BBC News Tells Papers: 'Read My Lips, No New Launches'

Still conscious of staying on the right side of regulators and anxious newspapers, the BBC has assured its critics that – despite relaunches of the news and sections of in the next 12 months – there will be no new editorial launches.

Speaking at last week’s BBC Open Day (see the video here), online journalism controller Nic Newman said the corporation recognises “that many of our activities in (news and sport) are of acute concern to many in the media and print industries” and promised that the relaunches would be see only navigational and functional changes.

Even after their hand in the defeat of the BBC’s local online news plans, newspapers are still wary of the Beeb’s place in online news — see this thunderous leader from the Murdoch-owned Sunday Times earlier this month. Publishing CEOs, desperate for ways to charge readers for online news, uniformly complain that free-to-view makes those hopes almost impossible. So the BBC is keen to increase the links — and content — it sends to publishers so they can all profit from licence fee-funded news.

News changes: The news site will be “re-freshed” in time for the General Election, expected in late Spring, with improved navigation and a new structure. But just in case anyone still thinks the BBC wants to distort the online news media industry, Newman spells it out: “I should stress that we are not talking about new content but a re-arranging of existing content.” Following user feedback, stories will now be more clearly labeled as “updated” during breaking news; there will be clearer links to and from the Beeb’s local news pages

Link economy: Having given over some video news content to publishers, Newman wants to add more video partners and ramp up the Beeb’s outbound linking to newspapers sites and blogs. He says now sends out 12 million outbound clickthroughs a week compared to 10 million in February — a jump caused by a concerted effort begun in January to link in stories and blog posts. The sport site’s football transfer rumour section, cribbed from newspapers’ sites, is responsible for many of these clicks so the BBC can rightly claim to be sending substantial traffic back to its biggest critics.

Data plea: The FM&T team is also busy improving the site’s underlying data and making it available to other publishers. Newman says; “We think there is the potential to deliver benefits not just to the BBC but to the wider web if we get it right.” And not just that: Newman reckons the BBC’s metadata “can even create commercial opportunities” for others — the department is working with the Media Standards Trust, Press Association and unnamed newspaper groups “to make sure this benefits the wider industry.”

Sports: Sport will be overhauled in time for the 2010 World Cup next summer and Newman wants to make the most of the Beeb’s recently won Football League online rights: “We want to take that to as many platforms as we can, including mobile.” A new Olympics website is also planned to bring together all BBC content on the 2012 games.