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.