Leaving the BBC

I’m off.

I’m leaving the BBC at the end of this week, having decided to go some weeks ago. It’s my decision to go, for reasons I won’t be going in to here.

I don’t yet know what I’ll do next, but hopefully it will involve some combination of technology, creativity and business. I’m going to take some time to think about things and then get going again in a new guise.

It’s probably worth saying this decision has nothing to do with the BBC Strategic Review. I’ve got my thoughts on that, but this isn’t the time and it probably isn’t the place.

I’ve worked with some fiercely bright and committed people in my short time with Auntie. There’s some brilliant work going on there, like this and this and this, all of which I’ve had some involvement in but claim no credit for. Let’s hope that work survives whatever comes next.

Communication is process is journalism

Rather struck this week by Richard Sambrook’s announcement that he’s joining Edelman, the PR firm, following his departure from the BBC. You can imagine the rolling eyes among the old-school hacks at the prospect of such a respected journalism figure joining the dark side, and there are a couple of comments to that effect under Richard’s post. For many journalists, the dividing line between PR and newsmaking has always been and will always be deep and wide and tall.

But when someone as smart and intellectually curious as Richard makes a move like this, you have to dig a little deeper. It seems obvious to all of us now that connected media is transforming journalism, turning it, as Jeff Jarvis says, from a product into a process. But in fact journalism has always been a process, and PR has always been a process as well. And it’s in the history of these processes that the perceived gulf between them has opened up.

When the vehicle for eyeballs was print, with its inbuilt limitations of space, journalists and advertising sales teams were the gatekeepers for user attention. Commercial interests that wanted attention had two options: buy advertising from the sales teams (where the quality of the attention being bought was reflected in the price of the ad); or get their messages into news stories. Journalists meanwhile had something of a monopoly on user attention, and saw themselves as providing something unique, socially essential and in some senses holy. People bought newspapers because of the journalism, they argued, so therefore the sanctity of the journalism should be preserved at all costs (though it turns out, as we now know, that peoples’ reasons for buying newspapers were rather more nuanced and complicated than that).

So immediately journalists and PRs found themselves locked into a transactional process where “market value” was reflected by the quality (and uniqueness) of the information being traded. Journalists thrived on exclusivity, because that’s how they gained both attention and also self-worth: if they broke a unique story, they were professionally validated.

PRs sometimes thrived on exclusivity (when the story was big enough), but normally craved ubiquity, because that meant more eyeballs. Journalists saw themselves as gatekeepers and purveyors of truth; PRs saw journalists as opportunities and as obstacles. No wonder they rarely got on.

But now we find ourselves in a world where anyone has access to eyeballs at any time. The playing field has been levelled. Anyone with something interesting to say can get it into the public forum, as the politicians are beginning to discover. But once it’s out there, a new set of skills is needed to get significant attention to it. These are communication skills, and they include such things as optimising for search, incorporating reader input and responding quickly to new information.

That is the new process, and journalists and PRs suddenly find they don’t need each other in quite the same way as before. They’re both embarking on discovering how these new communications techniques can work in their favour; they’re both immersed in the process. That’s why journalists-as-communicators may find themselves increasingly attracted to PR firms, because what those firms offer is just another toolkit for getting attention.

A question, though: what type of person might go the other way?

Safe in his hands

Luke Johnson, in the Guardian:

In my first interview to be the chairman of Channel 4, the panel asked me what I thought of public service broadcasting. Obviously I had no idea what they meant, so I waffled and got away with it.

So that’s all right then.

The decline of local news = broken Britain paranoia?

Very interesting point made in a generally very interesting Economist article: the decline of local news is contributing to Britain’s panic over crime:

Yet Britons refuse to do the same, and for this their newspapers, which seldom look on the sunny side of life, are much to blame. “NAME THE DEVIL BOYS—WE MUST NOT LET THEM HIDE”, roared the Mail on Sunday on January 24th, quoting the parents of the Edlington victims. Newspapers were no less lurid a century ago. But there is one big change: a shift in readership from local papers to national ones. Mr Cameron’s comfortable Witney constituents are dropping the Oxford Mail in favour of national titles or the television, which report the most gruesome stories from across the country, not just the county. In this way local crises, such as an outbreak of teenage stabbings in London in 2007 and 2008, become national panics, causing fear even in regions where the problem does not exist. And bad news travels best: the fact that London’s teenage-murder rate quietly halved last year was not widely reported outside the capital.

via Britain’s “broken society”: Through a glass darkly | The Economist.

Hepworth on the core problem with newspapers

They’re giving people too much about not enough and charging too much for it.

via And Another Thing: Can the heavyweight press get a bit less heavy, please?.

I shall be returning to this problem some day.

The opposite of open

The Net as a medium is not for anything in particular — not for making calls, sending videos, etc. It also works at every scale, from one to one to many to many. This makes it highly unusual as a medium. In fact, we generally don’t treat it as a medium but as a world, rich with connections, persistent, and social. Because everything we encounter in this world is something that we as humans made (albeit sometimes indirectly), it feels like it’s ours. Obviously it’s not ours in the property sense. Rather, it’s ours in the way that our government is ours and our culture is ours. There aren’t too many other things that are ours in that way.

via Joho the Blog » The opposite of “open” is “theirs”.

Simon Dickson, accidental developer

And yet somehow, at some point during the summer of 2009, I started cranking out more and more ambitious code. My PHP efforts went beyond straightforward HTML templates with WordPress tags dropped in. I wasn’t scared to look at javascript. Next thing I know, I’m writing WordPress plugins and pretty advanced javascript/Ajax routines. I’m scraping web pages in their thousands, to get data in the form I want. All stuff I knew was possible, and probably understood on a superficial level – but here I am, doing it. Dammit. So how on earth did I get here?

via Puffbox.com » Archive » 2009: the year I became a developer (sort of).

Some stuff from Inside Facebook

From an interview with someone on the engineering team (sounds like). Lots of interesting if unsurprising stuff about privacy, and this:

Rumpus: So tell me about the engineers.

Employee: They’re weird, and smart as balls. For example, this guy right now is single-handedly rewriting, essentially, the entire site. Our site is coded, I’d say, 90% in PHP. All the front end — everything you see — is generated via a language called PHP. He is creating HPHP, Hyper-PHP, which means he’s literally rewriting the entire language. There’s this distinction in coding between a scripted language and a compiled language. PHP is an example of a scripted language. The computer or browser reads the program like a script, from top to bottom, and executes it in that order: anything you declare at the bottom cannot be referenced at the top. But with a compiled language, the program you write is compiled into an executable file. It doesn’t have to read the program from beginning to end in order to execute commands. It’s much faster that way. So this engineer is converting the site from one that runs on a scripted language to one that runs on a compiled language. However, if you went to go talk to him about basketball, you would probably have the most awkward conversation you’d have with a human being in your entire life. You just can’t talk to these people on a normal level. If you wanted to talk about basketball, talk about graph theory. Then he’d get it. And there’s a lot of people like that. But by golly, they can do their jobs.

via Conversations About The Internet #5: Anonymous Facebook Employee – The Rumpus.net.

4iP and Facebook: smart

Jamie Arnold’s added some more colour to yesterday’s announcement that 4iP will be funding some applications built with the new London Datastore. And the announcement is that the other partner is… Facebook.

As Tom Loosemore said yesterday, while not trivial the development of applications and services is but the first part of the challenge. To be successful the products need to attract and retain a large audience. We feel that with the added support of the world’s biggest social network and a national broadcaster we should be able add significant value and expertise to ensure the public gets the most from this new opportunity.

via 4iP | Facebook link up with 4 The People.

Smart and interesting. 4iP needs some glue to bring its investments together, and that glue might simply be the people who use them (rather than a more corporate portfolio approach). So a hook-up with Facebook makes a lot of sense. And not just on this project, either.

True words on "hard men"

Euan Semple gives a kicking to those who like to give a kicking:

Social media relies on people having the temerity to say what they think and others having the decency to listen.

Forget Enterprise 2.0. The promise of social media will not become reality until you do something to reduce the power of the bullies.

Particularly relevant today for reasons I may elaborate on at some point in the future….

via - The Obvious? – Hard men are wankers.