Monday, January 27, 2014

Open letter to Tony Hall BBC Director General and not to ignore diversity in different themes in expanding the BBC.

Click here for BBC DG talk

Dear Tony Hall

Some time ago I read Huw Wheldon's vision of the BBC. I didn't hear the original speech, but it formed part of my PhD thesis. Wheldon would have smiled. An executive with eyes across story form, innovation and the arts is milk for those growing up with the BBC  Wheldon expressed that at a time of globalisation, Hall expressed that implicitly while addressing the tenants of a not fully written digital theory.

Digital theory, if its taught the broadcasters one thing it is that there is no such thing as a dedicated broadcaster.

It's like going into a supermarket and getting your hair cut or clothes cleaned. If you're the producer of original content how miffed you're inclined to be to know that audiences watch you and then go and express themselves elsewhere e.g. facebook, Google etc.

Whilst a pioneer of many things, the BBC's is equally late in coming to the table. I have evidence when they tried their first attempts at embedded video, from an ONA meeting in 2008. The video I made is somewhere. I had embedded video in 1999 so was curious to see how they would fare. 

Peter Barron, the BBC's stalwart Newsnight editor who was rightly picked off by Google pressed the BBC's to go digital with blogs and the rest. I have a video of that too. Barron was my old editor at Channel 4 News, but I first crossed his path in 1991 as a researcher on Newsnight.

So being tentative is a BBC trait. Remember  WeMedia in 2006 which took place at the BBC and Reuters. I remember that event as the BBC getting its mojo back. I grabbed the then BBC director general for a quick chat.

The BBC was after the young, but as a former reporter on BBC Reportage, it had always been after the young viewer I told the director general.

The BBC has its mojo back. In part because of the talent it has sought. I met  a couple of them too, but also realising there was a different ethos. Now, even Hoover, a once great company could atrophy in the midst of the young pretender in Dyson.

No one is immune, so the strategy is to become a tech start-up. To do what the Facebooks have been doing, and boy how the BBC could flex its muscle because at least they have primary original content.

But there's still some massive learning to be done.

To exemplify how to wall garden behaviour, how to fuel chatter and keep in within the ecosystem of the network, how the content is also the audience's lifestyles. Hall's presentation alludes, even captures that -- the BBC, a producer of diverse primary media that seeks to become all encompassing e.g. My BBC. 

Huw Wheldon would agree. It's a grand vision, but it's there for the taking but the challenges are the BBC's often perennial inertia at levels below senior managers.

Back in the 1990s having done a few years of broadcasting at Radio Leicester, I tried to get a job at the BBC. But for love or money, I could never get past the application stage. I admit I had massive failings, but while senior management would give me the nod e.g., Newsnight, Radio London and BBC Radio 4s documentary department, middle management remained indifferent. But I must not be selfish in this letter.

The BBC's must acknowledge its quasi-curatorial role. It's different from being the 'knowledgable' being. That much the BBC should know in understanding Dan Gilmor's WetheMedia - now a decade or so old.

The BBC's various achilles include:

  • Diversity in programming could do with diversity in personnel. Digital theory is colour blind, but it acknowledges cultural and societal impacts from prosumers. 
  • Hubris in understanding you can contribute without assuming you know everything.
  • Leading by what we, the audience don't know. If citizen journalism has proved to bve a success, then the professionals should have long raised their game to indicate the future -- unobtainable thus far to other. Joharis window should present itself to the new programme makers and thinkers, set about, if that's what they want, to teach audiences how to read and decode the media.

The distinction with forms of the analogue world will need refreshing, not as cosmetic exercises but new theories and practices Touchcast may be one such tool e.g. video hyperlinking.  But the rear window - what's coming from behind e.g. Vice will also set new challenges. Interesting times ahead - when the license fee ( money) won't necessarily buy you love.

What's needed are new relationships between constituents and the broadcaster. Should the social networks quake? Not yet, but if they get it right, this will be interesting.


David Dunkley Gyimah
Senior lecturer 
Artist in Residence, Southbank Centre