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A new guru

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:26 UK time, Friday, 9 June 2006

I’m pleased to announce I’ve just been officially promoted to the status of Guru.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteYou may not have heard about this elsewhere, but on the blog of the newspaper editor’s conference which I spoke at in Moscow this week, I was designated as the BBC’s “interactivity guru”. Now I didn’t want to quibble publicly but I have a feeling that those in the department who know more than me about interactivity might be a bit bemused at this, outraged even. So, apologies to them for my sudden elevation.

But I must say it’s quite a cool title.

What else did I learn from the conference? There was an impressive and varied cast list, ranging from Vladimir Putin to Google News, so here are some snippets:

• President Putin emphatically did not agree with the conference’s view that freedom of the press in Russia leaves a lot to be desired. You can read his response here. You can see from his expression he wasn’t impressed.

• Most major newspapers are now extremely serious about their websites and digital services. From what was arguably a slow start by many, they are now taking notes from us and others who got ahead early. My feeling is we’re still among the leaders in many areas – particularly AV and breaking news, where I think it will take them longer to catch up. But we can’t be complacent.

• “Convergence” was a much-used word. Listening to people like the Washington Post describe their plans, it struck me that they are almost a mirror image of ours. As a broadcaster we do audio and video like no-one else and have added what I think Emily Bell once called “a rampaging global online newspaper” only recently. The papers, on the other hand, already have global brands for their text services and are now busy getting to grips with AV. But for all of us, one of the keys to survival will be how good we are at integrating the old and new bits of our operations, changing the culture of our organisations and providing a seamless offering to users

• Starting each day early with a working “editor’s breakfast” and ending it with a networking event fuelled by free vodka makes for a rather punishing schedule

• Google News don’t want to be editors, or publishers. In an attempt (only partly successful) to allay the fears of the assembled editors, they described themselves as computer scientists and said their main interest was to get people OFF their site as quickly as possible, to the news sources they list. Product manager Nathan Stoll (who looked alarmingly young to me) said their aim was to work with news organisations, to give people greater diversity of information and “to make readers passionate about news”.

• News agencies hope to have a guaranteed future in the changing media world, because, according to AFP’s Pierre Louette, “content is king, and we deliver it”.

• Microsoft have developed new software which they say will make newspapers (and text in general) easier and more fun to read online. They’ve developed something called “Times Reader” with the New York Times which eliminates scrolling, adapts to fit to any screen size and has clearer fonts. Bill Hill, head of advanced reading technologies at Microsoft, delivered his speech in ponytail, beard, kilt and sporran, which I thought made it doubly impressive. You can read about it here.

Aside from the guru designation, how did my speech go down? Well I managed to answer one questioner who quizzed me in French, which was a bit of a personal triumph, but that aside, the gist was that BBC News is doing more with interactivity than most other major news organisations, particularly when it comes to integrating it usefully into our journalism, which for me is the acid test.

But they also got the message that to do this well needs resources and commitment.

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