Blog on blogging
We do a lot of blogging these days in the Business and Economics unit. Peston's Picks, Evanomics, now replaced by our new Economics Editor Stephanie Flanders (we'll need a catchy name for her new blog if you have any ideas please…) But our technology correspondent and multi-media blogger Rory Cellan-Jones has reminded us that the act of blogging wasn't, and still isn’t, entirely uncontroversial even here at the BBC. This is his blog on blogging...
By Rory Cellan-Jones
"Should the BBC encourage its correspondents to blog? What should its attitude be to controversial posts on staff's personal blogs? And does too much blogging give you a heart attack? Three questions I've been pondering lately.
The first comes as a result of reading a piece of academic research written by a former colleague, Alf Hermida, who has now gone to a better place as a journalism professor at the University of British Columbia. Alf's paper is called The BBC goes blogging: Is ‘Auntie’ finally listening? (pdf link). It documents an extraordinary change of heart by BBC managers about the idea of blogging, from suspicion and scorn - in 2003 one website editor argued "They are an interesting phenomenon, but I don't think they will be as talked about in a year's time” - to enthusiastic embrace.
It strikes me the initial concerns were twofold - that nobody would be interested in our blogs so they would be a waste of a correspondent's effort, and that they would threaten our impartiality. But the blogs have attracted plenty of readers - Robert Peston's Peston's Picks gets a million page views a month - and they've done that without descending to the opinionated, loudmouthed knockabout which was previously seen as the prerequisite for success in this arena.
What blogging does allow a broadcaster to do is to cover stories that would never make it onto the airwaves, and, in my case, to engage with a different and very knowledgeable audience. Mind you, that's bound to be a minority audience and the danger is they become a distraction from the job of reaching the mass of licence-fee payers. Alf Hermida suggests that the BBC bloggers need to do even more to have a conversation with these people - I think there are risks in getting too involved.
And what about the blogs that some BBC staff write in their own time but where they identify their employer? At a recent internal seminar on this subject, I was taken aback at how wide the gap was between the different views on controversial posts on personal blogs. One group that I would characterise as the digital libertarians felt that just about anything was permissible in the interests of openness - including one blog post that informed readers of an easy way to hack the iPlayer. Another more conservative group – mainly like me from a news background – was aghast at this willingness to flout every BBC code, from impartiality to commercial confidentiality.
And as for those health risks, a recent article in the New York Times has reverberated around the blogosphere after it chronicled the sad plight of a number of technology bloggers who have become addicted to posting at all hours of night and day. Three had suffered heart attacks, two of them fatal. I read this article at 0730 GMT on a Sunday morning, then noticed a new development in the Microsoft story, and fired off a quick blog post before breakfast.
So yes, blogging can be a rewarding activity, both professionally and personally. But beware of the threat it can pose to your health and to the BBC’s reputation."
This article first appeared in the BBC's in-house magazine, Ariel.