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The BBC Learns To Blog, And Why That’s News

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Richard Sambrook is the director of BBC global news and a blogger. Richard's blog is SacredFacts, and subtitled "Something thought to be actual as opposed to invented".

The idea that something out there has such an elevated sacred status, and that it has natural owners, is what really marks the difference between two opposing views of news and in part it's what drives blogs.

First let's say what news is. News, and media creativity in general, are more important than we realise for reasons we don't acknowledge.

They are indeed the cornerstone of our society. The reason: the broad schedule of news and entertainment is a medium that keeps the economy going. You cannot imagine western democracies functioning without ads and you cannot imagine an orderly society without newspapers and TV companies that make the compromises necessary to keep running ads.

What we invent and produce is sold via TV and newspapers. They are not just central to "free speech" but to economic order.

The fragmentation of these mediators, under pressure from IPTV and blogs, is going to have a profound effect on the whole structure of an advanced economy.

Corporations will have to sustain their credibility and promote their brands across thirty or more mediating content types. That means dilution across the traditional ones (which in turn will raise pressure on publicly funded media).

Playing such a central role in every news organisation, including those that don't take ads, and the structure of news gathering and decision making, is necessarily a compromise.

It's a compromise that has worked very well for us for 150 years. Its nature is: maintain equilibrium.

News organisations cannot ask fundamental questions about how our system operates – for example, about how our food supply and pharmaceutical industries have created a moral panic over weight, eating, and health, and indeed seem to have converted the human body to a playground for officially sanctioned but potentially dangerous drugs (Vioxx, statins, chemo, antacids, SSRIs).

News and current affairs can, for example, do the SSRI story but they can't do the fundamental inquiry into how and why our society has changed into one that is fundamentally drug dependent.

It is also necessarily elitist. Attempts to broaden the media franchise (the BBC ran some in its community division) have never been pushed far enough or given sufficient prominence, and they're easily folded. But you cannot spread power without raising many alternative viewpoints and disturbing equilibrium.

The result of both of these is blogging and vidcasting. It's the desire of many of us to make more fundamental inquiries, to object to elitism in practical ways, and to express anger at having been let down by the Fourth Estate.

The question we also ask of course is how we can be objective in blogs, and how we can find things out, without the resources of a BBC, CNN or Sky.

My response to the first of these is I've never been impressed by the objectivity of any news organisation. When the London Observer was owned by a metals company Lohnro, journalists complained, in the restaurants around Westminster, about the more obvious compromises like not being able to criticise oppressive regimes where their ultimate owner operated.

At one time, in the 1940s, the Times of London, Observer and several US papers and magazines were owned by a tight knit group around the Astor family which simultaneously dominated London and Washington society (Vince was President F.D. Roosevelt's best mate and the London Astors owned the paper of record).

We've yet to hear the true and complete story behind World War II because this cabal controlled information, and did not protest when the Special Operations' executive chief in New York, Intrepid, had many important records destroyed in 1945. 85% of the UK's SOE records in London were also destroyed.

You could tell similar tales across the history of the press and TV. Whether we look at important parts of modern society or of the past, we are conspicuously under-informed.

The point is, though, that these are necessary compromises and they will always happen. We're grown up enough to accept that but we shouldn't assume there's something sacred in there.

The opposite of scared is not invented, it's compromised, blurred at the edges, toned down, over-expressed perhaps. We all do it and it's part of our culture. As conspicuously as we are under-informed, we did little to demand better. And then blogging came along.

The question it raises, though, is not only will organisations like the BBC co-opt the reporting power of bloggers but also will they broaden and deepen their coverage of our world? That would really be treading on sacred ground.

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About Haydn

  • http://sambrook.typepad.com richard sambrook

    Haydn
    Nobody should think the title of my blog means I believe that news has “natural owners” – quite the opposite is true which is why the disruption the internet is bringing to news organisations is in my view overwhelmingly a good thing. However I do believe that we need to live by more than a cacophony of opinion alone and that some rational and fairminded and objective (based on evidence) debate is a good thing. Hence the reference to CP Scott’s famous quote (which needs to be read in full!)

  • http://kanrei.blogspot.com brad schader

    I hate the idea of BBC, CNN, FOx and any other news outlet looking to bloggers or even worse becoming bloggers. We bloggers are opinionated and always write from a point of view. We cannot be unbiased because for the most part we are our own editors and are answerable only to ourselves.
    The news should be just that: news. They are suppossed to be the sources we bloggers use, not the other way around. The media are getting lazy I think. Opinion is easier than news which is why blogs are so big.

  • http://www.mediangler.com haydn

    The disruption the internet is bringing to news has more facets than, in my view,news organisations want to acknowledge.

    We know organisations like the BBC, The Guardian, the Washington Post etc will incorporate user generated content and blogging conent – because it’s free.

    Why look that gift horse in the mouth?

    The real test is whether you allow it to broaden and deepen coverage.

    Whether you use it to tackle some of the fundamental issues – but in short they are the ones that have us hooked on medicine, hopelessly divided in terms of wealth and attitude, suffering from food, once again at war, unenlightened by a partial press, incapable of collective self-reflection….I’ll maybe map a few of those out on my blog tomorrow.

  • Donnie Marler

    I see the blog community as a way to escape the heavily politicized traditional media and get all sides of an issue.
    All too often, main stream media seeks to be, rather than report, the story.
    Bloggers wishing to be taken seriously continue to link their stories to verifying reports in established media. I believe we can, and should, benefit each other.

  • http://kanrei.blogspot.com brad schader

    Donnie,
    I agree mostly with your blogger/media relationship, but the success of the blog is making the media forget their job and causing them to do ours. I do not want to tune into CNN or BBC to tell me what bloggers are saying. I want them to give me the news and I will goto blogs to see what the bloggers are saying.
    There is currently too much commentary in the news and not enough news. By the media outlets turning more and more to blogs we will see less and less fact finding its way into the news.

  • Eric Olsen

    thanks Haydn, fascinating, and thanks for dropping by Richard, very happy to hear from you. I think the key to it all is to maintain rigorous standards of reliability while allowing a bit more of the writer’s personality into the reporting. I think that is the hybrid we are headed towards. Opinion is everywhere in what has always been called news, so this new way may be a bit more honest. But reliability and openness are critical to make this go.

  • http://theinsideofmybrain.com Matthew Milam

    Welcome to Blogcritics.

    You’ll be happy to know if this site does review some of the networks hottest shows — including a certain Doctor.

  • http://www.mediangler.com haydn

    I think brad and Donnie have an important point though Eric. Many talented people have been excluded from the media franchise for decades so it’s worth saying let’s do this on our terms.

  • Eric Olsen

    sure, the ground-up rather than top-down aspect is crucial to the independent frame of mind

  • http://bacalar.blogspot.com Howard Dratch

    As blogging matures and the shake-out from “the golden age of folding newspapers” begins to settle; I don’t think we quite know what will emerge. But there is hope for more truth, more immediacy, more “you are there” and, with luck, at least as much responsibility as there was with more traditional forms.

    BC is an example — a lot of opinion and more and more news. The ‘Net allows those little links to take people directly to primary sources and video may allow them to be there quicker and closer. Professionalism may even crop up as blogger aggregations like BC continue to evolve.

    And newspapers, tv companies and magazines continue to emerge as part of the blogosphere. Web 4.0 could really surprise us.