In praise of the BBC

Of all the headlines I didn’t expect to find myself writing when I started this blog, it’s the one at the top of this post.

I have two main gripes with the BBC (I know, I really must try harder). My first is one I suspect many regional newspaper reporters hold: that the Beeb is far to quick to “follow up” stories which begin life in local newspapers, but very, very rarely, credits the source of much of the original research. Oddly, its local radio shows are often far too quick to stick the knife into local newspapers as well. Without regional newspapers, the Beeb, and regional ITV for that matter, would have to work a lot harder to find the stories to fill bulletins.

My other gripe is over linking. As a publicly-funded body, the Beeb could play a key role in helping maintain a strong, thriving, multi-voice media presence online by linking out. In fairness to the BBC, it has promised on countless occasions to start linking out, and its regional news sections do have a page of links to local media sites.

But smart linking next to articles, generally perceived to be good practice for improving user experience, are currently skewed in favour of national or international news sources. This creates a bizarre scenario of the best alternative source of information on a story – for example the Liverpool ECHO for the Rhys Jones murder trial in Liverpool – not appearing alongside BBC copy, yet reworked agency copy from national or international sources does.

I mentioned this at the AOP Microlocal forum a fortnight ago when, inevitably, the question of what the BBC could do to help those providing local news was raised. The answer from James Thornett, Executive Product Manager, Local and Location Services, BBC, was that this was something the BBC was working on and determined to improve.

A fortnight later and the BBC’s latest project to be launched on the BBC News site – an interactive map listing all the fatal road crashes in the UK over the last decade – demonstrates an encouraging new development on the linking front.

Scroll around the map, particularly when charting more recent deaths, and you’ll see a whole bunch of links to articles relating to the particular crash  being pinpointed – many of which are from the regional press.

To me, that’s the sort of value-added linking which is almost impossible to do automatically – and it’s quite a manual job to pull off. But it adds massively to the service the BBC is providing there.

I know there may be people reading this thinking it’s a bit rich for someone from the regional press to criticise the Beeb for not linking while working in an industry which is notorious for not giving credit where it is due, and you’d be right.

But the Beeb is in a strong position to act for the greater good and do something which prompts others to follow.

Here’s hoping it’s a sign of things to come at the BBC.

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