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July 20 2010


Using news stories on Facebook: what the BBC found

Great post by Claire Wardle and Matthew Eltringham on some research they conducted into how social network users use news. Here are the highlights. Firstly, news as a social object:

“They all saw comment and discussion as a key component of enjoying news on Facebook. They shared and posted stories they were interested in, sure, but also so they could make a point or start a conversation. But the vast majority really only wanted to have that conversation within their own group of friends, partly because that was where they felt comfortable.”

And secondly, it’s all about the niche:

“They were ‘only interested in the news they were interested in’ – not what they thought they ought to be interested in, or what news organisations thought they should be interested in. Would they join a general news group that provided a wide diet of content? Unlikely. Would they join a specialised or thematic group offering education or entertainment or business news? Quite possibly. Would they join a programme page – like BBC Breakfast? Maybe.”

Finally, an argument against Facebook Pages:

“When we showed the participants BBC Facebook pages, they saw them as a discrete space on Facebook which they would have to choose to go and visit (seemingly confusing them with Facebook groups) and they all said ‘why would I do that when I could just go to the BBC website’.”

There’s more, including findings on how much users trust news on Facebook, at the post.

July 07 2010


Looking back on the 7/7 bombings and the birth of user-generated content

Five years on from the 7 July bombings in London, Matthew Eltringham from the BBC College of Journalism remembers the day that sparked the future of user-generated content.

[W]e ‘stuck a postform’ on the first take of the News website’s story and waited to see what would come in. Within minutes our email inbox was out of control – it was clear that something was happening, but we had no idea how to manage the huge number of emails we were receiving and the information they were giving us.

By the end of the day we had received several hundred images and videos along with several thousand emails. It was only with hindsight that we were able to make sense of them and the impact they were likely to have on our journalism.

Since then, the UGC project has grown to a team of more than 20 people, working around the clock and developing “an incredibly sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the ‘who, what, when, where and whys’ of ‘social newsgathering’ or put another way, ‘finding good stuff on the web’.”

There have been many lessons along the way too, leading the BBC to ruthlessly check every piece of user content which gets sent their way.

We always check out each and every image, video or key contact before we broadcast them, to make sure they are genuine and to resolve any copyright issues. When it’s impossible to do that – such as with content sent from Iran or Burma, when contacting the contributors is very hard to do or might put them in danger, we interrogate the images, using BBC colleagues who know the area and the story to help identify them.

Read the full post here…Similar Posts:

March 11 2010


The BBC and linking part 2: a call to become curators of context

A highlight of my recent visit with MA Online Journalism students to the BBC’s user generated content hub was the opportunity to ask this question posed by Andy Mabbett via Twitter: ‘Why don’t you link back to people if they send a picture in?’ (audio embedded above and here).

The UGC Hub’s head, Matthew Eltringham, gave this response:

“We credit their picture … we absolutely embrace the principle of linking on and through. I think the question would be – if Andy sends in a picture because he happened to witness a particular event, how relevant is the rest of his content to the audience. I think we’d have to take a view on that.”

It was a highlight because something clicked in my head at this point. You see, we’d spent some of the previous conversation talking about how the UGC hub verifies the reliability of user generated content, and it struck me that this view of the link as content could risk missing a key aspect of linking: context.

In an online environment one of the biggest signals in how we build a picture of the trustworthiness of someone or something is the links surrounding it. Who is that person friends with? What does this website link to? Who gathers here? What do they say? What else does this person do? What is their background, their interests, their beliefs?

All of this is invaluable context to us as users, not just the BBC.

While we increasingly talk about the role of publishers as curators of content [caveat], we should perhaps start thinking about how publishers are also curators of context.

Curators of context

And on this front, the corporation appears to have an enormous culture shift on its hands – a shift that it has been pushing in public for years, with varying degrees of success in different parts of the organisation.

BBC Radio, and many BBC TV programmes, for example, use users’ pictures and tweets and link and credit as a matter of course, while some parts of BBC News do link directly to research papers.

Yesterday I blogged about the frustration of Ben Goldacre at the refusal of parts of the BBC News website to deep link to scientific journal articles. In the comments to Ben’s post, ‘Gimpy’ says that the journalist quoted by Goldacre told him in “early 2008″ that linking was “something which must be reviewed”.

In May 2008 the BBC Trust said linking needed major improvements, and in October 2008 the Head of Multimedia said linking to external websites was a vital part of its future.

And this month, the corporation’s latest strategic review pledges:

“to “turn the site into a window on the web” by providing at least one external link on every page and doubling monthly ‘click-throughs’ to external sites: “making the best of what is available elsewhere online an integral part of the BBC’s offer to audiences”.”

Most recently, this week the BBC’s announcement of 25% cuts to its online spend motivated Erik Huggers to make this statement at a DTG conference:

“Why can’t we find a way to take all that traffic and help share it with other public service broadcasters and with other public bodies so that if our boat rises on the tide, everyone’s boat rises on the tide?

“Rather than trying to keep all that traffic inside the BBC’s domain we’re going to link out very aggressively and help other organisations pull their way up on the back of the investments that the BBC has made in this area.”

To be fair, unlike other media organisations, at least the BBC is talking about doing something about linking (and if you want to nag them, here’s their latest consultation).

But please, enough talk already. Auntie, give us the context.

February 24 2010


The paradox of the BBC, objectivity, and UGC

Last week I took a group of MA Online Journalism students to visit the BBC’s User Generated Content Hub. It was a hugely informative conversation about how the biggest team of its kind in the world manages an enormous flow of texts, comments, images and other media (If you want to see more, Caroline Beavon has video of the whole thing, while I recorded a couple of Audioboos answering questions posed via Twitter).

As we were discussing the changing nature of the hub – it is increasingly looking to engage with users beyond the core BBC audience – it became apparent that there is a paradox at the heart of what the BBC does here – and by extension, any UGC effort. And it’s a paradox around objectivity and neutrality.

I’ve often felt that the BBC is slightly hamstrung in its social media efforts by its requirement to remain objective. Objectivity makes it harder to stimulate conversations. You can start them – but once they get going, you have to remain on the sidelines, expressing no opinion either way.

I’ve written before on how online journalists should be a mix of the ideal party host and ideal party guest. Staying on the sidelines allows you to play the host, but restricts your ability to truly perform the ‘guest’ role.

The Switzerland of social media

But what I realised during this visit was that objectivity also makes it easier to attract contributions in the first place. Striving to remain neutral in any conversation means that (most) people see your space as ’safe’ for whatever they have to contribute.

Carrying the analogy further, in this case the BBC is like a warehouse party where the host has gathered an enormous crowd but you’re not entirely sure who they are or whether they like you.

Perhaps the problem here is the catch-all phrase ‘UGC’ (which the BBC’s Matthew Eltringham dislikes). The BBC is perhaps better positioned than any other news organisation to act as a focal point for certain types of UGC – raw footage, witness texts and other generic news event-related other material – largely because it strives to achieve a neutral position.

On the other hand, organisations with a defined ideological leaning have an advantage in other types of UGC- for example, ’sticky’ conversation such as comment threads – because they can lay their cards on the table, get stuck in and inspire the sorts of strong reactions that stimulate debate.

The BBC, for those types of content, is reliant on users to perform that role.

In short, it’s an ecosystem with a place for both the BBC and news organisations on all points of the political spectrum.

To simplify enormously, the BBC’s objectivity gives it an advantage as a neutral ground for submitting content; left- or right-leaning news websites have an advantage in being able to stir opinion – but they will always have a smaller audience for that.

Enormous thanks to Matthew Eltringham and Trushar Barot for welcoming the students to the BBC, as well as their conversation and insights.

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