Tag Archives: BBC Trust

Q&A with an information architect (aka @currybet aka Martin Belam)

Martin Belam, of the CurryBet blog, has recently been appointed as ‘information architect’ for Guardian.co.uk. Journalism.co.uk asked him what he’ll be doing for the site…

For those who don’t know what you do, fill us in your background and the new gig…
[MB] I was at the Hack Day that the Guardian’s technology department ran back in November 2008, and the talent and enthusiasm that day really shone. I’ve really enjoyed the freedom of working as a consultant over the last three years, much of the time based either in Crete or in Austria, but the opportunity of coming to work more permanently for an organisation as forward-thinking as the Guardian is being with initiatives like the Open Platform was too much to resist.

So, an ‘information architect’ what does that mean and what are you doing?
Information Architecture has been defined as ‘the emerging art and science of organising large-scale websites’.

All websites have an inherent information structure – the navigation, the contextual links on a page, whether there are tags describing content and so forth. It is about how people navigate and way-find their way through the information presented on a site.

What I’ll be doing at the Guardian is influencing that structure and functionality as new digital products are developed. It involves working closely with design and editorial teams to produce ‘wireframes’, the blueprints of web design, and also involves being an advocate for the end user – carrying out lots of usability and prototype testing as ideas are developed.

Is it a full-time role?
I’m working four days a week at The Guardian, as I still have some other commitments – for example as contributing editor for FUMSI magazine – although already it feels a bit like cramming a full-time job into just 80 per cent of the time!

It’s not happy times for mainstream media brands: where are they going wrong?
I don’t think it is only mainstream media brands that are suffering from the disruption caused by digital transition, but we do see a lot of focus on this issue for print businesses at the moment. I think one of the things that strikes me, having worked at several big media companies now, including the BBC and Sony, is that you would never set these organisations up in this way in the digital era if you were doing it from scratch.

One of the things that appealed most about joining the Guardian was that the move to Kings Place has brought together the print, online and technical operations in a way that wasn’t physically possible before in the old offices. I’m still very optimistic that there are real opportunities out there for the big media brands that can get their business structures right for the 21st century.

What kind of things do you think could re-enthuse UK readers for their newspapers?
I think our core and loyal readers are still enthusiastic about their papers, but that as an industry we have to face the fact that there is an over-supply of news in the UK, and a lot of it – whether it is on the radio, TV, web or thrust into your hand as a freebie – is effectively free at the point of delivery. I think the future will see media companies who concentrate on playing to their strengths benefit from better serving a narrower target audience.

Do you see print becoming the by rather than primary product for the Guardian – or has that already happened?
I think there might very well be a ‘sweet spot’ in the future where the display quality on network-enabled mobile devices and the ubiquity of data through-the-air means that the newspaper can be delivered primarily in that way, but I don’t see the Guardian’s presses stopping anytime soon. Paper is still a very portable format, and it never loses connection or runs out of batteries.

Your background is in computer programming rather than journalism, will the two increasingly overlap?
I grew up in the generation that had BBC Micros and ZX Spectrums at home, so I used to program a lot as a child, but my degree was actually in History, which in itself is a very journalistic calling. I specialised in the Crusades and the Byzantine Empire, which is all about piecing together evidence from a range of sources of varying degrees of reliability, and synthesizing a coherent narrative and story from there. And, of course, I’ve spent most of this decade blogging, which utilises ‘some’ of the journalist’s skill-set ‘some’ of the time.

Whilst I’d never suggest that journalists need to learn computer programming much beyond a smattering of HTML, I think there is something to be gained from understanding the software engineering mindset. There are a lot of tools and techniques that can really help journalists plough through data to get at the heart of a story, or to use visualisation tools to help tell that story to their audience.

One of the most interesting things about working at the Guardian is the opportunity to work alongside people like Kevin Anderson, Charles Arthur and Simon Willison, who I think really represent that blending of the technical and journalistic cultures.

You’ve spoken out about press regulation before; why do you feel strongly about it?
In a converged media landscape, it seems odd that Robert Peston’s blog is regulated by the BBC Trust, Jon Snow’s blog is regulated by Ofcom, and Roy Greenslade’s blog is regulated by the PCC.

At the moment, I believe that the system works very well for editors, and very well for the ‘great and the good’ who can afford lawyers, but does absolutely nothing for newspaper consumers. If I see something that offends me on TV, I can complain to Ofcom. If I see an advert that offends me in the street, I can complain to ASA. If I see an article in a newspaper that I think is wrong, inaccurate, in bad taste or offensive, unless I am directly involved in the story myself, the PCC dismisses my complaint out of hand without investigating it.

I don’t think that position is sustainable.

The last thing I want to see is some kind of state-sponsored Ofpress quango, which is why I think it is so important that our industry gets self-regulation right – and why I believe that a review of how the PCC works in the digital era is long overdue.

BBC could share more technology with S4C/Trinity Mirror in Wales, says Trust chairman

In a speech given to Cardiff’s Business Club last night, BBC Trust chairman Sir Michael Lyons added more weight to suggest more regional news partnerships between the BBC and competitors are in the pipeline:

  • More on partnerships: work is ongoing on partnerships in regional media with ITV; and between Channel 4 and BBC Worldwide.
  • Could BBC enter into an IT-sharing agreement with S4C and ITV in Wales to reduce operational costs?
  • Revamp of Broadcasting House in Wales could benefit local media with technology sharing arrangements.
  • “Perhaps even Trinty Mirror could have a role to play too [in partnering the BBC for regional news provision], given their journalistic presence in Wales and their significant online operation.”
  • And, just in case you doubted it: “The BBC local video project is dead. We have told BBC news that it must come up with a different solution.”

Here’s his comments as a Wordle:

Wordle of Michael Lyons' speech to Cardiff Business Club

But, a note of caution from Lyons on partnerships:

“What we’re not interested in are proposals that simply transfer value from the BBC to other players in the market (…) Let’s make sure that we don’t inadvertently turn the BBC into the Lloyds Bank of the media world.”

Yesterday the Beeb’s Executive announced plans to link out to external news providers from its network of BBC Local sites.

Media Release: BBC Trust confirms permission refusal for BBC’s local video plans

From a release issued this morning: “The BBC Trust confirmed today that it has refused permission for local video after concluding its public value test into the proposals”.

“The Trust’s final decision follows a public consultation on its provisional conclusions, published in November, to reject local video because it would not improve services for the public enough to justify either the investment of licence fee funds or the negative impact on commercial media.”

Full release at this link…

BBC Trustees’ expenses: all online for your enjoyment (links and summary)

Now this is an interesting media release to get in your inbox of a morning: a summary report and the full expenses for the BBC trustees 1 April-30 September 2008.

“In line with its commitment to transparency and openness, the BBC Trust decided in April 2008 to publish Trustees’ individual expenses with effect from April 2007. These are published on a six monthly basis,” the release said.

So, here you go: the expenses, in text summary form for the period April 1 to September 30 2008 here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/about/expenses/summary_apr_sept_2008.txt

Or full report in text here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/assets/files/pdf/about/expenses/full_report_apr_sept_2008.txt

Or visit here for the PDFs (much easier to read): http://www.bbc.co.uk/bbctrust/about/bbc_trust_members/expenses.html

The full report lets you details a bit more specifically. During April – September 2008 report for example, Sir Michael Lyons had meetings at the Cinnamon Club, the Dorchester and the Wolseley, for example. Personal details, e.g names of hotels stayed in, are removed.

Download at this link

The interesting parts in digestable form:

  • Lots of BBC prom boxes for ‘external opinion formers’ = £3836.35
  • Wimbledon Tennis Championship – Sir Michael Lyons and Diane Coyle hosted an event for opinion formers = £9,803.99
  • The Trustee expenses amounts below include Trustee business entertainment (external and internal) / Subsistence / Mileage / Accommodation / Travel (other) / Travel –
    Driver/ Flights / Cars / Rail / Other (see links above for notes on categories).
  • Chairman, Sir Michael Lyons, £35,126.82*
  • Vice Chair, Chitra Bharucha, £8,754.01
  • Trust Member for Northern Ireland, Rotha Johnston, £7,154.62
  • Trust Member for Scotland, Jeremy Peat, £15,050.74
  • Trust Member for England, Alison Hastings, £8,341.96
  • Trust Member for Wales, Janet Lewis-Jones, £9,872.85
  • Trust Member, Patricia Hodgson, £1,546.88
  • Trust member, David Liddiment, £856.02
  • Trust Member, Mehmuda Mian, £448.62
  • Trust Member, Dermot Gleeson, £2,860.78
  • Trust Member, Richard Tait, £1,941.07
  • Trust Member, Diane Coyle, £1550.59
  • TOTAL = £93,504.96
  • * “Sir Michael Lyons’ expenses total includes half of the annual £25,000 cost for his access to a BBC car and driver. These costs are already reported in the BBC Annual Report and Statement of Accounts and is included here for completeness,” the report says.

Digital Britain – a round-up in 10 bullet points

Today’s the UK government’s ‘Digital Britain’ interim report provided quite a lot to digest, so here’s a ten point link round-up of the most important parts:

  • A BBC News video of the Culture Secretary, Andy Burnham, outlining the report.
  • Lord Carter called for broadband in every UK house by 2012, probably at a speed of 2Mb/second (Guardian.co.uk)
  • It’s hard to resist a good old Wordle (we’re as guilty as everyone else) and here is the Guardian’s depiction of the report, along with an explanation of how Lord Carter vows to force ISPs to crack down on piracy.

and an eleventh:

Ofcom’s PSB review – a round-up

In its public service broadcasting (PSB) blueprint, UK industry regulator Ofcom made a series of recommendations for Channel 4, the BBC and ITV – there’s a video explaining the report on Ofcom’s YouTube channel, but for those of you wanting something more textual here’s our round-up:

Key points:

  • There needs to be alternative public services to the BBC – echoing Lord Carter’s comments last week
  • More choice for regional news consumers
  • Retention of the licence fee and no top-slicing
  • News content for ITV and Five, but limit level of public service commitments

Recommendations were given for each of the UK’s broadcasters in turn, but given news this week of potential mergers with Five or the BBC and yesterday’s pledge to invest £500 million in regional production and programming, here’s a synopsis of the points directed at Channel 4:

  • “A new organisation, with public purposes at its heart, should be established; Channel 4 is well-placed to be central to this.” This could potentially be funded by a chunk of the £130m-a-year BBC licence fee digital switchover surplus.
  • Full range of digital content and news and programmes from outside of London needed
  • Merger with BBC Worldwide, Five or other organisations not ruled out, but “[P]artnerships should complement market provision and ensure economic sustainability, accountability, choice and competition. New governance and accountability arrangements would be essential.” (Report from Telegraph.co.uk, says Ofcom chief executive Ed Richards said there is ‘more of a tension’ surrounding a possible deal with Five)

Following the regulator’s market impact assessment late last year, which formed part of the BBC Trust’s decision to reject local online video plans, the report also reviewed PSB in the nations and regions:

  • Potentially good news for local newspapers in England (welcomed by the Newspaper Society) – “Ofcom believes that the Government should plan for an alternative way of securing regional news for the devolved nations and English regions from 2011”.
  • Plans for ITV and BBC to share some resources and infrastructure in England will be reviewed – in particular, how sustainable this model is.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has expressed concerns over Ofcom’s recommendations for ITV Local – suggesting a deal had already been agreed between the channel and regulator rendering a consultation on cuts to its local news provision meaningless.

“Ofcom has presented its proposals as a framework for saving public service broadcasting, but the reality is that this report has given ITV the go-ahead to cut its local output. It means fewer local news programmes and fewer local stories. As hundreds of editorial staff walk out of the door, they’ll be taking the links between ITV and local communities with them. That’s hardly in the interests of citizens and viewers,” said a statement by the union.

Ed Richards, Ofcom chief executive, gives his thoughts on the review in this Comment is Free article and on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Sir Christopher Meyer’s speech in full: plea to publishers to aid PCC

As reported on the main page, Sir Christopher Meyer will tonight urge publications to support the Press Complaints Commission (PCC) in its role, which he emphasises is still relevant in light of online developments and recent privacy issues. Here is his speech in full, courtesy of the PCC’s website:

“It is always a pleasure to be in Manchester – a city with a vibrant media which I have visited more than any other in England during my time chairing the PCC. It was in this very room five years ago that I launched the first of our Open Days: public meetings in the towns and cities of the UK aimed at making the PCC as accessible as possible. Then, as now, we were given all possible support by the Manchester Evening News and Paul Horrocks. One of the most respected and innovative editors in Britain, Paul was also an outstanding member of the PCC for four years.

It has always been my ambition to hold a full meeting of the PCC outside London. It is vital to get over the message that we are not a body shut away inside a metropolitan bubble, dealing with the complaints of celebrities, royals (and near-royals), and politicians. The reality is far different. We exist for all the citizens of the United Kingdom; and of the thousands who come to us for help and advice, over 90 per cent lay no claim to celebrity whatsoever.

So, tomorrow’s meeting of the PCC is an historic moment in the 17-year life of our organisation. My colleagues from the board, all/most of whom are present tonight, are the people who take the decisions under the Code of Practice: about where the public interest meets the individual’s right to privacy; what constitutes a significant inaccuracy; when payments for information can be made – in short, on how the UK’s newspapers and magazines should gather and report news in print and online.

Continue reading

Risky business: BBC must take risks, says Lyons, but creates ‘high risk’ programme register

As a creative organisation the BBC needs to take risks with its content – not with its editorial controls, Sir Michael Lyons said today, following the release of the Trust’s findings on the Russell Brand/Jonathan Ross affair.

With this creativity comes great responsibility and the Beeb needs to ‘understand where the boundaries are and that they need to be properly policed’.

“This kind of clarity generates the confidence needed to allow performers and artists to give of their best,” added Lyons.

“Creative risk-taking is an essential part of what the BBC is here to do. Every news story, every new show, every performance involves a risk. The BBC simply cannot justify receiving the licence fee if its unwilling to take those risks.

“Indeed the Trust continues to argue that the BBC should take more risks with new talent, new ideas and new formats.”

Putting risky performers like Brand and Ross together was likely to be explosive, Lyons admitted.

As such, the BBC will create a register of high risk programmes (‘a long list’, Lyons suggested in questioning), which need monitoring. On top of this the implementation of existing editorial control guidelines throughout the BBC is to be reviewed and strengthened – a move towards prevention of similar gaffs instead of another BBC Trust investigative remedy.

BBC Trust’s dilemma over local video plans

Despite rejecting the proposed £68 million investment by the BBC in on-demand local video online because (in part) of the negative impact it would have on local commercial media, the BBC Trust also said the following in its assessment of the plans:

“We also recognise the negative market impact that could result from expansion of BBC online news provision at a local level at a time when commercial providers face structural and cyclical pressures.

“Conversely, that potential strain on local news provision has led in some cases
to a reduction in editorial staff in the local press and commercial radio sector and could be used by some to justify a public intervention in the market.”

And:

“In assessing public value, the PVA also took account of the wider media market and the level and quality of local provision. Regional media markets have different competitive frameworks and characteristics which may well lead to a patchwork in provision and provide some justification for BBC expansion at a local level.

While the Trust said there would be no similar plans for the foreseeable future, this is a call to regional and local media to up their game. This time their market has been protected by Ofcom and the BBC Trust, but if it was to come under threat from independent publishers or other media organisations new to local, would the outcome be the same?

The Trust has urged the BBC to look at its existing services and how it can improve these to reach audience groups and areas it is failing to serve well. Local commercial media must look to do the same it it is to continue to defeat the argument for public intervention in its market.

Cameron calls for restraints on BBC’s commercial operations, supports local media

At the Annual Newspaper Conference Lunch on Tuesday David Cameron, leader of the Conservative party was quick to criticise the ‘crushing’ power of the BBC.

The comments were made at the annual Newspaper Conference lunch, reported on the Newspaper Society’s website.

Addressing members of the Newspaper Conference, a body administrated by the Newspaper Society, made up of 20 regional press journalists and based in Westminster, Cameron insisted further restraints should be put on the BBC’s commercial operations.

“They [the BBC] have got to bear in mind that when they enter new markets, they are often in danger of crushing with the great big foot of the BBC enterprise, entrepreneurship and risk and capital that other organisations have put into those areas,” he said.

“Things like what they have been doing in education, some of the things they’ve been doing [sic] online, their plans for video on demand, and some of what they’ve been doing in competition with local newspapers, those are the things where they should be restrained,” said the Conservative leader

The BBC’s regulatory body, the BBC Trust also came under fire:

“I’d also like to see them [the BBC] regulated more in the way of other commercial television companies. I know the BBC Trust is an improvement on the old form of government but to me independent regulation has got to be independent.

“I still don’t really understand how you can partly be regulated by the BBC Trust, which is you, and partly by Ofcom. It doesn’t make sense.”

Speaking to the Newspaper Conference members, Cameron praised regional newspapers referring to them as being ‘valuable in terms of the health of a combative democracy’.