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Value of citizen journalism

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 13:31 UK time, Monday, 7 January 2008

Text messages and e-mails from our audiences have brought a valuable additional aspect to our journalism. But how much attention should we pay to people who care strongly enough about an issue to send a message? They might either be typical of a wide part of the audience or perhaps just a tiny vocal minority.

In a speech I gave earlier today at the University of Leeds' Institute of Communications Studies, I discussed some of the issues about what is termed "user-generated content". The text of my speech is below, and I'd be interested in your thoughts about the issues.

Citizen journalism - for the 1% or the 99%?

Ten days ago, just hours after the death of Benazir Bhutto, we considered turning off the comment recommendation facility on that story on the BBC News website. It was only a fleeting suggestion but that we could consider, however briefly, freezing this important part of BBC News’ service tells you something about the power and the potential danger of the new intensity of the interaction between the contributing public, journalists and audiences. And it raises the question of how much attention and resource news organisations should devote to this rapidly burgeoning aspect of our journalism.

Let me explain more about the Bhutto response. As is usual after major stories, our team quickly put up a Have Your Say forum to get reaction to her death. As you probably know there is a facility for users to recommend comments that previous people have posted. Here are a few of the top half dozen comments, with the number of people who eventually ended up recommending the views.

"That's the way politics works with The Religion of Peace". 828

"Religion of Peace strikes again." 717

"Is this another example of the wonderful tolerance for which, or so we are constantly being told, Islam is famous?
Its time the rest of the world stopped making excuses for this barbaric, dark ages way of life and completely condemned the casual brutality continually perpetrated by so many of the religion's supporters.
" 565

The vehemence and the unanimity of these opinions against the Muslim religion were striking. So why did we briefly consider freezing this forum? A small part of our thinking was that in the context of the death of a significant international figure, who was herself Muslim, we thought that the weight of remarks could be offensive to some users of the BBC News website. Might some readers believe that such views as “most recommended” represented an editorial line by BBC News? I suspect not, but there was at least that danger. But our real question concerned the editorial value of the comments and how far they should influence our coverage more widely. And the answers to that were: very little and hardly at all.

The top 20 or 30 recommended posts all had variations on the theme, attacking Islam in comprehensive terms. Most of them weren’t making distinctions between different aspects of Islam, they were simply damning the religion as a whole. To be honest it was pretty boring wading through them and wouldn’t have added much to anyone’s understanding of the causes or consequences of the assassination. Buried amongst the comments however, rarely recommended by others, were insights from those who had met Benazir or knew her. And there were valuable eyewitness comments from people who were at the scene in Rawalpindi. Our team that deals with user content sifted through the chaff to find some excellent wheat.

And of course in the end we didn’t cut off that Have Your Say forum. The BBC has made a commitment to listening to the views of its audience. And I have no doubt how any attempt to down-play or disregard their comments would have been seen – as censorship and a conspiracy by the BBC to prevent their strongly held views.

Of course in one sense it is very useful to understand the strength of feeling on this issue amongst our audiences, the majority of whom as far as we could tell were from the UK. That’s something we will bear in mind in covering aspects of Islam in future. But do I believe that those views were not truly representative of the BBC’s audiences at home and abroad.

This brief recent Bhutto example throws up some pretty fundamental questions for those who argue for organisations like the BBC – the so-called “mainstream media” - to be much more responsive to audience interest and comment. Should we have given over a significant part of our website or our analysis programmes on Radio 4 to consideration of whether Islam is a religion that is inherently skewed towards violence? Or were we right to concentrate our journalism on reporting and analysing the life on Benazir, how she came to die and the political consequences? I hope that most people would agree with the choices that we made.

I begin with this salutary tale not because I wish to undermine the significance of public contribution to journalism on the BBC. We have already invested significantly in it and have plans for much more, which I will outline later. But I want to argue that the somewhat messianic and starry-eyed way in which public participation journalism is argued for needs some very careful consideration. And there are many different aspects of such journalism, with varying degrees of value.

Assessing how much effort and weight journalism based on public participation should receive is a very timely one for BBC News. Two months ago we underwent a significant re-organisation that brought old media and newer media together. And it put our efforts around public participation, what we call ‘user generated content’, centre stage.

Previously BBC News was organised around four main departments: Firstly, our newsgathering team that organises our correspondents, crews and bureaux in Britain and the world. Newsgathering largely supported the two broadcast output departments – TV News and radio News. And lastly there was a separate News Interactive department which ran our web and interactive services, but which did not have the full power to be able to call on content from our largely broadcast-focused operations.

Now newsgathering delivers for all platforms. We have abolished the three output departments, replacing them with two new multimedia departments – a multimedia newsroom that is responsible for the core of the BBC News website, our daily TV News operation (BBC One bulletins, BBC News 24, BBC World, BBC Breakfast) and our radio news summaries and bulletins. Alongside that is a multimedia programmes department with responsibility for interviews, investigation and analysis in our current affairs programming – through radio 5 Live, Newsnight, the Today programme, Panorama and so on.

Within the multimedia newsroom department, for which I have responsibility, we are now preparing a major physical re-organisation to accompany the structural changes. All of the key daily news teams in radio, TV and the web will be seated alongside each other next to the people who run the newsgathering. And close to the middle of that operation will be our User Generated Content unit. It will be right alongside the newsgathering teams that deploy our conventional journalistic resources. And the UGC team will be deploying and receiving our unconventional journalistic resources – information and opinion from the audience.

When that information is received and assessed it will be passed immediately to our journalists on any platform and will be on air on News 24, Radio 5 Live or on the site as soon as possible. The UGC team have already done a huge amount to build one of the most extensive and effective audience content handling operations in the world. But the new integration into our broadcast operation allows us to exploit this resource even more fully. The questions are, what are the limits of that exploitation, what value do audiences get from it and how much should we invest in it?

There is little doubt of the enormous value of audience-provided information and media in enhancing the coverage of news events. From the earliest days of audience-based journalism we have been astonished at the range of the BBC News website’s ability to garner news from the most obscure corners of the globe. After a mudslide in Sumatra some years ago we asked if anyone had been an eyewitness. This occasioned some mirth and scepticism in the online newsroom about whether they would ever get a response. But sure enough a user soon wrote in with graphic details. Our correspondent in Bukit Lawang.

And more famous news event examples tend to be the area of UGC that is most written about – for instance the underground pictures on July 7th, the Buncefield explosions, the Virginia Tech shootings etc. Spectacular and notorious as these are, they raise few interesting editorial dilemmas. News organisations need to make sure their audiences are aware of the ways in which they can send such information they come across as “accidental journalists”. And news organisations need to be able to handle sudden peaks in provision of such material. One of the reasons we will be situating our UGC team in the heart of the newsroom is that we will be able to supplement the team by reassigning journalists working on other tasks when there are spikes in contributions.

Less straightforward, but more editorially intriguing are the stories which are not prompted by surprise news events. Some are spontaneously generated by audience members, others through reporters following hunches and inquiring of the audience.

We can actively ask questions of our audience that can build a rapid picture of unfolding events. For instance, when the contaminated fuel incident happened a little while ago the BBC’s question on its website asking people to tell us where they bought their fuel if they had had a problem engine was the most accurate data any organisation in the country had about the locations where the problem petrol was being sold.

Last year our defence correspondent Paul Wood became aware of widespread concern within the army about the condition of barracks. By using army websites and obtaining material from soldiers’ families he obtained pictures and information that painted a devastating picture of sub-standard accommodation.

And just three days ago the potential of organised and engaged citizen journalism became clear. Contributors posting on Twitter provided an earlier picture of the Barack Obama victory in the Iowa caucuses than any professionally organised exit poll or data collection. The potential for this sort of journalistic enterprise is only just being realised.

Each of those stories would not have been possible, certainly with the speed with which they were produced, without the new technologies that allow intense interaction between journalist and audience. But it is in the area of the contested news agenda and opinions about the news agenda in which public participation raises the most interesting dilemmas.

There is no doubt that the stronger voice of the audience is having a beneficial effect on the range of stories and perspectives that journalists cover. At the BBC, the use of texts, e-mails and debate forums gives us access in real time to the views of the active members of our audience.

The BBC has previously been criticised from the right for following a politically correct, liberal agenda and from some on the left for being too remote in its interests, insufficiently attuned to bread and butter issues that affects the mass audience.

Now, within minutes of a story being discussed on air, we have an extremely rich range of responses from the audience. That gives us quotes we can use and interviewees we can put on air who have germane real life experiences. Often those experiences challenge or contradict the assumptions that news decision makers or the people who traditionally generate news might hold.

In a news world where the public can encounter a very wide range of views through the web they will rapidly turn away from public service broadcasters who fail to encompass the range of views within society. This is less of a problem for newspapers with clear perspectives or web sites that cover issues from a particular standpoint. But for broadcasters with a regulated commitment to impartiality this has proved a challenge. Our traditional model was a rather safe middle of the road, balancing neutrality. I have argued previously that this model is now outdated and that we need to embrace an idea of “radical impartiality”, that is of a much broader range of views than before. But views that are rigorously tested, but with respect for all legally expressed opinions.

This has led to a loosening of the range of expression we include. Indeed I believe that the views about Islam that I quoted earlier may well have been excluded by us few years ago. This shift has been commented on by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown of The Independent when she criticised the implications of my call for radical impartiality. She wrote “When he argues the BNP or extremist Muslim campaigners can be allowed to make their case, with robust interviews ensuring ‘balance’, my blood freezes. The BBC was never a coliseum, a bloody arena for a fight to the death. For the first time ever, I resent paying the licence fee because the BBC is not fulfilling its public service role with the integrity it always had.”

Whilst I believe that it is very important to broaden the range of interviewees and contributions we have on the air, I do share some of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown’s worries. We cannot just take the views that we receive via e-mails and texts and let them dictate our agenda. Nor should they give us a slant around which we should orient our take on a story. At their best they are an invaluable information resource and an important corrective to group-think. They very often ask direct or apparently naïve questions that get to the heart of the subject – they can be gold dust for interviewers for instance.

But we need to be very clear about how many contributions we get, their statistical significance and the weight we should attach to them. The BBC gets an average of 10,000 e-mails or posts in a day to its Have Your Say site. That can soar on big news days. That sounds an enormous number. But up to 5 million people can come to the BBC News website on a single day. That means that fewer than 1% of our users, even on the most active days, are choosing to say something to us. What organisation – a political party, a business, a trades union – would allow its stance to be totally driven by such a small minority?

Of course a small proportion could be indicative of a wider population, but we can’t be sure. Rather than playing a numbers game to drive our agenda I instead encourage our teams to look for thoughtful or surprising views and opinions. In other words we still need to be journalistic with this material, as we would with any other source.

I remember a striking example when a government proposal was floated for the outlawing of simulated violence in sexual images. Our coverage proceeded initially on an unspoken assumption of widespread public support for this move. We soon received many comments from people who pointed out that if no-one was hurt in the creation of such images then what was the government doing banning them. For subsequent coverage we were able to include that perspective. Without this prompt from the audience I doubt that this view would have been carried on a BBC One bulletin.

But the critique from the academics and bloggers in digital media implies that the level of filtering and editorial selection that the BBC deploys should be reduced. Many of them argue that having such a strict process is counter-productive and inimical to the principles of what they call ‘citizen journalism’. That unless we change our mindset our journalism will not change sufficiently. There are a number of schools of thought within this critique. Some commentators simply claim that mainstream media such as the BBC could never embrace this form properly so we might become increasingly irrelevant. The very shrewd commentator Paul Bradshaw has written that citizen journalism takes us “from a world where members of the public needed the news industry for information, to one where they can access and produce it themselves”. And as the public can do this for themselves without help from news organizations, those news organisations may have little role unless they adopt the requisite openness.

But a more political strand of thinking insists that news organisations need to change and include this material, on the terms set by the audience, or rather by them, as campaigners. The polemicist Danny Schechter, author of The Death of Media, is one of many US bloggers who have a powerful ideological tinge to their critique. He says “there is a whole movement out there which is trying to democratise the media.” But what that democratisation means is revealed by the digital banners, calling his supporters to action on his own website. Examples include the instruction: “Tell the Media to cover the debt crisis.” And “Join and hundreds of thousands of Americans in calling on U.S. media outlets to do a better job of reporting on the war in Iraq and the anti-war movement protests against it.”

In other words, the call for democratisation is actually about getting the so-called mainstream media to adopt specific policy agendas, or lean in certain directions. This is nothing short of digital bullying. The likelihood that increasingly well-organised digital lobby groups will pervert and exploit the interactive mechanisms that news organisations have established is a strong reason for the BBC to have a high level of caution in this area. Quite often when we research stories sent to us by individual members of the public through our access systems – initiatives like Your News on BBC News 24 and the BBC One’s Six O’Clock News, for instance – we discover that apparently individual suggestions are coming from people in organised pressure groups who are targeting such audience access initiatives. This doesn’t necessarily invalidate their contributions, but it does mean that we need to be especially vigilant that we are not being hijacked. Simply orienting ourselves to the wealth of audience input is never going to be as straightforward as the propagandists of citizen journalism suggest.

Nor is it necessarily going to be of benefit to the wider audience – the other 99%. Some commentators have argued that responding to the interests of the 1% of participators could provide attract an audience far wider than those who simply want to contribute. And others have speculated that this could be the key to engaging lost news audiences or even to re-ignite public interest in political engagement. There is some research to indicate that the greater accessibility that audience interaction offers is attractive to audiences beyond those that contribute directly. And there is evidence that it encourages people to stay longer, clicking around a site.

The wider range of sources generated by audiences should improve our story gathering and the quality of what we do, but I believe that still needs to be assessed and delivered through an expert journalistic prism - at least for an organization with the particular responsibilities incumbent on the BBC. I have seen no evidence that raw audience interaction or unvarnished news direct from the audience is more attractive than professional news. In fact we put a lot of effort into helping audience contributors to make their offerings polished so they don’t look sub standard. Audience generated news is highly resource intensive.

The closely focused local campaign story that meets the needs of a small group of protesters and gives them a lot of satisfaction for having got onto the BBC may be of high value to those affected, but it may be irrelevant to the non-participative audience, the silent population. But other times it can be very helpful. Only a few days ago Radio 5 Live enterprisingly followed up on a single e-mail from a customer of the pub chain Wetherspoons who had been refused more than two alcoholic drinks when having a meal with his children. This prompted significant audience engagement, with strong views being expressed on both sides. That worked simply because it fitted with pretty traditional definitions of news. It was new information, widely relevant. Not a highly political story, but undoubtedly widely engaging. The old rules still apply.

So what are the rules and principle BBC News intends to apply to the many varieties of audience contribution to our journalism? And what priority do we attach to each of them?

We always need to ask ourselves what value for the audience as a whole does the BBC’s activity, funded by public money, generate. Many of the tools and capabilities of citizen journalism are freely available on the web. The BBC doesn’t need to supply those. We should provide Media Literacy information guiding people in how to get involved and send us their material, but we are not directly a facilitator of such involvement or campaigning. Some years ago we set up a citizen involvement initiative called variously iCan, then Action Network. We have gradually withdrawn investment from that because the level of involvement in it compared to the cost was inappropriate. The whole web is now out there for anyone with a special interest to pursue their cause easily. We have learnt from that experiment and are now pointing users to alternative ways, inside and outside the BBC, of getting their voices heard.

The general conversation on the web is freely available to all. The BBC does not have to host that either. We do have an interest in hearing the public’s views about our news coverage, so we run an editors' blog and host discussions about that – an essential part of a push towards greater accountability and openness and a way of enhancing and repairing the damaged trust in the BBC. Sometimes it can be pretty uncomfortable to own up to mistakes in real time, but we have found that making redress quickly, whatever the fallout in adverse press coverage, is better than trying to hide from audience criticism.

In terms of audience debate about the subjects we cover in the news, I believe we will need to be more relaxed about letting a wide range of views proliferate. The balance between pre-moderated and post-moderated debate may need to shift. And we may simply sometimes point audiences to other places, outside the BBC, where informed debate about topical subjects is happening. So the urge to constrain debate, as with the initial Bhutto response, needs to relax. We’re going to just have to let it go and just make hosting this material less significant for us and audiences.

Where the BBC is hosting debate we will want the information generated to be editorially valuable. Simply having sufficient resource to be able to moderate the volume of debate we now receive is an issue in itself. And the fact that we are having to apply significant resource to a facility that is contributed regularly by only a small percentage of our audiences is something we have to bear in mind. Although of course a higher proportion read forums or benefit indirectly from how it feeds into our journalism. So we may have to loosen our grip and be less worried about the range of views expressed, with very clear labeling about the BBC’s editorial non-endorsement of such content. But there are obvious risks.

We need to be able to extract real editorial value from such contributions more easily. We are exploring as many technological solutions as we can for filtering the content, looking for intelligent software that can help journalists find the nuggets and ways in which the audience itself can help us to cope with the volume and sift it.

If we can free up effort from simply processing large volumes of opinion and obtain extra investment, our intention will be to enhance our efforts in getting real journalistic value out of this material. It can clearly widen our agenda and our knowledge of what is happening. It can also enhance the level of expertise from members of the public that is present in our journalism and on our airwaves. Members of the audience who really know what they are talking about play a vital role in keeping our journalism up to the mark.

And the extra effort we intend to put into this level of added-value journalism will also involve going out proactively to look for such material. Just waiting for audiences to contact the BBC is in itself distorting. Not everyone uses BBC News and those who take the trouble to contact us may not be representative. Our interactive journalists already have a very involved relationship with the blogosphere in their relevant area of expertise. In broadcast areas such interest has been weak up to now but is growing – for instance through imaginative interactive initiatives on programmes like Newsnight and PM. A deep understanding of and involvement in the blog world should now be a requirement for all of our journalists.

As a news organisation we aspire to universal reach as we are paid for by almost everyone. We need to be aware that the bulk of the people who pay the licence fee are always likely to be non-participative so our activities in handling audience content and harvesting the best material from the web must generate editorial value for the non-participators as well as the participators. We can and will provide an even better and more engaged service for the participative 1%. But, as we are paid for by everyone, our priority cannot be the 1% but must be the 100%.

Update, 02:00PM, 8 Jan: This is the actual version of the speech I gave in Leeds, so varies slightly from the one previously posted here on the blog.


  • 1.
  • At 02:54 PM on 07 Jan 2008,
  • Steve Johnson wrote:

The biggest problem I have with "user contributions" on the BBC News site is Have Your Say.

This feature invites users to comment on a story, yet inevitably the whole thing is set up to encourage a knee jerk reaction. I can guess what the "Most Recommended" comments are going to say even before I've clicked on the link to get to the debate.

It's a sad indictment of your editorial policy that you've allowed this feature to become a mouthpiece for the BNP. Any debate about foreigners or immigrants is met with the usual tirade of hate-filled ignorance from people who haven't got the first idea about the subject.

I honestly don't know why you need to keep Have Your Say. I shouldn't imagine anyone trawls through the hundreds of pages of messages that are posted. All that happens is that the contributions that are made first inevitably receive the most recommendations, which is all I suspect most people read and recommended also, thus rendering the rest of the comments pointless.

Let's please be done with this ridiculous feature and focus on areas when citizen journalism can really make a difference.

  • 2.
  • At 04:14 PM on 07 Jan 2008,
  • Bob Bramwell wrote:

I think this is exactly right:

"I ... encourage our teams to look for
thoughtful or surprising views and

Inevitably it will be the highly motivated readers who make the effort to post comments. This will be because either they have an axe to grind with the prevailing reports or see an opportunity to drag out a soapbox. Most of the time such viewpoints do not contribute much to an understanding of the issues.

The incisive comments of the thoughtful contributors are usually the most valuable.

  • 3.
  • At 04:21 PM on 07 Jan 2008,
  • Graeme wrote:

Excellent post.
It's always great to read and hear about what goes on behind the scenes at such a huge news corporation.
A very informative article, highlighting many editorial dilemmas, and it has made me think now about actually commenting on such issues, having never previously doing so, as you have shown that the views of your readers/listeners/viewers are appreciated and can actually influence such reports.

  • 4.
  • At 04:30 PM on 07 Jan 2008,
  • Ron Liptrot wrote:

I found this very interesting. main critique, it was all things to all people.Which prompts the question where does this lead us? Clearly minority interests/bigotry can not set the'agenda'. I do not believe that thy do.Nor have I heard any complaint concerning limited BBC coverage. But, can you honestly answer that the age old issue of, wealth/power contols the media which in turn controls the ballot box does not apply. Think of the Andrew Gilligam issue. Not all Presenters have the strength of Mr Humphrys and I have often thought that on a line of questioning some are inhibited/frightened from pressing home the truth of the matter, and just how many reporters are restrained from telling all that they have found when their job could be on the line. If you can reassure people on that, you are taking the BBC into greatness.

  • 5.
  • At 05:24 PM on 07 Jan 2008,
  • Matthew Nicholls wrote:

I think that the inclusion of such a high proportion of user-generated content and especially comment is a mistaken path for the BBC to be following.
The Bhutto incident is a good example, where the choices open to you seem to have boiled down to:
i) Encourage debate but retain the right to censor it according to your own editorial guidelines - in which case the whole exercise is limited, so why not just give us the BBC's line through reporters in the usual way, and leave the polemicists to slang it out on other, less regulated comment forums?
ii) Take the restraints off entirely, in the way that the second half of your speech suggests, and watch as Britain's national news website becomes a forum for people to sound off in whatever way they choose, informed or not, in a way that you make explicit, through the disclaimers you propose, does not have much to do with the standards of integrity, impartiality, and expertise which visitors to your site rely on.

The latter is already the case in many of the Have Your Say pages attached almost invariably to news stories now, where many of the posters, hiding behind assumed names, join in slanging matches with each other or with you ('Come on BBC, bet you're too left/right wing to publish this').
The whole thing - the stream of ill-spelled, ill-considered, largely anonymous, often polemic little nuggets trailing after each news story with a HYS option really cheapens the whole thing and challenges the credibility of the site as a news service from the British Broadcasting Corporation.
We pay a licence fee to the BBC partly so that it can gather and present the news to us, and sometimes to analyse it. I trust its journalists and editors to be experts. Why is user opinion necessary at all in this process? As someone who relies on BBC news on the radio and web for your (usually very good) coverage of the world, I don't feel included or empowered by this aspect of the site, but rather patronised and irritated by it. Just because the web can be more interactive than older media doesn't mean it should be.
The internet offers countless venues for the exchange of opinion, and it's not clear to me why a publicly funded news provider should be one of them. I agree entirely that it can sometimes be interesting to see what people think, and also that the BBC is well placed to offer a a forum for exchange of views on an national or international scale, but newspapers (for example) have letters pages for this purpose. Could you not do the same, leaving the news site for news?
The few instances you mention when readers were on the spot quicker than journalists are, I think, a separate issue, and I agree that in those special circumstances reportage or pictures from Joe Public fill a gap. Otherwise I'd rather that writing on the site was left to your journalists, or marked off in a separate website area.

I've said it before around here and I'll say it again - get your audience to help you process audience input in the same way that slashdot does.

  • 7.
  • At 05:34 PM on 07 Jan 2008,
  • Vivian Evans wrote:

Interesting dilemma! And interesting numbers ...
Isn't it always the 'vocal minority' who gets heard, and thus influences the agenda, e.g. here the BBC? This vocal minority used to go hand-in-hand with social standing, power, wealth. Now with modern technology and wide internet accessibility the not powerful, not rich citizen can make himself heard - even though someone will always sort through the chaff ...
I think the role of the BBC in all this should be that of the good, oldfashioned journalist: to report sine ira et studio, and to make quite clear where the personal comment begins. This does not mean that we, as the 'audience', nowadays need to hear every opinion group (again, the powerful) giving their take on an event. That is comment - and has no place in what should be plain news.
This boundary has more and more been brushed over in recent years.
What is sorely needed in the huge ocean of single-purpose websites, blogs etc (yep, some indeed look like virtual bullying) is a trusted source were one can rely on being given unadulterated news as they are happening.
That, in my opinion, is the role the BBC Newsroom should be aiming at fulfilling.
Comments, of BBC users, or of others on other websites, are certainly interesting - but one can find them for oneself.
Trusted and trustworthy news without slant, without an agenda - that is what the internet news webs urgently need.
Thats what you need to do at the BBC.

(a) Excellent speech/article, covering many important issues very well. (b) At least five mistakes in wording/typing, which (for me) are a signature of one of my concerns : that even with professional journalism we communicate so quickly now that accuracy and clarity can be lost; I have seen debates on "Have Your Say" sparked by spelling mistakes or words accidently left out. (c) I am not sure that "Recommendation" is the most effective way to get a feel from the readers about what is best; I cannot unrecommend a comment that I strongly disagree with; I have to find or make an opposite comment; that can lead to rapidly polarised debates; it can also lead to lack of balance : do 10 posts with 500+ recommendations balance one post with 500+ recommendations that says the exact opposite?; I think that one of your roles should be to extract the major opinions being expressed via recommendations and add a tabbed section or sidebar that allows registered readers to agree/disagree (say scale 1-9) with each extracted major opinion. (d) You acknowledge that it is pretty boring wading through repeated posts, and does not add much to anyone's understanding; it is no different for us, so why would we bother to fight our way through it?; I read the BBC News website to help me build a quick and accurate picture of the landscape about me, not to listen to 137 repetitious rants; what is to stop you from having a tabbed section in "Have Your Say" that allows *you* to recommend items that are "wheat in the chaff"?; don't worry about it just being your opinion : if you are badly out of line, you will just lose readers :-); if you do an excellent job of professional journalism (as you almost always do), you will gain them.

  • 9.
  • At 06:11 PM on 07 Jan 2008,
  • Hannah M wrote:

"The editorial value of the comments and how far they should influence our coverage more widely. And the answers to that were: very little and hardly at all."

Hard to see the point of HYS then apart from wasting peoples time.

"The BBC has made a commitment to listening to the views of its audience."

Given the above it presumably means every commitment to listening short of actually listening.

And the real problem would be ban what and not ban what.
Ban the comments on Benazir Bhutto but allow them about say Jerry Springer The Musical, one law for islam and another for christianity, surely not BBC.

If you run it at all it must be free to all.

Oh and before someone says it I'm mixed race and abhor the BNP, so instead of attacking people answer the actual points raised.

  • 10.
  • At 08:22 PM on 07 Jan 2008,
  • ChrisJK wrote:

Sometimes it has been easy to believe that BBC "HYS" and "Editors" feedback comments are being selected to bias the discussion.

Some topics publish a lot of vitrolic apparently irrational comments - yet very few reasoned statements of known facts appear. Some of my attempts to contribute known facts have fallen in that latter unpublished category.

I previously thought that was merely a judged reflection of the ratio in the received posts.

After reading Peter Horrocks's article I think these BBC fora should be discontinued as a waste of limited BBC resources. The BBC web medium is not suitable for reasoned discussion. The myths and misquotes gain credibility by much repetition.

Much better to use programmes, or articles, like "The Moral Maze" to examine such issues. Then listeners would hear all the arguments presented, one hopes, with a wide balance of fact and opinion.

  • 11.
  • At 09:21 PM on 07 Jan 2008,
  • Wil van Hamme wrote:

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us' its is a rather difficult subject.
My personal concern has to do with Have Your Say and the house rules. Whilst freedom of speech is something we should all strongly support it surely can never mean 'you can say whatever you like in any way you like'. What concerns me is that Have Your Say has become a forum for those who like to have a swipe at for example Muslims or immigrants, a dangerous development.
The BBC needs to be impartial and that might mean it should allow at all times room for differing opinions. However, should this also mean it allows the audience to ventilate not disguished hatred?

  • 12.
  • At 09:57 PM on 07 Jan 2008,
  • Mr. 502 error wrote:

"That's the way politics works with The Religion of Peace." 828

That you'd imply that this number reveals 'reaction' is phenomenal to me.
It's only function is the order in which comments come in.
Thereafter it's the purest demonstration of snowball-effect I've ever seen, including snow.

Put in an un-recommend and youll have a number worth any consideration at all, but that's not the BBC way, now is it?

  • 13.
  • At 10:17 PM on 07 Jan 2008,
  • Dave wrote:

To respond to some of your points:

1. Have Your Say quickly loses its value once there are more than about a hundred comments, it becomes a mostly write-only forum. Who has the time to wade through that many pages? For the most part I suspect people will read the most recent page or two, plus the most recommended page (statistics on this would be interesting), so unless you're one of the early comments to appear you're unlikely to ever make the top page or so of recommended comments.

2. The bias against Islam is partly because media always reports the terrorists as being Islamic Extremists or similar tag. Perhaps the BBC could look at suitable alternatives.

3. As regards participation, some days I have more time, some days you publish stories about which I feel strongly and will make the time. Sometimes I notice that there are a thousand comments and don't consider it worth commenting.

  • 14.
  • At 10:18 PM on 07 Jan 2008,
  • Sarah wrote:

First of all thank you for posting this informative article. In my opinion Have Your Say can be very much like the comments you read on YouTube videos, fun to read at first, of very little value, and you get bored of them quickly with the 5th or 6th comment. They are usually statements of sentiment which in my opinion probably spread more harm than good since it is not usually an informed or insightful comment that is made and usually a more extreme rather than moderate reaction that is solicited. Taking "news" out of the hands of professional journalists, who research the material and put the critical element of time that most bloggers don't ( that's one of the allures of posting a comment-its like cheating on your homework)and putting it in the hands of the blogger is in my opinion not that beneficial in the long run to the blogger or member of the public themselves. I agree tha sifting through a mass of comments could bring few insightful points to the surface but I believe that a better way of collecting these is the way to go especially since this would save on resources of journalist's and their time for instance and that of the audience. I think we are forgetting the crucial element of time with the development of new technologies, it makes things that can be done faster seem like they should be. Some matters take time and require research and effort.

All the best,

  • 15.
  • At 10:18 PM on 07 Jan 2008,
  • R Gwillim wrote:

I am one of the silent majority. BBC News is our home page. If I am at home, the PC is on. Most of the evening I am at the PC. I check the website before work, after work, and before bed at least. Mainly to keep up with news back in the UK, also for background to world stories, education on topics that have arisen in conversations, and just for entertainment.
Have Your Say has faults:
Registration takes time;
I can't find all of them easily and never see responses to some topics;
Many appear closed before I see them here in Australia;
I frequently want to make a comment on strange little stories that don't invite comments.
Just one 'Send a Comment' button on all stories with dropdown list of headlines & categories (plus 'Other');
List Comments chronologically regardless of story, but with filter/search facility;
Show % of audience responding clearly on any extracted results for specific programme or topic;
If possible, only retain most recent comment by each user and not allow comments to become debates between users (that should move elsewhere).

General comment on News coverage - keep News and Current Affairs separate. Ceefax was good when we were in UK as we could see many more headlines. There are so many events which impact on people that we never hear of because some politician/economist stories get wide coverage. News should do news, then we can choose to go to Current Affairs to learn more about the stories which interest us. That is why I prefer the website to watching News24 etc.

... calling his supporters to action on his site. Examples include the instruction: "Tell the Media to cover the debt crisis." And "Join and hundreds of thousands of Americans in calling on US media outlets to do a better job of reporting on the war in Iraq and the anti-war movement protests against it."

The BBC is doing a fine job, the main reason that the USA groups are pressuring their yellow press is that the BBC and Al Jazeera are setting an excellent example, and thanks to the net the US people can see what they are missing out on. Keep up the good work Beeb, remain independent and bow to no-one.

  • 17.
  • At 10:42 PM on 07 Jan 2008,
  • John Tomlinson wrote:

Peter Horrocks, you say, "But do I believe that those views were not truly representative of the BBC's audiences at home and abroad." I can't speak for abroad but here in the UK I can assure you that the comments ARE truely representative of the views of a majority of the population, hence the extremely high number of recommendations. Go into any high street pub or workplace outside of the metropolis and you will find this to be the case. Why can't you believe the evidence of your own eyes that YOU are out of step with the majority of Britons?

  • 18.
  • At 11:14 PM on 07 Jan 2008,
  • Stephen Morris wrote:

Is it possible to re-work the Most Recommended algorithm of Have Your Say so that it works more like the Google algorithm?

It seems likely that the many near-identical comments that dominate the Most Recommended list are all recommended by the same readers. This seemed to be the case in the Benazir Bhutto debate. All one gets to read are the repeated views of the same "faction".

To use a metaphor, instead of seeing the peaks of the mountain range, all one gets to see is the side of the biggest mountain.

The problem is compounded because (I suspect) most people move directly to the Most Recommended list and vote only for comments that are already high on that list.

Given that BBC knows the identity of those doing the recommending (they must be registered), is it possible to identify groupings of comments? For example, if the set of readers recommending two comments are, say, 75% identical, the comments would be identified as a Group, and only one would appear on the first page of the Most Recommended list.

This would allow a broader range of views to appear, while still giving an indication of the level of support for each one.

  • 19.
  • At 12:52 AM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • Alex Swanson wrote:

So you don't want to be driven by "1%" of the audience? But you've run programmes like "Question Time" or "Points of View" for years, and they depended on far fewer than that.

"I believe that those views were not truly representative of the BBC's audiences at home and abroad."
On what basis do you believe that? Because you want to? Because you have your own ideas about what the world is like and you don't like having them challenged?

Isn't the truth really that you just don't like what you're hearing?

  • 20.
  • At 01:18 AM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • Alex Swanson wrote:

Oh and PS:

"Should we have given over a significant part of our website and our analysis programmes on Radio 4 to consideration of whether Islam is a religion that is inherently skewed towards violence?"

No "analysis" or "consideration" is needed, just a knowledge, easily acquired, of Islam's early history.

Your job is not to represent our views. We have MPs who do that. Your job (or so I thought) is to report the news. If you are worried about people’s views, why not raise it with your own MP instead of using the BBC as your personal soapbox?

  • 22.
  • At 06:50 AM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • robert ronson wrote:

If you don't like the comments then why bother asking for them? The fact that people are sick and tired of islam should be the point of interest to you as a journo. Maybe something is happening with western attitudes and should be investigated.

Also most people on the site are just bored at work and having a don't think people treat this seriously,,hmmm... perhaps you do.

  • 23.
  • At 07:59 AM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • Alan Hall wrote:

Your "Complain About This Post" rules in HYS are very poorly enforced. This is significantly contributing to the problems you are experiencing. What is also not helping is that you seems to have a strong preference for selecting topics in HYS that are cheap sensationalism. You need to forget about cheap, mass appeal and return to focussing on topics in HYS that require educated and intelligent input. Generally, throughout the whole of the BBC, there is this tendency to try to be all things to all men. Leave that to the commercial organisations: return to your roots of being a quality broadcaster. Thank you.

  • 24.
  • At 09:49 AM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • Joe Higman wrote:

On today's Have Your Say about health screening the "most recommended" post (with 173 votes when I looked) was an anti-immigration comment thinly disguised as a contribution to the debate, and signed by someone calling himself "Tommy Atkins". Most of the most recommended posts were in my opinion knee-jerk reactions targeted at the government rather than addressing the question. On the other hand 3030 people had voted in the poll on the HYS front page, mostly in support of the Government's proposal.

I think that the "most recommended" feature should be scrapped - it is on the one hand open to manipulation by small extremist groups and on the other hand creates a spurious impression of consensus. On Have Your Say it is easy to create multiple identities and easy for one person to recommend the same post more than once. Even if you could prevent these distortions, it would still be easy for an organisation using a relatively small membership base to give a false impression that its ideas had more widespread support, by encouraging its members to post on Have Your Say and recommend posts of others.

As a minor point, I find the chronologically ordered tab irritating - why not list posts in the order they are received rather than in reverse order, or at least offer this as an option. This would be easier to follow, and would make previous posts easier to find.

  • 25.
  • At 09:56 AM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • John O'Donnell wrote:

The critical assumption in this debate is the views of those who do not comment, it was Nixon who came up with the "silent majority" which assumed anyone who said nothing agreed with him. In practice those who don't comment may be totally disinterested, split down the middle or predominately on one side but not prepared to write.

Any censorship of comments risks misreading this viewpoint on any issue and giving a misleading view of public opinion. Rather you than me.

  • 26.
  • At 10:16 AM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • Alex wrote:

Surveys & polls of peoples views.

If 1000 people are surveyed upon some topic in the UK, their views are taken to represent the whole of the UK.

Surely then, the views of 1000 responses to an article on your web site are just as valid - unless it is the same 1000 email addresses which respond to all articles.

The fact that the BBC consider closing a forum shows how it is only interested in allowing its own viewpoint of the world to be aired.

The BBC should report facts, not how it thinks how the world should be.

The BBC should always point out to those it interviews, when they do not answer a question during an interview.
Otherwise what is the point in employing news teams to ask questions?

  • 27.
  • At 11:22 AM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • Neil McGowan wrote:

I entirely support the comments made in the first message. "Have Your Say" isn't what it claims to be.

1) Nothing appears there unless it meets BBC approval. I don't mean messages that break the rules, I mean messages with with the BBC disagrees. So it's not "have your say" AT ALL, it's just another cheap BBC fit-up like the name of the Blue Peter cat. It's "We Tell You What To Say".

2) It's entirely true that the BNP have used HYS to promote their own views. And the BBC encourage and prime this situation by setting up discussions about "immigration" on a weekly basis.

3) No criticism of America or its Government are allowed - because of BBC America and the BBC's interest in getting pay-to-view subscribers in America. Thus no discussion of the Iraq or Afghanistan wars is ever conducted honestly. Americans are given free reign to post as much anti-European material as possible. All replies to them will be deleted by the BBC's HYS "moderator", who is under orders to slant everything to favour yankee doodle.

So frankly, I don't think the BBC gives a stuff about viewer or listener reaction (unless they're American viewers worth cash to the Beeb, that is).

You won't print this. You daren't. You haven't got the SPINE to do so.

  • 28.
  • At 11:52 AM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • David Fisher wrote:

Suggestion. The Most Recommended algorithm of Have Your Say is in serious need of re-working to make it more meaningful and less biased. It does not, however, need to be a detailed statistical analysis as suggested by Stephen Morris in post 18.
It would be sufficient to incorporate a simple hit counter into each post (as per Ebay) to indicating how many times the post has been allegedly "read", combined with two voting buttons for the reader - "Agree" and "Disagree". These simple statistics should then be displayed as part of the post for all to see.

  • 29.
  • At 12:00 PM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • Tony Bland wrote:

I'd like to see an end to all this interactive rubbish. I pay my license fee to learn stuff from trained journalists and genuine experts. I don't want to hear the knee jerk bigotry of anonymous texters. In fact, so strongly do I feel like this that I regularly text and email programmes under bogus names and with bogus opinions. There is no scrutiny of this process and anything I can do to undermine it is good as far as I can see.... by the way, Tony Bland isn't my real name... I have dozens of identities and sometimes I get read out three or four times in one show...

The BBC should put a stop to it now. It's all worthless drivel.

  • 30.
  • At 12:03 PM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • GH wrote:

I have recommended comments simply because the BBC refuses to cover that particular angle of the story, and evidence suggests others are doing the same. On countless occasions the Most Recommended comments present a view never heard on the BBC.

One example of this is above: of course I do not totally agree with the simplistic line that Islam is violent per se, but I do very strongly feel that the BBC should apply the same standards to Islam as it does to, say, the Catholic Church. Islam and Sharia Law have been responsible for countless instances of violence, murder, subjugation of women, persecution of Christians, persecution of homosexuality, amongst other evil deeds. Of course there are also huge numbers of peaceful Muslims who wish for peace and equality - but we hear plenty about them from the BBC, but scarcely any critical analysis of the dark side of Islam that undoubtedly DOES exist. I recommended the top comment there not because it most reflected my views, but in the vain hope that the BBC would cover the other half of the story.

Climate Change is another area where HYS invariably goes against the BBC line. My view is that the climate is changing and that humans may be responsible to some degree, but I am very skeptical of the religious fervour of the movement, the crushing of dissent, and the exaggeration and bending of facts that Al Gore and others have used to help the narrative. I believe many others share my views. The BBC will cover in depth and without criticism the catastrophic predictions from the IPCC and others, but scarcely mention any of the valid doubts that exist over the science. The Most Recommended comments on Climate Change tend to go along the lines of "Climate Change is a fraud." I do not agree fully with that comment, but am happy to recommend it in the hope that we will get some balance from the BBC.

Briefly, I have noticed (to my distaste) the number of BNP sympathisers on HYS. I detest the BNP, but they are a legitimate political party with some support, therefore their views deserve to be heard - and then hopefully dismissed!! Depriving them of any publicity, I believe, is actually increasing their support. The BBC again is guilty here. George Galloway's equally extreme views can be heard regularly on our airwaves, we hear plenty from the Green Party, yet nothing from the BNP. It is not the BBC's job to tell us what we're allowed to hear.

No-one is suggesting that the BBC take their editorial line from HYS, but when a particular argument that the BBC rarely covers is constantly being recommended, the BBC needs to seriously question how balanced and impartial its journalism is.

  • 31.
  • At 12:49 PM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • Jay Furneaux wrote:

The HYS comments board is something you’ll just have to live with. No they’re not representative, but that’s the nature of comments boards and newspaper letter columns; it’s those with strong opinions who are motivated to contribute.
And I’m sure the BBC boards attracts a particular section of opinion in particular that believe they can use it to influence BBC editorial policy and because they see the BBC site as having a larger audience share than most other media sites. HYS also favours contributions from those with the time in the day to contribute, the retired and unemployed.

HYS is in no more representative than a Sun phone in poll. It’s clear some contributors have multiple log-ins and user-names and can vote more than once.
The voting system is frankly a charade; it favours early contributions and as most user don’t browse much further than the first couple of pages any early recommends simply pick up additional votes – helped no end I suspect by people messaging each other as to which comments to vote for that day. As later comments are often put on in batches (due to volume) a comment disappears so fast I doubt anyone has time to read them.

I would like to see an option added for people to disagree with a contribution (rather as Yahoo answers does). It would be interesting to see if the agree/disagree contributions cancelled each other out.

But as a representative sample of the population by age, gender, occupation and so on (which is how polling organisations conduct opinion polls) HYS can’t be considered a representative sample of the population.

There is a simple test of whether HYS is a representative sample of opinion, which is whether it matches the success or otherwise of political parties that share those views at an election.

  • 32.
  • At 01:03 PM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • Rob Harkavy wrote:

Of course, there is a place for user generated comment...I'm writing this now, for example.

However - and this is not just limited to the BBC - I do find myself frustrated when radio and TV news programmes concentrate too much on what their listeners/viewers think, often to the detriment of the news item itself.

While some such audience feedback is informed and intelligent, much of it is polarised, ill-thought-out and not especially interesting. More often than not, I just want to know what's going on in the world, with well researched information and expert comment. I am not sure why the BBC thinks that I should care what a non-expert man/woman in the street thinks about an international news item.

The space for audience feedback is the internet. Here, readers can choose what to read and what to ignore. Not so on TV and please BBC, by all means use forums such as this online, and keep those great five live phone-ins (honourable mention to Richard Bacon, the best of the bunch). But, on the other hand, please realise that there is no merit at all in the TV news, for example, wasting precious minutes telling us what Mrs Boggins of Leicester thinks about the Iraq war!

  • 33.
  • At 01:39 PM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • John A Turner wrote:

The real problem with audience comment and input is that the BBC simply uses it to reinforce its already biased editorial standards.

Comment which for example point out the simple truth but which conflicts with the BBC's ideas are ignored/censored or rubbished.

An excellent example is the HYS on the murder of Bhutto. Because contibutors rightly pointed out the violence within Islam the BBC (a pro Islamic organisation) considered suspending the site.

And that is the nub of the problem. The BBC no longer employ journalists they employ commnetators who pursue their own agendas with little regard for the truth.

I have replaced the earlier version of this speech that was here, to reflect what I actually said in Leeds.

  • 35.
  • At 02:33 PM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • Robert Strudwick wrote:

A fine speech, yet it shows, to my way of thinking that you and your staff must realise there is a world out there beyond the walls of the BBC or even London filled with people who may have different views to yourselves, they must be heard or you will be no better than a dictators mouthpiece, with free-thought banned.

We have a melting pot of colour, class, creed and beliefs that listen/read/view and love the B.B.C., you will naturally get a blinkered view from some who, when contributing to HYS, hide behind a pen-name, I will admit I have done it (not that I am saying I am blinkered, well not all the time).

On the other hand, there are contributers that, hiding behind their nick-names, enjoy stirring it, they post borderline comments that they know will inflame sections of the community with the knowledge that it will be visable for a while before a complaint is received, remove nick-names could be an answer.

On the whole, the BBC is doing a very good job under difficult conditions but there are times when you must listen to your 'paymasters', especially with the Television programming, some of it is dire to say the least, there are so many fly on the wall type programmes I am thinking of bulk buying cans of FLIT.

I am biased in relation to HYS as I was selected to contribute in person (by phone with my photo shown) in the discussion with Sir John Holmes OCHA on December 23rd last year on Have your say Talking point, it was a great honour (even though your interviewer did not agree with my comments, Sir John did).

All in all, I feel that we could do worse than the BBC so 'Carry on Broadcasting' but keep your ears open to the comments of your subscribers.

  • 36.
  • At 02:48 PM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • Xie_Ming wrote:

May I suggest that the value of the postings is not at all in the favorable/unfavourable count?

The real value lies in having one's complacent view of what is correct challenged, of being forced to take into account other views.

In their rather special environment, young journalists come to think that their group view of events is the only valid one-

The rating game gets them thinking that the validity of ideas is measured by the popularity count-

and that they are molding and then expressing "public opinion"!

Think with Ibsen that "the majority is always wrong" and seek informed thought and reason.

  • 37.
  • At 02:59 PM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • An 800lb Gorilla In The Room wrote:

Nice speech.

For my part, I think HYS is a huge error in judgment, and I'm wondering how the general thrust of comments on there plays in relation to new laws in the UK regarding "hate speech".

You have a hard core "genre" of contributors to the interactive portions of the site, and they can be categorized simply. They hate.

The BBC's mandate, as far as I know as an outsider, is not to provide a worldwide bully pulpit for hatemongers. They can always go sign up with Blogger or Wordpress to create their own bile-filled speck in cyberspace.

It's the same with various conspiracy theorists.

I don't believe that there is a "risk" of the BBC's activities being affected as a result of this "feedback". I believe it has already happened.

The BBC has shifted into an almost continual cycle of second-guessing itself publically, martyring itself with abject apologies and shifts in procedures that are nonsensical, simply to cater to this growing roar of minority pressures.

The government defanged you because they didn't want you poking too closely into things.

The public defanged you because you're the only part of the "etsbalishment" they think they can rail against in your wonderful police state any more.

Your competition defanged you because they want those elusive ratings figures.

The 9/11 conspiracy freaks defanged you because they're just happy to have somewhere that they can rant on, demanding "investigations" yet refusing to accept that even if you did the most *perfect* investigation, if the answers don't match *their* theories, it must be a conspiracy even then.

The bigots defanged you because you can expose their hatred for what it is - pure, unadulterated, xenophobic bile.

And you defang yourselves with this insane idea that you should be pleasing all of the people all of the time, and if you're not then you must immediately go into this martyr condition and fall on your swords, because your image is more important than reporting the facts.

In olden days, they used to shoot the messenger. I guess in this age of outsourcing, the messenger shooting themselves is more cost effective.

HYS, and yes, even the ability for me to post this remark, are allowed to get out of hand because the BBC is now more "afraid" of public opinion than it once was.

You lost one DG, and the new one got told to toe the line to the vociferous minority, because the people who make the final decisions are always listening to the vociferous minority.

All the posters saying there's an "Islamic bias" in the BBC do so to try to get you to adjust your reporting to better fit their prejudices, not the truth - the truth is far less interesting than their hatred.

All the posters saying there's a conspiracy about 9/11 (Oddly, none of whom were actually present at the time, unlike myself) do so to try to get you to adjust your reporting to better fit their paranoia, not the truth - the truth is far less interesting than their delusions.

The list goes on. Everyone wants you to tell them that they're "right", so they can feel vindicated in a life where they have no control. That the BBC *will* get pressured is about the only thing they have left, and you're giving them the opportunity to apply that pressure, right here in your own back yard!

So let me apply a little pressure of my own, if you don't mind.

Public opinion is just that - opinion.

Your jobs, your professions, is to report the news as it happens, and let other people make their own minds up.

if you want to continue to let people give you feedback, it is just that - feedback. it is *not* representative of the opinions of "everyone" or even a majority. It is solely the opinions of the few hundreds, or thousands, that actually post. Taking it as representative is an error, adjusting how you report the news in light of it would likewise be an error.

Stop trying to please *any* of the people. The facts are the facts - and it's a fact that you can best serve the people by reporting the facts without allowing vociferous minorities to influence what everyone sees, hears, and reads.

Peter Barron showed there is still journalistic integrity at the BBC with the faked supporting evidence issue with Policy Exchange, so I still have hope :)

It is very interesting what you wrote about wanting the contributions to be editorially valuable.

I have only commented on the BCC twice, each time about ebvironmental technology where you got something wrong. In ecah case the comment was not posted but the error was subsequently corrected.

What does that reveal about your policy?

  • 39.
  • At 03:25 PM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • Ian Wright wrote:

Whilst the proliferation of ways and means for us all to communicate and discuss those things we hold dear is in many ways progress, I think the BBC is right to be cautious in how it deals with user-generated content (UGC), and not simply jump on the buzzword bandwagon. I think the organisation should play to its strengths as a provider of impartial editorial – the very proliferation of “content” of unknown or potentially fraudulent provenance makes this all the more imperative. Fears of being left behind as an anachronism for doing so are, I believe, exaggerated. Indeed, stray too far down the path in the other direction, towards the new holy grail of user-generated content, and you risk hastening your own demise, becoming little more than an offshoot of Wikinews. At worst, as noted, this path is threatened by hijackers with minority views to peddle, at best it’s a journalistic cop out.

That’s not too say UGC does not have its uses. As the article and other comments note, judicious use of UGC in the absence of professional journalists (eg. 7/7), or to add human interest colour, can be of value. I can also see no harm in using UGC to “brainstorm” the potential range of public opinion, in the same way vox pops are used to illustrate TV news items. However, only a properly designed and conducted quantitative survey will tell you how representative these views are. Unfortunately the analogy made by another commentator between 1000 UGC comments, and a poll of 1000 people is incorrect. We have no way of knowing how representative the UGC sample is, in terms of sex, age, class, region, ethnicity, religion etc. , whereas a properly conducted poll would be designed to represent all relevant sub-groups of the population in their true proportions. Although the article claims that UGC gave the most accurate data on the contaminated fuels issue, I think this is a relatively neutral topic, and as the article implicitly acknowledges, more inflammatory issues are less likely to generate fully representative user content. Ultimately, a self-selecting sample is always open to distortion, deliberate or otherwise.

Finally, Andrew Keen, author of The Cult of the Amateur, has some interesting things to say on what he calls ‘user generated nonsense”. He can also be heard talking at the RSA here ( As someone writing this I am clearly not against UGC per se. However, caveat lector.

  • 40.
  • At 03:26 PM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • Jeremy Ross wrote:

So this is the problem. You ask for interactive activity, but when people become "interactive" you then become worried that it is simply being used as a mouthpiece for people who want to put forward a certain point of view often in direct conjunction with a professional lobbys point of view. It then ceases to become an individuals "have your say", but rather a lobby groups "say" recommended by however many.

Consider this. Granted that some groups may be using it (as you put it) for digital bullying; but have you actually considered that this might be representative of what and how the population feels?

You say that 1% of the population are writing in. Well in truth, that sounds about right. we live in a democracy where people can and will do what they want within the law. Thus only a certain percentage of the population are going to actually want to write in, because the other 60million, don't actually care enough or can be bothered to. It doesn't however mean though that their views aren't being represented across the country through the 1million who have written in. It simply means that not everyone has the time energy inclination, call it what you will, to do so.

Surely that's the point about being a sample of the population?

When it seems as if it is, you then talk about radical impartiality, which means that all view points must be considered in order to ensure the platform of impartiality, however distasteful we personally may find them.

The problem with that is, is, that when you let everyone in, suddenly it becomes that the vocal minority are hijacking the forums, either professionally or individually. It doesn't quite fit the responses you expect,

You can't have it both ways, either you're committed to radical impartiality and all those that want to write in will do so, or you're not, but what you can't do, is say that we are (committed to radical impartiality), but it's been hijacked the lobbyists and therefore we're thinking of disabling it. Having your cake and eating it, being a phrase that springs to mind.

Ultimately, because of your editorial control, whatever is put out, paints to a large degree your picture that essentially says, we'll let you write what you want, just a long as it fits in with our view point because we think we know what the people are really saying. We (the upper management) are Oxbridge educated, so clearly we're not stupid, but when we let you write in what you think, you start saying things we are profoundly uncomfortable with and are potentially embarrassing especially for the minority who might take offence. Unfortunately, it's these very same minorities who are responsible for most of the problems currently around.

Therefore, your only course of action, is to question the very legitimacy of what the HYS boards say in the first place, because otherwise... you (BBC management)have a severe problem on your hands...

An Unfair analysis?

  • 41.
  • At 03:40 PM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • Rick McDaniel wrote:

In today's world, the common man, and his opinion, and wishes, are largely ignored by everyone else. Yet, he IS the majority.....he simply does not carry any power, because he is manipulated by all those who DO have power.

Ignoring him would be a huge mistake. Downplaying his opinions, an even greater mistake. That is, after all, the source of revolutions.

Hopefully this will post. My posts only infrequently work, on this section of the BBC.

  • 42.
  • At 04:45 PM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • Max Johnson wrote:

A very interesting talk, and thanks for posting it.
Whether or not most of them are 'chaff', the majority of the opinions expressed on the HYS forums are what I hear in the pub, on the street and on the Lancaster omnibus. I believe that, whether you like it or not (and it seems as though you do not), the comments reflect what ordinary people think. Much of the invective is invited by the, seemingly, purposely provocative choice of subject, and often by how it's headline is worded, so it's partly your own fault, I'm afraid.
I agree with others here that the balance of the recommended comments would be much improved by the simple addition of a 'disagree' button.
I like the HYS site, although, yes, it is often infuriating. But it is always interesting and often informative to read what other people think. I don't understand why you read out the comments during news bulletins though. They're not [i]that[/i] interesting and informative.
Whether or not you retain HYS is up to you. You're the Head of the newsroom. Only you know whether or not you're really want to know what we have to say.

  • 43.
  • At 04:57 PM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • Alistair Lane wrote:

Have Your Say does not provide a truthful representation of British public opinion. It is so heavily censored by the BBC that the resulting published comments are nothing more than inoffensive waffle. Meantime, what real people think in this country (what they say to one another across the tea table) gets excluded from publication. I guess Have Your Say reflects very nicely the way society has become dumbed down to the point where no one can express what they truly feel anymore.

  • 44.
  • At 05:34 PM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • Setor Ablordeppey wrote:

I commend Peter Horrocks for his speech which came at a relevant time.

  • 45.
  • At 07:42 PM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • Rich C wrote:

Thank you, Peter, for this illuminating insight into the thought processes of the corporation. I can see why the issues of Citizen Journalism have become a problem, unique in severity, for the BBC.

The main problem I see with viewer involvement, with particular reference to the BBC Have Your Say (HYS) forums, is that comments are published and rated with no communication route to the original author.

This encourages participation at a level that means the BBC can never take time to read each individual comment, research its claims and consider it in context. If the BBC published no comments at all, the genuine voices could be heard over the relentless background noise.

News stories on the BBC website are anonymous postings; this would have to stop to give readers am opportunity to react on what is written. At the moment, a story has to be selected for HYS, where a single relevant comment to the researchers or editor is soon lost in a mess of popularity contests.

In most cases the one story you need to comment on does not get thrown into the HYS arena. Now the BBC news story and its author are without challenge and without accountability.

Last year I took great issue with the gross inaccuracy of a story from the multimedia newsroom department, the only route of communication was to complain. My concerns did not warranty that level of action, nor would the complaint have been satisfied in a timely fashion.

If you truly want to embrace your audience views, as your words indicate, then please do not allow anonymous postings of content on the BBC website, and do not run popularity contests on viewer’s comments.

  • 46.
  • At 09:10 PM on 08 Jan 2008,
  • Graham Found wrote:

I am afraid that the vocal minority seem to take over feedback forums. I do not believe they are representative of public opinion and would be very frightened if I believed the majority of views posted were being at all representative.

If you feel that this is not the case why are you not reporting, following comments in have your say regarding Witherspoon's, and more recently Fathers parenting ability, that we now live in a country where the majority are selfishly intolerant beyond belief and hate children?

  • 47.
  • At 10:11 AM on 09 Jan 2008,
  • OMB wrote:

Citizen Journalism has come a long way. As a former journalist who now works in PR/marketing, I can see the valuable contribution that readers and viewers can make to a news programme or publication.

That's the way journalism is going in this 24 hour news culture. Every media outlet from the BBC to a local newspaper is now grasping these opportunities.

However, my only concern is that, as with the old 'Letters to the Editor' sections, you tend to get the more vocal or opinionated person taking part and not necessarily representing the broad opinion - something that the Bhutto issue highlights.

Nevertheless, images from incidents sent through by viewrs and readers is ensuring we have more descriptive reports and has helped to enhance the overall news service.

  • 48.
  • At 11:10 AM on 09 Jan 2008,
  • Cynosarges wrote:

The BBC, by imposing 'Full moderation' has caused part of the problem that you describe. I have noticed, on many forums, the BBC allows the first 20-50 comments through, and then there is a significant pause before any more are 'moderated'. (Being cynical, one might suspect that the moderator has just gone off to the BBC canteen.)

However, the consequence of this is that the first few posts build up a large number of 'recommendations' (however representative or non-representative they are). Consequently, if if a participant wants to recommend views similar to their own, the first few postings (even if they are unrepresentative or trivial) are at the top of the 'Readers Recommend' tab, and will remain there even after additional comments are moderated after the moderator returns from his 'cuppa'.

I suggest that the BBC 'reactively moderates' more forums, and sees whether this remedies any of the problems you comment upon.

As a further, but unrelated, comment, enforcement of the House rule 'Do not make multiple postings' (which could be automated) would improve the quality of the forums. Nothing is more irritating than seeing the 15th posting on the same forum from a single 'contributor'.

  • 49.
  • At 11:43 PM on 28 Jan 2008,
  • Mark wrote:

My wishlist for BBC would be

1) absolutely raw source data, naming sources, timelines, whatever presentation fits,

2) gut reaction of readers.
A sort of left-lobe right-lobe configuration placing the reader inbetween.

3) Then finally, the part that is pure dreaming in the mere 21st century, would be serious proposals gathered and refined where maybe it starts out the food-fight of HYS, but through consistent self-moderation evolves into a defensible consensus.

I don't really care about journalism at all except as it applies to new ideas to consider and getting grounded against the mass mind.

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