Nick Reynolds has worked at the BBC for the past 20 years in a variety of roles and is currently editor at the BBC’s Internet Blog.
I recently asked him a few questions about his work and the BBC’s editorial policies and processes…
How much control does BBC management have over its bloggers? Are you free to write whatever you want?
BBC management has as much control over its bloggers as it does over all editorial staff. There’s no difference between for example a news story on television and radio and a blog post on the BBC News site.
So BBC editorial staff have responsibility for what is published on a BBC blog. In practice this means a high level of editorial freedom (i.e. as the editor I decide on a day to day basis what is published on the BBC Internet blog) within a framework of the BBC’s values (the most important of which are impartiality and accuracy) and the BBC’s editorial guidelines.
The BBC has guidelines for employees on the use of social media in their work and also has guidelines on their personal use of social media.
I don’t write “whatever I like” anywhere, not on the BBC Internet blog, which has a clear editorial remit, nor on my personal blog where I write within the framework laid out in the relevant guidelines. When you join the BBC you have to understand that there are limits on what you can say in public (and a tweet on twitter is public).
How many visitors / users does the BBC Internet Blog have?
At the moment it’s getting around 20,000 unique users per week. I should stress that unique users doesn’t exactly correspond with people, so this doesn’t mean that 20K people visit the blog each week.
Where does most of the traffic originate from?
I don’t have detailed data on inbound traffic. My hunch is that there are various different communities of interest and people who visit the blog depending on what the subject matter is. People who care about high definition television form a different group to hard core techies.
What tools do you use for monitoring the BBC’s online presence?
Pageflakes, Google Blog Search email alerts, the BBC Backstage mailing list, the iPlayer message board, Points of View message boards, Twitter searches, various feeds, my favourite blogs and message boards, internal BBC message boards, mailing lists and emails plus anything anyone might choose to send to me or tell me about.
How important is it to respond openly and quickly to criticism, e.g. of linking strategy?
If it’s some kind of bug or technical problem saying “thanks for bringing this to our attention, we’re trying to fix it now” gives people reassurance.
If it’s more of an editorial matter responding quickly enables you to give context and correct factual errors.
The quicker you turn something around the more likely it will not turn into a big problem. Saying “if we don’t talk about this it will go away” can result in the problem getting bigger.
Responding quickly also makes it less likely that mainstream media journalists will make mischief. If your response is already out there in comments or on a blog then by the time the journalist reads it the problem may be solved (or in the process of being solved). “BBC Solves Problem” is not a compelling story for many journalists.
Rather than dismissing the views on blogs like ‘Biased BBC’ you chose to get involved in the conversation with them – how well do you think this approach has worked?
Even if people disagree with you they like to have someone to talk to and argue with rather than feeling ignored. It gives the BBC a human, individual face.
Engaging with Biased BBC was very useful for me as a way of learning how people behave in communities online. Some of them seemed to like the fact that I was there but I suspect I got more out of it than they did.
What is the BBC’s approach to user generated content, and moderation? Do you have a team of moderators or do you outsource this?
Most moderation of comments on blogs and message boards is handled by the Central Communities team in BBC Future Media & Technology.
Day to day moderation is outsourced to an independent company, with more complex moderation queries referred to the Central Team who keep a close eye on what’s happening.
Individual divisions in the BBC host their own blogs and message boards.
As for user generated content BBC News have done some very good work on integrating contributions from licence fee payers (e.g. photos from mobile phones, tweets) into their newsgathering.
Personally, I dislike the phrase ‘user generated content’. It’s ugly and patronising.
Do you agree with the recent comments by Pete Clifton that the BBC website should act a more of a guide to the internet?
Yes. I’d go further. The BBC needs to become part of the Internet, not just a trusted walled garden. The key is to link, link. link, and link some more.
Will the BBC’s linking policy be changing? Will you be adding in-text links to news articles in future, or being more generous with outbound links?
We don’t need a change in policy because our policy is to link. We just need to do it.
In-text links is something BBC News is doing so I can’t really comment on that.
The basics of my job revolve around links and I will keep linking and linking and linking. Linking out needs to be seen as a valuable editorial thing that people do as part of their jobs, as valuable as for example writing a news story.
Is there any truth in Ashley Norris’ recent remarks that the BBC is hampering the development of blogs and other online media in the UK?
I hope not. But we do need to get better at linking to and crediting good blog content, especially as some blogs are now better than some of the stuff you read in the papers.