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Maintaining standards

Kevin Marsh Kevin Marsh | 15:42 UK time, Tuesday, 16 January 2007

The College of Journalism website - CoJo online, in the office at least - was launched at midnight on Tuesday.

cojo203300.jpgAn odd launch in some respects because, initially anyway, it won't be visible outside the BBC ... though we hope its effects will be. The aim is to add to every BBC journalist's skills, learning and judgement and through that improve the service of BBC journalism to its paymasters, the licence fee payers.

The college and website came about as a direct result of the Gilligan affair, the Hutton inquiry and the report of a senior BBC News executive, Ron Neil ... who, as it happens, recommended a residential college to reinforce BBC journalists' learning. Sadly, a cloistered, towered, Gothic pile somewhere deep in the countryside was not to be. They don't come cheap and the licence fee is, after all, the licence fee. So, a website in cyberspace and a college located above an Italian deli in W12 is what it is. There is no wisteria.

But there is learning in ethics, values, law, writing, broadcast and production skills - films, tutors, scenarios and hypotheticals, articles, podcasts and links. Five hundred pages at the moment and forty-plus films. And it will grow - partly because one of the other main functions of the college and its website is to generate intelligent critique and discussion about BBC journalism and editorial decisions. Did we get it right over the Ipswich murders? Saddam's execution? Pictures of Kate Middleton?

One of the questions that's inevitably asked is - why is it only for BBC journalists? Why can't viewers and listeners see for themselves? Well, as the UK Press Gazette reported it's very likely that it will be an external site before very long - or more probably, parts of it will be.

And when it is, perhaps it'll scotch some of the dafter ideas about the college - like those in the Times... an excellent case study, incidentally, in journalistic tosh with its predictable and misleading 'back to school' image and the - ho, ho, ho - amusing picture of an inky-fingered J Paxman behind a desk (Is this the Beano?)

Our initial focus is - and has to be - on the skills and learning of BBC journalists. It's what all major employers do - offer their staff the best possible learning in their trade. But the argument that, in time, we should share with our paymasters the thinking and learning behind our decision-making is a powerful one. As is the argument that the BBC has a responsibility to play some role in raising and maintaining journalistic standards in the UK - standards which, for the written press at least, mean five out of six people don't trust what they read in the papers.

Before that can happen, though, there is an array of technical and practical hurdles to be overcome. For example, to be truly useful to BBC journalists, the site has to link extensively to internal BBC web pages - an external site would have to have all these links removed. There are also tricky questions about the BBC's place in the journalists' learning market; would a licence fee-funded learning site be fair competition? And so on.

My hunch is that we'll come up with answers to these questions before the end of the year and some part or parts of the site will be made public. Before then, though, I hope our audiences will already have noticed the value of the college and website.


  • 1.
  • At 04:25 PM on 16 Jan 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

How appropriate to locate the school above an Italian deli and not in an ivory tower where you'd prefer to be. It will be take away sandwiches, pizza, and ante-pasta for lunch, not caviar, champagne, and roast venison. Such a pity, what aspiring journalists must sacrifice to learn their profession.

Before you can maintain and raise standards you have to establish them in the first place. Let's hope this includes far greater objectivity which comes from a thorough and not a superficial understanding of the background of a story including its sometimes long and convoluted history and all of its nuances. Let's also hope it insists on a clear deliniation between reporting the news and editorializing on it. And let's further hope the mistakes and shortcomings of the past are not repeated by those whose only distinction is a diploma hanging on an office wall certifying their qualifications and competence.

  • 2.
  • At 05:30 PM on 16 Jan 2007,
  • Matthew Burdett wrote:

So, if the Times says that this project cost £10million, and you say the site features 500 pages at the moment, then using my elementary maths, that means that £200,000 has been spent on each article so far for this project. You mentioned the cost to the licence fee payer... this seems like a considerable amount!!! Still, obviously a price worth paying for honest journalists such as Mr "always right" Van Klaveren who still hasn't got back to us on the handling of the suspect for the Ipswich murders, which again you highlighted in your article. If it costs £200,000 a page, which will improve journalistic quality from the "The newspapers are covering, so why can't we", then I wholeheartedly approve.

I hope the college will do something about the BBC's horrible tendency to add totally irrelevant thumping, drumming or jingles to news headlines, traffic reports and documentaries.

When showing a video news item you don't splash coloured blobs and lines and irrelevant pictures all over the screen. So why do the equivalent to the sound channels?

One of my colleagues suggested that this is a result of hiring too many 'media studies' graduates, who are technicians, not communicators.

What you probably don't know is that one of the effects of ageing is to reduce ability to discriminiate speech from background noises (as my wife and I have discovered). This is not treatable by hearing aids, as amplification does not help. (I can provide pointers to scientific papers.) So this practice is discriminatory, and probably illegal.

Another very annoying habit is constantly inserting advertisements for programs between other programs (often with the volume increased). If I want to find out about forthcoming programs I know where to look: how dare you decide that I should repeatedly be told about things I don't want to know about. I have been a staunch supporter of the BBC licence, and would happily pay more, provided that the quality remains high, and especially because it allows me to avoid having advertisements inflicted on me. If that difference between the BBC and other broadcasters goes, I'll join the campaigns for abolition of the licence fee.

Aaron Sloman

  • 4.
  • At 10:00 AM on 17 Jan 2007,
  • william fraser wrote:

BBC (Bombay Bicycle Club),

About time your journalists and editors were brought into line. How about trying to print the truth rather than the usual biased comments which monotonously flow from your papers. Britain's Socialist HQ you may be, however not all of us out here are of the same ilk. A little more reporting rather than the opinionated drivel would be more in keeping for a taxpayer funded media outlet. More like whores and comics, rather than reporters.

Bill Fraser
Down Under.

  • 5.
  • At 10:42 AM on 17 Jan 2007,
  • chris wrote:

It's bout time the BBC thought about its license payers rather than its self.

Journalism should not be for an elite, it should be for everyone. I'm afraid the days have gone when reporters are the only method of communication and the news.

I write for a citizen journalism website the-latest and citizen journalism is the way forward not aristocratic toffs in rich establishments!

Blogging and the Internet have given power back to the people and stopped this shameful elitist image that the BBC portrays in its news coverage.

Long live blogging!

  • 6.
  • At 10:45 AM on 17 Jan 2007,
  • PeeVeeAh wrote:


Surely, the issues surrounding what not to show - or how not to show it - is essentially an editorial one. You remember; the person who fosters corporate standards and legality of what is put about in graven imagery!

Setting up a journalist - data acquisition - best practice 'bloggiversity', seems a bit askew to the bottom line.

Unless of course, the moves are to get breaking news to the viewer at an ever increasing pace that supeerior(!) review is completely dummed-out of the scoop presentation equation?

The news media arena is an uneven playing field - made more so by the reference standard Beeb middle ground having been left to fallow in the 'personal IT' revolution, perhaps?

Is the setting-up of a learned ivory tower just so much babel?

Train and make time for the editors to do their corporate massage: Don't hobble the sharp-end data capture!

  • 7.
  • At 12:35 PM on 17 Jan 2007,
  • AJS wrote:

People have differing views on the BBC News casting. But not many have differing views on The SUN or many of the other gutter press.

Personally I prefer the BBC reporting to The Daily Bigot. I will let you guess which paper I am talking about.

How about some of the money going to BBC Scotland so it can run an independant service for Scotland rather than one managed from London?

  • 8.
  • At 01:45 PM on 17 Jan 2007,
  • Alex Swanson wrote:

I hope your website includes links to others such as !

Seriously, your top priority needs to be to listen to EXTERNAL voices. Internal navel-gazing will get you nowhere, since experience shows you to be unable even to imagine many viewpoints, never mind understand or represent them.

  • 9.
  • At 02:09 PM on 17 Jan 2007,
  • Andy Briggs wrote:

I applaud the idea of a BBC College of Journalism. Is it too much to hope that it will improve the BBC's standards of written English which, as we can see on the BBC News website, is frequently appalling?

I often complain about basic grammatical and punctuation errors which you wouldn't expect from ten-year-olds, let alone a supposed journalist writing for the BBC.

  • 10.
  • At 04:22 PM on 17 Jan 2007,
  • Bernard wrote:

What a waste of licence payers money. If you reporters learned nothing at University, how did you get your job with the Beeb in the first place?

If you did learn journalism, why do you need to go back to school?

How difficult can it be, to report the facts of a matter. By the way, we do not need your views on the news. Give us the facts and we can make of them what we will, and discuss them amongst ourselves and you can join in then.

You say that you'll be learning about law and ethics amongst other things. Just report the truth, and the law can't touch you. As for ethics, that is a matter of personal opinion. As for the rest, #6 PeeVeeAh said it; leave it to the editors, it's their job after all.

Is this school merely a more efficient way of learning to spin?


Hmmm... A college that can't be seen by 'normal' people where the 'dark arts of journalism are taught?

Sounds a little bit too technical for 'muggles' like me.

  • 12.
  • At 09:29 PM on 17 Jan 2007,
  • Ken wrote:

The BBC will always be under attack whilst it persists in presenting opinionated news reports. Rather than have a college – did you really spend £10million? – the BBC should dispense with its own analysis and comment during news broadcasts. It should stick to reporting facts.

The flagship Ten O’Clock News on BBC1 tv is usually made up of some news, a few interviews consisting of some tiny snippets and a whole load of BBC analysis and opinion. This is where you come unstuck.

For me, I think a publicly funded broadcaster should be a reliable source of straight unfettered news. I also think that politicians that we elected should be given a fair hearing. For instance, if there is a Home Office problem, I would like to hear what the Home Secretary or appropriate Secretary of State has to say about it, and also the appropriate shadows in the other main parties (and occasionally from the smaller parties). Why do we need to hear what a BBC journalist’s opinion is?

Until you restructure your news output I think that a college will simply be tinkering at the edges. For what it is worth, I think you should rely more heavily on agency feeds and only fill the gaps (i.e. Baghdad) where there are gaps to fill. You should brief all your reporters to report on events and not attempt crystal ball gazing, speculation, looking for ulterior motives, innuendo, etc etc. If they are being fed information from an un-named source, then, rather than trying to hint at these clandestine facts, tell the source that you will ignore their information unless they are prepared to be named. Yes, your journalist will lose their source as a result and will lose insight into what is going on, but is that such a bad thing? Would it not help put a stop to leaking, policy kite-flying and using journalists in the political process? Would it not also break up the cosy party between some journos and some politicians who one feels are in a power clique of their own? (Reference Chris, No5, above). I think that the BBC should use un-named sources as a last resort and, when they do, should, as a matter of policy, state this fact rather than weaving, as if by magic, the new information into their monologues.

The BBC should become a beacon of straight facts and will be respected all the more for it. Let us, the licence fee payers and electorate, do the analysis. Just tell us what is going on and we will do the rest. If it rejects unaccredited sources and gives more prominence to politicians’ public (and not private) views, it may also have the effect of re-invigorating politics by giving some power back to the people (through their representatives). This may also reverse the trend for political parties to care more about the media than the electors and result in a higher voting turn out.

By standing down the analysts and second-guessing reporters and those that rely on gossip; by having more agency feeds and less reports with attitude; by giving us more cub reporting and less opinions; by giving elected officials and other players more air time and less to the BBC, the corporation should be able to recoup most of the £10million of our hard earned money spent on this college.

  • 13.
  • At 12:38 PM on 18 Jan 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Instead of running a college of journalism, BBC should attend one. The PBS nightly news would be very instructive and is far superior to BBC World News also seen nightly in the US. In PBS's presentation, each topic for discussion in this one hour format is given about 10 or 15 minutes in which some background of strictly factual information is presented (sometimes from BBC or ITV), and a panel of notable experts with differing views explain themselves in response to the moderator's questions and to each other's comments. The presenters do not express any of their own views or the views of the station on any topic. Too proud to learn from the Yanks BBC?

  • 14.
  • At 09:53 PM on 18 Jan 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Much of what BBC presents as news, we call "human interest stories." They are not hard news, they are anecdotal accounts, the man in the street report. Even when the subjects are not telling lies, at best they give a microscopic view which may not be representative of other events in the same time and place. At worst they are completely out of context badly distorting a much larger truth. This is trash journalism at its worst, it is not the news, it is a substitute for the real news. And for BBC, it's often not a side dish at all, it's the main bill of fare. It is a deliberate attempt to sell a political agenda buy garnering sympathy through human contacts supposedly bringing an otherwise abstraction to a real world level, one of BBC's many tactics. It's a way to garner sympathy for Al Capone by presenting his orphaned children abandoned when he was sent to prision without telling anything about Al Capone himself. I'm on to you BBC.

  • 15.
  • At 03:57 PM on 19 Jan 2007,
  • RC wrote:

I shudder to think what kind of journalists this 'college' will turn out.

Hopefully something a little above the calibre of the contributors to the main BBC News website, in which many of the articles appear to have been written by primary school children.

Perhaps day one of the course should instruct students on when to capitalise the term "Prime Minister", since your current team of journalists can't seem to get that one right?

Being a journalist myself, I am so glad to know that BBC has started collgege of online journalism. since here in my country, Neapl, there is not such college, can this online college of BBC let me be its student?

Don't you think that as a journalist always writes for an audience, the skills they get on a private website are doubtable? Journalist should learn to react to people's needs and expectations. How are you going to ensure that?

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