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The role of citizen journalism in modern democracy

Helen Boaden | 09:30 UK time, Thursday, 13 November 2008

This week I gave the keynote speech at the e-Democracy conference. You can read what I said below. I would be interested to know what you think.


When I started my career in broadcasting - at Radio Tees - a commercial local radio station in Middlesbrough - we'd never heard of digital. Nor of the internet. Channel 4 was about to kick off but there was no Sky News; no ITV 2 and certainly no BBC News Channel - formerly known as News 24.

Today, as you will know, on average every person in the UK spends approaching half their waking hours using communication tools like PCs, laptops, mobiles, TVs, radios, iPods and other digital devices.

David DimblebyLast week, 5.5 million people tuned into our US election programme with David Dimbleby. Interestingly, we don't know the precise figure for 1979's programme but we can be pretty certain it was many, many more.

What we are seeing in television is audience fragmentation - the natural impact of greater audience choice in a multi channel age. When people have a lot to choose from, they go off in all sorts of directions. It means that really huge audiences for television news on all channels are a thing of the past.

You can see this quite clearly in the figures. In 2006 - in homes with digital television, news viewing fell by a third. And the numbers watching current affairs fell by half.

Interestingly, soaps don't suffer the same decline.

And all this in the context that analogue television switch off begins this year and ends in 2012. In just four years, we're fully digital.

Today, and increasingly in the future, audiences want the news at the time they want it; on the platform most convenient to them and tailored to the subjects or agenda they find most appealing.

So the biggest challenge for us is about our relationship to the people who matter most - our audiences.

It's about capturing and keeping their hearts and minds. And for audiences who want to join in, that means including them in the process of making the news.

Our journalism is now fully embracing the experiences of our audiences, sharing their stories, using their knowledge and hosting their opinions; we're acting as a conduit between different parts of our audience; and we're being more open and transparent than we have ever been.

And these things are not on the fringes of what we do: they are fundamental.

If you're in any doubt, let me take you on a tour of some recent stories.

Bombed bus shown from frontI'll start with the London bombings. It was of course a terrible tragedy and a profoundly shocking event. But for Newsgathering, what happened on 7 July three years ago marked a watershed: the point at which the BBC knew that newsgathering had changed forever. In one sense it was just an example of what might be called "accidental journalism".

No one who set off for work that fateful morning had any idea that their mobile phones would capture such dramatic images.

But accidental journalism is nothing new. When Abraham Zapruder took his Bell & Howell movie camera to Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas on 22 November 1963 he had no idea he would capture the most iconic example of citizen journalism. He recorded less than 30 seconds of film - the assassination of President Kennedy.

Zapruder had no doubt about the exclusivity and value of his film. It was sold to Life Magazine for $150,000 three days later.

But compare his one film with what happened on 7 July. Within 24 hours, the BBC had received 1,000 stills and videos, 3,000 texts and 20,000 e-mails. What an incredible resource.

Twenty-four hour television was sustained as never before by contributions from the audience; one piece on the Six O'clock News was produced entirely from pieces of user-generated content.

At the BBC, we knew then that we had to change. We would need to review our ability to ingest this kind of material and our editorial policies to take account of these new forms of output.

We were better prepared for the Glasgow airport bombing. Here too, the mobile phone images captured the drama long before conventional news crews could arrive. I was actually at Glasgow and became part of that newsgathering process. Using only my mobile, I was able to get on air immediately.

Later, I actually found one of the men who had wrestled the burning man to the ground and got him on air at once.

It brought home to me as nothing else could how simple digital technology had transformed the process of what we do. When I was a reporter - before mobile phones - live reporting like that would have been much, much harder requiring us to shepherd our interviewee into a phone box to get him on air!

But if these are a kind of accidental journalism - a canny use of domestic technology to get the unexpected story - other kinds of experience sharing are more deliberate.

In September last year, a group of monks and pro-democracy activists led a series of demonstrations against the military rulers in Burma. As the protests took hold, the demonstrations grew in size and thousands of ordinary citizens joined in.

The BBC, like other news organisations, was banned from entering Burma - we couldn't find out what was happening.

But despite a crackdown on the internet and mobile phone networks the BBC was flooded with pictures, video, texts and e-mails from Burmese citizens who told us what was really happening on the ground.

This was citizen newsgathering - simultaneously transcending boundaries and confronting authority.

One contributor in Rangoon told us: "When monks and people reached the mid-level platform of the Shwedagon Pagoda around 12:20 PM, they closed the doors behind and riot police started to chase them and beat them up. Then about 200 were hauled off onto the trucks and driven away. About 80 monks were taken away."

As Burma demonstrated - and I found out for myself in Glasgow, one of the most important tools for the citizen newsgatherer is the mobile phone. Mobiles present a lightning-fast and convenient way for communities and audiences to engage with news organisations.

That was demonstrated in another country from which the BBC reporters are banned: Zimbabwe. On the day of the recent elections there, the BBC asked voters to text in and tell us their experiences at the polling booths. Those texts gave us a really broad diversity of experiences from right across the country.

The situation at the booths appeared to be calmer than expected; but what emerged from many was the high number of people being turned away when they turned up to vote because their names were missing. This again gave us a rich and first-hand addition to our conventional journalism.

In some ways, the most successful combination of conventional and citizen newsgathering was the coverage of the floods that swept across the UK last year. This coverage won an award for innovation at the Royal Television Society. It was truly greater than the sum of its parts. It provided our audiences with crucial public information when they really needed it.

It's no surprise then that the BBC has gone from passively accepting user-generated content to positively soliciting it. It's not just a "nice to have" - it can really enrich our journalism and provide our audiences with a wider diversity of voices than we could otherwise deliver.

As well as voices we might not otherwise hear from, there are stories about which we would never have known.

A new strand on Wales Today - "Your Story" - features stories contributed solely by individual viewers and followed up by the programme.

While World Have Your Say is one of a number of programmes which tries to encourage a global conversation based around the programme's blogs and e-mails.

We are just launching a video Have Your Say where audience members can contribute their opinions by video some of which will undoubtedly make the conventional News bulletins if they are strong enough.

For many of our audiences, this has opened their eyes to something very simple: that their lives can be newsworthy - that news organisations don't have a monopoly on what stories are covered. Indeed, that news organisations have an appetite for stories they simply couldn't get to themselves and they value information and eye witness accounts from the public - as they always have done.

In May this year, an e-mail arrived from a BBC viewer - a worker at Heathrow - that claimed that foreign workers employed airside at UK airports did not have to undergo full mandatory criminal records checks. The story turned in to an exclusive lead for Newsnight, was followed up by several papers, led to questions in the House of Lords and a change in government policy.

It was a more proactive request for contributions that led to a lead story on the 10 O'clock News, after the outgoing head of the army had voiced concern about conditions in armed forces housing. Journalists were unable to film on MoD premises. So the programme used the BBC website and sites that soldiers use - and offered families affected an open platform to tell their own story. The material sent in exposed the squalid state of much of the soldiers' accommodation.

We were then able to show the pictures we received to the Army - and they had to respond. Again, user-generated content became the core of the story.

Technology is allowing us to generate stories we wouldn't otherwise get - and develop them in ways that otherwise wouldn't be possible.

So much for stories. But what about opinions? Of course, for many years members of the public have been able to share their opinions through the media. Phone-in shows have been a staple format on talk radio for decades.

Now, with blogs in particular - but also podcasts and videoblogs - the ability of the public to express opinion in public has exploded - especially in the USA - and they no longer need to be "hosted" by broadcaster.

This has had a number of effects on traditional media.

The appetite for opinion is clearly there - but it has put pressure on the traditional framework of impartiality and objectivity for organisations like the BBC. The quantity of views, and the means by which they are expressed, has grown significantly. So too have the benefits of being seen to embrace and support public discussion.

The challenge for news organisations is in learning how to integrate the opinions of their readers, listeners and viewers in new ways.
And we're still learning. Some commentators have said that blogs have undermined the value of the columnist or op-ed writer, because there is excellent commentary available for free on the web.

But I feel the opposite is true at the BBC. The blogs of senior BBC correspondents are drawing huge numbers of people into sharing the expertise of our specialist editors and engaging in debate with each other.

Listen to some of these figures for October - this past month. Nick Robinson, our political editor, got one and a half million page views for his blog. Justin Webb, in Washington, got two and a half million.

And Robert Peston, our business editor? In one month...just under eight million page views.

And, of course, people aren't just viewing - they're blogging. Adding to the debate, posting their opinions, challenging our coverage, suggesting new avenues of approach.

But it's worth looking at the numbers here -

Take Robert Peston's blog on who benefits from the cut in interest rates. On the day of publication, it had 182,000 page views. And 253 comments.

This highlights the difference in the audiences between those who are happy to read what others have to say and those self selecting minority who want to join in the debate themselves, knowing that the environment can be robust and that people might disagree with what they have to say.

These numbers are also a useful warning not to set too much store by the tone of the comments. Those who join in the debate are by definition a vocal minority. They certainly have a place in a vibrant and impartial news environment but they need to be kept in perspective.

Now it's an accepted tenet of the modern journalistic landscape that someone out there will always know more about a story than we do. That's why the notion of developing networks has become increasingly important.

The iPM programme on Radio 4 recently constructed a temporary network to build a "map of the credit crunch".

Listeners were directed to the programme's website and asked to say which aspect of the credit crunch most affected their lives. Fuel prices affected most people, but some clear regional differences emerged - and these insights then informed all of the BBC's journalism and helped all of our programmes avoid stereotypes.

Sounds simple. But for me it was important: a radio programme - using "crowd sourcing" - on its own website - to generate important stories and insights about the effect of the economy on specific areas of the UK.

Of course, news organisations also have to adapt to the many networks that already exist.

It's thought that Facebook now has over 90 million active users; that 65,000 videos a day are uploaded to YouTube; these have been joined by sites like Flickr, Twitter and many others. For journalists, these networks represent a good source of information and specialist groups.

The newspaper design guru Mario Garcia told the World Association of Newspapers, "Social networks are the new cities. If people choose to gather there we must be there too." And he's right.

There are opportunities in all these networks to engage new - often younger - audiences who are not consumers of traditional news. And branding opportunities too: the BBC and the FT offer headlines on Twitter; Reuters has a bureau in Second Life.

And so news organisations are learning how to use the technology and the sites that encourage citizen newsgathering to support their traditional purposes of providing professional journalism as widely as possible.

If good journalism is to survive it's essential we all adapt in this way.

But it does raise interesting issues for us.

The need to be able to handle all this user-generated content is affecting the way we structure ourselves. We have established what we call the UGC Hub - a seven-day, 24-hour operation at the heart of our newsroom.

The hub has 23 staff and works with every part of BBC journalism. Four staff from Have Your Say work solely on moderating blogs and debates. And it's needed: on an average day the hub will handle 12,000 e-mails and around 200 pictures. On a big story day those numbers go through the roof. Some 7,000 pieces of video came in to the hub in one week during last July's floods.

When the Archbishop of Canterbury said on the World at One - a lunchtime programme - that some aspects of Sharia Law were inevitable in the UK, more than 9,000 contributions had arrived by teatime. These responses were then fed back in the output later in the day.

Sometimes we bring it on ourselves. We recently ran a feature on "Broadband Britain" and gave people a way of testing their broadband speeds and then plotting it on a map. Within a 36 hour period we received 65,000 contributions.

The hub is now a fundamental part of BBC journalism, providing a rich memory bank of case studies and a pool of potential story ideas.

I think we've probably always underestimated the media literacy of our audiences - especially those from the babyboomers downwards. But the simplicity of digital technology means it's never been easier for audiences to "make judgements about our judgements".

Again, it's not really new to hear what the audience thinks about what we do. We have always had duty logs and letters through which the highly motivated could register their disapproval - or occasionally their pleasure.

Today, if I get 50 complaints on the duty log about something on our News, then I think we've clearly got to look at the way we did that story. It may be that we are perfectly happy with our final judgement.

But I know that 50 people bothering to ring in probably represent a lot more who were fed up or annoyed but didn't take the trouble to tell us.

A few years ago when I was controller of Radio 4, I announced that I was devoting all of the Boxing Day FM schedule to Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter. It was front page news on every paper and I received over 200 letters of bitter complaint - most of them demanding my immediate resignation.

That was quite a high number then. Today with e-mail, that probably would have been thousands. The interesting issue then would have been whether or not the weight of all that complaining would have changed my decision.

When we said we were going to show Jerry Springer The Opera on BBC Two, we received more than 60,000 complaints - most by e-mail. When we said we would show a glimpse of the Danish cartoons on the News, Radio 5Live was subject to an organised text campaign by angry Muslims.

In all those cases, we stuck to our guns and made our judgements based on our values of being independent and impartial.

The BBC has a fundamental commitment to freedom of speech and expression - within the law and within appropriate boundaries of taste and decency (and of course there is much audience debate about where those are drawn).

That commitment is there because free access to reliable, impartial information is fundamental to a liberal democracy and that is what the BBC is here to serve.

But the sheer volume of e-mail and text traffic possible because of digital technology could have the effect of bullying a less confident organisation.

And certainly bullying by blog is a phenomenon that many newspapers are struggling with in relation to their columnists. It's one of the darker sides of the great push to more connection and transparency.

Unsurprisingly, there's a lot of comment on a myriad number of blogs specifically about the BBC and especially BBC News.

For us in journalism, one of our most important responses to this kind of debate has been to launch the Editors' blog, where our programme editors - the people who actually decide what is in the Today Programme or on Newsnight or on the Ten O'clock News, write about the editorial dilemmas they face and their particular judgements.

This section of the BBC website received over a million page views last month.

I am incredibly proud of the Editors' Blog and of my team for being open and transparent with the public.

But as time has gone on, it's clear that in one respect at least, this is a double edged sword. Call us paranoid, but we increasingly have a sneaking suspicion that some of our competitors in the newspaper industry pore over our Editors' Blog to try to pick out phrases and opinions to turn into critical copy.

This doesn't remotely put us off doing it - but it certainly makes us very realistic about the risks and benefits of transparency. Indeed, I long for the day when the editor of a major newspaper - especially a tabloid - writes the occasional blog honestly outlining the reasons behind his or her editorial decisions.

But we are here to talk about democracy. I've touched on how we are using digital technology to establish new relationships with our audiences.

But we are acutely aware that the formal political processes need to be brought into this world too.

To that end, we are about to launch an important new site called Democracy Live.

This will offer live and on demand video from all the main UK institutions and the European Parliament. Users will be able to search across the video for representatives and issues that are relevant to them. They will be able to find out more about their representatives in the institutions and follow their contributions.

The site will also offer detailed guides to how the institutions across a devolved UK work and what powers they have, all the must know information about issues in the news and blogs from our political editors, plus a range of ways for users to comment and contact their representatives and institutions.

And while this will make for a compelling mix on the site, we also want it to be a shareable resource, with video and text content that users can take and place on their own sites or blogs.

So: are there risks to all this engagement with the audience? Of course.

We must always be cautious of over-interpretation - of concluding too much from the select few that interact with us online. As yet they are still but one sub-set of our audience.

And we absolutely must beware of how one of the strengths of the internet - its speed - can become a terrible weakness if the information is not true.

Let me give you a very small example I've seen for myself.

Recently, the BBC declined to publish an internal management review of its coverage. The decision was based on principle, not on its contents.

One commentator suggested the report was 20,000 pages long!

Now the BBC is famed for its bureaucracy, but that would make it 20 times the length of War and Peace.

This error went round the world and back again on the web - unquestioned.

Of course, in reality, our document is not 20,000 pages. It's 20,000 words.

This is not an especially damaging piece of misinformation - but you take my point.

That's not to deny, of course, the impact that bloggers have made and the real stories they have broken. But too often, perhaps, readers of internet journalists are left to their own devices to sort fact from fiction.

Tim Berners-Lee himself fears that his original goal for the web - to link credible information worldwide - could be destroyed.

He has warned:

"The medium can be perverted, giving you what seems to be the world, but in fact is a tilted and twisted version."

Mainstream journalism must guard against running the same risk. In order to survive, journalism must be trusted. And to earn trust, it must be accurate and fair.

Equally, we will always be faced with issues about taste and decency - we saw that with the mobile phone pictures of Saddam Hussein's hanging.

The evolution of technology will undoubtedly raise all sorts of challenges.

Some mobile phones already allow live broadcasting - it won't be long before they all will - and that will bring with it some critical issues around editorial control.

And we must always be alert to hoaxes - most news organisations have been duped at some point, despite the strict controls we have in place.

We must guard against mindless interactivity replacing genuinely useful debate and insights.

We must careful not to encourage citizen journalists to take risks in dangerous situations.

We may find that issues around copyright and ownership of material require more time and resource than we imagined.

And we must continue to consider the motivation of contributors and ask why they are telling us this.

But as I list this roll-call of reservations, they only serve to reinforce something I've always known: that the key aptitude for any editorial leader is good judgement. It was when I joined the BBC; it still is today.

And it is precisely good judgement that tells us that it makes sense to embrace interactivity and citizen newsgathering in its various forms.

There are great and positive opportunities for journalism and for reinforcing citizenship. And "we" can't wait for "them" to come to us. Smart news organisations are engaging audiences and opening themselves up to the conversation our audiences clearly want.

I am conscious that my view is that of a director of News of an organisation that represents what these days are called the mainstream media.

It wasn't long ago that bloggers and traditional news organisations were at each others throats. In truth, many big organisations were slow to respond and saw the internet as more of a threat than an opportunity.

But where the bigger players lacked a degree of humility and agility, the blogosphere appeared to lack a focus or clarity of purpose.

Now, these various elements that make up the modern media are learning to live with each other.

I hope I have demonstrated that the BBC is embracing these changes as positively as we can and should. I believe it's essential for the development of our journalism and our public purpose of informed citizenship.

But BBC journalism is also rooted in some core values - truth and accuracy, impartiality and diversity of opinion, independence, reporting in the public interest and accountability to audiences.

So embrace change and modernise we will, but those traditional values will always remain the lode star of BBC journalism.


  • Comment number 1.

    democracy? what's that then?

    Also, don't make me laugh about the BBC's "values"! From my perspective as an average Joe, I see the BBC taking money in TV tax from everyone (even if they don't use their TV for TV) and blow it on such wonderful people as Wossy and so on.

    At the same time, dumbing down the programs so that the little chavs and chavettes might turn E4 off and watch.

    Informed citizenship?
    Labour spout machine more like (oh and that phrase you used sounds very much like something from the book 1984 to me).

  • Comment number 2.

    Rather a long winded commentaryu just to say Hey! boys digital is here to stay.

    But a fairly good read, nevertheless.

  • Comment number 3.

    Excellent article, Ms Boaden.

    I guess it does beg the question of how to avoid 'citizen journalism' turning into a 'Guido Fawkes' of the airwaves. I have a concern that in, rightly, defending editorial decisions against 'bullying', while at the same time trying to tell us that the input of 'citizen journalists' is vital, that you may get the balance wrong..

    Don't you think you will be accused of taking the views of the 'citizens' where they help your news coverage, or re-inforce your view of the world, but ignoring them when you don't ?

    In which case, what is the point ? There is a danger of 'he who shouts the loudest' being what is heard on the blogosphere, or the voice of 'interest groups'. I agree that you are trying to guard against that, but in that case, is all the effort being put into 'crowdsourcing' best left to the bloggers to 'D-I-Y', without you needing to be involved?

    This debate will run and run...

    p.s. Shame you glossed over the Euroblog from Mark Mardell - he may not get the same traffic as Justin Webb, or the plaudits of Peston but he is EXCELLENT and I have learned more about the EU from his blog [and the comments !] than years of reading the newspapers - a lesson for them, I think

  • Comment number 4.

    How about using experienced reporters to report the news and then putting some programmes on that are worth watching?

    You just don't get it.

  • Comment number 5.

    "Our journalism is now fully embracing the experiences of our audiences, sharing their stories, using their knowledge and hosting their opinions"

    Which is why watching the BBC News is like reading The Daily Mail, sometimes even The Mirror.

    Do BBC News executives have nothing better to do than write waffle such as this blog?

  • Comment number 6.

    The difficulty with 'citizen journalism' is that no-one pays it any attention unless the blogger is saying what most people think already. Any ideas, however logical, are completely ignored if they are outside of what Peter Berger calls "The current plausibility structure". For example, I would bet that I am writing this comment for my own amusement only.

    It would need the authority of the BBC to be able to make observations that challenge the status quo, an authority that is constantly being eroded by efforts to keep the BBC within 'publically acceptable bounds', often with the best of motives.

    Stay in there aunty. We need you.

  • Comment number 7.

    The BBC is not accountable to its customers because there is no choice in paying for the service so there is never any income impact on the content broadcast.

    As for the internet giving a distorted and twisted view of the world - What was there before the internet. I can remember sitting in a war zone listening to the BBC World Service saying all British citizens had been evacuated which was not true, most were still in place. Within 20 minutes an airstrike occurred on an British civilian evacuation convoy, fortunately at the last minute the attacking pilot deflected the missiles to feet from the convoy having seen the Red Cross flag. There was a row of craters all the way down the length of the convoy.

    With blog and text bullying, which is no different than any other sort of public comment, just more rapid and easier to do - The BBC should have news and reporting policies which can withstand reasonable criticism. The same applies to programmes and presenters.

    Governments and large organisations fear the internet, usually because it is effective and communicates rapidly and is largely uncensored, at the moment.

  • Comment number 8.

    Hmm... inviting comments is one thing.

    The real lodestar of the BBC "Nation Shall Speak Peace unto Nation".

    When comments are the antithesis of the opinion of the 'blog' poster. We get an blog posting pretty much saying "We report on what we want".

    Because it includes the operation and editorial line of the BBC.

    That is NOT citizen journalism.

  • Comment number 9.

    My God. You people love to puff yourself up and preen the pretty little feathers. You really don't get it do you?

    You dumb down for Chavsville, forcing once-respectable news journalists to cringe on screen as they read out some syrup-laden concoction for the masses. When are you going to restart making some decent programs, including the news - something with real bite and edge? Your news and current affairs staff (with the exception of Robert Peston and a few others) increasingly indulge in flights of linguistic and grammatical fantasy, no doubt done deliberately in the hope of pandering to 'youth' and sub-prime markets.

    Here's a secret for you - youth and sub-prime probably don't watch/listen to the news.

  • Comment number 10.

    you can ignore #4 as they obviously have no appreciation of the context of your article in regards to the general public enhancing it, and #5 obviously couldn't figure out that this was the verbatim version of a talk you gave! i for one wholeheartedly back bbc employees giving presentations, as it shares the knowledge we as license fee payers fund.

    this is a little long for a web article but i agree that 24 hour news would be fairly tedious if we had to wait hours before any footage was unexpected live events.

    as an aside, i would happily pay the license fee just for the bbc website and radio stations. other news delivery is so sponsored (and therefore politically biased) and full of adverts i can't bear to watch or listen for more than 10minutes or so, whereas i'd happily leave bbc news (radio or tv) on in the background as i do stuff around the house.

  • Comment number 11.

    Hi Helen. I was at the event, and happy to say it was a brilliant keynote speech. Excellent stuff - and great visual presentation too. Thank you. Stuart

  • Comment number 12.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 13.

    "The BBC has a fundamental commitment to freedom of speech and expression - within the law and within appropriate boundaries of taste and decency (and of course there is much audience debate about where those are drawn)."

    Except, of course when it comes to publishing comments which might offend certain global corporations with a penchant for suing anyone who says anything bad about them, regardless of whether it is provable fact!

    A friend of mine recently tried to post a comment on the blog about the 911 Conspiracy files which included a comment about Monsanto's attempts to patent the DNA for a pig (an easily verifiable fact, gleaned from public sources). Despite the fact that the comment followed all the BBC's supposed guidelines, it was rejected by the moderators, and despite emailing and asking for a reason for the rejection, my friend never received one.

    Also note that in its charter, the BBC clearly states that in times of war (which technically this is) it reserves the right to present a biased view.

    "The medium can be perverted, giving you what seems to be the world, but in fact is a tilted and twisted version."

    Isn't that what most "news services" give us anyway? Given that for the most part they're owned by fat cat businessmen with their fingers in pies in every country in the world. I had hoped the BBC would be different, being paid for by us...pity I was wrong.

  • Comment number 14.

    You can ignore 10 as he/she seems unwilling to let people make their own minds up about contributions to the blog! When the post of dictator is free I'll put you up for it.

    What do you mean 'the general public enhancing it [the article]' is this a basic grammatical error. I assume so.

    Don't worry - I perfectly understand the context - it is just a false context. Yet another case of the Emperor not having any clothes. The article (or should I call it a blog as that is so much cooler?) is contentless drivel from beginning to end.

    I'm afraid you are in a small minority.

  • Comment number 15.

    in short the bbc can't beat youtube.

    there are many worlds on the internet and people are astute at telling which is which. You can't fool all the people all the time.

    the bbc is an early 20th century idea and pretty irrelevant today. It s just another punter pushing its social agenda and pretending its truth.

    the bbc fought tooth and nail against the idea of open broadcasting and so retarded the uk in the new media. Fiji had more open broadcasting than the uk.

    it compares itself to commercial broadcasters [especially in terms of wages] when it should be comparing itself to other public service broadcasters.

    digital radio is dead. no real technology needs govt funding. did mp 3? did digital cameras? mobile phones? The bbc use the word digital as if its something more than a means of delivery.

    given the subsidy the bbc should win every award in its field? But it doesn't. Take the usa election. 200 staff moving around in buses reporting the same thing. Most reckon sky and itn gave a better service.

    as for peston. most the posts on his blogs are telling him to shut up talking rubbish.

    still ross and clarkson are still there because the bbc is scared of them and so they treat the bbc like doormats.

    everyone else has moved on why hasn't the bbc?

  • Comment number 16.

    #12 - Re your comment to #9. Public service broadcasting is there to step above the LCD and aim at something higher than what the market would otherwise dictate. That is the only justification for it. Otherwise you are just getting commercial broadcasting.

    You are missing the point.

  • Comment number 17.

    I like the BBC News website, as I think it gives a good balance and enough detail and analysis to give the gist of the story, and perhaps a little more if you’re really interested. It also has links to other sources if you really want to learn more. By comparison, BBC TV News is now so lightweight and dumbed down that I no longer watch it. I’d equate what it shows now to what I used to watch on Newsround all those years ago – it’s at a similar level. The inclusion of background music, the use of tracking shots as a reporter tries to walk and talk, and worst of all the fact that the cameramen seem incapable of focusing on the subject rather than the wall behind (see film of The Queen making her speech yesterday) just helps to make the whole thing completely off-putting and lightweight. I’ll stick with the website which actually writes for literate adults.

    One comment though about the use of audience contribution – you have to be careful about what the audience sends and what it actually means. The furore around the Original Mountain Marathon was a good example. The news reports screamed headlines about thousands of people being unaccounted for and having to spend the night on the mountain as though they were all in mortal danger. Yet the reality was completely different. Not only were all the competitors experience fell runners, fully kitted out for the conditions and running in pairs, but they’d all been intending to spend the night on the mountain anyway. Maybe if some time had been taken to find out what fell running is actually about rather than instantly responding to reports from people who didn’t understand it then there might not have been the complete overreaction and the unnecessary criticism of the organisers.

  • Comment number 18.

    I don't have a mobile phone. I don't text. But I do have a computer with broadband connection, and involve myself in newsgroups on various subjects.
    The Internet is full of websites that are out of date, are very selective in what they cover, or are just plain wrong in what they say. The BBC news at least is up to date, fairly accurate (though inclined to be London and England-centric), and interesting; but I get maddened at the repetitive news clips that cycle over and over again - one expects that with all the filming that goes on, you surely have more than 20 seconds video of any event.
    Gordon Johnson,
    Wick, Caithness

  • Comment number 19.

    News gathering will never be the same anymore, and the mobile phone has become a great aide for many news organisations.

    My concern is how items are censored fro broadcast, also how often we see the loop film, the same shots time and time again. While the reader/presenter is speaking over the film. We are told every fifteen minutes of so what is the top news stories, and it seems that things are twice as bad as they really are. the emphasis on one or two stories, seems at time to glorify the story. Then the main people in that story and collating info on, feel the pressure to find something new or different, to keep it at the top of the news.

    We have only just seen how a story in Jersey, had become much more than it truly was. Why?, because the principle figure felt the need to give info to all the reporters. Now it seems that he is the new news story.

    Just now on TV a story about how Germany is now finding the financial downturn harder for them. Yesterday reporters were asking the BoH why the UK is worse than other countries, yet today it would seem all countries are in the same dilemma. yet it would seem some reporters were looking to blame MR King for not doing a good job. Once again seeking blood in a story which does not have any.

  • Comment number 20.

    Hia Helen,

    Think i may be in a minority here. BBC news and journalists may be lowering their game due to the pressures of commercial media?

    All i can say is that BBC, overall, should be setting and holding standards, not following them.

    BBC must perform 'in the public interest' in Britain and internationally. If the BBC and their employees are forced to behave commercially or politically, then respect will be lost globally.

    Call me old fashioned, but the BBC should always be an international auntie who stands up for everything, whatever our problems, and is the honest and harsh relative that brings us all back to what humanity (deep down) needs as a global family?

  • Comment number 21.

    "We may find that issues around copyright and ownership of material require more time and resource than we imagined."

    Oh yes indeed. The BBC is acquiring a dreadful reputation as a "rights-grabbing" organisation which is becoming the norm across many media platforms.

    The issue of copyright and ownership is deliberately traduced by encouraging "citizen journalism". Intellectual property is "the oil of the 21st century" as stated by the founder of Getty Images. Let it be made clear that educating the public as to the value of their contributions should be a vital function of your organisation.

  • Comment number 22.

    The BBC is so transparent and open that if a licence payer wanted to see some tangible evidence of the decisions and choices you have personally made in the past 12 months, steering the BBC in this digital world they would be able to do so.

    In the absence of this transparency you are left with continuously repeating the mantra of how important transparency is the to BBC, hoping that it will become true through repetition of this message but without really demonstrating it yourself.

    How has lack of transparency helped the BBC in the past?

  • Comment number 23.

    "How about using experienced reporters to report the news and then putting some programmes on that are worth watching?

    You just don't get it."

    what a good idea! have u got another idea... how to make "on the spot" citizen journalists "experienced?

    looks like u just don't get it either....
    (you're not a journalist union rep are u? :)

    as for tv programmes worth watching.... it is my guess than the future of tv broadcasting will be "live" events only... and the rest will be archive and downloadable on demand.

  • Comment number 24.

    "Take Robert Peston's blog... This highlights the difference in the audiences between those who are happy to read what others have to say and those self selecting minority who want to join in ... These numbers are also a useful warning not to set too much store by the tone of the comments. Those who join in the debate are by definition a vocal minority."

    I better not join in here as, by this definition, I will be deemed to have moved from the acceptable 'Shut up and take what you are given/silence is deemed consent' camp to the, one presumes, non-BBC group of choice, here described as the 'vocal minority'.

    Oh.... rats.

  • Comment number 25.

    ok, i'll try again in a simple way that won't contravene the rules...

    everyone here who has contributed their negative views; you don't have to watch anything that you think is too low brow for you!

    to take your argument to the extremes, you could say the programmes on cbeebies aren't intellectual enough!

    all programmes that are on bbc1 at prime time, including the news, are meant for mainstream audiences... i.e. aimed at AVERAGE intelligence

    that is why, by definition, the news at 10 is very similar to itv news at the same time - it's how the general populace wants it.

    there are lots of other channels provided by the bbc rather than bbc1 - listen to radio4 and watch bbc4 for your high brow broadcasting.

    it would be criminal for the bbc to tailor the 10 o'clock news to the top 5% of the audience intellect. it's a service for the general public, not for you personally.

    if you feel the programme isn't for you then don't watch it!

    my rant is over, i was just flabbergasted by some of the comments here.

  • Comment number 26.

    I concur with #18. I believe better use of digital Interactive features could be made on News programmes in the morning.

    I have a possible 2 hours to listen to coverage. The bedroom Radio wakes me up at 6.30am, then the Shower Radio, then the TV is switched on during breakfast followed by the car radio while travelling to work.

    I turn the set off when I hear the phrase "We've run out of time ..." only to devote the same amount of time to Obama's dog, the weather or something equally trivial that I heard 15 mins before!

    I suggest putting the "Fast news and weather" on The Red Button and giving time to stories that deserve them like Events, Difficult road engineering tasks, detailed inquisitions of lawyers, planners, councillors and police, politicians, WHO sugar scientists, explain carefully why certain foods ar unsafe, why people have nut allergies (although QI has already told us that penuts are not nuts), book reviews, reasons why drugs are denied, parenting skills reviews, introduce phrases in other languages with subtitles, learn how other countries implement EU directives etc.

    People like me could learn more in the morning!

  • Comment number 27.

    You're speech was very well thought out and interesting, if a little long winded for an internet article but that can't be helped.

    The part that really stood out for me was this single sentence:

    "We must guard against mindless interactivity replacing genuinely useful debate and insights."

    In its rush to embrace user generated content throughout the whole of the BBC I think that more people in the corporation should take heed of such a warning.

    It may generate more interest from the public trying to notice their own contribution but it doesn't always improve the final product.

    I too would love to see a major newspaper editor explaining their editorial judgements, it certainly would be entertaining. But they, unlike you and your editors, are under no obligation to do so as they are only accountable to their directors. Hearing quite how important their advertisers are to their coverage and points of view would also be quite disturbing.

    The BBC, without advertisers, and with the public as its ultimate directors should rightly be held up to the highest level of scrutiny.

  • Comment number 28.

    'But BBC journalism is also rooted in some core values - truth and accuracy, impartiality and diversity of opinion, independence, reporting in the public interest and accountability to audiences'

    It always make me laugh when I read the BBC is impartial.

    The treatment dished out to Peter Mandelson and George Osbourne being the most notable recent incident of the BBC taking the side of Labour over Conservative (is it any wonder given that Labour is the tax and spend party and the BBC's funds come from the TV tax, sorry Licence?).

    Please stop telling us how impartial you are, we don't believe you!

  • Comment number 29.

    The BBC has moved with the times and continues to spear-head technological change. Excellence is the engine of change and the BBC is second to none in ensuring that audience satisfaction takes pride of place. Of course the government needs to tax citizens for proper funding of the BBC. No one should grudge the amounts spent on the BBC as this flagship does the country proud in every sense of the word! Of course public scrutiny is healthy. But concentrate on the positive aspects especially on the importance of impartiality which the BBC upholds with the greatest vigour!

  • Comment number 30.

    Mmm. Thanks Ms Boaden but I already know that "more means less".

    I can just remember BBC TV as one station, non-continuous output, with an audience that may have had different values but still managed to be gripped by Quatermass, Doctor Who, etc. The News held a steady state position and was expertly presented in a visual radio style. My father never missed it. And as for soaps having "settled audiences" isn't that their point? Even "Z-Cars" and "Dixon" were mandatory viewing for a long time.

    But isn't news presentation something that has undergone more bouts of surgery than a Beverly Hills wannabe? And has it made it look better? Just like the wannabe we can still see all the scars and still wonder just what was wrong with the original.

    "Clever" graphics may help keep a few bods in a job but they seldom have an added value. As a child I learned where places were by listening to the news and then looking in my school atlas to find out where the action was and just who else may be involved. We all know that the average US viewer, despite all the channels at their disposal, still struggles to know that the world does not end on the west and east coasts of North America.

    More always means less. Perhaps if you returned to treating your audiences as half way intelligent you may find that they respond by watching you more.

  • Comment number 31.

    Helen Boaden’s problem is that it is harder to ignore published blogs than a handful of letters written privately. The BBC’s response, it would appear, is to dismiss those commenting on blogs as a minority, stay in the bunker and hope for the best.

    Of course, you are right. The fact that there are less than 30 million people commenting on your blogs does make us a minority in the UK.

    Her other problem is that the transparency she desires looks rather sick when considering the BBC censorship of the Balen Report.

    Can the BBC ever be fully trusted when:

    - so much of its news output is not news at all? For instance, when the likes of Justin Webb and Nick Robinson provide their commentaries, consisting of their opinion spiced with gossip and speculation?

    - ex-BBC people who enter politics end up in greater numbers in the Liberal or Labour Party, rather than in the Conservative Party?

    - air time given to liberal or left-leaning quangos, charities and NGOs is greater than that given to those holding more right-leaning sentiments such as commercial organisations?

    - it insists in putting stories “in context” instead of reporting facts and letting the viewer/listener provide context

    - it runs news stories and features in strands such as “Mad About Food” which will give undue emphasis to one subject and thus be more of a BBC campaign than news?

    - it has been slow to reflect views on immigration and Europe (according to Peter Horrocks – “

    The BBC cannot be fully trusted while it -

    (i) openly displays left wing and liberal views
    (ii) it mixes features and commentary with news

    These are structural faults which prevent the BBC from being fully trusted, for as soon as the BBC espouses an opinion of its own, there will always be a counter-opinion. Perhaps there is too much creativity at the BBC?

    In any case, I reckon my minority is bigger than yours.

  • Comment number 32.

    Well said, informed citizenship and responsible, factually accurate media, my, it sound's like a whole new reality.

  • Comment number 33.

    I always naively thought the BBC's core business was a no-nonsense delivery of factual news, delivered in as neutral and unbaised way as possible, with the best of British entertainment and documentary on the side.
    Yet, reading between the lines here, I get the impression the BBC is trying to take on a herculean, ideological task.
    It is trying to be all things to all people in a vein-popping attempt to 'capture hearts and minds'. Seems to me this is a grandiose, vaunting and unrealistic goal. Is this the proper goal of a television broadcaster?

  • Comment number 34.

    Helen said/wrote:

    'Recently, the BBC declined to publish an internal management review of its coverage. The decision was based on principle, not on its contents.'

    I wonder, can those 'core principles' be misconstrued?

    Hi there sirjohnwood, elsewhere, I've already shared some thoughts on subject of ''administration'' in purely global sense.

    I've called it a failure, fundamentally flawed one.

    There's got to be that fundamental flaw somewhere and I'd pinpoint it on adminship which, let's not forget, is not elected, but imposed on citizenship.

    It's an abomination for sure.

    Yesterday, one of the well known admins stated how there is no need to re-invent things.

    The whole damn administration is against the evolving, simply because evolving would entail a great change within the administration itself. It's annoying, because those punks had some basic guidelines too, yet they've managed to break each and every one of 'em.

    Twisted by corruption or single ideology or something as restraining and unfortunate as that.

    This one's pretty blunt> but it illustrates the point from one of perspectives.

  • Comment number 35.

    It sounds like a wonderful attitude.

    Does it not demand different tracks?
    I.e., soaps are incompatible with sports, and neither should have much interest in Saquer's HARDTALK.

  • Comment number 36.

    If you want to know what is wrong with the BBC then the following example involving John Pinar and the PM Question Time spat involving DC - "withdraw your accusation of party politics" and GB - "I won't". The BBC appears to follow the PC line that anger is "not good" and rather chastised poor Mr Cameron's "lapse" into emotional territory. Mr Pinar called it a "poor performance" by normal parliamentary standards.

    So the BBC doesn't like anger, emotion, passion or anything else that might cause a blush to appear on a cheek. And so what was it that the general public "lapsed" into over Messrs Ross and Brand and just why did the BBC respond to it?

    The problem with the BBC is that it isn't full of ordinary people. It is full of precious media types, not good enough for the highly competitive commercial sector but capable of toeing the corporation line on air.

    So do we have clones working for the BBC? Read the latest blogs on the news and you'll be surprised at the similarities....

  • Comment number 37.

    One of the most useful blogs I have read this week.
    As a Broadcast Journalism student, we are constantly being drilled about e-journalism. The internet has transformed the way that we consume broadcast media and things like iplayer or listen again have meant that news can be accessed at any time from any place. As a journalist (or at least a trainee) I have to be aware of these new and non-linear forms of news, and it was really refreshing to see the issue being discussed by someone in the trade.

  • Comment number 38.

    Great presentation, stimulating, good slides, worthy as a keynote speech.

  • Comment number 39.

    "free access to reliable, impartial information is fundamental to a liberal democracy and that is what the BBC is here to serve"

    I couldn't agree more. When do you plan to start?

  • Comment number 40.

    Since I could not find a place to start a blog .I decided to just use yours.
    The week of the 22nd I went to a reservation in Sales Arizona to visit my father. While we were there we went horse back riding. We were with in 6 miles of the U.S Mexico Boder
    when we say about a dozen or more men on the Mexico side in what look like a small fire fight. We realized they had automatic weapons and they were really trying to kill each other. It look like a small army at war.
    This war is about drugs and the control over who can bring them in to The U.S...President Obama will have his hands full with the economy and the real war on drugs. The United States is really under attack by the Cartels and there drug runners of Mexico.
    The sstreets of Arizona are beginning to see
    more killings and have reached a record high in murders. The United States is at war .....

  • Comment number 41.

    By experience, I have evidence of how the Civil Service do not adhere to transparency when serious, possibly criminal, accusations are made against senior officials within. They close ranks and refuse 'Independant' intervention, when it involves 'Their Own'.
    It is no wonder that there are 'Leaks' by staff when such possibly corrupt practices are apparently condoned.

  • Comment number 42.

    It would be nice if the Beeb had the courage to give the folks who are being cheated by the system a hand. You know what is wrong but you conveniently forget it when you're all picking up your salaries and spending our money. It is difficult of course but at least you could try. Litigants in person don't stand a chance, but it doesn't bother the BBC.

  • Comment number 43.

    "What we are seeing in television is audience fragmentation". Actually, what we are seeing is societal fragmentation, as groups and individuals polarise themselves against the vision of our country's future being set by the government (regardless which party is elected - it's all the same), and its pandering towards business interests, rather than that of the people.

    They are doing this even at the cost of civilian rights and freedoms, so citizen jounalism, both professional and amateur, is extremely important, for the citizen reports the raw data, unspun, uncensored, and as it actually happens. Yet the government have seen fit to protect the accountability of the police, by making a law that states one cannot photograph or film them. Not by any stretch of the imagination, is transparency and accountability, but a move towards corporate facism hiding methods of self-protection and self-preservation of a status quo that most of society disagrees with...or would if they could get the real handle of truth on the subject.

    Our democracy is a sham and a facade. Most professional journalists know this, and are denied telling the truth about it. Journalists like Pilger and Fisk still try to do the kind of journalism that actually counts, and act as the voice of reason in a unreasonable world. The rest just mimic being journalists, and do in the process do immense damage to the people's hopes for having a voice on their fact, they damage democracy by their lazy contempt for peddling the spin of the government word for word, without even so much as committing themselves to an ounce of actual investigation: they are mere parrots.

    Citizen journalism will be the saving factor for the people. It won't be BBC news, or Sky, or any other large news corporation, and eventually, the citizens will make them pay the price by boycotting their products. Truth, you can't be trusted with it, because most journalists are too scared to do the right thing, and to be the right thing, and that is to be the watchdogs for the people. If all journalists actually did their job, and fought for the principles of their industry...the last decade would not have happend the way it did. Many Iraqi and Afghans would still be alive today, and possibly, the invasions of both Iraq and Afghanistan may never have happend.

    No wonder the country is fragmenting...the people's voice has been silent for many a year, and in the interim, corporate forces are pushing us all towards a corporate totalitarianism, and you journalists sit back and remain silent and are allowing it to happen without any investigation whatsoever. Thanks for nothing...the people will spread the 'real' news and truth their way. You are now redundant!

  • Comment number 44.

    Dear Mr,Helen,
    Congratulations of your vey big lenthy notes on this current subject.
    I have been writing lot of comments on many subjects,read,watched from global minds,editors blog,i am tempted to write few words of your news.
    Now a days, Radio,Tv viewing,listening, watching news became very less in western countres.
    Whereas, in India,China,Indonesia,Autsralia,still major women,senior citzens,students, high educated segments are daily tuning to TV channels for current news and some soap programmes often and often.
    For real example, at my home, i am always with system for any thing.
    Whereas,my wife -a Central Govt.Officer,foreign returned is always with Tv for news,devotioanal songs.debates on economics,politics and some sensational happenings.
    This is a real story.
    For my Jakarta friends,more than 15 says, they are not seeing BBC channels.but not able to say,why it is not possible.
    As a very,very active member in a social website-more than 450 friends,i am slowly converting them to go for BBC Services.
    No doubt, Digital revolution is on by many methods.some egs are ,through webcam,mobile,wireless service,broadband services, etc were sligtly changed from viewing from Radio and from TV.
    All your writings are very fine.
    Looking forward to get more writings in forthcoming days/weeks.months/years.
    I am very happily associating with you,other editors,reporters,team members and others from BBC services Network.

  • Comment number 45.

    I think that, i have covered all many points,viewers observations on digital growth in communication by my previous comments.
    Rest, i will write later.
    Congratulations to all BBC Editors,News reporters,Photo Journaists,Sports Correspondents,Hardtalk interviwer and to all.
    BBC is second to None.


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