Robert Peston: ‘My Blog Lets BBC Own The Story.’

rober_peston_bbcHat tip to Robin Hamman for highlighting some particularly pertinent parts of Robert Peston’s Edinburgh TV Festival speech that had passed this (un)observer by.

Perhaps it was the BBC’s business man’s bust up with Murdoch junior that was the distraction but Peston’s speech is well worth another read, especially for his take on blogging, and being in competition with the press over here and with the plethora of outlets overseas.

Peston’s point that his blog enables the BBC to “own a story” is particularly interesting and it is the one big lesson all media, but especially broadcasters, need to heed.

The newsroom notion still persists that you should save your best lines until transmission.

In truth, by getting the story out early it not only becomes your story but readers, viewers and users help knock it into shape, help spread the word, and are a more-than-committed audience come TX. As usual, new media doesn’t cannibalise your market, it enhances it.

And, no, I never knew that Peston’s blog started life as an internal email for editors and staff.

Anyway, here are some key extracts from the speech:

Blogging for the BBC

For me, the blog is at the core of everything I do, it is the bedrock of my output. The discipline of doing it shapes my thoughts. It disseminates to a wider world the stories and themes that I think matter. But it also spreads the word within the BBC – which is no coincidence, because it started life as an internal email for editors and staff. It gives me unlimited space to publish the kind of detail on an important story that I can’t get into a three minute two-way on Today or a two-minutes-forty-seconds package on the Ten O’Clock News.

On ‘owning’ the story

Most important of all, the blog allows me and the BBC to own a big story and create a community of interested people around it. Sharing information – some of it hugely important, some of it less so – with a big and interested audience delivers that ownership and creates that committed community.

On the competition

Now because of my own indifference to how I communicate a story, whether by video, audio or in writing, I regard the competition as the Telegraph, the Times, the FT, and so on, just as much Sky and ITN. And what’s more for much of my output the competition is not just from UK-based organisations with UK audiences. The Wall Street Journal, CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post are very much direct rivals.

Also, it is increasingly clear that much of the audience doesn’t care whether they receive their information via the blog, some other internet channel, the TV, newspapers or radio.

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News websites 1990s-style
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News websites 1990s-style is indulging in some digital nostalgia with its How 20 popular websites looked when they launched piece published this morning.

An enterprising member of the online team has raided the WayBackMachine and dug out screengrabs from big web names including Google, YouTube, Amazon, Drudge and Flickr.

The piece is doing great business on Delicious, Digg and co, although I’m sure that wasn’t the editorial driving force behind it.


Among the news sites featured are the BBC (from 1 December 1998) and the New York Times (from 12 November 1996).

There some aspects of the design and implementation that immediately date these sites. The BBC’s use of the words ‘Front Page’, for example. Presumably that’s so everybody knows they are on the, er, front page.

It’s not quite as big a 1990s sin as the Flash front-door but it’s redundant and wasteful nonetheless.


Over at the New York Times, the direct aping of the newspaper front page – masthead and all – actually holds up quite well, and although the lack of multimedia now seems odd, the use of a large image and grabby headlines stand the test of time.

Compare and contrast with the uninspired copy writing over at the 1998 BBC site.

Nevertheless, there are two print hangovers on the New York Times site that feel anachronistic.

First there’s the use of a ‘Late News Update’ strap over the air crash story – there’s no such thing on the web.

Secondly, there’s the Times’s famous strap line – ‘All The News That’s Fit To Print’.

As we now know, finite space is a thing of the past. Or to borrow Clay Shirky’s phrase: ‘publish, then filter’.

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Why Ashes 2009 Really Was A Shared National Moment

According to Mark Lawson writing in today’s TV Matters column in the Guardian:

These Ashes felt less like a shared national moment because fewer of the nation shared it.

There’s no doubt the numbers are compelling – Channel 4 averaged three million viewers when it broadcast the 2005 series while this time around Sky Sports had just 850,000.

Even allowing for the two million that tuned into Five’s terrestrial highlights on Sunday night, millions of TV cricket fans have gone missing this summer.

There’s little doubt too that TV does matter, as the column’s title insists, which incidentally is why live events – not just sport but news too – represent the TV industry’s most robust challenge to a time-shifted, platform-shifted, fragmented future.

This aside, England’s 2009 cricketing success was a “shared national moment”, perhaps even a shared international moment.

Witness the spikes in traffic specialist and generalist sports sites enjoyed on Sunday. More importantly, witness the conversations that were happening on the truly social parts of the web – #Ashes was a regular in the Twitter trending topics top 10 throughout July and August.

And most unexpectedly, the BBC’s Test Match Special became the social hub. With some five million listeners sharing the experience.

As Christopher Martin-Jenkins – the TMS veteran who was given the microphone at the game’s denouement – noted in Monday’s Times:

Emails had poured in to Test Match Special from all quarters of the globe yesterday, including Mozambique, Ghana, South Georgia and the base camp at Everest.

Many were describing where they were and what they were doing when Andrew Flintoff threw down Rick Ponting’s stumps. But the one from Ghana demonstrates best how a broadcaster can become a social conduit in the digital age.

Suitably, this story was recorded on the TMS Facebook blog:

We had a text from one listener tuning to TMS via his mobile phone on a beach in Ghana. His message was that his wife had forgotten to pack a phone charger and he was desperately searching for a listener who would just happen to be also on the same beach and could help.

A few seconds later, Josh Grainger contacted the programme to say: “Hello, I heard the e-mail you’ve just read out, and i have got two spare phone chargers, i’m in Halloway beach in Ghana, hope it helps. I’m wearing a fluorescent yellow top, so I’ll be easy to see!”

Welcome to the new shared experience.

Howzat! What The Ashes Did To The Web

So, it turns out that we don’t just follow the over-by-over stuff – fingers guiltily poised on Alt-Tab* – when we’re at work.cricket_ashes_guardian

Hitwise’s Robin Goad has been crunching the all-important numbers and it would seem that the Ashes decider had fans logging on in unprecedented numbers. On a beautiful summer Sunday, no less.

Sky Sports enjoyed its best spike ever, boasting 0.74 per cent of all UK internet traffic. For the BBC, only last year’s Beijing Olympics outdid the 1.12 per cent it received yesterday.

Meanwhile, Hitwise’s category of 100 specialist cricket sites reached its highest level for three years yesterday, collectively accounting for 1.11 per cent of all UK visits.

Doubtless, a Monday finish would have resulted in even more spectacular numbers.

By comparison, Australian cricket websites suffered a dip, down to 0.12 per cent.

Must be the time difference.

*For the uninitiated the Alt-Tab key combination will take a PC user from an incriminating, non-work website to an impressive spreadsheet in under 0.01 seconds.

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What We Learned About Online Video This Week

From YouTube to the iPlayer via newspaper sites offering moving pictures, the digital landscape for video already looks well-established.

But four years on from the moment we went from Dial-up Britain to Broadband Britain, we still have much to learn.

In my latest contribution to I look at five lessons from the last seven days. Namely:

1. If you build it they will come…
(…provided you build something elegant and easy to use. And then market it like crazy.)
2. Don’t do video unless you’re adding value
3. You can’t control the message
4. Brands love YouTube
5. Death is a good career move online too

More on each here: Five lessons from a week in online video

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YouTube If You Want To: Why Susan Boyle Won’t Save Michael Grade’s Micropayment Plan

Interesting discussion towards the end of last week between Five Live presenter Simon Mayo and ITV’s executive chairman Michael Grade.*

Inevitably, they talked Susan Boyle, star of YouTube for the month of June and Grade made a pitch for micropayments.

As I explore in my latest column for today, there are at least four good reasons why making micropayments pay off is going to be a tough challenge for ITV. Briefly,

1. Micropayments don’t work for perishable goods
2. Micropayments put people off
3. Micropayments only work if you control distribution
4. YouTube clips drive traffic first, revenues second

You can read the piece here for a little more meat on the bones.

(You can listen to the interview on the iPlayer until midnight Wednesday 15 July. Grade interviews starts around 1 hour, 22 minutes.)

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Hyperlocal, A Rather Different Kettle Of Cocoa

To Broadcasting House for an appearance on Radio 4’s The Media Show to talk hyperlocal.

The peg – the launch of Associated Northcliffe’s Local People, a sort of social network based on locality. The premise – does hyperlocal mean hyper-boring?

In the sceptical corner (actually a radio studio in Spain where he was on holiday) was ex-Guardian editor Peter Preston.

In the ‘hyperlocal is really quite interesting, honest’ corner was Roland Bryan from Associated Northcliffe Digital and me.

You can listen to the results via the iPlayer here – the discussion starts 14’05”. Worth it if only for the first outing of the phrase “kettle of cocoa” on the BBC.