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From LauraK to NormanS

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Chris Hamilton | 14:09 UK time, Friday, 12 August 2011

Norman Smith is one of the most experienced correspondents on our team at Westminster with a distinguished career delivering incisive political reporting to a loyal and appreciative audience, most recently on the Today and PM programmes.

screenshot of @BBCnormanS twitter account

As he moves shortly to take up the post of BBC News chief political correspondent, Norman will be reaching more of our audience on TV, especially the News Channel - and on the social networking site Twitter, where he is @BBCNormanS.

In fact, like many of the best political reporters, Norman has been active on Twitter for sometime, with a following of nearly 7,000. In his words:

"It's said that Twitter is where the news is, and that's certainly true in political terms - it's a key place for news, comment, analysis and, yes, gossip.

"It can be useful, fascinating, frivolous and daunting, but it's an essential Westminster talking shop and has become more and more important to my job."

He is taking over from another keen Twitter user, Laura Kuennsberg, who is moving to become business editor at ITV News.

Since the move was announced there has been a wide range of comment and speculation about what would happen to her Twitter account. Would she re-label it, taking it and her 60,000 followers with her? Or would she leave it, to be effectively closed, or handed over to her successor?

The debate ranged over who owns Twitter accounts, the blending of professional and personal, the role of "users", and how new it is as an issue at all. Even the front page of the Financial Times got in on the act.

It is a new issue and a complex one, although the reality of the process we went through with Laura was not complicated. Over to her:

"I really enjoy Twitter and having such a smart and lively bunch of followers. But when I decided to leave I was clear that, although I wanted to keep my account and just change the name, it wouldn't be the end of the world if that wasn't possible, and I reserved a new account at @ITVLauraK just in case.

"But I was pleased that fairly swiftly we agreed that I could change the account if I was clear about what was happening and where I was going. And also I agreed to introduce the followers of my account to my successor.

"It was all very amicably done."

To Laura, the chatter around 'losing' or 'taking' followers slightly misses the point: "People who want to find info on Twitter or share or discuss what's going on are definitely savvy enough to choose who to follow themselves."

That's a view we share - plenty of Laura's followers also follow other BBC accounts, so we don't see this as the wholesale "loss" of all her followers.

We see it as a straightforward approach, in tune with common social media practice. It's also a sustainable approach, considering more and more people will be joining us with well-developed social media presences, built up through different roles and at different organisations. BBC News will benefit from those networks and audiences, in just the same way other organisations will benefit when people leave us.

Above all, users, or audiences, are at the heart of what the BBC does, and quite obviously at the heart of social media and social networks. So, as BBC News Channel controller and Newsroom deputy head Kevin Bakhurst put it:

"Our view was Twitter users can make up own minds - and hopefully follow Laura as well as @BBCNormanS."

Of course, as with our refreshed BBC News social media guidance, the pace of change in the world of digital and social media means the position will always be kept under review. But for now we're confident this is the right approach.

Chris Hamilton is social media editor for BBC News. You can find him on Twitter @chrishams


  • Comment number 1.

    Chris, I don't think it's as simple as handing over a twitter account to a successor. Each twitterer (sorry, I guess that sounds better than twit!) brings their own unique flavour to their commentary on current affairs - LauraK certainly would be hard to replace.

    I'm pretty certain though, that readers are smart enough to make the switch if they genuinely enjoyed the commentary.. you're right that trying to control it is not really in tune with the general social media trend.


  • Comment number 2.

    May I assume that PM Cameron will not be disrupting online social networking such as Blackberry Messenger & Twitter during civil unrest - a move that onto itself seemed repressive. Egyptian authorities shut down mobile and Internet services in January during mass protests against then-President Hosni Mubarak, while China is quick to shut down online communication it sees as subversive.
    I didn't really like seeing Cameron follow this line of undemocratic thought in the first place, especially since Twitter-organized Britons were cleaning up after London riots.

  • Comment number 3.

    I recently got my twitter account and it was nice to straight away have direct communication with two journalists; Hiroko Tabuchi and Akiko Fujita instead of telepathy from the past two years. Sometimes I even can communicate with pictures from the internet when people usually request for me to look at them. Anyway from today onwards I hope at least an interview with Helen Boaden and Val Gooding should be possible in the near future. There are many changes occuring today especially when it concerns souls of human beings, the most interesting aspect of the UK to me has always been Mary Poppins and she has always had her own favourite souls. Most probably aspects which I have commented upon are only realised by very few human beings who have the same sensitivity level as me when they live their daily lives.

  • Comment number 4.

    If Mr. Smith could manage more than 'X walks out a door' on twitter that would be an improvement, especially if also sparing the 'X strides like a god' vs. 'X slinks out scowling' that lathers personal agenda over pretty low-rent 'reporting' at best anyway.

    And if the BBC can get its head round twitter as a useful extra tool for as opposed to instead of good journalism, and also not a vehicle for rallying (not excused by 'this is my personal opinion and not...' when the bio is ladled with links to and claims of association with the BBC) that would be nifty too.

    Ta very much.

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 8.

    If quietoaktree fancies living in North Korea, and really can't tell the difference then heaven help him or her.
    I know I won't get a reply, but how can you have someone described as "Chief Political Correspondent" when there is a more important correspondent called "Political Editor"?

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 10.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 11.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 13.

    After all BBC's attention and efforts to make their content more accessible with My Web My Way, I'm quite surprised BBC still haven't found a good way to handle social media for those of us who are not disabled.

    @Bluesberry (#2) - interesting point about governement intervention in social media during times of crisis. I believe that while the risks of coordinated looting etc exists during rare events like the UK riots, it's still probably best for govt not to interfere with disrupting social media access. The last thing the UK needs is Cameron deciding for the public when to stop the flow of information.

    Just reading the tweets about Mubarak's trial in Egypt today makes one realise the importance of on-the-ground citizen journalism.

    On the topic of reporter's twitter accounts, I agree with Craig (#1) above, they each have their own personalities and readers tend to follow the person rather than just the brand them. So good call by the BBC to not interfere with that.

  • Comment number 14.

    Twitter aside, I hope we see a huge leap in reporting quality - LK spent far too much time listing to the snide, back stabbing comments of the Westminster village and then relaying that to us as important politics.

    It is not, and her reports did nothing to enlighten us as to what is actually going on, but just to titillate that handful who are more interested in the gossip than good government or the future of the country.

    A news station that is paid for by the tax payer has no business using such reports as part of main stream news, just so the editors and journalists have a chance of picking up the odd award or better job.

    If you cannot or will not name the source so we, the public, can judge for ourselves, then it has no business being on our screens during main news bulletins - it is probably speculative rubbish anyway.

  • Comment number 15.

    A 50% censorship rate so far. Not bad.

    I will say one thing for twitter; even though all posted must be viewed as being mostly speculation until proven sound (BBC 'news' excepted, evidently), and most certainly coloured by the personal biases of the authors (oddly many BBC staff seem to pop up a get-out-of-impartiality-free card by posting as employees but claiming their employer is nothing to do with it), other than by the author or in the case of grotesque abuse, twitter seems to avoid vast swathes of 'referrals' or removals because the content didn't suit certain narratives.

    Maybe it is a better source. So... why do I need to pay for the BBC and its staffs' re-editted rehashes?


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