Three events that influenced BBC’ news online

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It seems that major events were the impetus for most steps forward the BBC has taken in engagement. At yesterday’s Social Media Influence conference in London, Pete Clifton, Head of Editorial Development for Multi-Media Journalism at the BBC, spoke about the lessons they had learnt and the steps taken. And to me it seemed that major events were the catalyst for much of this change.

Event 1: The 1997 General Election Campaign

The BBC news website grew out of an experiment during the 1997 General Election in the UK – an important time and a major campaign which saw the Conservative Party being replaced by Tony Blair‘s New Labour after 18 years in power. The BBC put up a few pages to cover the event as an experiment of how news could work online. The plan was to take this down over the summer following the campaign, but a second event stopped this.

Event 2: The death of Diana, Princess of Wales

Just as the site was to be wound-down, a second event occured that would also merit from some special treatment online. The death of Diana, Princess of Wales in the summer of 1997 led the BBC news team to set up a second set of pages – updating these and letting viewers email in their tributes and opinions. The first interactive news article on the BBC’s site was born and the site was not taken down. The importance of news online was realised and so the full BBC news site launched later that year.

Event 3: 7/7 bombings in London

By 2005, the BBC News website was well used and formed an integral part of the channel’s news outlet. The events of 7th July of that year in London helped in the shift of perception from multi-media news being something that sat apart from main editorial activities to something more integrated. When news-wire and London Underground reports were still reporting a power surge on the tube network, and nobody really knew what was happening, BBC News received an email containing a picture of a bus where one of the bombs had exploded and an eye-witness account of the events. Interacting with viewers through multi-media and online was now making the news. In fact the opening sequence on the main TV news bulletin the following evening was entirely UGC – videos shot on mobile phones from inside trapped Underground carriages.

These major events seem to have shaped the BBC’s activities and strategy for news online. In fact it is now an integrated part of the news offering and will soon no longer be a separate team, but will sit with the rest of the newsroom.

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2 Responses
  • Jun 5, 2008

    Interesting post Matt. I was one of the BBC editors that launched the 1997 election website and it was much more than a few pages. It was a full website, with news, background, analysis, polls and live results. It also included e-mails from readers, the first steps by the BBC towards online interactivity.

    The site had a small team of journalists working on it but proved so successful that the BBC decided to continue until the official launch of the news site itself. The election site is here, though most of the links don’t work any more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/election97/frameset.htm

    The Diana site reinforced the value of online and the site is here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/politics97/diana/

    Alfred Hermida Jun 5, 2008
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  • Jun 5, 2008

    Alfred,

    Thanks so much for the comment and the links. Really interesting and great to see. For me it’s just a good example of why events (whatever they may be) can often be the catalyst for really creative work and real progress.

    Matt

    Matt Rhodes Jun 5, 2008
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