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Blog on blogging

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 08:30 UK time, Wednesday, 16 April 2008

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...

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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.

Rory Cellan-JonesThe 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.

Comments

Blogging about blogging has been covered far more and better elsewhere.

There have been several "successful" bloggers that have not resorted to "loudmouthed knockabout" in the UK and abroad. Rory seems to be stuck on Guido Fawkes, which I wish people would stop paying attention to. Three top, top UK bloggers spring instantly to mind for writing thoughtful, intelligent and well-sourced blogs - successful surely on any measure (other than number of readers, which seems to be the BBC's sole criterion):

- Ministry of Truth (.me.uk)
- Daniel Davies (d-squareddigest.blogspot.com)
- John Band (.org)

I do wish the media would stop paying attention to look-at-me Westminster gossip blogs (and Iain Dale). There is far more out there on the UK blogging scene, and it sounds like Rory simply hasn't found the good stuff.

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And what are the health risks attached to *not* blogging? The more friends a person has, the longer they live on average. Blogs are not just a way of spouting one's views off, but also a way of building social networks and attempting to understand the world around us. "Blogging kills" is a pretty stupid note to end on, and is fairly indicative of the BBC's shameful sensationalist technology illiteracy.

  • 2.
  • At 09:48 AM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • LANDO wrote:

In regards to the name for Stephanie Flanders blog you could have 'Stephs Bloganomics'

  • 3.
  • At 10:50 AM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • David Wilson wrote:

Stephanomics sounds fine to me!

  • 4.
  • At 10:51 AM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • Hywel wrote:

Stephanomics, surely...

  • 5.
  • At 10:59 AM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • JeffM wrote:

How about Flandering About?

Let's be hones about how economic predictions get published.

  • 6.
  • At 11:11 AM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • Anonymous wrote:

With regard to a catchy name for Stephanie Flanders' new blog, wouldn't "Stephanomics" suffice? It'd seem like the worthy successor to "Evanomics"!

  • 7.
  • At 11:23 AM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • David Williams wrote:

How about Swanderings?

  • 8.
  • At 11:24 AM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • Les wrote:

Hi Diddily Ho!
Its obvious!

Stephanie Flanders..............its gotta be Ned! Stephanie 'Ned' Flanders! Okily Dokily!

... and incidentally, Evan proposed a perfectly reasonable name: "Stephanomics".

  • 10.
  • At 01:03 PM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • Andy A wrote:

For Stephanie's blog, how about 'Stephanomics'? Or maybe 'Flanders on Finance'?

  • 11.
  • At 01:04 PM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • Bedd Gelert wrote:

I think it is wrong to thing of 'blogging' and 'reporting' as two different activities within the BBC.

I have had to upbraid journalists within the BBC and the Telegraph for poor grammar on 'blog posts'. Their excuse is usually that a 'blog is more conversational'.

Fair point, but the same standards of grammar, clarity and, dare I say it, impartiality, should apply. Of course, that does not mean one should not have a 'personal opinion', but one has to then give some 'airtime' to those with a view which is different, or be willing to give a response if someone feels a reporter is being unfair to one party.

Justin Webb and Mark Mardell do this admirably - and I learn more from them than from much of the 'churnalism' which is, I'm sorry to say, becoming a feature of even serious papers like the Guardian and the Telegraph these days. The latter in particular is going to rue the day it switched dosh from foreign bureau staff to taking news from bloggers and from ITN 'web-telly' snippets.

The newspaper world has to wake up and smell the coffee, or they will be toast in a few years time...

  • 12.
  • At 02:06 PM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • Marko wrote:

Blogging doesn't necessarily have to be associated with a single personality. It might be useful to depersonalise, where a number of individuals contribute. E.g. Politics - Nick Robinson, with the current custodian on the subject mentioned second.

  • 13.
  • At 02:28 PM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • Ewan wrote:

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.

It would be interesting to know what you think those risks are; I'd have thought you only stand to gain by engagement with this segment of the audience, and for two (main) reasons:

- Firstly, the techy/geeky/sciencey/hacker community is not one that's been particularly well served by the BBC in recent years; it's rare that a reporter even on the Ten O Clock news can get through a technology story without making at least one huge howler. It's about time time we got some reporting that's not pitched at lowest-common-denominator levels. Or you could just bring back Tomorrow's World :-)

Secondly, we're a rather useful resource. If you blog a story before you broadcast it you can be pretty sure that you'll hear about any omissions, inaccuracies, or other points of view and fold them into the final broadcast report.

Now is a bizarre time to be wary of this community; tech stories like the iPlayer, like Phorm, like the whole debate about 'piracy', are crossing over to the mainstream news as technology affect more and more of everyone's daily lives, and not just those of the enthusiasts.

We need decent reporting, and frankly, you need our help. What is it you're afraid of?

  • 14.
  • At 03:47 PM on 16 Apr 2008,
  • Dan wrote:

About time too. The beeb should be at the forefront of this kind of journalism. It takes the guesswork out of blogs.

Onwards and upwards say I.

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