18 Months of Blogs (Part 2)
Part Two: Editorial Dilemmas and the Future
Earlier this week, I posted a brief history of the BBC Blogs Network and provided some insight into the technical dilemmas we've faced since launch 18 months ago. Today's post looks at the editorial challenges.
I don't believe that every BBC television or radio programme or personality should have a blog, nor do I know of anyone within the BBC who would want this, yet hardly a week goes by without at least one request for a new blog.
There's a process for the proposal of new blogs which, currently, doesn't capture whether or not our would be bloggers have what the Guardian's Emily Bell calls one's "inner blogger". Without an author who has a "drive to blog", a blog that looks great on paper ends up lacking in substance and appears soulless.
Many people don't have an inner blogger and not every BBC presenter, reporter, producer or editor wants to blog. Indeed, there are some who think the BBC shouldn't be blogging at all. For example, earlier this year, the BBC's Senior News Correspondent Kate Adie said to a blogger:
"... journalists shouldn't have any time to blog - there are too many stories waiting to be told!"
Adie has a point - blogging does take time - but I disagree that it necessarily takes time away from more fruitful journalistic and production activities. In fact, I'd argue that, where blogging is an integral part of the process of journalism or production, it's quite beneficial to both the final product and audience's understanding of it.
In November 2006, in a lengthy post titled "What's the Point of TV and Radio Blogs?", I explained that blogging would:
- Allow us to join in conversations about the topics we cover and programmes we make
- Bring some of the BBC's best and most widely recognised talent closer to their audiences
- Make it easier for journalists and programme makers to gain exposure to and learn from the knowledge and experiences of our audiences
- Make our editorial decisions and policies, as well as our production values and techniques, more transparent and those who make them more accountable
These remain the core reasons why the BBC Blog Network exists and, because our blogs each tend to have a different style, voice and audience, they each tend to focus more or less strongly on each of the goals above.
"He actually comes over as being quite like how he is on TV, which is to say that he seems to be a happy-go-lucky, decent bloke. All in all, the kind of chap you wouldn't mind spending some time in the company of."
There have also been many less obvious, but no less important, more general successes - some of which have brought concrete changes to the content and services we provide online and on-air. For example:
- The first use on bbc.co.uk of embedded videos from youtube and other video sharing websites took place on the blogs
- The BBC's first experiments of one-click links to add pages to social bookmarking and recommendation services was on our blogs, with all BBC News and BBC Sport pages now carrying such links
- We first started experimenting with the use of third party photo sharing sites such as Flickr as a way to ingest and manage audience photo submissions on the blogs, a technique now used more widely
I've bookmarked many other examples, as well as bloggers' reaction to some of what we've been doing, here.
In addition to having recently commissioned a technical review of the infrastructure behind the BBC Blogs Network, something I wrote about on Monday, many people around the BBC have recently been taking stock of the blogs they're responsible for and thinking about the future for them.
People do, of course, define "blog" in many different ways, but most bloggers I know tend to see their blog not just as a publishing tool but as a tool enables a one-to-one or many-to-many conversation. One way to do this is via the comment facility at the bottom of each blog post.
Steve Herrmann, Editor of the BBC News Website, is enthusiastic about some of the exciting things he's seen on the BBC News Blogs, but admits that:
"Responding to comments consistently across the blogs continues to be one of the biggest challenges for all concerned."
Another way to engage in the conversation is to seek out and link to the thoughts and content of other bloggers - and here, except for in a few examples, we're doing pretty poorly. The preliminary results of the technical review being conducted by Headshift has revealed that only about 1 in 8 posts on a BBC Blog link out. Based on the many conversations I've had with the BBC's bloggers, only a handful utilise tools like Technorati to proactively track and engage in conversations their blog could be a part of.
So we're pretty good at using blogs as a publishing platform. But we're not doing as well as we could engaging with the conversations our blogs could, and in many instances should, be a part of.
We also have some difficult challenges ahead. We need to refresh our current technical infrastructure, and improve the way we deal with comment spam and engage with legitimate comments. We need to ensure that ideas for good blogs make it through whatever editorial approval process is required whilst keeping the bad ideas from seeing the light of day. We need to close some of our less well looked after existing blogs, the ones which don't benefit from the nurturing hand of someone with an "inner blogger".
In the coming weeks I expect to be able to return with some more insight into the technical review and resulting recommendations I've alluded to in this post.
We've been canvassing opinion (with the unexpected affect that one of our internal sessions affected the output of a flagship BBC News programme) both inside and outside the BBC. Now it's time to hear from you.
What sort of blogs do you think the BBC should, or shouldn't, do in the future? What process do you think should be applied in making those decisions? How might we improve the way we use our blogs not just to publish content but to participate in the wider conversations taking place around BBC content and the topics and stories we cover?
I look forward to your thoughts...
Robin Hamann is a senior community producer.