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Happy birthday to us

Jonathan Baker

is head of the BBC College of Journalism

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We're marking a small milestone at the College of Journalism this week - the fifth birthday of our website. It was on 17 January 2007 that BBC journalists first had the chance to sample this extraordinary online facility.

The site was created by Kevin Marsh, who joined the College after a long career on the frontline at BBC News culminating in editorship of the Today programme, along with a team of able colleagues who brought both editorial and technical expertise to the project. 

Kevin was clear that the site should not only be for BBC journalists but by them as well. Many journalists have an instinctive suspicion of training in any form, believing that people only need it if there is something wrong with them; they don't want to go back to the classroom.

But they are happy to learn and take pointers from senior practitioners who they respect and admire; people who speak with the benefit of experience and proven talent.  

That's why so much of the material on the site is presented by some of the BBC's most senior and prominent journalists - people like Huw Edwards, Allan Little and David Shukman. Other sections are presented by the people who do the job themselves every day, and who speak with credibility and authority as a result.

Learning craft skills is at the heart of the site, but its ambition extends beyond that - to ethics, standards, the law and the sort of basic background information that helps people to tackle difficult and sensitive subjects, such as reporting religion or the Middle East. And there is topical debate about current coverage and developing themes in the wider craft of journalism.

By early 2010, the fruits of all this were made available to a much wider audience when everyone in the UK was granted access to the site. At the same time, the BBC Academy reached agreement with Oxford University Press to sell subscriptions to the site around the world.

The number of users shot up as a result and now averages between 80,000 and 90,000 page views a month, with about 40,000 unique users.

What that means is that there are far more people using the site from outside the BBC than there are inside. They are individuals, other media organisations, and all sorts of media trainers.

But the content remains concentrated on an internal audience of BBC journalists, still a sizeable constituency of more than 8,000 around the world. It's great that others can benefit too, but the primary purpose of the site, as for the College of Journalism as a whole, remains to help BBC journalists to do their job better.

Those who use the site value it highly, but we still have a job to do in bringing it to the attention of more people, both within the organisation and beyond. There are still those who have only a vague awareness of the site, or who have visited once or twice, and have perhaps not been able to find what they were looking for and abandoned the search.

To address these problems we are now redesigning and relaunching the site. The plan is to make it brighter and more attractive, easier to find your way around, and more dynamic and responsive to events. New content will be offered in different ways: fewer of the longer films; more short, easily digestible chunks which give users greater flexibility in how they use it.

Whether or not we succeed, you'll soon be able to judge for yourself. Come and visit - and let us know what you think.

Jonathan Baker is the head of the BBC College of Journalism.

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