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Feedback: Closure of The Archers' Messageboard

Friday 15 February 2013, 15:54

Roger Bolton Roger Bolton

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton, presenter of Feedback

When I was a BBC executive I had little patience with those who said that "there is so much more to the BBC than programmes." I was tempted to put a notice on my desk which said "It's the programmes, stupid".

That was in the pre digital age. Today I would still keep the notice but I'd consider adding a rider - "and the digital conversations that result."

My possible change of heart is due to my experience this week chairing a discussion on the upcoming closure of the Archers' message board and the furore that resulted.

On the face of it, not too many people are affected.

It's reckoned that only 1,000 people each week contribute to that message board and that perhaps around 10,000 visit it each week.

However for those people it is a vital part of their lives and many feel outraged that it is being taken away from them. The BBC says that with a reduced income  it has prioritised  providing new services such as the ability to download more Desert Island Discs programmes and 900 editions of Letter from America.

Twenty years ago not many people would have forecast that radio would still be central to so many millions of lives here in the UK and that its audiences would increase and not diminish.

(By the way I'm delighted that the BBC Director General  designate, Tony Hall, has decide to call the new boss of radio, Helen Boaden, Director of Radio, not of Audio and Music).

Who would have forecast that the Archers would remain so popular?

I'm a little surprised that I am feeling anxious for Lillian and even a little sorry for Matt. I do hope Elizabeth doesn't bankrupt herself over Lower Loxley, and dream that David will whisk Ruth off for a dirty weekend in Paris. (Actually I'm dreaming I would whisk Ruth off!)

I'm just off to explain to my wife it's not Ruth - it's the Geordie accent.

Roger Bolton


Roger Bolton presents Feedback on Radio 4.

Listen to this week's Feedback
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The Archers

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  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Feedback has been targeted by an internet flash mob hell-bent on forcing the BBC to retain a messageboard that is viewed by few. I urge the BBC not to be swayed by these keyboard generals and their foot soldiers. The "Village Hall" seems like a nonsense to me. If people want information on alcoholism, mental health issues, cats, dogs, birds etc they can simply type the words into a search engine.

    Making over 900 Letters From America available to download was a good idea. Alistair Cooke v Mustardland is no contest. The right decision would appear to have been taken.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    nice try Nigel but you are fooling no one.

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    Comment number 23.

    I'm neither a general nor a footsoldier, newlach, but I'd never be foolish enough to say that just because I didn't see the point of something it should be got rid of. Your comment makes even less sense than Nigel Smith made on the programme.

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    Comment number 24.

    I was furious at the attitude of the automaton defending closure of the Archers message board on Feedback yesterday (I shouted at the radio!).
    The caller from Brighton was right on the money. How much money will the closure of this board save? If Mr Smith will not give the actual monetary saving in £s then Roger Bolton should ask / have asked him what % of his total budget the board costs. We can then see whether this represents a significant or insignificant contribution to the 25% budget cut he has to achieve.
    Surely once it is set up the cost of running the board is a few watts of electricity.

    I also think that the BBC should not be actively promoting the use of commercial companies such as Facebook or Twitter (as on Any Answers for example). Perhaps Feedback could ask about this as well.

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    Comment number 25.

    I assume the Archers’ programme must have experienced a large cut in its budget, otherwise their messageboards would have closed down at the same time as the R4 MBs (April 2011) [1]. Mr. Smith was incorrect to suggest that R4 programme makers, controllers, commissioning editors and producers are interested in listeners’ views. I posted on the R4 radio boards for 10 years – 10000 postings with about 5 removed – and there was only one R4 producer/broadcaster to post regularly with helpful programme related comment (Ed Morrish – no disrespect meant for ignoring titles) and Winifred Robinson. None of the last three R4 controllers, Helen Boaden, Mark Damazer or Gwyneth Williams placed one identifiable posting during the whole lifetime of the R4 radio boards. Despite regular pleas, support from R4 for the Drama, Arts, Woman’s Hour and Science (I’m a Ph.D engineer from the manufacturing sector) messageboard was non-existent. Where were all these female science enthusiasts that Ms. Debora Cohen cited on Feedback recently? Where were all the female producers (60:40 female/male ratio on R4) who – presumably like me – have been devoted radio enthusiasts since the age of 3?

    Other questions:

    1. Why wouldn’t Feedback help the R4 radio MB contributors when they appealed to the programme for help after the closure of these boards was announced? Why are Archers’ fans always regarded as a special case?
    2. Why does the 2013 service licence [2] still include the paragraph:

    ‘Radio 4 should facilitate and support the growth of communities of interest around its output and enable them to interact with programmes and with each other online’.

    3 Why hasn’t Feedback investigated the ban on posting about BBC radio policy on the ‘Points of View’ messageboard?

    4 Why should responsible adults support commercial networks that host illegal activity on a regular basis on unsecure networks? Apart from this, ‘Twitter’ is an inappropriate medium for reviewing radio programmes.

    5 If alleged low posting levels are the issue, then why hasn’t the Radio 4 Blog been closed down [3]?


    [1] See: http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbradio4/NF2766774

    [2] ‘Radio 4 Service Licence’ The BBC Trust January 2013 p6 (available on line)

    [3] Russ, ‘Feedback – Closure of the Archers’ Messageboards’ February 15th 2013 posting 13

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Good morning from Germany.
    I listened to Feedback yesterday, Nigel Smith was embarrassingly poor.
    I suppose these Messageboards have grown into much, much more than whoever started them ever realized they could be. For me personally they are a window on what is going on (yes, even after 30 years and dual nationality) 'at home'.
    Merely reading the topic list in The Bull often gave me a new idea to research for my lessons; in an average week I will be teaching English to around 400 (just a 'handful' after all) adult Germans - among them many opinion-formers and Captains of Industry. Through The Archers Message Boards I was able to be up-to-date with not only topics but also language. (The word 'pants' as meaning bad, for instance. How on earth otherwise would I have known that?)
    Of course, that's not really the BBC's job is it, to be an influence for good in the wider world?
    Reminds me of this week's lessons, where we had the topic The Commonwealth. My Germans have been very perplexed.
    "But what's it for?"
    They all ask. It's hard for me to explain, but in the back of my mind has been that saying about people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

  • Comment number 27.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Good Lord, not seen Lawrence since the closure of a general board years and years ago - but this is not the kind of interaction suitable for a blog, is it? Only a messageboard where people can actually speak to one another.
    Now, I don't know how much it costs to maintain TA boards - Nigel won't tell us - but I do know something about music rights, so even with a deal, the DID back catalogue must have cost rather a lot to set up. Can we have figures as to the number of people who have accessed that, and LFA, since those programmes were made available on the archive, please? In the same month as the figures quoted for TA.
    If you follow this up on 'Feedback', I wouldn't hold my breath when you ask Nigel to come back to answer our points.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Ref Joe / 19

    Nail / hammer / hit: 'traffic' per se is more important than content of messages to the BBC beancounters. Ticks boxes. Very sad. So if there were 1000 messagesa and ALL the messages were scathing, would that still be chalked up as successful 'engagement'? You have a horrible feeling that in Interactive City, it would be.

    I would be VERY interested to know what Helen Boaden thinks of that invertebrate performance by her [current] Interactive Editor and his 'championing' of BBC engagement with the biggest single radio audience in the entire BC spread?

    We are talking own goals here: of all the audiences Mr Smith could have decided to pick a fight with, the Archers audience is the one I would think twice about, and then twice again. 'The Archers' goes very, very deep in the Radio DNA of UK [and abroad, judging by how far afield the DTA mb spreads its net], and IMO, this is a serious tactical mistake.

    Instead, the BBC ought to embrace the eccentricity, celebrate it, USE it, and if necessary grit teeth to accept it because it is a mark of their sense of the way they have invaded the psyche. VERY surprised at what they have done indeed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    I wrote to BBC Complaints. Here 'tis, for what it's worth:

    BBC, you should be proud of this message board. It is used by some wonderfully witty erudite people who make up a strong section of your core audience. Discussing The Archers adds to the experience of listening to the programme and after each episode I can't wait to hear what others think. I have no intention of joining either Facebook or Twitter, neither of which is suitable for in depth discussions. They are commercial operations and I do wonder why you push us in their direction.

    Apart from The Archers, there is the chance to talk about any subject under the sun for the purpose of fun, friendship, shared experience, lending a listening ear to some troubled person etc. All of this takes place in a safe secure environment i.e. OUR BBC.

    I believe that BBC On-Line costs a monthly average of approx. 70p per household? Surely this message board must take up a fraction of that? This is a wonderful asset and an irreplaceable resource that you seem to want to throw away. It should be expanded not destroyed.

    Please re-consider your decision.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Thank you for a sensitive response. Like so many say, the board is much more than TA: it is the best source of collective wisdom on any topic that I have ever experienced for a start

    No one who has visited these boards on a regular basis will forget the people here, the interaction, support & downright fun they have all provided

    Nor will I forget the camaraderie & unity shown in these last days! If the BBC has anything to congratulate themselves about it must surely include the hosting of such a community of listeners

    Cheers nesta

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Let us run it ourselves in the spirit of volunteering.It is a BBC message board still and we love it and want to keep it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Lawrence Jones (25) raises two very important questions:

    "Why wouldn’t Feedback help the R4 radio MB contributors when they appealed to the programme for help after the closure of these boards was announced? Why are Archers’ fans always regarded as a special case?"

    The truth is that criticism should be levelled at whoever took the anomalous decision to privilege the Archers' messageboard by extending its life. Many quality programmes lost their messageboards some time ago and their wasn't a pip out of Feedback. It seems that someone with backbone is now in post who will not be deterred from doing the right thing irrespective of the vexatious activities of cyber archers and veteran insiders.

    23 ourthora

    I suspect that a keyboard general is behind a link to this blog. Normally, the contributions to Feedback blog are of the highest order. I see clear evidence of a campaign designed to derail a fair decision taken by the BBC.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    I am one of the 10,000 rather than one of the 1,000. I love having the Archers messageboard as a witty complement to what is lets face it a pretty dire soap opera which is for most of us more of a habit than an active choice. I cannot believe that the money saved by axing the board will go anywhere near the cost required to put all those editions of DID online, and find it bizarre that it the two things are even compared and offered as a choice.

    The board is a wonderful example of BBC connecting with its audience, and of the audience in turn repaying the BBC by making a dull show interesting. The decision to axe the the board is very reminiscent of the decision to axe BBC radio 6 ... a demonstration of a total lack of understanding of the rich cultural value of so much of what the BBC has to offer. We really don't appreciate how lucky we are to have the BBC with all its variety and sadly those who appreciate it the least appear to be making the decisions.

    Borneomom put it so well earlier - the penny pinchers at the BBC really know the price of everything and the value of nothing.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Firstly, thank you to Roger and Feedback for allowing some of the Messageboard members to have some dialogue with the Interactive Editor.

    I think that Interactive Editor is a very appropriate title. 'To Edit' means to cut down, doesn't it? So Mr Smith is there to cut down interactivity. Well done, Nigel.

    What actually had me throwing the radio at the wall was the argument 'The Archers is the only programme to have a messageboard - so therefore it must go.' WHY is it the only programme with a messageboard? Come on - someone must remember. Oh yes - the BBC have shut all the others, one by one, and directed the 'refugees' to go and post on The Archers' site. No wonder we were often 'off-topic'.

    By the way, Nigel - cards on table here - I am over 50 and have always LOATHED 'Letter from America'. Straight to the OFF-Switch for me. And I will never want to listen to a Desert Island Discs for the second time. Thanks for consulting me on that. When I get rid of my under-used TV set, I shall stop paying the Danegeld that is financing this irrelevant nonsense.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    newlach you have a lot to say to Roger Bolton why not listen to others.We are here because we are making a last stand for message boards.I have moved and moved many times as the BBC have shut down various communities over the years.Finally ending up at The Bull which has been a great source of information and a comfort through troubling times.Why shouldn't us licence payers have somewhere to interact? I watch fewer programmes on the BBC these days as I suspect many others do too.But the BBC started these sites and just because the trend is twitter and facebook they don't want them any more.It was said they shouldn't do things the private sector do but they spend half their time these days promoting the private sector the least they could is keep a tiny board going from their massive annual budget.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.


    Thank you for trying to get Mr Smith to answer questions eloquently put to him by MLers

    I have made many friends through the ML boards and have gone to an ML friend's daughter's wedding as well as met many lovely friends

    I also enjoyed the erudite discussions about the Archers which is a part of my life

    NOBODY interrupts me between 7 and 7.15pm

    I will really miss the companionship and love on the boards

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Newlach, I don't know who on earth you are, but you are, very, very clearly, not someone that's even bothered to go and look at TA message board, in particular The Village Hall. If you were and you had, then you'd understand just how crass, cold and downright insulting it is when you say

    ''If people want information on alcoholism, mental health issues, cats, dogs, birds etc they can simply type the words into a search engine. ''

    The MH thread isn't 'just' about information. It's about support, from everyone who uses it to the other users. It's about them helping each other through some very difficult times. And it's not the sort of thing that can be replicated by putting words into a search engine. Jeez.

    As for message boards being a 'thing of the past', what a load of old cobblers. If message boards were a thing of the past, companies like Proboards wouldn't be pulling in seven figure incomes hosting the things, would they.

    This isn't about a message board, it's about a community. The BBC is nuts to do this; they have something in that message board that young executives worldwide try to create and fail miserably. You can't make, build, create, force, hothouse or otherwise grow a community. It happens by itself, it's an organic, living, breathing, evolving entity. To simply shut that down is insane, not least because it's a very desirable part of any business that does anything online.

    To add insult to injury, Tayler Cresswell and Keri have joined a message board belonging to one of the posters. Could it be that they're going to use what's there, take peoples comments and move them over to FB or Twitter?

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Afraid you have got it completely wrong. So called 'Mustarland' is not for the good of mankind, it is a jaundiced one side clique of ferule back-slappers who protect each other's point of view by manipulating a very pooor set of 'paid' modertors, who have the PC correct garbage written stone on what is left of their brains. Assuming they ever had any. Sooner it's closed the better. ONE BBC Messageboard, maybe, moderated by human beings 'may' be worthy, but I doubt it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.


    Yet another who is missing the point of a community of real people who care for each other via a messageboard


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