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17/09/2014

Feedback: Closure of The Archers' Messageboard

Friday 15 February 2013, 15:54

Roger Bolton Roger Bolton

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Roger Bolton Roger Bolton, presenter of Feedback

When I was a BBC executive I had little patience with those who said that "there is so much more to the BBC than programmes." I was tempted to put a notice on my desk which said "It's the programmes, stupid".

That was in the pre digital age. Today I would still keep the notice but I'd consider adding a rider - "and the digital conversations that result."

My possible change of heart is due to my experience this week chairing a discussion on the upcoming closure of the Archers' message board and the furore that resulted.

On the face of it, not too many people are affected.

It's reckoned that only 1,000 people each week contribute to that message board and that perhaps around 10,000 visit it each week.

However for those people it is a vital part of their lives and many feel outraged that it is being taken away from them. The BBC says that with a reduced income  it has prioritised  providing new services such as the ability to download more Desert Island Discs programmes and 900 editions of Letter from America.

Twenty years ago not many people would have forecast that radio would still be central to so many millions of lives here in the UK and that its audiences would increase and not diminish.

(By the way I'm delighted that the BBC Director General  designate, Tony Hall, has decide to call the new boss of radio, Helen Boaden, Director of Radio, not of Audio and Music).

Who would have forecast that the Archers would remain so popular?

I'm a little surprised that I am feeling anxious for Lillian and even a little sorry for Matt. I do hope Elizabeth doesn't bankrupt herself over Lower Loxley, and dream that David will whisk Ruth off for a dirty weekend in Paris. (Actually I'm dreaming I would whisk Ruth off!)

I'm just off to explain to my wife it's not Ruth - it's the Geordie accent.


Roger Bolton

 

Roger Bolton presents Feedback on Radio 4.

Listen to this week's Feedback
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The Archers

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Comments

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  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 1.

    Roger, we need the support of people like you to help us save Mustardland.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 2.

    Thank you to Roger and the Feedback team for featuring the messageboard closure. And thank you to the ML representatives for doing such a good job.

    I am afraid Mr Smith has totally missed the point. His comment about the DID archive being a replacement was ridiculous. And his presumption that all Mustardlanders are 'older' listeners is incorrect. There are many younger contributors to the board. Some of us joined while still at school or university.

    It is a wonderful place. I will be totally bereft without it.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 3.

    Thank you Roger. We also have a petition on going at the moment that will be sent to the Minister of Culture amongst others. At present over 1000 people have signed over 3 days and we expect more over the weekend. The messages of support there are wonderful and the BBC should really read them and think again.

    The last thing the BBC needs at the moment is to alienate its audience even if we are only 10000 people

    The petition is still open at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/454/969/491/stop-the-closure-of-the-archers-message-board/#sign

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 4.

    Dear Roger, I did get the feeling during the broadcast that you were coming to an understanding of what it is which makes the "Mustardland" boards so special. I wonder, I really do, why ten thousand is deemed so very small a number to be throwing out into the street.

    I know he wouldn't tell you how much the closure is prejected to save, but I can't help wondering how many pounds per person we spend on some of the Big Name broadcasters who don't give anything like as much pleasure (the radio being on in the backgroiund while people wash up) as the boards have given to so many ever since they started up.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 5.

    There is so much more to Mustardland than responding to The Archers. The Village Hall is a support lifeline for many people. People with mental issues, alcoholics and those in recovery, cancer sufferers and copers. People suffering from stress and those trying to loose weight. Cat lovers and dog lovers, birdwatchers, cooking, coping with the menopause...I could go on and on. ML is the one true online community hosted by the BBC and its all going to be thrown away, in order to save £????. We don't know because it refuses to disclose any information.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 6.

    "However for those people it is a vital part of their lives and many feel outraged that it is being taken away from them. The BBC says that with a reduced income it has prioritised providing new services such as the ability to download more Desert Island Discs programmes and 900 editions of Letter from America."

    Obviously Archers listeners and messageboard contributors too elderly to use Titter & Faceache will be completely placated by such a tempting offer.

    Thank you btw for the way you chaired today's discussion of the closure of the messageboard today. What a shame you had to use a work experience lad to put forward the party line.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 7.

    As I said on the Archers message board earlier, though I enjoy Desert Island Discs and sometimes listen on Sunday and Friday I have never felt the need to listen again to any of the programmes. have a lot of people expressed a wish to go back and listen to editions from 20 years ago? Thank you very much for featuring the closure of the boards on Feedback. The Archers is more than a programme, it is a British institution and the message boards for this programme, if for no other, should remain.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 8.

    Very much appreciated your firm request to Mr Smith to remember that licence payers wanted to know how much the BBC would save by closing down the Archers message boards. Not impressed by his stuttering reply - first that he didn't know, and secondly that we are not entitled to be told.

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 9.

    Thank you, Roger, for your balanced chairmanship and support for the Mustard messageboards, and high praise to Steve and Penny for their articulate and well thought out defence of the boards. I can't say the same for Nigel though.
    I would think that 10,000 visitors is quite a good number. Not many people really use message boards, whereas many people use Facebook and Twitter but they are completely different and for much shorter messages.
    The many benefits of Mustardland have been mentioned already. I was rather surprised at Nigel saying that we don't talk about the Archers all the time. Actually, The Bull is the village pub in Ambridge (has he ever listened to a programme?) and when you go to the village pub you talk about just about anything under the sun. Which is what we have been doing, and thoroughly enjoying.

    As a result of this closure people will lose friends, and the support they got from several threads like the cancer one and the mental health one, and the knowledge that whatever serious question we needed to ask or get help with, there was nearly always someone around who could help us out, and quickly too. So it has been educational as well.

    We may lose people and a connection with the outside world, very much a lifeline to many, but I fear the BBC will lose listeners and support by making this choice.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 10.

    Excellent blog post, Thank you and Feedback, for featuring the Archers Message Board closure scandal and giving Mustardlanders a fair hearing. I also appreciated your sadly vain attempts to get some substantive information out of Mr Nigel Smith about the reasons for his decision. You seem to be an Archers fan yourself, and were you able to lend further support to our cause it would be very welcome.

    I feel compelled to say I was vastly unimpressed by the defence of his decision by the man himself, who apparently has a job title of 'Interactive Editor' but who seems to believe erroneously that most TA listeners are old, and that the listening needs of the older person are best catered for by providing us with a back catalogue of ancient programmes. That breathtakingly ageist viewpoint, doesn't bear much resemblance to reality as I know it, and one would expect an Interactive Editor to have been interactive enough to establish the reality before making what is clearly a unilateral decision.

    Thora

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 11.

    Hello Roger, I haven't yet listened to the programme but will catch up as soon as I can. Reading others posts I am picking up a stone wall in the form of Mr Smith who seems completely oblivious to our concerns and who stoutly maintains his premise that there are not enough users any more and the money needs to be diverted to providing back copies of desert island discs and letter from America. Forgive me but I find this utterly extraordinary. Without wishing to denigrate listeners of those broadcasts I find it astonishing that he appears to be prioritising them over a loyal following of ten years or more, a community which has matured together and still picks up new users. For the mustardland community the facility is a way of life. There is no way, absolutely no way, and I cannot emphasise this enough, that the ridiculous twitter or juvenile Facebook can replace the unique boards that have been a part of my life for so long. It is a corner of the Web I love to inhabit as it is wholly specialised to my particular secret fetish, all things archers. Part of the fun of listening to the broadcast is in wondering what discussions will ensue and taking part with old friends, as I actually have few IRL as they say, and there's an admission! It will detract from my enjoyment of the show and no longer being able to use the tried and trusted format is leaving me quite anguished. Whatever happened to consultation? Even the coalition do that!

    I fervently hope that this makes a difference as I feel as if I have heard that an old friend has a terminal illness. I really don't know what I am going to do without it.

    There may not be many of us in Mr smith's eyes and I find that so unbelievably cold. Surely there are no more desert island discers or letter from America listeners than us. I implore him, please reverse the decision.

  • rate this
    -3

    Comment number 12.

    I thought Mr Smith acquitted himself well in the interview with Mr Bolton. He wasn't as fluid and relaxed as was, say, the Controller of Radio 2 who got a grilling a couple of weeks ago on the programme, but his argument was solid. Although he could not reveal the exact costs involved in maintaining "Mustardland" it nevertheless seems reasonable that in response to great budgetary pressure he chose to axe something that affects few listeners.

    It would not be difficult for someone to set up an online forum where people could discuss the Archers. Finally, too much time has been devoted to the Archers over the years on Feedback. In the interests of fairness and balance I suggest a moratorium on Archers stories until 2015!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 13.

    Number of regular posters to Mustardland: 1000.
    Number of regular posters to R4 blog: 4 (oh, alright then, 5)

    Let's run throught those figures one more time...

    Russ

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 14.

    Thanks Roger and the editorial team for such a balanced debate, giving scope for both sides to make their points. What quite shocked me was the underlying ageism evident in Nigel Smith's comments - why does he think over 50's necessarily like either the self-satisfaction of DID or Alistair Cook's American essays? Does he think we're all just waiting for God?

    I'll bet when he's 50+ he'll discover to his amazement that he hasn't morphed into a lowbrow pensioner, eating soup and listening to the most undemanding programming. We're still part of the same socio-cultural mix that we have always been, complete with our iPhones, tablets and Chromebooks.

    Vanessa Whitburn has come across as dismissive in the past but this was worse, indifference verging on contempt for the ML folk. Thanks for broadcasting it.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 15.

    I haven't had a chance to Listen Again so I may have misheard, but it seemed to me that the excellent point about the message boards being a great resource for the BBC that other companies would kill to obtain was interrupted with "but couldn't you get that from Twitter and Facebook?". If so, you missed the point. The BBC already has all this information at its fingertips without alienating people who pay their salaries. Both Twitter and Facebook have dubious reputations. Why hitch the BBC star to them? Admittedly it's a bit tarnished now by the high-handed way the closure was announced.
    Incidentally, has any Suit ever admitted to being wrong when challenged on Feedback? Whenever I've listened (today included), complaints have been swept aside with a smug "Auntie knows best" attitude.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 16.

    Roger, I want to add my thanks to you for today's programme. Congratulations to the Mustardlanders who contributed and did a great job.

    I listened with ... er ... interest to Mr Smith's performance and when he talked about making available the back catalogues of Desert Island Discs and Letter From America for us I laughed out loud in incredulity. He must have a very strange picture in his head of who we are as people.

    He said he could not make public "his" budget for on-line services.

    This information is available on the web for all to see:

    How the licence fee was spent in 2010/11
    The BBC used its income from the licence fee to pay for its TV, radio and online services, plus other costs:
    Online service
    £0.66 per month per household.
    Total spend £199 (6%)

    Surely Mustardland must take up a minuscule proportion of that?

    I'll be very sad to see the message board go and feel deep sympathy for the more needy of our unseen friends who can always find a sympathetic ear on there, when phoning a conventional help line would be OTT or phoning a personal friend during unsocial hours would risk annoyance.

    If there is anything you could do to help our cause - well, thousands of loyal listeners would be very grateful.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 17.

    Oh no!

  • rate this
    +4

    Comment number 18.

    Since no two-way discussion between the listeners to TA (and those who use the TA message board) has taken place. I just wonder what if any two-way discussion took place to determine listener's view on whether they wanted to be able to download ancient editions of DID and LFA?

    Is there any significant need for such a facility - bearing in mind that the BBC already has a radio station intended specifically for broadcasting repeats of such ancient programs and which - judging by the frequency with which the same programs turn up year after year after year - is rather short of programs to broadcast. If that station is short of things to repeat, let them do more DID and LFA.

    I for one am sick of having the 84th chance to hear again, repeats of Paul Temple. Les Miserables, or Kenny Everett at Capitol Radio. Yet sure as eggs... Year after year these programs seem to turn up. As for Letter From America. It's like listening to ancient news broadcasts... Being largely American news, it wasn't that interesting the first time around and is even less interesting now.

    Possibly of interest to the odd - sometimes very odd - media-studies student, but I suspect most BBC listeners won't go near them with a barge-pole.

  • rate this
    +5

    Comment number 19.

    When the closure was announced, one of my first reactions was "who is this Nigel Smith?". Having heard his performance on Feedback, I am still wondering. When was the decision taken? Presumably well before Monday's perfunctory announcement, so he must have had plenty of time to prepare his case. Why, then, were we subjected to a stream of stonewalling and condescension? "No you can't have a message board - shut up and listen to some old editions of Desert Island Discs" was the gist of his "defence". Extremely insulting to the audience.

    As for the refusal to put a figure to the "savings", I admit to being totally mystified. Why is such information not public? Is it possible that this was merely a pretext? Any organisation should be glad to have such a wealth of detailed customer feedback on tap; how much will it cost to get that information from outside consultants? Twitter and Facebook are no substitute for the in-depth debate possible on a message board - unless the only criterion is volume of traffic, regardless of content. "Never mind the quality, feel the width"?

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 20.

    Reply to newlach:

    You're too kind to Mr Smith. He wasn't relaxed at all and if there were budgetary pressures he wasn't prepared to give any detail as to what they were.

    If anyone was convinced of the budgetary case for closure by that sorry performance, then they are very easily satisfied in my opinion.

    Thora

 

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