Today and the Internet

I’ve just heard the oddest piece on Radio 4’s Today programme. [Edit: According to Martin Stabe, it was by a media commentator called Steve Hewlett, which explains a lot. You can listen again.]

I think it was supposed to be a news report but, uncharacteristically of Today, it made absolutely no effort to even try and appear objective.

It came across as an appeal, nay a plea, to Radio 4 listeners and BBC executives to support and preserve the station’s current methods of compiling the news agenda.

It looked at the most read stories on the BBC website last year and made the rather obvious point that, just because they were popular, didn’t mean they were the most important stories.

I would have thought BBC executives would have understood that “most read” and “most emailed” stories are more a reflection on the kind of material people will link to on the web, rather than its importance. Don’t they? From this piece it suggests they don’t.

The tone was one of “big bad web” and there was also mention of 4radio, so perhaps it was a rallying cry to try and encourage listeners to stay loyal.

But, to be honest, if Today had an important point to make about the web, I think I missed it.


8 Responses to “Today and the Internet”

  1. 1 Dave Harte January 17, 2008 at 10:12 am

    If you want to have a continuous update on what the BBC want us to read on their website, as compared to what we actually read then take a look at this site.

    At the time of writing the BBC was “13% in touch with what we’re reading”.


  2. 2 Pete Ashton January 17, 2008 at 11:55 am

    I didn’t catch the segment but I can imagine the tone very clearly.

    What strikes me about this is that we don’t necessarily want our newspapers and sites to just be full of what we actually read. I confess to occasionally reading Royal stories but I’d be happy if the BBC never published them. Similarly I didn’t read all the Bhuto coverage but I wanted there to be a lot of it above the fold.

    There’s a context here. I might not read the political coverage of the Guardian but it’s an important part of the paper and influences the style of the more fluffy pieces I do read.

    In other words, news should not be dictated by what people want to hear. It should be the news. And, whatever the stats show, people generally like it that way, even if they don’t read it in depth.

    Or something.

  3. 3 Martin Hammond January 17, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    “it made absolutely no effort to even try and appear objective.”

    How long have you been listening to Today? They are notorious for subtle bias and slanting stories.

  4. 4 joannageary January 17, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    Hi Martin,

    Being a very regular Radio 4 listener may explain why I said “try and appear objective” rather than “try to be objective”.

    To be honest, I don’t think anyone who tells a story about something can ever achieve objectivity anyway. They can try and be fair, even balanced, but objective… I don’t know. Anyway, that is a different debate entirely.

    What surprised me was that Today was employing anything-but-subtle bias. It was more sustained-pummeling-in-the-face-with-a-brick bias, which is unusual for them.

  5. 5 Martin Belam January 18, 2008 at 6:52 am

    Shane Richmond wrote an interesting piece about why he thinks these ‘man marries goat’ and ‘sex with bicycle’ news stories float to the top of the most read lists.

  6. 6 joannageary January 18, 2008 at 8:41 am

    Hi Martin,

    Thanks for the link.

    Shane’s assessment certainly rings true with me. When I check, it’s always to see what the headlines are (sometimes I prefer to read a properly laid out webpage than text from the wire). But I also always check the most read section because I know that’s where I’ll find a few “quirkies”.

    This must make the “Most Read” section self-reinforcing.It would be fascinating to see the stats on behind it.

  7. 7 Martin January 18, 2008 at 9:40 am

    Oops, I misspelled Steve Hewlett’s name…

    In addition to Shane’s comment on it, there were some far more interesting comments on this issue by Seamus McCauley and BBC News website editor Steve Herrmann on Pods & Blogs the other day.

    Of course that programme is on Five Live, which was described in the Today package as “those populists down the hall”.

  8. 8 joannageary January 18, 2008 at 11:43 am

    Thanks Martin!

    Profile of Steve here.

    PS. There’s suddenly a lot of Martins around here!

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