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Today's messageboards (pt 2)

Jamie Angus Jamie Angus | 15:43 UK time, Wednesday, 15 November 2006

Thanks for all the responses to my posting on Monday about the Today programme's messageboards. I am genuinely sorry some listeners seem to be so upset about the changes we're planning.

The Today programme logoMany people posting have already made up their minds that they will not contribute to the new boards on a point of principle. I think that is a shame. Many note, quite rightly, that Today programme staff have not maintained a presence on the old boards, and that this is not a satisfactory state of affairs. What we are trying to do is host messageboards that relate to the programme; this will mean our production staff will take more from them and put more back in return.

We can only fully support as many boards as programme resources will allow, and as many of you have pointed out, we appreciate that spending licence fee money on moderating these boards means that their use has to be clearly defined, well focused, and relevant to the programme itself.

Board users will still be able to suggest topics for discussion, and there is no sense in which an unreasonable veto will be exercised to screen out "inconvenient" topics, whatever they might be. I urge people who are unhappy with what is being suggested to give the new system a chance - we are making the changes because we want a closer relationship between users and programme producers within the constraints of spending licence fee money.

Radio 4's Feedback programme is also interested in the changes. Our deputy editor Gavin Allen will be appearing on Feeback on Friday at 1330 GMT on Radio 4 to answer questions from listeners.

Comments

  • 1.
  • At 06:39 PM on 15 Nov 2006,
  • Aaron McKenna wrote:

Some people are unhappy? Reading the 33 comments to your own original posting I count perhaps two which are in favour of the proposal. Reading the Today message boards and looking at the commentary on this around the web turns up a similar result. I would say that the vast majority of people involved, AKA license fee payers, are dissatisfied with this.

If the people resoundingly tell you that they want to have open message boards such as that which has existed up until now in the Today boards then perhaps yes, the BBC should devote resources to moderating, maintaining and modernising this service.

The majority of those who use your boards and comment in your blog are against this new working arrangement. If this were most other democratic institutions responsible to the people I daresay a much publicised reappraisal of policy would currently be underway.

Mr Angus,

Feedback will talk, (receive official platitudes), about it on Friday, after the deed has been committed! Same old patronising BBC attitude to complaints.


There is nothing wrong at all with your team starting and participating for the first time in their own threads. The problem is the removal of our own choices of subject to raise. Not many care about your programme. The boards are not open when you are on air after all! Like it or not the Today boards are the general news and current affairs BBC boards, particularly since we were directed there by the BBC when they deleted the non programme linked Great Debate boards. Which served that role previously.

I will give the new system a chance, I have put up with bad BBC autocratic user unfriendly service for years on several boards as they were cut back in hours, or deleted, appalling PC moderation, or software changes, mostly for the worse each time.

You have 5 boards, where is the excuse not to leave say 2 as they are? If your ideas are better the 'old' 2 will wither away.
Mr Angus,

Feedback will talk, (receive official platitudes), about it on Friday, after the deed has been committed! Same old patronising BBC attitude to complaints.


There is nothing wrong at all with your team starting and participating for the first time in their own threads. The problem is the removal of our own choices of subject to raise. Not many care about your programme. The boards are not open when you are on air after all! Like it or not the Today boards are the general news and current affairs BBC boards, particularly since we were directed there by the BBC when they deleted the non programme linked Great Debate boards. Which served that role previously.

I will give the new system a chance, I have put up with bad BBC autocratic user unfriendly service for years on several boards as they were cut back in hours, or deleted, appalling PC moderation, or software changes, mostly for the worse each time.

You have 5 boards, where is the excuse not to leave say 2 as they are? If your ideas are better the 'old' 2 will wither away.

Meantime 50 and counting people will be also using a free and open all hours, even when the Today programme is on air, alternative here.

  • 3.
  • At 08:07 PM on 15 Nov 2006,
  • Marcus wrote:

Sorry, this is perhaps one of the most idiotic proposals that the BBC has ever come up with.

I'm normally very pro-BBC, but I struggle to see why this would benefit anyone but the BBC themselves, and to be honest, if you make the forum awkward and stand-offish, then people will lose interest.

You can't force the conversation, people will talk about what they want to. If you want topics relevant to the shows, there is nothing stopping hosts from creating these anyway, even if it is under a particular topic.

Anyway, I suspect that you will try and justify yourself over and over again and ignore the concerns other than making excuses. These aren't people scared of change just for the sake of being argumentative, it is people angry that without any form of negotiation the you decide that you know best and want to break up an established community.

You've lost at least one poster here. I would say I'd give it the benefit of the doubt, but unfortunately I'm not going to be afforded the opportunity as it will be hosts creating topics.

  • 4.
  • At 09:50 PM on 15 Nov 2006,
  • Old Holborn wrote:

We can "suggest" topics?

How kind.

You suggest that we "give it a chance"?

How ARROGANT.

There will be a change of Government quite soon. I will demand that the new rulers investigate your abuse of publicly funded power.

Your VICHY days will haunt you. You will be unemployable.

  • 5.
  • At 12:05 AM on 16 Nov 2006,
  • paul b wrote:

"Radio 4's Feedback programme is also interested in the changes. Our deputy editor Gavin Allen will be appearing on Feeback on Friday at 1330 GMT on Radio 4 to answer questions from listeners. "

Wihe replys be censored?

Also, we just know it will be blah blah blah: put up with it.

Also: it is not 'some' it is the VAST majority.

If you are a journo then get your facts right.

  • 6.
  • At 12:10 AM on 16 Nov 2006,
  • paul b wrote:

You had better NEVER have another article again about free speech on the Today programme.. If you do then feel free to classify yourself and all your team as hypocrites.

  • 7.
  • At 12:30 AM on 16 Nov 2006,
  • Steven wrote:

"I am genuinely sorry some listeners seem to be so upset about the changes we're planning."

Don't be sorry, just listen to the 90% or so of the people who do not want the boards closed. Then act on the will of the majority.

"We can only fully support as many boards as programme resources will allow."

Well reduce the number of boards, but keep at least one open like the International News board. A text based board does not cost a lot to maintain. I don't think anyone believes this is a cost issue.

"we appreciate that spending licence fee money on moderating these boards means that their use has to be clearly defined"

Well it is quite clear that you wish to define what the news is.I think the title "International News" is quite well defined. International news is not a few topics that you suggest, it is what is happing around the world. Since you are so concerned about using our money in the right way, why not actually listen to what we want? If you won't listen to us now, it hardy gives us confidence for the future system.

"Board users will still be able to suggest topics for discussion, and there is no sense in which an unreasonable veto will be exercised to screen out "inconvenient" topics"

Well we will never know will we? Since it will all be going on behind closed doors. All this "looking at user suggestions" and "deciding which topics to use" sounds like more man time and greater cost. Yet cost is one of your arguments for making the changes. Not that I believe that is the real reason for one moment.

The inability to start new threads will discourage users rather than encourage them. Perhaps that is the intention.

"I urge people who are unhappy with what is being suggested to give the new system a chance"

And I urge you to listen to the people who actually use the boards and pay your salary. Over 90% of users are against your proposed changes. I know, I painstakingly counted them all.

"we are making the changes because we want a closer relationship between users and programme producers"

Yes, that seems to be going really well already. You seem to be from the fingers-in-ears, la-la-la-la-I-Can't-Hear-You school of customer feedback.

  • 8.
  • At 06:41 AM on 16 Nov 2006,
  • Lawrence Jones wrote:

Thank you for the prompt response Mr. Angus. I’d like ‘Feedback’ to establish when the policy change occurred in respect of BBC staff making contributions to the R4 messageboards?

I – along with many other devoted R4 listeners – have contacted ‘Feedback’ numerous times over the last 5.5 years with complaints about the R4 and Today message boards. Almost all my own submissions were accompanied with references. However there was no response from Feedback – not even an indication that R4 and BBC New Media were taking some action to rectify these failings. I hasten to add that the Graf inquiry didn’t result in any improvements either (the report received just three minutes coverage on ‘PM’ after its release – ‘Feedback’ never discussed its conclusions or recommendations. The programme had in fact requested listeners to contact them with important BBC diary dates, relating to radio issues. I contacted them and suggested that the Graf inquiry should be covered in the programme).

In view of the negative result from Feedback, I contacted Miss Jemima Kiss – a journalist with Journalism.co.uk. This is an extract from Miss Kisse’s article article(1):

Janet Morrow, acting communications manager for BBC new media and technology, said: "We are aware of issues with the message boards - primarily caused by the huge growth in their use - and are working to improve the service."

Production staff are not encouraged to contribute to discussion because the purpose of the boards is to encourage debate between listeners, according to Ms Morrow.’

I hasten to add that R4 are just as much responsible as BBC New Media for this MB debacle, with two notable exceptions: Mr. Michael Rosen – presenter of WOM and Mr. Edward Morrish – R4 comedy producer. Both these individuals have always supported the R4 message boards and I’m the first person to acknowledge that.

Sincerely,

Dr. Lawrence Jones

Reference

(1) Kiss J., ‘BBC Doesn’t Get The Message’ Online Journalism News’ June 3rd 2004

Online reference: http://www.journalism.co.uk/news/story927.shtml

  • 9.
  • At 10:03 AM on 16 Nov 2006,
  • the truthsayer wrote:

The discussion, with you, or with some of your team who may comment has kind of broken down from the get-go, hasn't it?

What you're determined to ignore is TONE and AMBIENCE of a 'thing' - which everyone else can see clearly.
The boards were fast,haphazard and idiosyncratic but the (many) new users that signed in understood that implicitly and enjoyed it. Your plans sound like the result of several Editorial meetings and they are simply a dictat from your Editor. That's what we hear. Your team has destroyed something (an easy thing to do) and your proposals do not excite the public you wanted to address. What more do you want on the subject...a vote ?

  • 10.
  • At 11:44 AM on 16 Nov 2006,
  • Sean wrote:

This actually makes more sense than the last posting on this subject, but I still think it's a shame - by cutting out so much of the board the creative pot is reduced so much that the "More focussed" debates become "Tunnel-visioned".

I suppose this will lead to more snappy, predictable quotes which is probably more useful for the show, however debate will drop in quality meaning genuinly good ideas won't make the light of day anymore.

It's signalling the transition from a resource for the public to a resource for the show, which is the show's perrogative, but a shame that the wants of the many are sacrifced for the need of the few.

  • 11.
  • At 11:50 AM on 16 Nov 2006,
  • Pippop wrote:

Well, the spontaneity has gone. I've been reading the same 4 post on one of the sites, re: the hUt, it seems for days. After emailing in for more response it now has 40 odd responses, very hard to digest them all at once. Most seem to be biased in favour of one perspective, the Muslim voice is more dominant there. The intellectual depth is no greater than many of the well thought out posts we used to have on the "Home" board.

Is arid less horrid for the beeb than spontaneity?

  • 12.
  • At 12:01 PM on 16 Nov 2006,
  • Sean wrote:

As an addendum to my last post, I do get frustrated at people who claim this kind of thing is an abuse of "Free Speech"... Since when was it a requirement for the Beeb to provide a vehicle for free speech?

If you want a real forum where people can say whatever they like, set one up yourself. And see how long it is before you get sued :)

  • 13.
  • At 12:04 PM on 16 Nov 2006,
  • Pippop wrote:

What we had before was dialogue, and as with all dialogue it often went off at tangents, some of which were informative, some banal, some offensive and some just plain funny.

What we have now is sort of 6th form college attitude. Please write a nice clear and brief essay on a subject of our well considered choice and if we give you an "A" we will reward you by printing it.

I have a feeling that I shan't be getting any end of term prizes, and many of me mates will be rapping it over by the bike shed, innit?

Nuffin matters unless it chatters.

  • 14.
  • At 12:36 PM on 16 Nov 2006,
  • john moore wrote:

one word..well number "606".
go here and read the feedback to see what the future looks like for your messageboards...

  • 15.
  • At 01:01 PM on 16 Nov 2006,
  • James wrote:

Since when was the BBC there to provide free general discussion message boards? Plenty of things previously done by the BBC have been changed and axed when it was said the commercial sector was doing it, or could do it as well.

There's 1,000s of free discussion boards out there all covering the same topics.

  • 16.
  • At 03:19 PM on 16 Nov 2006,
  • Stalefish wrote:

The changes have turned a lively, dynamic discussion into what looks very like the "have your say" areas of the bbc news site, or indeed this blog.

"Board users will still be able to suggest topics for discussion, and there is no sense in which an unreasonable veto will be exercised to screen out "inconvenient" topics, whatever they might be"

In which case, why filter what can be suggested? Wasn't the old system good enough for that? I don't believe for one minute that this system will take less time to administer than the previous one, unless it has the effect of reducing the number of posts, which seems likely.

A retrograde step. The BBC are behind the times by some years.

  • 17.
  • At 04:30 PM on 16 Nov 2006,
  • Prodnose wrote:

I was most interested to read Dr. Jones’s comments on the changes.

He is absolutely right to raise the fact that it has long been the case that BBC programme-makers have failed to engage with messageboards. If there is now greater engagement then this is to be welcomed but I do not see why this could not happen with old-style boards. In fact the participation of programme-makers with an interest in their listeners is far more likely to keep conversations relevant than prescriptive straight-jacketing of what may or may not be said. Dr Jones rightly refers to Mr Rosen’s excellent contributions to the “Word of Mouth” messageboard which generally keeps to the broad themes of language which the show covers if not, exactly, the precise content of individual programmes.

It also seems that if someone has to sift the e-mails, chose relevant topics and then post these on the board then this will take more time than the new system supposedly makes available.

  • 18.
  • At 05:33 PM on 16 Nov 2006,
  • Themos Tsikas wrote:

The obvious suggests itself: Keep the old style messageboards and introduce, alongside them, your proposed changes. In fact, it is pretty easy for everyone to become an "editor" and produce their own presentation of selected bits and bobs. That's what computers are good at.

  • 19.
  • At 05:37 PM on 16 Nov 2006,
  • jenny wrote:

I never used The Today messageboards, but I recognise the concerns it’s users have about these changes - exactly the same happened to the BBC’s football forums. Can you confirm your decision to stop the public starting threads was made solely by the Today team and not imposed from above?

  • 20.
  • At 06:01 PM on 16 Nov 2006,
  • boroughse1 wrote:

Jim Angus hasnt answered a single response to his blog, other than to repeat the BBC's prepared statement. The very essence of bureaucracy.

I agree with the poster here who says the BBC has lost its right to comment on free speech in the future. The messageboards were a Prague Spring for freedom of speech in the UK. The BBC should have had immense pride in that. Instead they have neither the courage or vision to maintain it.

  • 21.
  • At 08:37 AM on 17 Nov 2006,
  • Lawrence Jones wrote:

Concerning James’ comment (posting 15), private and most commercial message boards don’t have access to the audience-pool enjoyed by the BBC, so it’s virtually impossible for them to survive over the long-term. A private message board would have to achieve a membership of at least 100 regular contributors to stay viable and interesting.

Where are BBC licence payers supposed to go if they’re keen to discuss – in public - the contents of a specific broadcast or programme? If Mr. Rosen and his production colleagues find their MB contributors an invaluable constituent of the programme, then why doesn’t this apply to ‘Today’, ‘Desert Island Discs’, R4 drama, comedy…….?

One tangential consequence of these changes is that individuals are starting to post on the R4 ‘Choice Is Your’ MB, with thread titles such as: ‘Why Are Lefties Losing The Plot’ – clearly nothing to do with R4 programme output. The normal procedure here is for the hostess to redirect them to the Today boards, but she can’t do this now. Consequently, it will simply expedite the decline of the CIY message board – and this will also result in closure.

  • 22.
  • At 03:19 PM on 17 Nov 2006,
  • john moore wrote:

and the arrogance of those ruining these boards is reinforced by having a "free speech" topic on todays debate issues .....

  • 23.
  • At 06:01 PM on 17 Nov 2006,
  • Andrew Norris wrote:

* 16 Nov 2006,
* Sean wrote:

"As an addendum to my last post, I do get frustrated at people who claim this kind of thing is an abuse of "Free Speech"... Since when was it a requirement for the Beeb to provide a vehicle for free speech?

If you want a real forum where people can say whatever they like, set one up yourself. And see how long it is before you get sued :)"

The point is, Sean, that the internet is different, it allows anyone to have their say; not just the opinions of the BBC staff. It should not work like the rest of the BBC (on TV) where it is all controlled. It is against the principles and capabilities of the internet. We have an amazing medium - so let's use it and give everyone their chance to speak too. I can understand why so many people think this is not good enough. As for being sued - simply put in a disclaimer. It's not about the money or the cost - and we can see that. Other boards can do it - why not allow this one? I'm not impressed. This whole thing reminds me of Greg Dyke - where the BBC took so long to admit they made a mistake.

  • 24.
  • At 07:03 AM on 18 Nov 2006,
  • John Hall wrote:

606 totally skewered and now Today goes. Where is the forum for free speech espoused by the BBC, when the Great Debate was taken away from us. At the time of the Exodus, regular Today MB users were assured that the tone would not change and that it would be protected. This is pure control-freakery. The only decent option left to us is to go to the James St George board. As for consultation - We DON'T BELIEVE YOU ANYMORE. And that is possibly the worst conclusion to be drawn about the BBC and its news and production values today. When an organisation acts so shiftily in its own cause, what might it do when put under firm government pressure?

  • 25.
  • At 07:48 PM on 18 Nov 2006,
  • john moore wrote:

...and then comes the silence and the communication stops..and dont bother making official complaints..they just get lost ....

  • 26.
  • At 11:59 AM on 20 Nov 2006,
  • amoeba290 wrote:

Well, it's now Monday, 20th Nov. The new M/Board system is not working well (for posters, that is). In this context, "focus" means the same as "limit", and amounts to an unacceptable censorship of free speech. As others have noted, the "Today" M/Board is one of the nation's premier instant discussion sites, and is funded by the taxpayer. This should mean that posters should have at least one board where THEY choose topics for discussion. OK, maybe we didn't need all the five boards that were previously available, and I can understand a logistical need to restrict posts that are effectively about the same topic, but the new "directed" board is a clear attempt to set the agenda that "fluffy", metropolitan-based politicos and journalists wish to see, rather than a genuine reflection of the views and concerns of "ordinary" people.

With the modifications I suggested, let's go back to the old system, please.

  • 27.
  • At 02:30 PM on 21 Nov 2006,
  • Pippop wrote:

amoeba isn't this slooooooooow. Its killed dialogue. And you yourself might well have passed away since you last wrote in, if so I send my condolences.

But it IS providing jobs for the new young recruits who are after a sound bit since their rusks have been taken away.

Do you think that the long, long wait between comments is because they are having their nappies changed?

We all know this is a batty but temporary state of affairs.

The BBC just threw out its washing machine and bought a tub and a mangle, for a laugh, apparently.

The messageboard functionality has fallen into a hole between competing budgets, but will be restored once the money is found, which it has to be if the BBC is to hope to function as a grown up online presence.

So when will this happen, Jamie? Surely you don't think that it can go on like this indefinitely?

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