Wikipedia’s Values Are The BBC’s Values

June 5, 2008

Over the past few days I’ve read both the BBC Trust’s Service Licence Review of and the BBC’s management’s submission.

It feels like the BBC is hovering on the edge of a conceptual leap forwards, scared about making the leap.

I quote (management submission p.98):

The BBC grew up in and often shaped the age of broadcasting. Over the last 10 years, it has been thrust into the age of computers where it has made important but fewer defining contributions. It has been a rapidly-evolving age, in which many of the truths of the broadcasting age have been contested. These are the truths on which the BBC has built its global stature – that professionals know best, that control is the way to ensure quality, that audience contributions are valuable but must be crafted or editorialised to release that value, that the audience must only be given the finished product, that professionals will create more content than the audience.

To fit itself for the future, the BBC must demonstrate a willingness and an ability to engage in the discussion about the new world. The internet will help it to do so by enabling a direct dialogue by which it can be held to account and develop greater responsiveness.

The BBc has to do a lot more than just “enter a dialogue”.

From the BBC Trust’s review (p. 31):

“The encouragement of user participation by means of user-generated content (UGC) will need to be managed carefully so that BBC news’ brand values of impartiality, accuracy and independence (which we have found to be particularly strong online) are not challenged.”

There’s an underlying anxiety that if we collaberate with licence fee payers in places not controlled by the BBC, or allow them to help make or influence BBC content it will somehow damage BBC values and traditional strengths.

It may be true that there are some places which the BBC should not go.

But to choose an example Wikipedia is not one of them.

Wikipedia’s values are almost exactly the same as the BBC’s.

What’s the difference between Wikipedia’s value of neutrality:

“Neutral point of view is a fundamental Wikimedia principle and a cornerstone of Wikipedia. All Wikipedia articles and other encyclopedic content must be written from a neutral point of view (NPOV), representing fairly, and as far as possible without bias, all significant views that have been published by reliable sources.”

and the BBC’s value of impartiality including this:

  • we strive to reflect a wide range of opinion and explore a range and conflict of views so that no significant strand of thought is knowingly unreflected or under represented. “
  • The difference is not in values or principles but in how you do it.

    Wikipedia says “we want to search for the truth. And we want everyone to help us find it”

    The BBC says “we want to search for the truth. But ONLY professional BBC people are allowed to do it.”

    We’re wrong.

    In practice there is at least one recent example of where the BBC used the wisdom of the crowd to change and improve its journalism. Last year the Newsround webpages about 9/11 were changed after some concerted lobbying from various bloggers. Here’s what Sinead Rocks said on the Editors blog. Here’s what I said at the time on my internal BBC blog. You won’t be able to see my blog outside the firewall so here’s a quote:

    “Is (this) an organised lobby of people with an axe to grind about the BBC’s output? Is it a example of “networked journalism”? Or perhaps both? …

    Has the conversation made what’s on Newsround’s website better? On balance I think yes, although I would be interested to know what others think.”

    This was an uncomfortable experience for the BBC. But how practically was it any different from the kind of often fractious debates and editing that go on in Wikipedia?

    We have to come down off our pedestals and realise that some licence fee payers are cleverer than we are. Anyone who shares the BBC values should be welcome to make or help make BBC content whether they are professional and paid by us or whether they are not.

    Doing this does not undermine BBC values. It strengthens them.

    What would it be like if licence fee payers not only understood and believed in impartiality (which they do), but also actively helped make the BBC’s content more impartial?

    Isn’t that an exciting prospect? Let’s jump!


    8 Responses to “Wikipedia’s Values Are The BBC’s Values”

    1. RobBole Says:

      I love the enthusiasm! I was recently on a panel with Sue Gardner, the Executive Director of Wikipedia and was struck that she came from a news background at Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), so it will be interesting to see how she continues to guide that organization.

      With that being said, from a practical user perspective Wikipedia offers me two positive experiences: one, as a reference source for almost anything imaginable; and two, as a place to get a unique view of breaking news.

      These are very powerful tools to enhance the BBC, or any other project, but I think that they two have limitations that are not full expressions of public broadcasting. They are in effect, alternative forms of the same thing.

      Nigel I know that your point in the post was about how to make the BBC more permeable and more democratic (even as “editorial voice” was given high marks for the distinctiveness in market), but while a perhaps a huge step, still seems like a not a full flowering of the thinking.

      I know that there are wonderful, high concept projects around community memory (I believe the Long Now Foundation in SF has done some work in this area, but am still exploring.), but nothing that has resulted in practical tools that help consumers to turn knowledge into action.

      I recently joined a massively multiplayer online game to test out how crowds manage themselves. Apart from now being addicted, the ability to manage hundreds of live conversations is great. There are self-contained rules, cultural norms that are permeable that allow for new members to join and participate, etc. But it has no memory as the same question is answered and answered and answered.

      On the other hand, Wikipedia – for the occasional user, that is the normal user – is all about memory. Yes, it is not crystal, but for someone who does not actively participate it is pretty close to glass.

      How can we mash together Wikipedia with MMOG that results in active engagement and molding as the conversation flows, but the output being an indexable/discoverable community memory?

    2. nickreynoldsatwork Says:

      Blimey! That’s too tricky a question for me… but I will ask someone I know who may have some thoughts…

    3. RobBole Says:

      Frankly me too…and I am asking the same questions, so I am happy to share some answers from very clever people.

    4. at the risk of oversimplifying the problem you’ve posed, perhaps you just store the MMOG conversations as text in a wiki, and then add topic clustering, NLP search, and semantic navigation extraction over that content. then, when a question is asked in the MMOG, there’s a pretty good chance of surfacing & navigating to the answer automatically.

      however, philosophically, i’m not sure this is the point of MMOGs? the same question is being asked and answered zillions of times in “real life” too — do we or don’t we want this type of “realism” in our games?


    5. R. Titus Says:

      Hi Nick, this is a great post. It’s more than a dialogue, which feels quite legal and somehow steering towards conflict resolutions (“the parties entered into a dialogue to settle their claims”)

      We need to engage with our audience, have a conversation – and like all good conversations, we should talk sometimes, other times we should just listen – most of all – we should demonstrate, as any good communications consultant will tell you – that we’ve heard, understood and perhaps changed our behavior as a result of that ongoing discussion.

      Lastly, I think we DO need to better engage with the audience – it’s called Interactive Media for God’s sakes.

      /remove’s soapbox – whew I feel better, feel free to moderate/delete.


    6. […] to the project itself (Nick Reynolds, who knows what he’s talking about, explains why here). Semantic web advocates at the BBC are busy building quite deep links into Wikipedia at the API […]

    7. […] Reynolds, BBC Internet blog editor, also chipped in with some words on this topic written earlier in the year. Nick says “Wikipedia’s values are the BBC’s […]

    8. […] “A Man With A Hammer Is Chasing Me!”BBC Programme Encourages Traffic To Non BBC Website ShockWikipedia’s Values Are The BBC’s Values”Sloppy” Technology Blogging – an Editor’s Dilemma « “A New Idea For How The BBC […]

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