Last updated: 26 june, 2010 - 15:45 GMT

Audience impact

Audience interaction is central to the way that BBC World Service operates, but the enormous global response to news of the death of Michael Jackson in June 2009 went beyond all expectations, and flagged up new approaches to the story for the BBC's news agenda.

Remember the time

Michael Jackson impersonator in New York

The BBC received thousands of messages from Michael Jackson fans and impersonators across the world following his death.

Audiences play an increasingly proactive role in broadcasting. They inspire interactive multimedia debates on the issues which matter to them, across all languages of BBC World Service. But it is not often that they help identify a new approach to a story or encourage music on to the airwaves. The death of Michael Jackson proved to be an exception.

Within hours of the announcement in June, the BBC had received more than 10,000 messages from fans. What had started as news reporting of a celebrity death quickly turned into an on-air, online memorial, as thousands of listeners across the world posted comments, left messages and requested their favourite songs.

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Online surge

Fans of Michael Jackson in an Ivory Coast village visited by the singer in 1992

There were messages from Michael Jackson's home country, where fans, celebrated his birthday in Prospect Park, New York, and from people across the globe – fans like the women holding banners of Jackson in Krindjabo, an Ivory Coast village visited by the singer in 1992.

But there was a twist. The audience was flagging up the cultural, inspirational and racial significance of Michael Jackson. His talent transcended boundaries and this aspect of his life was worthy of greater exploration in our news coverage.

BBC Brasil – primarily an online service, available at click – was among the services to spot the impact of Michael Jackson's death early on. Senior News Editor Juliana Iootty explains: "It was easy to promptly identify the huge demand for the story. As the news broke we had more than one million page impressions for one item alone.

"Our video of La Toya Jackson paying tribute to her brother was viewed nearly 171,000 times in the space of three days. In our experience, the majority of the internet audience in Brazil is young, aged between 10 and 34 years old, and therefore eager to consume entertainment news. But even with this knowledge, the reaction exceeded our expectations.

"We guided our coverage by providing the public not only with the hard news aspects of the story, but also identifying side stories and features that could draw the Brazilian public's attention. And because it was such a visually-led story, we created picture galleries and video content which were also very popular with audiences."

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Unprecedented reaction

Ros Atkins, presenter of click World Have Your Say, is used to audiences setting the agenda, but was initially surprised by the approach that listeners were taking.

"I was working the day that Michael Jackson was acquitted on charges of child molestation. Our audience was outraged and defensive in equal measure, and when I saw that TMZ was reporting that he had died, I expected those allegations to again dominate how our listeners would react.

"They didn’t. Instead, the emails, tweets, blog comments, Facebook posts and SMS messages coming in all that Friday were an ever-expanding demonstration of the extraordinary reach of this man's music."

It wasn't Neverland, the failed prosecution, the heavy spending or even Bubbles that people were talking about. All over the world people were listening to Michael Jackson tracks and talking about how that music fitted into their lives. So we did the same.

Ros Atkins, World Have Your Say presenter

World Have Your Say on Friday 26 June began with messages from the likes of Brando in Sudan, Dino in Mauritius and Dudley in the Turks and Caicos Islands. It also spoke to reporters from BBC Chinese and BBC Persian about their audiences' reactions.

"We even took a call from Antarctica," recalls Ros. "He’d been playing the song Bad all day."

The programme did speak to people who had reservations about the way Michael Jackson had lived his life, but Ros says they were in the minority, "because they were in the minority around the world".

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Tributes and memories

BBC World Service received thousands of comments in numerous languages, but this sample below from the World Have Your Say blog gives an indication of the way audiences were feeling.

"He was a great entertainer and while he didn't solve the world's problems, he was a man who brought joy to millions all over the world. It is easy to underestimate the value of that." UK

It's sad to hear of the loss of Michael Jackson. He is one of the greatest icons in the music industry. He will be cherished in the heart of millions of fans, including me. We all miss him dearly


"For most American women born between 1958 and 1964 Michael Jackson was our first boyfriend. He looked like us, sang to us, was the same height and cute. Our generation did not have someone in our age group to fall in love with. I mean there was Donny Osmond and a heap load of white teen sensations, but they 'could not use our comb'. One girl told me 'I was going to marry Michael Jackson' and I realized that it was not just a little black girl's dream in America, it was an international dream." US

"I think it is okay that so many people all around the world morn [mourn] for him. He didn't live for himself, he lived for all of us… I feel like I due to morn for him. His music is a great gift for me – I spent so many wonderful hours listening to it." Kazakhstan

"I still remember when I was just 10 years old in 1988, I had a picture of MJ. I wondered about his talent. I was dreaming of having that kind of a talent and image in my country (Sri Lanka) too." Qatar

For people who weren't white but lived in the West, sportsmen and entertainers were the role models of the 70s.

Location unknown

"When I first heard Michael Jackson in the eighties, through his famous songs like Billie Jean, I couldn’t utter an English word, but like many fans I was thrilled by the rhythm of his music and voice. He filled the lives of many young people. Even those who couldn't speak a word in English were charmed by his style and art." Morocco

"When listening to Thriller, Billie Jean, Bad etc I remember the good times we had, the moonwalk attempts (hilarious); basically I remember myself 30 years ago." Malta

Salaam. His song, You Are Not Alone, managed to enlighten some of the darkest moments of my life and for that I'll shed a tear for him today


"The world has lost the greatest entertainer ever and he can never be replaced or emulated." Jamaica

"Growing up in Nairobi, Kenya, in the late eighties and early nineties with only one radio station to listen to, Michael Jackson was a phenomenon. His fame and achievements warrant attention – he not only rose to be a mega star, but he also broke through the racial and colour barrier in the USA and his music became a unifying factor in a much segregated country. Let's give credit where it is due and what better way to do so than to pause a bit, set aside the Irans, Afghanistans and Iraqs which have become part of everyday discussions and salute talent which was hard earned." Kenya

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