BBC adapts to changing attitudes on blogging

The BBC, with its paternalistic approach to its audience, may slowly be wisening up to the usefulness of blogging, Alfred Hermida said.

Hermida was the first speaker in the presentation titled “Citizen Producers, Bloggers, and the Evolution of Journalism,” during the 9th International Symposium on Online Journalism.

“I managed to kick the habit after 16 years,” he said, recalling his days at the BBC. Hermida was among some of the first at the BBC to do real blogging.

While the BBC went online as early as 1997, it was “a very late adopter in blogs,” thanks to a fear that the openness fostered by the format would lead to embarrassing disclosures, Hermida said.

He said the terms often used by others when referring to the news media corporation included “complacent,” “poorly managed,” and “bloated monolith.”

Early attempts at the BBC to write something similar to a blog included a “newslog” in 2001 which was more like a correspondent’s notebook. Reporter Kevin Anderson wrote an online account of his trip across the U.S. to find out what issues concerned Americans. Hermida said while it had the trappings of a blog, it certainly did not meet the conventions normally associated with the format.

BBC bloggers, he said, started small and had a great deal of autonomy because they were viewed as geeks. Hermida was among them. After a year, the number of blogs at the media outlet went from one to 43.

“This was something that was started at the Web site, and sort of took off across the BBC,” Hermida said.

“Oh my God, I’m a blogger,” he said in mock fear of the label. “It’s like admitting they’re doing something slightly nefarious,” Hermida said.

Blogging hit the BBC full force during 2004, “at a time when its journalism was under scrutiny both outside and inside the corporation,” Hermida said. A venue that he said could help combat the media network’s visage of “auntie knows best” blogging developed through advocates and a lack of interference.

“It’s trying to listen, it’s trying to change,” Hermida said of the BBC, but he noted that it was an institution with deeply entrenched values.

The blogs appeal to the network’s television correspondents, whose medium is a one-way street. Through the new format, Hermida said, they could establish connections with an audience they’re rarely exposed, “trying to add something they can’t put in elsewhere.”

ISOJ 2008: Citizen Producers, Bloggers and the Evolution of Journalism, from Knight Center on Vimeo.