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“My ‘Friends’ At Biased BBC”

October 21, 2007

Last week’s Ariel (the BBC’s staff newspaper) published an article I wrote about Biased BBC blog.

My original title for it was “My ‘Friends’ At Biased BBC”, but it was published under the headline “Don’t Dismiss Biased BBC, Join The Conversation Instead”.

Ariel isn’t available outside the BBC firewall, although the print version is pretty easy to get hold of. So I am publishing the article here so that people from Biased BBC can read it.

It’s rather long (over 1000 words), I’m afraid.

Martin Belham has already blogged about the article here. Thanks to Martin for his kind words.

And remember, “resistance is useless”!

Update 23.10.07: Also thanks to Jemima Kiss at Media Guardian, Jem Stone and Biased BBC themselves for links. 

‘My “Friends” At Biased BBC

So there I was, sitting there, writing some guidelines on personal blogs, and thinking “I’d better find out more about this blogging thing.

I fired up Google blog search and searched for “BBC”. To my surprise I saw right at the top of the page a link to something called “Biased BBC”. My surprise turned to alarm as I clicked on to a purple and white web page filled with anti-BBC invective and examples of so-called “bias”. I remember saying to my colleagues “Have you seen this?”

But in two years there’s only been one piece of BBC content highlighted by Biased BBC where I thought there was a real problem. There have been three or four where I have thought they might have half a point. But these have been sloppy journalism or poor phrasing, not bias. Considering the huge amount of web pages and other content that the BBC publishes, and that we’re human beings who sometimes make mistakes, not a bad record. Biased BBC proves its opposite; the BBC is not biased.

So why bother with Biased BBC? Well…

Biased BBC gets the basics of web publishing right

They post every day, have a very clear editorial focus, and link, link, link, link and link again.

I don’t have to read the Sunday papers anymore. Instead of lugging around a pile of dead tree I just go to Biased BBC. It’s my one stop shop for stories or comment about the BBC, from the press and the web. When Paxman gave his speech at Edinburgh I found it, not through a link on bbc.co.uk, but through a link on biased BBC.

Biased BBC understands the value of letting the conversation flow

Biased BBC is post moderated. Despite the often extreme views expressed, up until recently you could just post and comments would rarely be edited. I enjoyed the anarchic and bizarre turns the threads would take. One for example moved from climate change, through Isreal and Palestine, the Nazis, Pete Tong’s Essential Selection, Matt Frei and Trident

In the past month or so the moderators on Biased BBC have been much tougher on off topic comments and weeded out some of the nuttier stuff. It’s made the threads tighter, but I miss the anarchy of the old days.

Biased BBC is a community. If you join that community, and behave well that community might just accept you and even help you

It took me a long while to actually post a comment on Biased BBC, rather than just watching (or “lurking”). But eventually I got so fed up with people misrepresenting the BBC’s guidelines that I started posting links. I engage occasionally, only on those things that I understand and where I think I can put a good argument. I try to be polite and reasonable despite provocation. I’ve been called a “terrorist”, and even worse, an ex public school boy. If nothing else it’s been a good exercise in controlling my temper. 

But I’ve also been praised for my “mission to explain”, and thanked for providing links.

So when the story about BBC people editing Wikipedia broke on Biased BBC in the summer, I immediately went on Biased BBC and told them one of those people was me, and explained why I thought what I was doing was OK. This provoked a furious row, with “Sao Paulo” threatening to “report” me to my boss. People supported me quickly, one saying:

“Nick… is one of the BBC people who is prepared to get stuck in and engage with his critics on this site… We generally don’t agree with him, but he argues courteously and cogently… It’s not done to try to get a blogger into trouble with their employer, and if you really have done this, then I for one deplore your action.”

But be warned: you may be their friend one day, but tomorrow if you disagree someone will say:
“And that response from Nick Reynolds — what a crock of s**t. He’s lost any credibility he ever had in my eyes.”

Biased BBC shows how important it is for the BBC to be more open

Some people on Biased BBC believe the BBC is a cross between an Al Qaeda cell and the Borg. A hive mind with Mark Thompson at the top shouting “your orders today are: destroy the West!” and then we all salute. They call us the “beeboids”.

The truth is that the BBC is just a bunch of people. Individual, creative people who combine in complex and chaotic ways. When someone like David Gregory  (Midlands Today’s Science and Environment Correspondent) discusses his approach to reporting climate change it shows a human face that belies the corporate image.

“John Reith” is the pseudonym of a BBC journalist who regularly comments. He does fantastic work, debating and rebutting, with humour and occasionally acerbic comment. I’m still trying to work out who he is. He’s an ambassador for the BBC, a real champion. Yet he must feel that if he uses his real name he will get in trouble. It’s a terrible indictment of the BBC’s culture that someone supporting the organisation so well can’t use their real name.

Biased BBC is “the people formerly known as the audience”

This phrase is well loved by new media gurus who are usually of a liberal persuasion and have a naïve belief that the internet is going to “save democracy”. But when the Guardian set up “Comment Is Free” and allowed anyone to comment on opinion pieces they were taken aback by the amount of hostility that poured onto their website. This wasn’t democracy, it was bear-baiting. An intense debate ensued inside the Guardian along the lines of “why are we giving these people a platform when they despise everything we stand for?”. 

But the people on Biased BBC are using the same new media tools as everyone else to give themselves a voice. They also happen to be licence fee payers. What they are asking for, increasingly, is more openness and more accountability from an institution they pay for. Not on the face of it, an unreasonable thing to ask.

A BBC journalist asked me whether by spotlighting Biased BBC I was giving their views a credibility they don’t deserve. But it’s not a research project, a formal accountability exercise, or a complaints process; it’s just a conversation. You can choose whether you join in. You can use your own judgement about what you think is valuable. 

I wouldn’t recommend anyone to comment on Biased BBC if you don’t have a thick skin. Things can get rough. Biased BBC recently celebrated its fifth birthday, and as it matures, it may becoming more controlled and blander, more like those newspapers with a predictable knee jerk anti BBC agenda.But there’s a lot to be learned from its’ rise, and perhaps its’ fall.

They want to talk to us.

Why don’t we talk to them?’

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