What has the BBC learned about interactivity? That it’s very expensive, for starters. This week it launched a new local blogging initiative that cunningly bypasses the expense and legal complexities of running bespoke content management systems. The BBC Manchester Blog is a community site that will foster a local blogging network by aggregating content and offering advice and training.
Robin Hamman, senior community producer for BBC English Regions New Media, explained the initiative in an interview with paidContent.org: “We aren’t sure if it’s aggregator, a citizen journalism project or a media literacy campaign – it probably cuts across all three.”
This is a three-month trial launched last week by BBC New Media Central and BBC Manchester:
– Between 10 and 20 volunteers are being recruited across the city.
– Through workshops, participants will be guided through the BBC’s editorial guidelines and production values and then referred to commercial blogging platforms to start their own sites.
– The BBC will monitor RSS feeds from these blogs and highlight the best content.
– Pre-existing local bloggers/Flickr contributors are also invited to submit work or tag content “bbcmanchesterblog” so it can be picked up.
It took surprisingly long (four days) for someone to blog that this just looks like an easy way for the BBC to get free content. Hamman was well prepared for that argument and said the idea is not to grab content to use wholesale. “The idea is to showcase some of the best stuff the participants are doing by linking back to the source. We want the people who participate to be self sustainable.”
Part of this sustainability is the idea of providing advice and training for bloggers, like explaining how affiliate services like Google AdSense or Amazon could help bloggers to cover costs.
As for the workload, Hamman optimistically envisages this as a one or two hour job each day for BBC staff — skimming the RSS feeds and wrapping editorial around the best. The rest of the task is to promote the blog to BBC journalists as an efficient source of content about Manchester.
Hamman is also aware that building personal relationships is key to making the project credible to bloggers. “Those claims that it’s just the BBC trying to get in and control a space would be more true if it wasn’t being approached in that way. If it was run by non-bloggers from some big media company I can imagine a lot of people feeling like their toes were being stepped on.”
He’s not bothered that some contributors heard about the project through his personal site and Flickr account: “We have to expose a bit about ourselves for a community project like this to work. It’s about building personal relationships between the BBC and the people building content outside the BBC – that’s what local journalism is all about.”
Will this be another BBC initiative that local newspapers will grumble about? Hamman’s not sure. “They might not even notice. You could monetize the model somehow but it’s not something we’ve put a lot of thought into.”
The irony is that for all the concerns about the demise of journalistic values, internet communities re-awaken a need for real personal relationships and connections that are supposedly core to local newspaper businesses.
No clues yet about where the next site will be based, but the experiment is being looked at across the BBC.
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This article originally appeared in MediaGuardian.