BBC editor notes importance of blogging and community

BBC news edi­tor Richard Preston deliv­ered the Richard Dunn Memorial Lecture at the MediaGuardian Edinburgh International Television Festival today. In the lec­ture, Preston tells us that blog­ging has become a vital part of the way he does his reporting:

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.

Reporters have to start think­ing this way. Blogging can­not be a chore added on to a reporter’s work­load by the edi­tors. Blogging should be a part of what jour­nal­ists do nat­u­rally, as innate as tak­ing notes dur­ing a phone con­ver­sa­tion. Why do those notes just stay in your note­book? What about the stuff you didn’t have room for in the story? It’s all valu­able, and if the pub­lic can get some­thing out of read­ing it (and likely they can, whether you think so or not), they should be given that opportunity.

Along a sim­i­lar vein, jour­nal­ist Amy Gahran offers this advice:

Whenever you:

  • Jot a note that seems like an impor­tant, inter­est­ing, pre­scient, or intrigu­ing point
  • Think of an inter­est­ing question
  • Snap an inter­est­ing photo, or one that’s use­ful for explain­ing something
  • Have an inter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion (face-to-face, phone, e-mail)
  • Read an arti­cle you’re inter­ested in or skep­ti­cal about, etc.

Rather than keep those insights and infor­ma­tion entirely to your­self, or share it only in pri­vate e-mail or con­ver­sa­tion (where, face it, you’ll prob­a­bly for­get about it and its value will van­ish into the ether), take a moment to jot it into a quick short post. Just a sen­tence or two, even. Make blog­ging your new cap­ture process. Or even microblog­ging, like Twitter, Friendfeed, Tumblr, Soup.io, Delicious, Flickr, or Posterous — all of which can inte­grate with most blog­ging plat­forms, mak­ing it easy to keep your blog fresh.

Preston val­ues the inter­ac­tions he gets back from his blog read­ers too:

It con­nects me to the audi­ence in a very impor­tant way. The com­ments left by read­ers con­tain use­ful insights — and they help me under­stand what really mat­ters to peo­ple. That is not to say that I give them only what they want. I retain an old-fashioned view that in the end the licence fee pays for my puta­tive skills in mak­ing judge­ments about what mat­ters. 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.

Reading all those com­ments shouldn’t be a chore either. Learning what your read­ers have to say should be a joy, and reporters should see it as an oppor­tu­nity to find new sources and story ideas. Besides, inter­act­ing with your read­er­ship is a great way to build a fan base that keeps com­ing back for more news.