BBC experiment: a new online strategy, to increase their coverage of real-life community stories.

BBC’s Robin Hamman has been exploring and experimenting with ideas for the broadcaster to better engage with communities. The folks at the Beeb are aware that they are missing out somewhat in all the social networking / social media that’s just booming – folks engaging in their own blogs, in FlickR, in YouTube and the like.

But their main motivator for exploring new ideas has been budget – or as he puts it,

  • Old way: build technology, manage community = expensive stickyness, keep audience
  • New way: start discussion, link out to wherever it is = inexpensive stickyness, gain new audience

Their previous experiments included asking for heaps of submissions and comments, building message boards and community platforms. Staff had to review and approve ‘millions upon millions of messages’ – pricey stuff.

So, just launched is a BBC Manchester blog, which is their new initiative aiming to improve community engagement (while cutting costs).

The idea is that they get a couple of people in each of the city’s boroughs to launch independent blogs, covering local-local issues and stories. BBC journalists track the blogs, follow up on interesting leads found there, and get better community-level content on the BBC, radio, TV and online. The local bloggers are unpaid (hmm…) but BBC drives traffic to their sites.

Does this mean that the BBC’s actual online community engagement will go down? By using others’ blogs for neighbourhood story leads, it seems that they want more real-life community engagement, and less (as a result of less money spent on) online community engagement. If the initiative expands beyond Manchester, will online readers see fewer comments, forums, media submissions, less all-around user-generated content?

It’ll be interesting to see what kind of feedback they get about the initiative. Will others, particularly other media, see this as a positive step, taking BBC more grassroots? Or will it be seen as lazy journalism, expecting others – for free – to find the journalists’ community stories for them?

One of Hamman’s inspirations for the Manchester experiment was an online newspaper written by and for Chicago residents, Chi-Town Daily News. It’s a nonprofit, driven by a philosophy that news ought to be created to serve its public interest function.

Unconnected to the new Manchester launch, Hamman has also been running workshops for BBC journalists on blogging. In an Online Journalism News piece, he’s quoted as telling a group of them,

“Everyone who works in industry, journalism or academia needs to blog to stay relevant and informed”

Hamman refers to ‘open source journalism’. This is how Wikipedia tries to explain how that, ‘citizen journalism’ and ‘participatory journalism’ are distinct.

More about blogging experts’ workshops for BBC journalists, at Dayorama.

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