Teaching Examples

Future of journalism according to BBC News
October 6, 2006, 3:26 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

“Are you a media company … or a journalistic enterprise?” To succeed in the business of journalism, an organization must know “what it is that we’re actually trying to do for the audience,” said Adrian Van Klaveren, BBC News deputy director, at the keynote address Friday morning at the Online News Association conference.

The BBC is looking at four areas of relevance: organizational, personal, technological and editorial.

Choice of focus: What should you really be doing? With a strict focus on “the next big thing,” you are likely to miss a lot of other important things. Are you engaged in “change for change’s sake”?

“There’s a danger of us doing thing after thing and it doesn’t actually work. We do have to be thinking about what audiences want,” Van Klaveren said. “How will you distinguish yourself?”

What audiences want and expect “must be the starting point,” he said. Van Klaveren also acknowledged the role of the press in ensuring that members of the public understand the wider world around them; as people can more and more take control of their information inputs, the presentation of journalism should ensure that “there’s still the opportunity for serendipity,” he said.

The value of content from the users

“User-generated content is crucial in thinking about how news feels relevant to people.” I felt like the lights in the room became a little brighter when Van Klaveren said that.

On the day of the London train bombing (July 7, 2005), the number of user e-mails sent to the BBC doubled (to 20,000 in one day). The number of photos users sent to the BBC also doubled (to 300, one day). Afterward, these numbers did not drop back to previous levels.

Technological experiments must have a purpose. In figuring out where to target your efforts, you’ve got to make choices. Ask yourself why you are launching a podcast, for example. Is it just to copycat others? Is it because it’s easy? Because someone in your newsroom thinks podcasts are cool? Technology, Van Klaveren said, must be an enabler for content, not deployed just for its own sake.

Reaching everyone in ways that suit them

Discussing editorial relevance, Van Klaveren talked mostly about platforms. “We used to think about how are we going to get the story. Now it’s how are we going to reach people. How to produce something that actually works on TV, radio, print, and online. What’s going to work on all of these different devices? That’s the scale of the challenge in editorial relevance. We have to ensure we meet audience needs on every one of them.”

What the BBC does today is “much broader than traditional definitions of news,” he said.

Finding the right balance between public service and delivering an audience to advertisers is “the key to the editorial relevance question,” he said.

“Online is astonishingly flexible,” and it “could be our salvation,” relative to the decline in TV audience for the BBC — especially among the “under 34’s,” which he called the crucial group in the BBC’s audience.

What the audience cares about

What does excellence mean to the audience? The BBC has identified five things: accuracy, speed, personalized aspects, two-way dialogue, and trust.

“Trust still really matters in this world. Trust is at the heart of what we need to build with audiences,” Van Klaveren said. While this is more obvious than some of his other points, it’s nevertheless something that can be too easily overlooked in the relentless pursuit of profits.

The audience would like the BBC to be more modern, more accessible, more courageous, and more dynamic.

“We’ve adapted a lot in the past 10 years, but we still need to adapt by a huge amount — or else we will slowly, slowly become irrelevant,” Van Klaveren said.

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