BBC News asking the wrong questions

Farewell then, As from today, the BBC News website no longer exists as an autonomous, editorial unit within the BBC.

Instead the BBC has created a multimedia newsroom, integrating output across TV, radio and online.

On the BBC Editors’ Blog, Peter Horrocks explains the rationale for the decision, arguing:

We have a new system that allows the great strengths of each of our editorial areas to create an even stronger editorial proposition.

Horrocks wants to know what you think, asking: “As a consumer of BBC News on the web, do you expect it to cover the same stories as BBC News on TV and radio?”

The problem is that this is the wrong question.

It seesm to suggest that the BBC considers the news site to be complementary to TV and radio, rather than a separate medium in its own right. It also put the onus for change on the site, rather than asking the more difficult question of how TV and radio news should change for a multiplatform world.

The website is the new kid on the block and doesn’t have the same internal political clout as TV or radio. But the issue isn’t whether the website should cover the same stories as TV and radio.

The issue is how BBC News should change across the board. In many ways, the website is leading the way, offering a much greater diversity of news, in greater depth and breadth, than the BBC’s traditional outlets.

The irony is that editors on the website have a much better understanding of audiences than on TV and radio, they have instant access to stats about who was reading what and for how long.

BBC News has much to learn from the experience of the website. The first step is to realise that online is a medium in its own right, equal to TV and radio. Simply taking what’s been on TV and putting it online does not work.

The question Horrocks should be asking is what do audiences want from their news and how do they want it.

UPDATE 13 November: Jeff Jarvis comments on the BBC’s moves towards integration: “Any news organization has to get to the point where there is no difference between old media people and new media people. That takes much training and more mixing of tribes than the end of a season on Survivor (but just as much loss and pain).”

And Roy Greenslade wades in on the challenge for journalists: “It is the positive ones, those who opt in, who will help to overcome the genuine problems thrown up by integration and consolidation. We have to be flexible. We have to innovate. We have to do what journalists have done for centuries: try harder.”

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  • Steve H says:

    Hi Alf – this is an interesting post. But it feels a bit too gloomy to me. The website still has its own editorial teams within the wider departments, its own focus and audience, and we are not planning to throw out the baby with the bathwater by losing sight of any of those things. By combining radio, TV and online news into multimedia News and Programmes departments we aim to get smarter planning and commissioning, allocation of reporting resources and storytelling across radio, TV and online news. And, over time, teams that better understand one another. The stories should become the primary framework for these activities, rather than the platforms. The benefit to the website will be having a say at all stages of this process, helping to influence it and so getting the best of the BBC’s journalism onto its pages.

  • Hi Steve. I can understand the logic of integrating radio, TV and online into one multimedia news department. The point I was making is that it is unclear that editors from TV and radio understand that the internet is a medium in its own right, rather than a promotional tool for their material. As you know, the website is not an “add-on” to the BBC’s traditional broadcast activities. It is now one of its three news pillars. Likewise, it is unclear how far editors from outside the website understand how online journalism is different from broadcast journalism. The risk with integration is that it may dilute the strengths of the website, which, after all, is just 10 years old and not as well established as TV or radio.

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