I'd always thought the BBC was pretty transliterate but recent events are making me wonder about that.
This post is the result of a recent invitation from Lizzie Jackson and David Wilcox, both veteran online community people, to attend a meeting with the BBC Trust. On Monday night I went along to meet members of the Trust plus a small group of people who had been identified as 'seed bloggers' who they hoped would cascade the conversation across to other bloggers – clearly we represented a tiny (and very London-centric) selection of UK blog writers. The idea is that our conversations will be tracked by a marketing company employed for that very purpose and the results relayed back to the Trust. Other bloggers at the meeting included Charlie Beckett, Lloyd Davis, Simon Dickson, Mick Fealty, Sunny Hundal, Nico Macdonald, Ed Mitchell, and JP Rangaswami – all much more active and more widely-read than me, that's for sure. I'm something of a slow blogger, but I do have connections to a network of readers, writers and producers interested in transliteracy and new media, so this post is an invitation to you, dear colleagues, to use this platform to respond and, as a result, we are told, to be directly heard. Of course, since that meeting the BBC-related blogosphere has been alive with discussion about Thursday's long-expected job cuts announcement, a decision which will have huge repercussions throughout the complex culture of the organisation and impact on everyone who uses the BBC – all of which makes the notion of being directly listened-to rather more problematic.
But here's the thing. In the midst of all of that, or rather just before it exploded, our small group was invited to Greek wine and titbits at the Hellenic Centre on Monday night to discuss one specific arm of the BBC – bbc.co.uk. I have to say that in all honesty I hardly use it (and am very put off by that sickly pale blue), and often when I do land there it's by chance via a link from a programme or news site, so I'm going to have to do some homework before I can usefully comment on how far it is meeting the Six Public Purposes as drawn up by the Trust, namely:
1 Sustaining citizenship and civil society
2 Promoting education and learning
3 Reflecting the UK’s nations, regions and communities
4 Stimulating creativity and cultural excellence
5 Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK
6 Emerging communications
All of these are interesting but what interests me the most is the widely-held belief that bbc.co.uk may be stifling commercial opportunity by producing so much free content in so many areas. I agree this is a problem. In the early days of the web, the mid 90s, it was touch and go as to whether the BBC would embrace digital technology or turn its back on it. It chose to embrace it, and often in a very exciting and open way, with the result that now it has developed an enormous empire of user-generated content, much of it intertwined with the BBC’s massive back catalogue and archives. (I especially enjoyed it when they featured computer classes in The Archers. The programme was originally designed to teach good farming practice but since then it’s been used for many other pedagogical purposes, and Bert Fry’s obsession with learning how to use the internet was a great example!)
But now perhaps there are just too many message boards and way too much UGC – all of which have to be managed. Ironically, the message board moderators get paid whilst the content producers often don’t. Sure, content wants to be free, but new media writers and producers also need to make a living. The BBC offers myriad opportunities for writers working in new media to publish their work online but for zero payment. In a community which is urgently seeking to monetise itself this can be very frustrating – especially when those who work for TV and radio are still getting paid via the old model. This has to be sorted out.
So my questions to you as creators and consumers, both in the UK and internationally, are:
1 Where is bbc.co.uk succeeding and failing in meeting any or all of its six purposes?
2 More generally, how can bbc.co.uk serve you as a professional writer/artist/producer/creator and/or as a user/audience member?
3 And I’m curious to know whether you think the BBC is transliterate and to what degree?
[[ You might also want to comment, as I frequently do, about the appallingly London-centric nature of the BBC. The list of bloggers invited to this event was an unfortunate reflection of that. ]]
Respond in comments here or via your own blog using the tag bbctrust and a trackback to this post. Thanks.