A few months ago, a colleague of mine let it slip that the BBC News website was moving it’s "Have Your Say" section to a new discussion platform. The main point of this was to ensure that there was transparency (and to deal with a healthy dose of service system overload and increasingly strained people resources) in how messages are dealt with by the team here at Television Centre.

The old process, which I’ve described as "curtains" went something like this:

User posts comment –> it goes behind a curtain where BBC staff members, perhaps wearing bizarre costumes and dancing around a hot cauldron, ensure that absolutely nothing contentious gets through checks the spelling, fixes the grammar, alters the meaning –> a few exceptionally well written comments appear

At least that’s what the public thought was going on and I don’t blame them. Up until recently, Have Your Say used a web based form to gather comments from users. Those comments were then sent, via email, to a journalist at Television Centre. The journalist would open the dozens or, sometimes, hundreds or even thousands of emails to see what the balance of opinion was. Then they’d set about finding a "representative sample of viewpoints expressed", editing those posts for spelling and grammar as well as length, then publishing those on the website. The posts that ended up appearing all looked like they’d been written by professional journalists, university professors and others with impeccable grammar, spelling and who made their points in a succint way. Those submitting and never seeing their own comments appear, myself amongst them, had no idea what the publishing criteria was, nor did we see any comments that looked or read like they were written by ordinary people. One of the things I always said to journalists attending my training courses is that "radio producers don’t use a synthesiser to strip away a regional accent or to move words around to improve the grammar of the interviewee, so why would we do the equivalent online?".

Having an editorial process that is clear to users builds trust and provides a defence against those who, despite the opposite being true, think that the BBC, as a publicly funded broadcaster, "toes the government line".

The new Have Your Say takes away the curtains to reveal a very simple and fair editorial process: if it doesn’t break one of the house rules, your post gets published.

Before BBC News Online moved to the new system, there were some fears that the quality of comments published might go down. However, what we’ve seen is that the quality has remained high whilst, at the same time, the small team has been able to publish thousands of comments on a busy day (in the past a couple hundred was almost unheard of).

Now it’s the turn of the BBC World Service which has, in the past few weeks, begun rolling out the same debate platform – but in Arabic, Spanish and Russian (with other languages coming soon).

BBC Debates
Have Your Say: in Arabic, English, and Russian

I’m hoping that for both BBC News Online and the BBC World Service the new platform, with a much more transparent and, I think, fair and honest decision making process, will help the BBC to create an even greater level of trust with it’s audiences. It has, certainly, already had the affect of giving a greater number of people than ever before the opportunity to express their views and see them published on the BBC website – which, afterall, is why people contribute in the first place.

(Please note: The post above are the views of the owner of cybersoc.com and are not in any way endorsed by the BBC or the BBC World Service.)

Cybersoc by Robin Hamman
With over 13 years of professional experience in the digital and social media industry, and a client portfolio that includes some of the World's most recognisable brands and organisations, I've built a reputation internationally as a leading practitioner in the industry.

1 Comment:

  • By Pat / 20 Dec 2005 /

    I always used to think that the comments seemd to have been picked to represent the view that the BBC wanted to put out, rather than what the actual balance of opinion was.
    The new system feels so much better, much more personal, it keeps the comment as it was typed complete with spelling mistakes and grammar errors (of which i am so guilty). I get the feeling that there are real people behind the posts, rather than a government propaganda generator.

About Robin Hamman

I've been helping some of the World's most widely recognised brands and organisations devise and implement strategic digital and social media programmes since 1999.

I'm currently the EMEA Digital Network Lead at Fleishman Hillard. I've previously held a variety of roles including Managing Director of Dachis Group Europe, Director of Digital at Edelman, Head of Social Media at Headshift, Acting Editor of the BBC Blogs and Executive Producer at ITV.

In addition to my day job, I help my wife run an online retail business selling wool blankets - if you're feeling chilly, check out JustSheep.co.uk

I hold a BA in Education, MA in Sociology, MPhil in Communication Studies and a PgDip in Law. I've also been a Non-Residential Fellow at Stanford University Law School and a Visiting Fellow of Journalism at City University, London.

Why cybersoc.com? In 1995, I tried to register, for the purposes of researching "ordinary users", the username Cybersociologist on AOL. They truncated my name and I stuck with it....

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