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Why editors should shut up!

Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 09:26 UK time, Tuesday, 20 June 2006

We've had a string of visitors to our morning meetings lately, from across BBC News.

Radio One logoMost of our visitors say the same things - but I was struck by one recurring theme. You don't say much, do you Rod? That's true and neither do other senior editors. It's not that we've struck dumb by some terrible creative vacuum that's hoovered all original thought out of our heads - it's a deliberate policy to take the dread out of those early morning brainstorms.

OK - why do we do it? Aren't editors supposed to have all the good ideas and be generally, sort of, in charge? Editorial grip, like?

Yes they are - and they do. But not, I would argue, at the expense of giving everyone a say and acknowledging that the best ideas often come from the most junior - least experienced and least jaundiced - staff.

We're also responding to a bit of feedback. Previous staff thought our process was a bit "scary" - not that there was shouting down and bullying - just that the pace was fast and furious and some people were left feeling pretty bruised. Some developed thick skins - others stayed schtumm.

We also did a bit of work with individuals on idea selling, positive posture, voice authority, confidence, eye contact and preparation - what's your killer opening pitch? What's your follow up to the knock-down question? How will you bounce back and not limp off into the corner to lick those raw ego wounds?

At the last count we've done this with no fewer than 24 individuals in the current Newsbeat and 1Xtra TX team and publicly encouraged the rest of the team to overcome their fear of "seniors".

There is one more key element in all this: The Audience is the real - though absent - Editor. The best ideas come from our belief that the audience is central to everything we do. Audience research, listener panels, real interaction with real people in their daily lives makes such a difference to our journalists' creativity. Their editorial judgement is centred in the audience's interests. Don't spend too much time talking to other journalists.

Does it work? Well, we're certainly not missing any stories this way - if the rest of the team haven't spotted something important, we can chip in at the end. And there's plenty of time to re-shape the unworkable or idea afterwards, but quite honestly this system doesn't produce those. In fact, it's far more about nurturing the genuine spark of brilliance from a young journalist - and not just the hacks, either. Some of our best ideas come from our broadcast assistants and admin team.

I was shocked by a recent conversation with a BBC lawyer who told me that when they had spoken in an editorial meeting they had been frostily told "we don't expect lawyers to get involved in this sort of thing". Whatever next? The audience chipping in with a request for story coverage!

Well, I'm asking for it - from our journalists and other staff, most of all listeners (we do this too) - and even the odd lawyer if they're passing. Always good to get a different take on Celebrity X-Factor, anyway.


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