BBC sees blog comments as activity of a 'vocal minority'

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There’s somewhat of a contradiction in the latest posting on the BBC’s Editors Blog by Helen Boaden, director of BBC News.

Introducing the post, she writes:

This week I gave the keynote speech at the e-Democracy conference. You can read what I said below. I would be interested to know what you think.

The speech gives an overview of the BBC’s approach to citizen journalism.

But even though Boaden says she wants to hear “what you think”, she appears to be dismissive of the people who comment on blogs.

Talking about the remarkable traffic to BBC News blogs- 1.5m page views for Nick Robinson, 2.5m for Justin Webb and almost 8m for Robert Peston – she says:

This highlights the difference in the audiences between those who are happy to read what others have to say and those self selecting minority who want to join in the debate themselves, knowing that the environment can be robust and that people might disagree with what they have to say.

She goes on to say that “those who join in the debate are by definition a vocal minority. They certainly have a place in a vibrant and impartial news environment but they need to be kept in perspective.”

There are certainly some people who will write abusive comments.  These people have always existed. But to label everyone who has left a comment on a blog as a “vocal minority” is such a sweeping statement.

And this does not seem to be a way to encourage more people to comment in any case.  To its credit, The Editors’ Blog has allowed comments such as this one from Junkkmale:

I better not join in here as, by this definition, I will be deemed to have moved from the acceptable ‘Shut up and take what you are given/silence is deemed consent’ camp to the, one presumes, non-BBC group of choice, here described as the ‘vocal minority’.

It would be interesting to find out how many people are registered to comment on BBC blogs and see a breakdown of volume of comments to see if it is, indeed, a ‘vocal minority’.

Perhaps the tone would be different if BBC bloggers engaged in the conversation themselves by responding to comments.  Some newspaper sites have been successful in fostering communities on their blogs.

In any case, what about the thousands of people who complained to the BBC about the Brand and Ross prank calls?  Were these voices, some argue whipped up by the press, more valid than the 33,000 people who commented on the BBC’s Have Your Say page?

Clearly there are issues in handling comments, and some research suggests that comments can impact how people view a news story. But dismissing those who try to engage in the news process is not a constructive way of fostering a conversation.

You’re welcome to comment on this post, as I would value your thoughts.

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11 Comments

  • November 14, 2008

    mattwardman

    Presumably the self-selected vociferous minority who vote are also unrepresentative, and therefore we should be governed by the opposition or whoever the Great and the Good thinks is most appropriate. Bizarre.

    I’ve been following the responses to the E-Democracy conference, and the most prominent fact seems to be how little has changed since 5 years ago. It is still top down, centre out, managed consultation gumphus. Somehow they have all completely missed the point.

    The most eloquent response has been the anger felt by Bethan Jenkins AM, who *does* get it – not being tied up in mega-media or too embroiled in a political bubble.

    I don’t care that blogs don’t get 2.5m page views a month (though I note that HB does not give enough process data to give any meaning to the statistic – I have numbers for the Wardman Wire between 40k and 300k PVs depending how you measure it) – if we measure a blog mainly by its traffic level then we are treating that blog as if it was a newspaper. That is a category error.

    If you get 2.5m page views that *prevents* you doing proper E-Democracy, which is about racism in Rotherham or crime in Lower Twisleton under Piddle as well as the global principles underlying the United Nations Report on x y or z and the impact of interest rates on Africa as a result.

    The important action is not where the behemoths think it is: the real place for “citizen journalism” is to start with micro-politics in the niches and under the stones.

    Our small scale is not an indication of inability to compete or insignificance: it is our USP and badge of distinctiveness.

  • November 14, 2008

    Matt Wardman

    Sorry missed leaving a url: http://www.mattwardman.com .

  • November 14, 2008

    Mathew Ingram

    Alfred, I totally agree with the point of your post. As someone who only recently took on the job of “communities editor,” I’ve been thinking a lot about comments, and I think our default position should be to remain as open as possible, even if the opinions expressed make us somewhat uncomfortable.

    In a literal sense, what the BBC News director said is true. In most cases, there are far more readers than there are commenters, so they are in some ways a “vocal minority.” That doesn’t mean their opinions are minority opinions, however. I like to go by the old rule of thumb about letters to the editor, which holds that for every letter, there are hundreds of other people who hold the same opinion but don’t write.

    In that sense, thinking about them as just a minority is the wrong way to look at it, I think. And I also agree with your view on having writers become active participants in the comments themselves — that’s one of my goals at the Globe. It not only sends a signal that someone is listening and interested, but can short-circuit misunderstandings quickly as well. Done properly, I think it can raise the level of discourse better than just about anything else.

  • November 14, 2008

    Alfred Hermida

    Thanks for making the point about page views, Matt. It is measuring a blog’s success by the standards of mass media. Whereas you could argue that a blog should be measure by how far it succeeds in generating a discussion.

    And this brings me to Mathew’s point about community. You are spot on in saying that reporters should be listening to their readers and, yes, at times stepping in to clear up misunderstandings.

    I wonder if Helen Boaden will respond to any of the comments on her post?

  • November 15, 2008

    Matt Wardman

    >Thanks for making the point about page views, Matt. It is measuring a blog’s success by the standards of mass media.

    It’s worse than that. The ABCe specifically dumped the measure when used on its own two years ago as misleading, and switched to unique users !

    Rgds

    Matt

  • [...] BBC sees blog comments as activity of a ‘vocal minority’ « Reportr.net Actually Alf is reporting a speech from the Head of BBC News so its more (Head of) BBC News sees…"There are certainly some people who will write abusive comments. These people have always existed. But to label everyone who has left a comment on a blog as a “vocal minority” is such a sweeping statement." (tags: bbc bbcblog news comments helenboaden) [...]

  • November 16, 2008

    Austen naughten

    Fascinating. The BBC has a long-standing commitment to invoving its listeners and inviting their feedback, indeed

    “It should foster a ‘learning curve’ of interactive engagement, encouraging audiences to move from passive consumption to active participation online.” (bbc.co.uk Service Remit)

    And so it has invited comment throughout it’s websites, without apparently giving much though on how to quantify, qualify, analyse or respond to what they get.

    It would be a great pity if the BBC was to respond to it’s own failure in this area, by backing away from user-generated content just because they haven’t yet worked out what to do with it.

  • November 17, 2008

    The Phazer

    “But to label everyone who has left a comment on a blog as a “vocal minority” is such a sweeping statement.”

    It’s a completely accurate one mathmatically, unless your blog has more than 51% of your audience commenting.

    Basic child level statistics points out that a self selected sample (blog commentators) isn’t an accurate sample to base anything on. Hence a “vocal minority” is a completely true statement.

    It’s a shame that the BBC (as proven by the Ross/Brand debacle, where the number of licence fee payers supporting the broadcast on Facebook outnumbers the complains, and Facebook’s validation of those people’s identity is *much* better than Ofcom’s) doesn’t actually act in such a statistically robust way.

  • January 11, 2009

    Harvey

    Why is the BBC subtly so biased in favor of Israel and why so many Jewish commentators who are naturally biased. ??

    Why is the Foreign Minister Jewish David Milliband with again obvious dual loyalty towards Israel ???

    Where is John Pilger ??? Where are the Palestinian voices ?

    All the people who are silent are COLLABORATORS !!!!!

    http://www.johnpilger.com/page.a….asp? partid=519

  • October 22, 2009

    Ganry86

    Griffyn goes, his hard-hitting candor is a blade that cuts both way. ,

  • December 3, 2009

    cauna

    Очень давно искал подобный материал и вот наконец нащёл. Особая благодарность автору