The BBC, blogs and accountability

Part of my research has involved studying the adoption of blogging at the BBC.

One of the areas I studied was blogs as a platform for greater accountability in news.

The results of that research are in a chapter in the book, Web Journalism: A New Form of Citizenship?, which has just been published by Sussex Academic Press.

The publisher describes the edited volume as:

A much-needed analytical account of the implications of interactive participation in the construction of media content. Although web journalism is a fast-changing technology this book will have sustained appeal to an international readership by seeking to critically assess Internet news production.

My chapter is called Let’s Talk: How Blogging is Shaping the BBC’s Relationship with the Public, and looks at how the BBC has attempted to use blogging to provide greater transparency, particularly around its editorial decision-making.

Here’s an excerpt from the conclusion:

Blogs offered the BBC a platform to address the public in a way that goes beyond the publication of press releases, reviews and policy statements.  In BBC News, The Editors blog provides a medium to address editorial issues in a timely fashion.  Editors have welcomed the ability to adopt the personal and informal tone associated with blogs, marking a significant shift away from the impersonal and institutional abstract voice of authority of the Reithian era. There is evidence to suggest that audiences value this, given that blogs have become a favoured way for the public to interact online with the BBC.

During the period covered by this research, blogging was recognised by the BBC as a new media technology that encourages participation with the potential to foster a closer and more personal relationship with the audience than possible in broadcast. However, there are limits on how far the BBC has incorporated the participatory nature of blogs within its institutional structures. This research indicates that the corporation has yet to fully embrace blogs as a platform for a conversation with the audience, suggesting it is still heavily influenced by its broadcast culture and has adopted blogs as a publishing, rather than participatory, platform.  Despite a rhetoric of accountability, editors and executives tend to consider blogs as a way to explain and justify decisions, rather than to engage in a discussion.  Nevertheless, some editors are aware of the limitations of current BBC blogging practices. Indeed some bloggers are experimenting with ways of fostering greater dialogue – an endeavour more appropriate to the format’s participatory promise.

I am also the co-author of a chapter on participatory journalism and the mainstream media in the UK with my colleague Neil Thurman.

21 Comments

  • January 22, 2010

    Lawrence

    I think this reflects the way a lot of us feel with regard to trying to engage with the BBC via their blogs. It is very one way. They make a blog post, but then never respond to any of the comments made.

    The debate (if you can call it a debate…) on BBC HD picture quality is a very good example. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2009/12/bbc_hd_picture_quality.html

    The head of BBC HD has not only not responded to questions and comments left in response to her blog, but has stated in her blog “I feel that it is now time to draw a line under my further contribution here to the debate here.” The “debate” however has been very one sided…

  • January 27, 2010

    Ian Forrester

    I urge you to have a look at Backstage.bbc.co.uk which is the developer network for the BBC. Not only do we have the longest running blog on the BBC but also we maintain a community which are very outspoken about everything we do technically in regards to openness. You can see the mailing list archive which is also public here – http://www.mail-archive.com/backstage@lists.bbc.co.uk/

  • February 11, 2010

    Niclara Martin

    Sometimes I just walk away shaking my head, at the failure by BBC to grasp that “dialogue” is two-way. They appear to churn out blog after blog after blog, with very few comments (therefore appearing to be of very little interest to anyone but them), or when one comes up which attracts lots of postings, they melt away, or are heavy handed in moderation (there are ways to handle moderation, it is just that BBC are not good at it). Too often you see blogs which have elicited lots of thoughtful and thought-provoking postings, simply left to the posters to “talk amongst themselves”, or abruptly stopped when one or two posters over-step the mark. Rather than moderate offending posters but allow the discussion to flow, BBC tend to just rule the whole blog as “off topic”, and close it. BBC have been told often enough by their posters that they are “not listening” or engaging, so they have no excuse for still failing to become involved in true dialogue with posters.

  • February 13, 2010

    nickreynoldsatwork

    Lawrence – the debate on BBC HD picture quality is a very good example of the BBC engaging successfully with comments and with licence fee payers via a blog. To say that there has been no response on the blog is untrue.

    Just before Xmas there were 5 seperate blog posts about the picture quality issue that you mention and Andy Quested Head of Technology for BBC HD has now left possibly hundreds of comments on the issue. This was as well as Danielle’s long and detailed blog post which stated the BBC’s position.

    The truth is not that the BBC has not responded. The truth is that some people do not like the answers they have been given. But that does not mean the BBC has not engaged. It simply means that (sadly) you cannot please all of the people all of the time.

    Andy’s comments can be viewed here:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/profile/?userid=8205870

    I actually use Andy as a “best practice” example in my work.

    Nick Reynolds (Social Media Executive, BBC Online)

  • February 13, 2010

    Niclara Martin

    Nick

    I think you would have to agree that BBC have FAR too many blogs which have NO Comments attached/appear to be nothing more than self-congratulatory or indeed linked to flickr with photos of …..BBC staff sitting at meetings/eating sandwiches/outside buildings where seminars are being held. THOSE blogs MAY be of interest to BBC employees BUT not to the VAST majority of posters. Too often I read a blog and think, why is this not appearing INTERNALLY/in Ariel or on BBC staff’s external personal blogs. What they are NOT, (on the whole) is “engaging” for posters. Far too often it feels as if BBC staff either have a QUOTA of blogs to put out (and so any old guff will do), or so that they can tick boxes saying they have filled their time, they produce…….visible evidence of “time occupied” by putting up far too many inconsequential blogs. Do, as others do…….just keep a diary, rather than put online (on a hugely visible website), blogs of “X sitting at a meeting”/”Y shaking hands with Tom Cruise/George Clooney/the non-named barmaid from Eastenders”. BBC staff should use blogs to inform/educate or ask for “views/opinions” of posters, and then…..listen to what they are being told. Too often “open dialogue” turns into six months of posters saying one thing, and then BBC ignoring EVERY single suggestion and doing what they want ANYWAY. Why “engage” by asking, if the end result is NONE of the suggestions being implimented? And, BBC wonder why posters become “vocal”!

  • February 13, 2010

    Niclara Martin

    Nick

    You say in your comment that the “debate” about HD Quality shows BBC “BBC engaging successfully”. I would say that Andy Quested has done a very good job of attempting to “engage”, but I would say “SUCCESSFULLY” is stretching anybody’s understanding of THAT word. And, there’s the rub. YOU feel THAT blog has been successful for “engagement”, but as I have said to you before, getting large numbers of posters posting to a blog, does not mean it is “engaging”. Has the blog changed the opinion of any poster, who believes they are seeing deterioration from when HD was first wheeled out (they are VERY articulate posters who have recorded evidence from before the “improvements”). I actually think from what I have read (on both sides – and I think Andy is very good actually), and from speaking to “geeks” elsewhere on the subject, I can see why the posters are annoyed. I don’t think that Danielle’s invisibility has helped, and so we have a situation of Danielle writing a blog, and then……………disappearing for long spells (that is one of the main failings of BBC blog authors), Andy fighting a one-man battle against very articulate posters…….and a Host who will not allow the “debate” to flow, which just ramps up further anger. By all means remove offensive postings, but, most of those posters tend to be very articulate, and to then be treated as naughty schoolboys for daring to refer to HD SOUND instead of HD PICTURE, in a couple of postings, is taking “ON” topic too literally. I think (on THAT blog) Andy is doing a very good job, the blog author has infuriated posters, and the Host is just fanning the flames by not allowing the “debate” to flow. If you remove, what I think is a good attempt at “engaging” (albeit failing) by Andy, and leave the invisible blog author and over-zealous hosting, then we have the usual scenario on BBC Blogs (and elsewhere on BBC)

  • February 13, 2010

    Niclara Martin

    And, before Nick responds by saying that the House Rules are simply being applied, may I just say that I read lots of blogs and messageboards. They ALL have House Rules, and, yes, offensive postings are removed (as they should be), BUT, I have NEVER seen blogs or messageboards, where even the slightest movement from ABSOLUTE focus, results in postings being hidden/removed.

    I have also never seen blogs or messageboards, where such a huge number of the comments are taken up by complaining about the Draconian enforcement of House Rules.

    What we have at BBC Blogs and Messageboards, is blog authors who tend to “post and run” (often poorly written/inconsequential blogs), over-zealous Hosting/moderation, little “true” interaction between BBC staff and posters (BBC messageboards are the worst for this – BBC staff ONLY seem to appear to close threads/remove postings), and a perceived attitude of, (on the rare occasions when BBC ask for input from posters), BBC staff sitting with their fingers in their ears going “lalalalalala”.

  • February 13, 2010

    Lawrence

    Nick,

    Your comments simply reinforce that the BBC has no idea what dialog and interaction mean.

    Danielle Nagler has never engaged in any ‘dialog’ over BBC HD for example. She makes blog posts and disappears, despite 1000’s of comments and questions that are never responded to, until she makes another blog post in which she simply dismisses the comments and questions (its the viewers at fault, never the BBC), and then ‘draws a line’ and refuses to discuss the topic any more. Great example of dialog that…

    And as for Andy Quested’s replies then most are simply spin of the highest order. Simply repeating “there is nothing wrong” is not dialog (It doesn’t become true just because you repeat it often enough). Dialog is actually taking time to answer the countless basic questions that are asked but ignored time and time again.

    Of course it is a case of readers “not liking the answers”. That’s because we don’t like the answers!!! How arrogant of the BBC to assume that because it gives an answer it must be accepted and cannot be questioned. The reason people keep on discussing the issue and asking the questions over and over again is because the answers are unsatisfactory. That is, when we get answers of course… Of course, the BBC is always right, and over 2000 people who have signed the No10 petition are wrong.

  • February 13, 2010

    nickreynoldsatwork

    I’m afraid Lawrence you are mistaken.

    Danielle has written blog posts responding in detail to points made in comments and has left comments on blog posts herself. For example she has left a comment on her most recent post responding to some of the comments. See here:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2010/02/drama_on_bbc_hd.html#P92191680

    To describe Andy’s comments as “spin” is unfair to him. He has done his best to answer those questions he feels he can answer. And some questions he is being asked are about things which aren’t really his responsibility.

    In the end the picture quality issue is quite simple. The BBC has done something. Some people have disagreed with that decision. The BBC has explained its reasons in some detail (not just on blogs but on TV and radio too) and has engaged in debate.

    Some people still disagree. That doesn’t mean the BBC has not engaged. It’s simply, and I run the risk of repeating myself, that some people don’t like the answers they’ve been given.

    And there is always the option (which has been pursued in this case) of those people to complaint to the BBC Trust.

    This is not about lack of engagement.

    This blog post from a while ago gives some thoughts on this thorny subject:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/bbcinternet/2008/12/points_of_view_message_board_3.html

  • February 13, 2010

    john

    nick..think you’ll find the guardian blogs a far better exampol;e of good practise…but then for you ignoring or removing awkward questions is good practise.

  • February 13, 2010

    Niclara Martin

    John

    You said….”but then for you ignoring or removing awkward questions is good practise”

    ————

    I am writing to a blog at the moment. Comment after comment (which don’t appear). There is nothing to say comments are in pre-mod/hidden until deemed OK/moderated/or even show that they have even been written. There has been no posting from the blog author to say that he will no longer continue our “debate”…………..just NOTHING.

    The blog author is a BBC employee, and the topic of the blog is……..wait for it……How to measure “ENGAGEMENT”!!!!!!

    I would say, that the blog author has shown exactly how to measure NON-ENGAGEMENT – write a blog, putting your pontifications out there, and then if you don’t like the responses, ignore the blog and move onto the next one.

  • February 13, 2010

    nickreynoldsatwork

    You are referring Niclara to my personal blog (i.e. my WordPress one, which is not on the BBC), where you and other posters are spamming me with long and repeated comments. As far as I’m concerned this is abusive, and I don’t have to tolerate personal abuse on my personal blog. So I have blocked your comments from appearing without me reading them first and am treating them as spam.

    I’m assuming that Alfred is not across these comments on his blog as we are now crossing the line from a discussion about the BBC (quite interesting), to yet more discussion of me personally and my actions (not very interesting).

  • February 13, 2010

    Niclara Martin

    Nick

    I wasn’t going to say WHO the BBC employee was. You have chosen to do so. You say that you are treating my comments as SPAM. I have NOT made nasty comments to you. I have “engaged” and when YOU said that you would not discuss a certain aspect, I then moved to what you DID say you would discuss – BLOGs. I gave you a link to Research on “engagement” and how to get the best out of your blog. I have tried every way to answer the questions YOU raised in YOUR blog. You wrote a blog on SOCIAL MEDIA, but would ONLY discuss BLOGs, and then, having focussed on BLOGS you wouldn’t discuss SOME aspects of blogs. You then moved the goalposts again and said that you only wanted an answer to HOW TO MEASURE “ENGAGEMENT”, which was a sentence of NINE words (I HAD given you figures – but after originally accepting the comment you thought better and hid it). I was responding to a blog which raised many points, YOU did not like the negative points I raised, and so, homed in on NINE WORDS.

    As I said before, there is being ON Topic, but NINE words of a blog to be ON Topic and discussion of ALL other points you mentioned in your blog to be deemed OFF topic, just makes staying ON Topic like trying to follow a ferret in a maze.

  • February 13, 2010

    john

    nick..i can assure you i am talking about your bullying and censorship on the bbc blogs..many posters make the same accusation it really is a disgrace..and even your response here and your cowardly definition of “abuse” on your “personal blog” reinforces our view of a man that has very poor interpersonnal skills..you are creating a lot of ill will towards the bbc from bbc supporters by his inept handling of the blogs and messageboards…it takes a trip to the outside world of the guardian blog sites to see how your abuse of your power is treated..ie your comments are removed.

  • February 13, 2010

    Niclara Martin

    Nick

    You ARE a BBC employee and one who makes important decisions about SOCIAL MEDIA within BBC. YOU linked us out FROM the BBC site to YOUR “personal” blogging/twitter etc.- firstly with the external blog where the posters, and even the Moderator swore at you. (You were trying to show us that you receive abuse “equally” from bloggers AND messageboarders. I wouldn’t have found your blog IF you hadn’t linked to it.

    As I have said to you before I could never embrace Twitter because I can’t say “Hello” in 140 characters, so I can’t see how you can complain about my writing style . As to “repeated”, I have never posted the same posting twice. I have tried to “engage” you in a discussion of SOCIAL MEDIA (in the title of your blog). YOU then changed that (how am I meant to read your mind) to only wanting to discuss BLOGs…THEN, only SOME aspects of blogs. When you asked me to stay “ON” topic I did as you asked. Would you honestly, also say that my comments were not CONSTRUCTIVE?

    It is noticeable Nick that you have resorted to trying to “moderate” THIS blog by asking the author to get us back on YOUR “ON” topic.

    I will bring this comment back ON topic fully, by saying that THAT action shows exactly what is wrong with BBC’s interaction/”engagement” with it’s posters. BBC wields the big stick as soon as they don’t LIKE the contents of comments.

    And, Nick I apologise if you feel this is personal. I can assure you it is not. I simply say it as I see it, and BBC blogs and messageboards are everything which is wrong about “engagement”, and you can’t deny THAT comes from the policy decisions of BBC employees. I’m afraid you can’t have it both ways. Your “personal” blog is full of blogs (which mainly go unanswered)linking us TO BBC. If YOU can blur the lines between “personal” and “work”, in your favour, then we can’t be expected to be allowed to “give advice” one minute and “off-limits” next. I’m afraid you have to accept that OUTSIDE of BBC you are JUST a poster to THIS blog, like the rest of us.

  • February 13, 2010

    john

    alfred…hoping you will ignore nick reynolds arrogant attempts to again stifle debate he doesnt like…as mentioned he was chased in the guardian blogs for trying this..
    i would be interested what you think of how the bbc manage their blogs and the relationship between blogs and messageboards.
    thanks for giving another place to at least attempt to make bbc social media staff accountable for what many see as a shambles.

  • February 13, 2010

    Niclara Martin

    I definitely am not trying to make this personal, but, along with MANY posters (and former posters) to BBC, our MAIN contact has been with Nick.

    This was originally on BBC messageboards. I know this blog is about BBC blogs, but I think the experience of the BBC Messageboarders may shed some light on the way BBC treat all THEIR posters and THEIR version of “engagement”. BBC decided to “improve” the Points of View Messageboards and yet NOT ONE single one of the suggestions made by posters (over six months) was adopted, BUT, THREE boards were closed (including Radio!!!!!), a core product of BBC. The posters may ONLY talk about BBC programmes on POV, but if you go to a board on The Archers Boards (a RADIO programme) you MAY talk about ANYTHING including non-BBC programmes. The main “improvement” was to be “closer-aligned” hosting with the POV programme. The first Host said that she was NOT employed by POV programme, and POV is OFF air more than ON. Sightings of POV Production team have been scarce. Since about May last year there have been four or five changes of Host (some “improvement”). Posters have left in droves (thanks to Nick providing useful links to external forums, and being totally fed-up with the Draconian Moderation/Hosting). The POV boards are grinding slowly slowly compared to the vibrant place they were before the “improvements” Nick put in place. They closed the “Digital” board which was where viewers could get advice from other posters or BBC staff – (IN THE RUN-UP TO DIGITAL SWITCHOVER). I am really struggling trying to find ANY “improvement” to report. The Messageboarders were up in arms, but, then Nick just left saying he would not discuss the matter any more. Oh, and MOST of the discussions were held on BLOGS which either the messageboarders didn’t know about, or wouldn’t use. So, a catalogue of secretiveness and non-implimentation of EVEN ONE suggestion from the posters, whilst cutting a swathe through the boards, and alienating posters.

    Looking at BBC blogs, they are following the same pattern, (BBC talking AT posters),and the posters to the blogs are now reacting EXACTLY the same way as the messageboarders did previously.

    I take absolutely no pleasure in reporting the catalogue of non-“engagement” between Nick and Jem, and the messageboarders. And I hope the bloggers do not find themselves receiving the same treatment that BBC meted out to it’s messageboarders, when blog posters find themselves usurped as BBC rush to embrace their new favourite…….Twitter.

  • February 13, 2010

    nickreynoldsatwork

    Unfortunately this thread has become yet another vehicle for John to accuse me of “bullying” and “censorship”, neither of which are true.

    As for the Points of View message boards well these have been discussed exhaustively on both the BBC Internet blog and indeed on the boards themselves so I’m not going to reherse the arguments again (particularly as this seems to be off topic – to my mind anyway).

    Again this is simple and it’s like the conversation about picture quality on BBC HD.

    I took some decisions about the Points of View message board. I talked to the community there and discussed these decisions before and after they were made both on the blog and on the boards. Sadly you can’t please all of the people all of the time and a small number of people disagree with the decisions taken.

    They have a right to disagree. But they don’t have a right to break the BBC’s House Rules, nor do they have the right to abuse me on my personal blog or anywhere else. And if they do I will block their comments – as indeed would anyone else in the same situation.

  • February 13, 2010

    Alfred Hermida

    Thank you all for your comments. While I welcome a vigorous debate, personal attacks are unacceptable. Therefore, I have no option but to disable any further comments on this post. Thank you for your understanding.

  • […] looked at these issues in a recently published study on the impact of blogging on accountability at the BBC. I concluded that: During the period covered by this research, blogging was recognised by the BBC […]

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