Archive for the 'BBC' Category

The ethics of digital: round up

July 20, 2014

What’s the right way to behave online?

If digital behaviour is different from real world behaviour what are the new rules?

The big tech giants that dominate our lives are running around trying to find answers. When they get it wrong, it doesn’t look good.

In June Google hired an ethics adviser Luciano Floridi. He argued in the Guardian for some “bold ideas”:

Most experts agree that current European data protection law is outdated. I see it as the expression of a time when there was a clear divide between online and offline. Today, that divide is being bridged in favour of the “onlife”, a mixture of analogue and digital, physical and virtual experiences, like driving a car following the instructions of a navigator.

The car metaphor is a dead giveaway. A driverless car? Like one of Google’s?

In July Google’s approach to implementing the EU’s Right to be Forgotten ruling became headline news courtesy of the BBC’s Robert Peston. The most interesting piece I read about this (apart from Robert’s own), was Andrew Orlovski’s new angle in The Register (“Google de-listing of BBC article ‘broke UK and Euro public interest laws'”)

Then there’s Facebook’s “Mood Manipulation” experiment. There was a lot of noise about this, but Jaron Lanier in the New York Times offered some humanity and humility.

All of us engaged in research over networks must commit to finding a way to modernize the process of informed consent.  Instead of lowering our standards to the level of unread click-through agreements, let’s raise the standards for everyone.

Duncan J Watts in “Lessons Learned from the Facebook study” said that the experiment may not have been as bad as the noise suggested but:

What we need is an ethics-review process for human-subject research designed explicitly for web-based research…

(Credit to @dianecoyle1859 for this link)

David Banks has some intelligent thoughts and practical suggestions on the ethics of wearable technology. I’d disagree with his suggestion that police forces should be banned from using Google Glass. Law enforcement might be the only place Google Glass serves a useful purpose, rather than just being an annoyance.

I couldn’t write this without mentioning Model View Culture, the online magazine set up by @Shanley. It’s a must read: a combative critique of the values, practices and morality of Silicon Valley. I don’t agree with all of it, but it’s an essential antidote to the complacency and lack of self awareness of too much of the tech scene.

The technology giants are relatively young (even “immature”? ). When you’re an adolescent you haven’t worked out the right thing to do yet. The BBC, like many other mainstream media organisations, has been trying to answer these questions for a lot longer. David Jordan, Director of BBC Values and Standards (Disclaimer: I use to work in that team), recently outlined the BBC’s guidance on removing content online (“Should the BBC unpublish any of its content online?”). It’s rational, nuanced, sensible and, mature.

Bold ideas? I’d rather have some old ones.

 

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#nick@25: playlist

February 20, 2014
An evidence based judgement...

An evidence based judgement…

Last night I had a little drink to celebrate the strange fact that I’ve been working at the BBC for 25 years.

This was really just an excuse to gather some of my favourite people together, play some of my favourite music and indulge in some embarrassing Dad dancing.

If you came, thank you for making it a great evening. If you couldn’t come I hope to see you soon.

Most of all thanks to my wife and kids, from whom all good things flow!

Here’s the playlist:

“Always True (Alone in the cave)”
NEM.e.sis
Breakable Material

“Arms Control Poseur”
The Fall
Extricate

“Bad Motor Scooter”
Montrose
Montrose

“Ballroom Blitz”
Sweet

“Bang”
Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Yeah Yeah Yeahs

“Bass Down Low” [Edited Version]
Dev Feat. The Cataracs
Now That’s What I Call Music! 79 [Disc 2]

“Behind The Counter”
The Fall
Behind The Counter EP [Disc 1]

“Blank Generation”
Richard Hell & The Voidoids
Blank Generation

“Boredom”
The Buzzcocks
Spiral Scratch

“A Boy Named Sue”
Johnny Cash
The Best Of Johnny Cash

“Breaking the Law”
Judas Priest
British Steel

“Bring The Noise”
Public Enemy
It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back

“Cab It Up!”
The Fall
I Am Kurious, Oranj

“Call Me”
Blondie
(I suggest you give her a ring. She really does want you to call…)

“The Classical”
The Fall
Hex Enduction Hour

“Common People”
Pulp
Different Class

“Container Drivers”
The Fall
The Rough Trade Singles Box

“Counting Backwards”
Throwing Muses
The Real Ramona

“Crescendo In Blue”
Duke Ellington
The Essential Duke Ellington (1928-1937)

“Decade”
Esbjörn Svensson Trio
Leucocyte

“Did They Ever Tell Cousteau?”
Esbjörn Svensson Trio
Seven Days Of Falling

“Drive in Saturday”
David Bowie
Aladdin Sane

“Editions of You”
Roxy Music
For Your Pleasure

“Elected”
Alice Cooper
Billion Dollar Babies

“Free Ranger”
The Fall
Ed’s Babe

“Get Over You”
The Undertones
The Undertones

“Ghetto Mom”
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Jukebox Explosion

“Hound Dog”
Elvis Presley
Elvis 30 #1 Hits

“How I Wrote ‘Elastic Man'”
The Fall
Palace of Swords Reversed

“Human Fly”
The Cramps
Off The Bone

“I Am the Fly”
Wire
Chairs Missing

“I Love It” [Clean Version]
Icona Pop
Now That’s What I Call Music! 85

“If I Can’t Change Your Mind”
Sugar
Copper Blue

“I’m Bad”
LL Cool J
All World

“In Bloom”
Nirvana
Nevermind

“It’s a Miracle”
Barry Manilow
The Essential Barry Manilow

“It’s Tricky”
Run-DMC
Raisin’ Hell

“Jazz, Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold”
The Bonzo Dog Band
Gorilla

“Kicker Conspiracy”
The Fall
Palace of Swords Reversed

“Last Orders”
The Fall
Early Fall

“Lie Dream Of A Casino Soul”
The Fall
Hip Priest And Kamerads

“Loose”
The Stooges
Fun House

“Love Your Money”
Daisy Chainsaw
Sick of Sex

“Lust For Life”
Iggy Pop
Lust For Life

“Makes No Sense At All”
Hüsker Dü
Flip Your Wig

“The Man Whose Head Expanded”
The Fall
Palace of Swords Reversed

“Master Hunter”
Laura Marling
Once I Was An Eagle

“Mr. Pharmacist”
The Fall
458489 A Sides

“My Old School”
Steely Dan
Countdown To Ecstasy

“Night And Day”
Frank Sinatra
All The Best

“No Fun”
The Stooges
The Stooges

“Nonalignment Pact”
Pere Ubu
The Modern Dance

“Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue”
Ramones
Ramones

“Oh, Pretty Woman”
Roy Orbison

“Problems”
Sex Pistols
Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols

“Prole Art Threat”
The Fall
Slates

“Raw Power”
The Stooges
Raw Power

“Rock ‘n’ Roll”
Led Zeppelin
Led Zeppelin 4/4 symbols

“Rollin’ Dany”
The Fall
458489 A Sides

“Rowche Rumble”
The Fall
Early Fall

“Shop Lifting”
The Slits
The Peel Sessions

“Taxman”
The Beatles
Revolver

“That’s Not My Name”
The Ting Tings
We Started Nothing

“Totally Wired”
The Fall

“Waiting Room”
Fugazi
13 Songs

“Wake Me Up”
Avicii
True

“Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting”
Charles Mingus
Blues & Roots

“White Noise”
Disclosure featuring AlunaGeorge
Now That’s What I Call Music! 84

“You Shook Me All Night Long”
AC/DC
Back In Black

“100%”
Sonic Youth
Dirty

Making badges for #nick@25

February 16, 2014

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“Stumbling Over Truth” by Kevin Marsh (@KJMarsh)

January 3, 2014

I have a habit of reading books a long time after everyone else.

I picked up a second hand copy of Kevin Marsh‘s book about the Hutton Inquiry just before Xmas and read it quickly in a few days.

It’s a compelling read and a sobering one. It’s the best book I’ve read about journalism since “The Stalker Affair and the Press” by David Murphy (another book I picked up second hand).

The moral?

Words matter. Choose them carefully. And beware of those who use them carelessly or to mislead.

iPlayer: Phaser nails it

October 10, 2013

It’s fashionable these days to say that comments on blog posts and articles aren’t worth reading.

Sometimes this is true.

However here’s an example where the comments are better than the article.

Steve Hewlett’s article in the Guardian at the weekend about Tony Hall’s speech on Tuesday trotted out some arguments about iPlayer’s on demand nature undermining the case for the licence fee.

Arguments comprehensively debated and debunked in comments and in particular this one from Phaser:

…iPlayer is something like 2% of the BBC’s offline channel viewing. 12% of those are watching the simulcast and therefore need to pay a licence anyway. We can safely assume that 80% of of those users also have a TV and a licence (and I suspect it’s more like 95+%, but lets go with something that should be mutually agreeable)…

An evidence based comment!

To which I would only add a couple of things:

1. My understanding is that you have to have a TV Licence if you own a device capable of recieving a live TV signal (not whether you actually watch it). Since you can watch live on iPlayer, and indeed more people may be watching live through iPlayer then…

2. Part of the case for the licence fee is an emotional one: if iPlayer gets better and better and more people love it, since it is funded by the licence fee, then won’t they love the licence fee more too?

(I hope Phaser is the same person who used to leave intelligent comments on the Internet blog but has been sadly absent recently).

Royal Charter Spam

March 21, 2013

It’s hard for me to see a Royal Charter to regulate the press as “a boot stamping on a human face forever” as the Sun suggested earlier this week.

There’s a useful list of all Royal Charters since the year 1231 at the Privy Council website. Scanning the list not many seem to be instruments of brutal tyranny.

The BBC is governed by a Royal Charter. It’s regulated by both the BBC Trust and by OFCOM. BBC people often moan about compliance. Others observe that the BBC is more regulated than any other media organisation in the UK.

The BBC’s relationship with government is complex. Some of the BBC’s biggest crises have involved conflict with the government of the day. Sometimes the BBC has won, sometimes it has lost.

But the BBC’s journalism has an international reputation for quality, impartiality and accuracy. And despite the horrible stuff of the last year people still trust the BBC more than other institutions. The BBC does do investigative journalism. Maybe it should do more.

Would a Royal Charter for the press be the end of the world?

When I tweeted the phrase “Royal Charter” I was immediately followed by a spam account.

Could we have a Royal Charter outlawing spam please?

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“In Defence of Bureaucracy”

March 7, 2013

I really enjoyed Gus O’Donnell’s passionate and powerful defence of the value of bureaucracy on Radio 4 on Tuesday.

Here’s a quote from the programme:

“Without rules and processes society would fall apart”

Which reminded me of this quote from Camille Paglia’s “Sexual Personae”:

“Moral codes are always obstructive, relative and man made. Yet they have been of enormous profit to civilisation. They are civilisation.”

Which in turn made me think as to whether creatives and entrepreneurs and the bureaucrats who are supposedly their nemesis are actually as different as we like to think. Certainly in my experience at the BBC many of the people running the business have a distiguished record in programme making. Creative people do make rules about what they do, even if these rules are sometimes fuzzy.

These days everything seems like theatre to me, whether it’s what people call “Comms” or “Marketing”, or even arguing a case with a government minister. Everything aspires to be “editorial” or “content”, it’s just that the quality of your avarage “communications message” is worse than the quality of the average radio programme (I hope that the quality of the average briefing paper to a minister is high). The Pollard Review report read like a novel to me.

Are the people building the amazing new Government Digital Service “bureaucrats”? They’re certainly civil servants. And they’re being amazingly creative.

Isn’t making a birth certificate and recording all births somehow a creative act?

Part two is on next week.

Reasons to BBC Cheerful Part Two: “The Sound and The Fury”

February 18, 2013

It’s over a year since I wrote a cautiously optimistic blog post about the organisation I work for.

A lot has happened since then. Not all of it good.

But it’s true to say that last week in BBC Future Media where I work there were a lot of people with smiles on their faces. Many perhaps were just relieved that after a period of limbo some decisions had been made.

I was very pleased about James Purnell’s appointment as the Director of a new Strategy and Digital Division. When I used to work in Editorial Policy nearly two decades ago he was working in Strategy. He struck me as a decent man. I have a feeling he both likes the BBC and understands its public service ethos.

Still what’s most important and what will sustain the BBC through both the aftermath of the Saville revelations and the turbulent digital landscape is the quality of its programes. Programmes like the fantastic “The Sound and The Fury” which started on BBC FOUR last week. Modernism in literature and music is my thing and this opening programme was up to the usual excellent standard of BBC music programmes, with wonderful use of archive and excellent performances which were available at greater length on the Red Button afterwards.

It also showed what a good television programme can do. I’ve read Alex Ross’ definitive book “The Rest is Noise” so have some knowledge of the subject. But its only when I saw the juxtaposition of images, archive footage and music that I started to understand why Schoenberg wrote the music he did.

This was public service television at its best. And there’s more to come this week!

Pollard Review: The “Ghost of Birtism” should be the BBC’s Guiding Spirit

December 30, 2012

N.B. My personal views

Almost everything I read in the newspapers about the BBC bears no resemblance to the reality of my day to day life working there.

Mostly, I just shrug.

But I couldn’t let this piece by Peter Preston The BBC must lay the ghost of Birt’s broadcasting corporation in the Guardian a week ago go without comment.

Recently I’ve been spending as much time as I can in the magnificent new Broadcasting House, with its integrated multi-media newsroom at it’s heart. That newsroom is the house that Birt built, the physical manifestation of Birt’s vision to build a 24 hour truly digital joined up BBC news machine.

Some people still seem to hate him for it. Personally I think he was right.

But whether he was right or wrong it seems odd to blame Birtism for the BBC’s biggest crisis. I’ve read all 185 pages of the Pollard Review Report. It’s as riveting as a novel and for BBC geeks like myself (let’s face it I do think and talk about the BBC far more than is healthy for me) a compelling read.

But what went wrong seems on my reading to be nothing to do with the Birtist machine. It seems much simpler.

An editor makes a bad call. The team pulling together the story disagree with him. He can’t bring them with him. As a result trust between them completely breaks down. A pernicous cycle of leaking and briefing follows where there should be an honest conversation. When it becomes vital to establish what actually happened quickly, this is impossible because the two sides don’t trust each other.

So the problem is not as the article puts it “if programme editors were actually editors rather than links in these mystic chains”. The editor did edit and his managers in the chain of command (actually there was only one, one link in a clear chain of command above him) lined up behind him. But on a story as important as this he lost authority and trust. The battle lines were drawn.

Like every other crisis I’ve lived through at the BBC, this was about leadership, trust and culture, not “Birtism” or “compliance”. Unless someone can show that John Birt created a culture where lack of trust was the norm, Birtism is not to blame. In my experience in the past twenty years, when I’ve had a good manager, I’ve had freedom to make editorial decisions in the way that editorial people always have. The chain of command works.

The most alarming sentence in the article is this one:

And don’t, time and again, be so damned defensive. Make the press department reach out – not hunch defensively.

In my opinion “hacks” and “flacks”, have a symbiotic relationship which is fruitful for both parties. That’s how news works. But what you’re called, whether you work in the newsroom or the press office, doesn’t matter as much as how you behave.

One of the most disturbing sections of the Pollard report is where BBC News management and the Press Office become as one, and start to behave in the same way. Hannah Livingston who was on the recieving end of this sums it up:

…I saw the fuzzy face of the auntie we all know morph into the incomprehensible hardened one of a broadcasting corporation.

I gently ask: is it really in the spirit of the BBC’s values for BBC communications people (or anyone) to “drip poison”, or negatively brief off the record about other BBC people? If the BBC is supposed to be accurate shouldn’t everyone be trying to establish what happened, rather than trying to spin it, first one way and then the other?

Maybe the Press Office should not “reach out”. What’s the difference between reaching out and briefing off the record? Hunching can be a sign of humility, or at least an awareness that you might have done something wrong. A period of humble reflection might be better than more “over reaching”.

In any case, I can’t see what this has to do with the “Ghost of Birtism”. On the contrary one of the most depressing aspects of the recent crisis has been the way the BBC has been sucked into examining itself and its past rather than looking at what it should do in the future.

For better or worse John Birt had a vision of what was needed in the future. He made it happen, and BBC people are now living in it, and to my mind it’s good.

Rather than being exorcised the ghost of Birtism should be allowed to roam free in the new BH, in the hope that its spirit might inspire somebody to come up with some new ideas about the BBC’s future.

Happy new year!

“The Director General opened her Twitter app…”

December 7, 2012

N.B. This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

The Director General switched off her television and sat quietly for a moment.

She was shocked. The allegations in the programme about one of the BBC’s most iconic stars were appalling.

She took a breath, and gathered herself together. She reached for her iPhone and opened her Twitter app. The BBC_DG account which she had set up two months ago already had forty thousand followers, including many BBC staff.

She tweeted:

“Just watched programme. I’m horrified by these allegations. More on the blog shortly”.

Opening up her laptop she logged into the BBC’s content management system and began writing a blog post. She expressed her shock and concern, asked for the sympathy for the victims, for reaction from readers and said that over night and the following day she would coming up with a plan for what to do next.

She then made two quick phone calls. One to her official spokesperson to sense check what she’d written and to give him an early heads up for press enquiries, and one to the BBC’s moderation service: they would need to take extra care moderating comments on this post.

Then she pressed the publish button. Her post appeared instantly on the DG blog.

For the next half hour she monitored comments and responded to some. Although some were the usual off topic abuse, others were sympathetic and one or two sparked ideas in her mind.

After signing off, she closed comments and went to bed. In the morning she’d draw up a plan of action, a plan already forming in her mind…