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Social media stays Up All Night

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Steve Bowbrick Steve Bowbrick | 17:12 UK time, Tuesday, 2 February 2010


Social Media Week: day two

Rhod Sharp has been a regular presenter of 5 live's Up All Night since he came up with the idea in 1994. These days he presents the programme from his home near Boston in the USA. We asked Rhod some questions about about his use of social media.

How do you use social media on your programme?

I still think the most important social interface we have is our text terminal. People can and do vent their views on all our stories by text and they are read. What has always bugged me about this is that unlike a more streamlined social media interface we cannot text back.

I am thinking of one texter last week who accused us of not covering Scott Brown's sensational victory in the special election for Ted Kennedy's Massachusetts senate seat. He was disappointed, he said. I was disappointed that he clearly vented before he listened, given that we had a live report from a polling station ten minutes after they closed, three commentaries by first rate journalists, and were undoubtedly the first international outlet to report Martha Coakley's concession phone call to Brown at 0219 GMT. I could have called him back to tell him personally, but that would have been taking it too far.

I will also point out that email has tremendous integrity as a two-way street, even if it is not fashionable to describe it as a "social" medium. I have many conversations with individual listeners stretching back years, in some cases.

What are you getting out of it?

I was introduced to Twitter before Obama's inauguration, for which I am very grateful. Its virtues in reporting news as it breaks are now unquestioned, but it is only as good as the cellphone networks. For example, my attempts at Twittering from the Mall were thwarted by the secret service who choked everyone's bandwidth, and by the effect on traffic of my million plus companions all trying to do the same thing.

A year later, we were covering the Haiti earthquake by monitoring the hashtag #Haiti and watching the pictures uploaded to twitpic. It was amazing how quickly a comprehensive picture of the destruction began to emerge, and we could quickly identify and communicate with people who were using satellite internet connections. From those contacts came our memorable interview with Haiti Radio 1 DJ Carel Pedre. Our team in London co-ordinated its posting on the BBC News site, and I was then able to post the URL on Twitter. It was good work all round.

I use my Twitter account to post little teasers for the most recent show, along with a short URL to its iPlayer location. It's not especially interactive but I think less is more in this case.

What isn't working?

My followers can be numbered in the hundreds, which is fine by me. I don't use Twitter to collect followers like so many butterflies on pins. A news programme has to have integrity, and celebrity blogging plays no part in its culture, IMHO. Others differ.

Do you have any editorial or security concerns around your use of social media?

I was reading Andy Murray's Twitter posts in the 48 hours leading up to the Australian Open final and they are truly insightful about the pressures on a star athlete, but also the sheer banality of being on tour. On the other hand private life is what it says on the label, private, so I have relatively few security concerns.

Why do we promote external sites like the social networks? How does this add value for the licence fee-payer

Of course if the BBC had invented either Facebook or Twitter we'd be even more all over them like a rash. They are part of the media ecosystem now, but they are still media brands like The Guardian or The Wall Street Journal and there's a limit to how much anyone in the media should be plugging someone else's brand.

How important is it for 5 live to embrace social media?

I think the question is "how should 5 Live embrace social media" and the answer is, intelligently. Very intelligently.

How do you hope to use social media in 2010?

I'd like to see much more conscious use by the mainstream media of the social media resources. Our Pods & Blogs podcast has been chronicling the rise and rise of social media and what people do with them since 2005 when Chris Vallance, Kevin Anderson (now with The Guardian) and I came up with the idea and as Jamillah Knowles reminds us "failed to come up with a decent name for the segment." We need more recognition of the social media as a beat for our own journalists, and a big one at that. The BBC News User Generated Content team, for which Jamillah works, can only go from strength-to-strength.

Steve Bowbrick is editor of the 5 live blog


  • Comment number 1.

    Bet the BBC didn't expect that sort of response, but Rhod is mostly correct. But then he is not the age group 5 Live want to have as listeners so he had better watch out.........................Thank you Rhod.

  • Comment number 2.

    Rhod hosts my favourite 5Live programme, and usually if I'm up late I'm typically Up All Night, he's a great presenter and his programme is compelling. I'm not surprised Rhod, who's remains a standard bearer for 5Live, isn't a paid up member of the twitteratti so popular among the 5Live Lite presenters.

    Well done Rhod.

  • Comment number 3.

    I don't think the BBC as a publicly funded service broadcaster should be interlinking with private social networks like Twitter and Facebook. All views should be directed to one BBC blog so that all shades of opinion on a particular issue can be scrutinised and responded to. Combining three social networks together distorts an overall picture.

    I'm not anti-USA but often wondered why 'Up all Night' presentations with Rhod Sharp, albeit a very good presenter, always seem to have a distinct USA orientation as compared to the rest of the world. Now I'm aware he actually presents the programme from Boston USA it probably answers the question!

    Can't recall many texts read out either.

  • Comment number 4.

    Very interesting comments and, if I read it correctly, a few reservations. I think Rhod has hit the nail on the head when he mentions the importance of interactivity and engaging in debate as well as the need to manage this new media very intelligently.

    At the moment I think intelligence is lacking in how social media is being handled.

    And on this point, I am in agreement -
    Quote - "My followers can be numbered in the hundreds, which is fine by me. I don't use Twitter to collect followers like so many butterflies on pins. A news programme has to have integrity, and celebrity blogging plays no part in its culture, IMHO. Others differ."

  • Comment number 5.

    Extremely insightful piece. What a blessed relief that R5 still has some proper presenters who are journalistically trained as oppossed to former DJ's, game show hosts and children's presenters. Keep it up Rhod, you are flying the flag

  • Comment number 6.

    It is not really UAN with Rhod as, with the time difference, it is Up All Evening.


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