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BBC embracing user-generated content

Once again the BBC has stolen a significant and innovative march on its mainstream media competitors by launching its Manchester Blog. This is no ordinary blog but a serious attempt to involve others in the creation of content.

In essence the BBC will support other bloggers producing text, audio and video with advice, training and links that drive traffic in their direction. In return the BBC will have access to the content, within the fair-use rules, for broadcast and online use.

Robin Hamman, the BBC English regions’s community producer with responsibility for user-to-user interactivity, outlined the project in the first post on Wednesday. The plan in a netshell:

  • We’re looking for one or two participants in each each of the ten boroughs of Manchester
  • We’ll organise a series of workshops for participants. During the first we’ll talk participants through the BBC’s Editorial Guidelines and talk about about the BBC’s production values. Then we’ll ask participants what sort or content (text, photos, video, audio?) they might want to create and we’ll match them up with a BBC member of staff with production experience in that area.
  • Participants will then be shown existing 3rd party, that is non-BBC, websites that will enable them to publish their content online.
  • BBC Manchester blog staff will then subscribe to the RSS feeds of each participant and keep an eye on what they publish. We’ll always link to the front page of their content, so long as they don’t break the BBC’s editorial guidelines, and when they publish something we think deserves to be highlighted we’ll do so in the main body of the BBC Manchester blog.

And this is what Hamman says the bloggers will get out of it:

  • The participants will get access to production advice and bespoke tutorials on creating and publishing content online using the tools of their choice. When their content is highlighted, they’ll get (hopefully!) a burst of traffic from the BBC Manchester website. We’ll do everything we can to help participants make their participation self-financing but won’t be offering payment.
  • BBC Manchester will have the opportunity to build relationships with users/content contributors in a much more sustainable way in the past.
  • The BBC Manchester blog will act as a showcase for the project and, in particular, the best content that’s been produced by contributors and highlighted by the BBC. This will be a “one stop shop” for BBC Manchester journalists who may want to read out content on-air, contact contributors for background information about a story, reuse a gig review on the website, or even ask a participant to go on Northwest Tonight (our regional TV news) to explain something they’ve covered online.

On his personal blog, cybersoc.com, Hamman says: “In a nutshell, those running or supporting the project hope that the blog will allow us to learn how the BBC can engage with people creating and publishing local content on third party (non-BBC) websites and services [eg. flickr, various blogging platforms, youtube, etc].”

I have quoted extensively from Hamman because this is a significant development which everyone in MSM should be watching very carefully. By providing support to bloggers and insisting on adherence to editorial guidelines this is a considerable step beyond the sort of participation in journalism we have seen in the UK up to now.

And the BBC is serious about it. The Observer today looks at Jana Bennett, the BBC’s director of vision (How does an organisation that comes up with such job titles innovate?), and quotes an anonymous former executive saying: “She is effectively deputy director-general.” She says: ‘I think we should be open to the idea of a channel becoming more porous and embracing user-generated content.”

Phoney war before London freebies launch

The predictable war of words between News International and Associated Newspapers before the launches of their rival London evening freesheets is probably not worth the four column story devoted to it on the front of the Observer’s business and media section today.

The accusation that Associated’s London Lite has plagiarised the purple masthead colour chosen for thelondonpaper is just part of the silliness. And copying colours is not new.  My recollection is that the Mirror was a redtop before News International used the colour for the Sun which once had an orange blob. Still this is the phoney war stage.

London Lite surprise ahead of thelondonpaper

London Lite’s test run, distributing a few thousand copies yesterday ahead of the launch date, turned into something more when it changed the front page and brought out a second edition with breaking news about Euan Blair being taken to hospital.

The Press Gazette said Associated was emphasising that the first London Lites were “just a dummy”. If the real aim was to score an advantage of News International’s thelondonpaper, the second edition will have rubbed it in.

The official launch date for the Associated paper is still Wednesday with thelondonpaper due to follow on Monday, September 4.

Mag for the MySpace generation

This item is for those students on the post graduate periodical journalism course at the University of Westminster this year who wanted the course project to be a “magazine for the MySpace generation”. They failed to get enough support from fellow students so we ended with an excellent but more conventional publication.

Now Jeff Jarvis over at BuzzMachine records that: “Reports are swirling that News Corp. is considering starting a magazine out of MySpace, with Nylon as a partner.” He quotes AdAge as saying: “The editorial mix would likely cover standout MySpace members and their interests, from music to their social scenes.”

If News International, its partners or a rival wants young journalists with some good ideas for their project, I can put them in touch.

Euan Blair gets a rough deal from the press

Most of us did things as teenagers of which we would rather not be reminded as adults. We would be be justifiably angry if they were dragged up every time our name was mentioned.

Yet a high proportion of reports of Euan Blair being taken to hospital in Barbados refer to his being found drunk in a Leicester Square gutter when he was 16. That story was justified because his father was not only prime minister but had a habit of lecturing other fathers on their responsibilities and talking about “parenting orders”.

I cannot see any justification now for including it in a story about a 22-year-old man suffering from stomach pains. The Daily Mail, the Guardian and the Scotsmen decided it was not relevant.

Yet most of the rest, including The Times, the Sun, the Mirror The Independent and the BBC, felt it should be included in their stories. My trawl through websites also showed Reuters, the Chinese news agency Xinhua, and Jamaica’s Gleaner had mentioned the escapade of six-years-ago.

The Sun went further including this gratuitous paragraph: “Downing Street vehemently denied his latest illness had anything to do with alcohol.”

Surprising statistics suggest regional press readership rising

Some rather surprising statistics suggest that the regional press is increasing its readership. Hold the Front Page reports that 400,000 new readers have been added according to the 2006 edition of Target Group Index, an annual market research survey published by the British Market Research Bureau.

The number of people who read a regional newspaper but not a national has, it is reported, grown by 2.8% in the last year to 27%. Regional newspapers are now read by 83% of the UK population, it says.

I have not yet been able to lay my hands on a copy of the research, or a press release. When I do it will be interesting to look at how the research was carried out. At the moment, I am finding it difficult to equate these results with declining circulations.

Computers are writing financial news

The idea that computers could write stories has long been in the realm of science fiction, but now an American financial news agency is doing just that. It is just a start and is limited to company financial announcements says Thomson Finacial.

By comparing previous results in a database a story can be completed within 0.3 seconds of a company making its results public, according to the Financial Times. (Hat tip to CyberJournalist)

Reuters too is apparently automatically generating some of its stories but Bloomberg says it does not.

The stories from Thomson can say whether a company has done better or worse than expected but are pretty standardised. “We might try to write a few more adjectives into the program,” said Matthew Berkley, Thomson’s senior vice president for strategy, said.

He told the FT: “This is not about cost but about delivering information to our customers at a speed at which they can make an almost immediate trading decision. This means we can free up reporters so they have more time to think.”

Let’s hope it is some time before that time has to be used to think about redundancy packages.

‘What is going on at Northcliffe?’

A roll-call of editors deserting Northcliffe Newspapers is published by the Press Gazette today. The latest is Brendan Hanrahan, who is leaving the Torquay Herald Express, apparently because of a disagreement over policy.

In a memo to staff he wrote: “Most of you will be aware there has been a major structure and policy review and change in Northcliffe in recent times. As a result, I’ve decided to step down as editor and director of Herald Express Publications Ltd.”

The PG goes on to list others:

In July 2005, editor Barrie Williams took early retirement from the Western Morning News in Plymouth after 10 years in the post, also citing policy and structural changes.

Other long-serving editors to have left Northcliffe since June last year include Mike Lowe at the Bristol Evening Post, David Gledhill at the Bath Chronicle, Sean Dooley at The Sentinel, Stoke, and Terry Manners at the Western Daily Press.

Last week, Graham Glen announced he was to leave the editorship of the Nottingham Evening Post.

Northcliffe is in the midst of a massive cost cutting programme which was outlined in a press release in March. The announcement said:

When the Aim Higher project was first announced in June 2005, it was expected to realise a reduction in costs throughout Northcliffe of at least £20 million p.a. within an 18 month period. In November this estimate was increased to £30 million p.a.

As a result of further development of the original project, together with the expected result of today’s announcement, we now expect the total reduction in Northcliffe’s costs, excluding Aberdeen Journals [sold], to amount to at least £45 million p.a.

Last month I included those paragraphs in a post about the Gloucester Citizen moving its main editorial office out of the city to Cheltenham. In it I took the editor, Ian Mean, to task over something he had said. Roy Greenslade, in a generous reference to this post, supported Mean saying: “I’ve little doubt that he fought hard to maintain The Citizen in its rightful home.”

Looking at the list of editors resigning, I must believe this.

Will someone please tell me what is going on in Nothcliffe?

'What is going on at Northcliffe?'

A roll-call of editors deserting Northcliffe Newspapers is published by the Press Gazette today. The latest is Brendan Hanrahan, who is leaving the Torquay Herald Express, apparently because of a disagreement over policy.

In a memo to staff he wrote: “Most of you will be aware there has been a major structure and policy review and change in Northcliffe in recent times. As a result, I’ve decided to step down as editor and director of Herald Express Publications Ltd.”

The PG goes on to list others:

In July 2005, editor Barrie Williams took early retirement from the Western Morning News in Plymouth after 10 years in the post, also citing policy and structural changes.

Other long-serving editors to have left Northcliffe since June last year include Mike Lowe at the Bristol Evening Post, David Gledhill at the Bath Chronicle, Sean Dooley at The Sentinel, Stoke, and Terry Manners at the Western Daily Press.

Last week, Graham Glen announced he was to leave the editorship of the Nottingham Evening Post.

Northcliffe is in the midst of a massive cost cutting programme which was outlined in a press release in March. The announcement said:

When the Aim Higher project was first announced in June 2005, it was expected to realise a reduction in costs throughout Northcliffe of at least £20 million p.a. within an 18 month period. In November this estimate was increased to £30 million p.a.

As a result of further development of the original project, together with the expected result of today’s announcement, we now expect the total reduction in Northcliffe’s costs, excluding Aberdeen Journals [sold], to amount to at least £45 million p.a.

Last month I included those paragraphs in a post about the Gloucester Citizen moving its main editorial office out of the city to Cheltenham. In it I took the editor, Ian Mean, to task over something he had said. Roy Greenslade, in a generous reference to this post, supported Mean saying: “I’ve little doubt that he fought hard to maintain The Citizen in its rightful home.”

Looking at the list of editors resigning, I must believe this.

Will someone please tell me what is going on in Nothcliffe?