Jul 8 2014

Can the BBC keep giving the public what it wants?

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The BBC is facing multiple  pressures to change its structure and even its funding, but what about its editorial values? In the latest #PolisSummer School guest post, Leonor Gomes responds to a talk by BBC Academy editor Matthew Eltringham.

BBCThe BBC is funded by a licence fee, which essentially means funds are provided by the audience itself. This has helped fund an exponential growth in audience involvement, but is also supposed to reassure viewers that their interests are being taken into account. But what is the audience really getting out of all is?

Take for example shows such as BBC’s Sherlock, Top Gear, and Doctor Who. They are recognized worldwide, and are a product of extensive information gathering and research. The people want these shows, and the BBC provides them. A sufficiently simple business model which yields positive results. Continue reading

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Jul 8 2014

How journalists can use social media to make their journalism more ‘relatable’ (Guest blog – #PolisSummer)

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In the first of our Polis LSE Summer School guest talks, the Wall Street Journal’s EMEA social media editor Sarah Marshall explained how social media is helping journalists to make news more relevant to readers. Polis Summer School student Eleanor Hudson reports.

The idea of social media as a way of communicating news to people is developing fast so a young person especially is more likely to hear of a news story through Facebook or Twitter than through the traditional newspaper or magazine. Continue reading

Posted by: Posted on by Charlie Beckett

Jun 27 2014

Eastern Ukraine – a personal view of a land of myth, fear and dangers (guest blog)

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Ukrainian LSE media student Elena Serdyuk has been watching the conflict in the eastern part of her country from London for the last few months. She has also visited her homeland and describes how her relatives living in the heart of the disputed zone are now facing a humanitarian crisis. In this personal account she outlines how, in her view, the population of the eastern part of Ukraine now believes in a set of myths that is dangerous as well as ignorant.

What next for eastern Ukrainians?

What next for eastern Ukrainians?

The problem with eastern Ukraine is that it is, in a sense, politically illiterate. An average citizen does not understand basic concepts of international relations or law, and their engagement in political analysis and discourse usually centers around the evils that, they claim, the United States brings to this world. How do they know about these evils? From television, mostly of Russian origin.

Through Russian TV they heard about Western Europe allowing gay marriages. This is their biggest fear. They find natural the corruption of their police, their courts, and officials. This is how they know things to be, this is how things have been for decades. Gay people in their minds are far scarier than getting beaten up at their local police station, being extorted for money by a judge, or having their business or home taken away, or experiencing the safety of their family threatened. All of that is a part of the reality they have long accepted—it’s like Stockholm syndrome on a mass scale. Continue reading

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Jun 24 2014

What does the Brooks Coulson phone-hacking verdict tell us about editors’ responsibility for their newsrooms?

Brooks and Coulson

Brooks and Coulson

The verdict in the phone-hacking trial raises an interesting question: how much do editors know about what happens in their newsrooms? I think the problem at the News of the World was symptomatic of a certain period in tabloid journalism. The problem in that newsroom was particular to the people involved and perhaps the proprietor, too. But even allowing for the exceptionalism of this case, there is a wider issue about journalistic leadership.

New production processes mean that it is both easier and harder to track what your journalists are doing. You can see live data on what is being written and read. But most newsrooms are producing much more material around the clock and often live. Luckily, online makes it easier to correct mistakes as you go, although the errors may well live on somewhere in the digital ether.

But the kinds of journalism – usually investigative – that tend to create serious legal and ethical issues are always going to be problematic. It is in their nature that they will upset people and challenge power, so you should expect push back. It is also in the nature of investigative journalists to take risks, cross bureaucratic borders and swarm across ethical grey areas.

As the BBC has discovered, editorial errors are not only driven by the pursuit of profit. Competition is what makes British (or any other) journalism great. The desire to beat your colleagues or rivals to scoops is what produces the cutting edge and often edgy journalism for which the public pay their subscriptions or fees.

Editors can not know what all their staff, freelancers, columnists, researchers, stringers, commentators, tweeters etc are doing all the time. You can have codes, guidelines and regulations, but in the end this is about culture.

A completely risk averse culture would be the death of decent journalism. I’ve written elsewhere about why we need a news media that can make mistakes but how that right must be balanced with ethical responsibility. I don’t think that will come through statutory regulation [I explain why not here] but through a combination of improved independent self-regulation and above all a change in culture.

The latter is already happening. This verdict might hasten the process. In the past papers could laugh off libel costs with their huge profits. No more. In the past they could ignore the damage done to their brand and shareholder sentiment by newsroom scandals. Not so any more when publics and advertisers are increasingly sensitive. So while editors will never be omniscient in their newsrooms – and they should not be either – they will now have to be leaders who cultivate a culture of responsibility and accountability.

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Jun 19 2014

What do you see when you think of Facebook? New prize-winning research on how social media fits into our social space

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Andy Crosby has just won an award for his research proposal on how Facebook users think about how social media fits into their lives. What do you think of when you think of Facebook? He asks. Andy is a student on our two-year joint Global Programme degree run with our partners, USC Annenberg in Los Angeles. He won the annual Silverstone Scholarship named in honour of the founder of the LSE’s Media and Communication Department. Here he describes his dissertation research project. Continue reading

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Jun 4 2014

Polis Photography Competition: “Communication”

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Post by Charlie Beckett

We wanted the winners to reflect the range of the idea of communication as well as being great images in their own right. Of course, an image might be great for all kinds of reasons including its colour, shapes or narrative.

The joint runner up by Irina Rasskazova tells a series of stories. Yes, it’s a nice Amsterdam bridge but ‘Bridge of Divergence’ is a tableau that catches a very emblematic modern moment where a group is more than the sum of its parts. Look at the people looking at people with devices while the others are talking via text as well as mouths and ears. The way they are dangling across the canal on a bridge (very solid forms of communication!) seems to symbolise the way that humans are always focused on keeping in touch, crossing from one place to another, always ‘on air’.

E Continue reading

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Jun 3 2014

Prize-Winning Research on Snapchat – The Meaning of Mobile Imagery

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The following post is a summary of Alexander Hebels’ winning entry for the 2014 Polis Social Media Prize.

snapchatExploring the relationship among the presentation of self, trust, and images via the Snapchat picture messaging application

By Alexander Hebels

Images are everywhere. We send and view images everyday. We chuckle at how terribly accurate Internet gifs and memes apply to our lives, and get sad when people don’t like our profile pictures on Facebook (‘look at me at this cool music festival with my crew’) or don’t double-tap our Instagrams (yes, your filter was actually too hipster). Continue reading

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Jun 2 2014

How social media has changed the BBC: Charlie Beckett in conversation with BBC news and current affairs director James Harding

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How has social media affected the BBC? James Harding, Director of BBC News and Current Affairs, discusses with Charlie Beckett, Polis Director and Head of LSE’s Department of Media and Communications in the opening session of the London Social Media Summit.

Read more about the event here.

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May 29 2014

A 21st Century BBC: A lecture by Diane Coyle, Acting Chair of the BBC Trust

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In this lecture, Diane Coyle considers how the BBC can meet the challenge of providing a universal service while media channels proliferate and its audience becomes more and more diverse. She will also examine the BBC’s relationship with the state and ask how its independence is best protected.

Diane Coyle, image from  BBC Trust

Diane Coyle, image from BBC Trust

About Diane:

Born and raised in the North West, Diane was educated at Oxford and Harvard, where she did a PhD in economics. She has worked as an economist and journalist. Economics editor for The Independent for eight years, she left in 2001 to set up her own consultancy specialising in the economics of new technologies. Diane was a member of the Competition Commission from 2001 to 2009, which has given her extensive experience in understanding how markets work and how to make competition serve consumers. She has also written many popular books on economics.

In 2009, Diane was awarded the OBE for services to economics. She lives in London and is married to BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones. A BBC Trustee since November 2006, Diane was appointed as Vice Chair from May 2011 and Acting Chair in May 2014.

Lecture details:

Date: Monday 23rd June 2014

Venue: Sheikh Zayed Theatre, LSE New Academic Building

Time: 6.30pm to 7.30pm

This is a Polis and British Government@LSE public event and is free and open to all with no ticket required. If you have any questions, please email polis@lse.ac.uk.

The Future of the BBC, thoughts from Polis

The future of the BBC and its role in British society has been up for debate in the lead up to the 2016 BBC Charter Renewal.  Polis Director Charlie Beckett was one of the media and journalism experts invited to give evidence to the Select Committee on the future of the BBC. Below are a summary of his main thoughts, taken from a previous blog post which is accessible here: http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/polis/2014/01/08/the-future-of-the-bbc-my-submission-to-the-dcms-select-committee-for-charter-renewal/.

This is my personal submission to the House of Commons Department of Culture, Media and Sports’ Select Committee inquiry into the future of the BBC in the lead up to BBC Charter Renewal in 2016.

It draws partly on my experience as a journalist (including at the BBC from 89-99 and ITN 99-2006) but mostly on my last eight years leading research and debate at the LSE with academics, media practitioners, policy-makers and politicians looking at the changing nature of journalism in particular, and media in general. Most recently I have been working on research on public service media across Europe and new business and production models in the UK and internationally.

Summary of main points:

  • The BBC has a critical role globally and at national and local levels – these are different but should be complementary
  • Like all media organisations the BBC has to respond to new technological, social, economic and political realities by changing its organisation and activities
  • The idea of ‘public service’ has enduring value but must be reviewed in the light of new contexts
  • The BBC must prioritise its services to reduce in some areas and possibly develop new roles: universality does not mean ‘doing everything all the time’
  • The BBC must become a much more citizen-centred service, facilitated by the new technologies of personalisation
  • The BBC must become a much more networked producer by recognising its role in supporting wider creative industries and building social capital by acting as a commissioner and curator
  • The BBC must retain its core editorial values but be more critical of those in power and orthodox opinion and more risk-taking with a stronger emphasis on distinctive quality
  • By being more networked and citizen-centred the BBC will become more accountable, efficient and creative, but its governance and management should also be reformed. The BBC must also become much more diverse and challenge its own cultural biases
  • The BBC must reduce its overall capacity through a combination of commissioning, collaboration and prioritisation, but should retain the licence fee while preparing for potential new forms of financing
Posted by: Posted on by Christine Boykiw Tagged with: , , , , ,

May 23 2014

BBC news boss James Harding on how social media has changed the BBC’s world

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This post was originally published on the BBC Academy website at the following link.


By Charles Miller, editor of the College of Journalism blog

James Harding with Charlie Beckett

Is there something special about the BBC’s relationship to social media? That was the question at the heart of the conversation between James Harding, the BBC’s director of news and current affairs, and Charlie Beckett, director of Polis at the LSE, which launched last week’s Social Media Summit #smsldn (run by the BBC College of Journalism and the New York Times).

Their discussion was put in context by the BBC’s Pooneh Ghoddoosi. In her introduction she remembered how far things have changed from the days when she worked as a stringer for the New York Times in Iran, having to persuade travellers to take rolls of undeveloped film out of the country and hope that one day she’d spot the results in a newspaper.

For the BBC, the first glimmerings of that change came in 1997, said Beckett, when the then director general of the BBC, John Birt, went out on a limb by insisting that the BBC should have a web presence.

In its complicated way, the BBC has made the untraditional part of its tradition. As Harding boasted, the corporation has been “the most innovative force in news in this country”. Today, more people follow @BBCBreaking on Twitter than watch the News at Ten.

And the tradition of innovation is alive and well. On the day Harding spoke the BBC was using WhatsApp as part of its coverage of the Indian election. Why? Well, it helps change the nature of coverage, offering “a much greater flavour”, said Harding.

On the domestic front, the licence fee brings its own imperatives: “we’re committed to universality” and that means staying with the audience. The BBC needs to be “innovative from the get-go” – and today “social media is THE way of getting to everyone”.

But does the BBC have to on everything, asked Beckett?

“There is a danger of spreading ourselves too thin,” Harding admitted, but “the resources question is overstated.” That’s because of changes in how content is distributed. The trend is away from the old, expensive industrial model in which the BBC broadcast its output in a single direction. Today the news business is “less like a concert and more like a music festival”. One consequence: “It’s not clear all the time who’s in charge.”

Of course that means the BBC is making use of commercial organisations – the social media businesses – that it doesn’t control, Beckett pointed out.

Nothing is more important to the BBC than the audience’s trust in its output, said Harding. And there are choices among social media: if one platform decided it wasn’t interested in news it wouldn’t matter. Overall, with so many new opportunities for different kinds of story-telling, “it’s the most exciting time to be a journalist since the advent of television.”

New services like BuzzFeed and Vice do stories differently from the BBC, said Beckett.

Yes, and we take them “extremely seriously”, said Harding: “We have a great deal to learn from our competitors.” The BBC is experimenting with its own new formats, such as Instafax on Instagram, while BBC Trending taps into social media as a source of news.

Using social media as a source of information raises the issue of verification. Harding said it’s not a question he takes lightly: “We should tip our hats to people who kill things that are wrong.” But there is a kind of self-correcting mechanism at work too: “The world has turned into a giant fact-checking machine.” That’s healthy for journalism.

What’s more, social media allows journalists to lift the curtain a little, and give a greater sense of what goes on in the making of news output. In that sense it “debunks the ‘voice of god’” in BBC content.

But even with all the new tones of voice that are now possible on new platforms, Harding has a simple rule: “Don’t say anything on social media that you wouldn’t be happy to say on air.”

Videos of the sessions at #smsldn will appear on our YouTube channel in the near future.


#smsldn London Social Media Summit

Social media skills

James Harding with Charlie Beckett at the SMSLDN conference


Photos and article: BBC Academy, Charles Miller

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