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Richard Sambrook | 19:42 UK time, Tuesday, 5 June 2007

CAPE TOWN: One report of the discussions here at the World Editors' Forum had the surprising headline that the BBC's director of global news got his news from the social networking site Facebook rather than the BBC's own news services.

Well, not quite. But sites like Facebook, My Space and Twitter are presenting the editors of the world's newspapers and broadcasting stations with a real challenge. I was invited here to talk about the BBC's approach to what's awkwardly called User Generated Content or citizen journalism.

In some ways it's simple. News organisations have always interviewed eye witnesses to events and used their pictures if available. Technology now means people can e-mail their experiences and pictures in their thousands to us, and they do. Equally, for decades the phone-in has been a staple format for many radio stations, allowing the opinions of the public to be given a platform. Today, the same thing can be achieved by running blog comments alongside news coverage online.

It's in the area of what's called networked journalism that the biggest opportunities may lie. Whatever subject we choose to report, someone in our audience - let alone the collective wisdom of the audience - will know more about it than we do. If we can use the new technologies to embrace their expertise it can only strengthen our journalism, and hopefully our relationship with the public.

But doing so is more complicated. Editors at this forum are worried about how to verify what they are offered, and how to pay for it, let alone how to make enough revenue to support their organisations. Looking ahead there's wide agreement that where today they are talking about blogs, tomorrow it will be the networking sites like Facebook which is currently enjoying huge growth. And yes, last weekend I did join it.

And in 48 hours I had connected with the editor-in-chief of Reuters, two internet entrepreneurs in the US, a couple of newspaper columnists and a number of the BBC's own staff. My colleague Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC's technology correspondent, has also joined in the hope of understanding this new phenomenon although, as he reports, with mixed results. For news, however, I will still rely on the BBC.


  • 1.
  • At 09:01 AM on 06 Jun 2007,
  • JG wrote:

You may still rely on the BBC, but the real development IMHO is the ability to read around a story by using blogs and personal pages on myspace etc. Because of the TV-tax, the BBC has an enormous reach, however, in many peoples eyes, its output is deeply biased (left-wing, PC etc) and blogs give us a chance to check the facts for ourselves. We can see a breaking story on the BBC, and then go on the find out all the bits you have left out or put through the BBC spin machine.

Now of course, you can't rely on blogs to be accurate either, but the best blogs seem to be written like scientific papers, whenever a statement is made, it must be backed up by a link to the original source material.

This new way of checking must be a good thing IMHO, it will force the BBC to be more accurate and comprehensive in its coverage.

  • 2.
  • At 10:46 AM on 06 Jun 2007,
  • Bedd Gelert wrote:

Mr Sambrook, The irony that you could have given your opinion on this topic without increasing your carbon footprint shows you haven't quite grasped the power of this new technology as well as you might have.

And the whole article reads like a self justifying 'networking' exercise with a questionable benefit. My real concern is that you are promoting my deranged scribblings with the description of 'citizen journalism'.

I may be a citizen but I am certainly no journalist, I just have an opinion, and I would really hope that you [Director of Global News, fact fans, in case two mentions weren't quite enough !] would never confuse the two concepts.

  • 3.
  • At 05:23 PM on 06 Jun 2007,
  • Johan wrote:

It's uncanny how a big article will appear on Slashdot (technical blogs) and between one and four hours later the same story will be reported on the BBC technology section. Are your journalists clutching at straws for sources or just slow typing them up?

  • 4.
  • At 05:45 PM on 06 Jun 2007,
  • Ms Clapham 2007 wrote:

A poke from Richard ..Good God !
how could a girl resist please invite me to be your friend

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