Posts Tagged ‘BBC’

First day at new Broadcasting House

May 29, 2018

It rained on my first day at new Broadcasting House.

Just like on my last day at Caversham Park.

Am I downhearted? No. I’m very happy.

Could things get any better? Well there was an ice cream van outside reception giving away free ice cream if you showed your BBC pass…ice cream It’s great to be here!



Innovation: links

June 23, 2015

I haven’t published anything on my blog for a while.

Why? Well, I’ve been busy, looking for a new job.

And I’m pleased to say I’ve found one: a fantastic new job at BBC Monitoring.

At BBC Monitoring, among other things I’ll be doing “innovation”.

But what does “innovation” mean?

There seem to be as many definitions as people doing innovation.

Maybe it doesn’t have to be defined. You know it when you see it:

Here are some recent examples of “innovation” that I like.

A blind woman is able to feel an ultrasound scan of her baby thanks to 3D printing.

“The Future of Wind Turbines? No Blades” from Wired. So people who think windfarms are an eyesore have less to complain about.

Andiamo, a start up I met through the Angel Academe programme where I am a mentor. They are using 3D scanning and printing to create better orthodontics (back braces, leg braces etc) for disabled children.

All of these are not just clever, they also all have the potential to change lives for the better.

And here ‘s a good basic guide to the subject: “Ten Types of Innovation” from DOBLIN

I think my approach will be “constructive innovation”, or perhaps “innovation in a sensible shirt”…

“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.

Trolls, platforms, abuse, moderation and the BBC

August 2, 2013

The best piece I read about the vile abuse suffered by Caroline Criado-Perez and Stella Creasey (and others) on Twitter in the past week was this from Jemima Kiss and Charles Arthur in the Guardian: “Publishers or platforms: media giants may be forced to choose”.


“…Twitter and Facebook are keen to describe their sites as enabling communications, rather than publishing content – a crucial distinction which means they are not liable for trolling or abuse”

The BBC is both a platform and a publisher. It struck me that this kind of unpleasantness is very rare on the BBC’s websites despite the fact that thousands of comments are published on BBC Online every week.


Because the BBC has an excellent moderation service run by a central team who use all their experience and wisdom to root out any potential problems before they occur, a technical platform (DNA) to moderate comments that really works, a skilled and well trained out of house moderation team, good tools for staff, a clear set of house rules and people across the BBC who know how to host. This all adds up to a social space which is civilised and lives up to the BBC’s values.

This is something the BBC should get credit for. But I don’t expect we will anytime soon.

It’s worth remembering however, that you can do something about abuse online, if you want to.

(Disclaimer: I used to be in charge of this service, although I’m not now).

The BBC page for alerting a comment

The BBC page for alerting a comment

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…

BBC Director General: Frankenstein’s Monster Required

November 21, 2012

N.B. My personal views

The BBC is not an easy organisation to lead.

That’s because it is full of people like me: creative types, passionate, emotional, argumentative and obsessed with making their particular thing the very best it can be to the exclusion of all else. Not always rational.

This is a good thing. The day twenty BBC journalists go into a room, all love each other and have a big group hug is the day the BBC is dead. Creative competition drives up quality.

However this does mean that when the boss of the BBC says “jump!” an argument will immediately break out. Some will want to jump three feet, some two metres, some will not want to jump at all, some will start digging, some will ask “why?”

So you do need a machine to make things happen. The BBC is a machine, one that usually works well. The BBC is also a bunch of people running around making brilliant things.

And it may not be that important for the Director General to be loved by staff. Love is not enough. You need a clear sense of where you’re going. Inevitably not everyone will like it.

The perfect Director General would have the brain of John Birt and the heart of Greg Dyke. Unless some good natured descendant of Dr Frankenstein is cooking up something in a secret lab beneath the new Broadcasting House, such a creature does not exist.

So I agree with those who say that the BBC may need two people to run it: a Director General and a strong Deputy Director General.

But I disagree with the view that the DDG should be in charge of BBC News. This worked well under Mark Thompson and Mark Byford but seems backward looking, trying to solve yesterday’s problem rather than tommorow’s.

I think the real challenge to the BBC is in digital. So the BBC needs someone with a clear strategic vision for where the BBC is going to go in digital in the next ten years. And someone else who understands how digital is changing people’s behaviour and attitudes and how the BBC’s culture needs to change as a result. A big brained strategist who can create a machine to deliver that strategy alongside someone with superb people and social skills to make the argument, be comfortably with the arguing and bring BBC people with them. And having these two people working together could be a rather good symbol for a BBC where senior leaders cooperated with each other, rather than being in conflict.

The BBC may be hard to lead but not, I think, impossible. I hope that despite the latest crisis people are queuing up for the job.

I look forward to finding out who she or he will be.

For sure, it won’t be Big Bird.

Complexity and “abberant behaviour”

November 16, 2012

This quote from an article by Anthony Hilton originally in the Evening Standard (oddly not available online) and then republished by Bloomberg Business Week struck a chord:

Board papers rarely give directors the information they need to be on top of what matters. This is doubly the case given that almost all reports are numbers-driven, yet the real risk to companies these days is reputational, and caused by aberrant human behaviour which no system devised by an accountant will ever pick up. If this is an issue for the private sector, how much bigger is it in the public sector where management is frequently expected to serve more than one master and where anyone who ever paid tax feels entitled to look over the executive’s shoulder and second-guess his or her actions?

Which is why creating a culture where abberant human behaviour happens less, or at least is channelled into creativity is so important.

BBC Policy on Contacting Extra Terrestrial Life Forms

November 9, 2012

I was amused to read this story earlier this week: “Don’t look for aliens – it’s against health and safety! What BBC bosses told Professor Brian Cox about new planet”

Several years ago I worked in the BBC’s Editorial Policy unit.

If – hypothetically – I had been asked for advice concerning BBC policy on contacting extra terrestrials at that time, I might have said:

“Firstly nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. So even if you do send a message to the nearest star system and it’s capable of supporting life it will take a minimum of 4 years to get there and another 4 for any life forms to travel to earth. This is well into period of the next BBC Charter and Agreement so we can afford to take the long view.

Secondly, if aliens are capable of picking up this signal then your first step should be ask whether they have a valid TV Licence.

Thirdly, you should give due impartial weight to all shades of extra terrestrial opinion in the programme.

Fourthly, if in ten years time we are all cowering in caves underground while huge spacecraft destroy our cities… well I’m just an adviser… I can only advise…”