TV and radio, it's fairly plain the BBC has long recognised the importance of presenters and reporters developing what amounts to a personal rapport with the audience.

But I would suggest that the efforts to develop a more personal BBC presence online is also due to the influence of blogging on the thinking of those who work at the BBC.

Monday 6 October 2008

Random Twitter Quote: The BBC blog post vs the BBC online article

tomVS Finding myself more and more reading Peston's blog for insight, as opposed to "official" BBC stories.
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