A decade on, BBC News website braces for integration

As the BBC News website marks its tenth anniversary this week, it is preparing for a tumultuous year that will see its seperate editorial team merged with radio and television news operations as part of the Corporation’s newsroom integration strategy.

BBC News Interactive, the division that produces the website along with the corporation’s mobile and Ceefax news services, is set to disappear as its newsrooom is merged with the radio and television services as part of the BBC’s restructuring.

Pete Clifton, the head of BBC News Interactive, told Press Gazette that he expects the newsroom integration process to be complete within one year at the latest.

‘I’ve been arguing for a long time that rather than this separate approach and newsroom that we have – although it’s stood us in good stead for the first ten years – we need to integrate our online teams into the main newsroom,’he said.

Clifton, who will become the BBC’s head of editorial development for multimedia journalism when his department ceases to exist, said he expects television and radio BBC correspondents will be writing more for the site, and that more video would become available for the site.

‘For a period of time it was quite good to be quite separate – we could just go about our business and establish what we wanted to do, but I think now as we try to deliver the best of the BBC’s news to the web and to mobile and other platforms, we need to be much more at the heart of the news operation.”

He also stressed that there would continue to be some core staff specialising in online journalism when the integration of BBC News is completed.

‘It’s not like everybody is now thinking that they can do a bit of the web – I’m very clear that the best people that we have, the craftspeople who make the web site what it is will still be doing what they do, although we’re going to be in a more central place.”

The 24-hour news website was launched this week in 1997 as BBC News Online. The launch was originally scheduled for 4 November of that year, but no records exists of the exact time that the current site went live.

‘We’ve talked to the original editor and the original product manager and nobody can put a finger on when exactly we switched to the new content system and started producing pages in the way that we have done ever since,” said Clifton.

‘We know that it was some time this week, but as for which moment of which day – we were probably just knackered at the time so nobody looked up to see what time it was.”

Clifton, a former editor of the site who was editor of Ceefax at the time of the website’s launch, recalled that BBC News Online grow out of several ad hoc projects that had been produced online that summer, including pages created for the 1997 general election and the death of Princess Diana.

Since then, the site has grown dramatically. Today, it draws five million users a day and generates more than one billion page views each month.

News Interactive as a whole now employs around 200 journalists. Ceefax has no dedicated staff. Instead the service, whch is being phased out due to digial switchover, automatically reproduces the first four paragraphs of the websites’ stories. Mobile news services are also produced out of the website’s content management system.

Clifton said: ‘One of our strengths has been that we have a sizable team that can keep up with the news and offer the kind of analysis and breadth that can become known for – none of which, I would hasten to add, will change because of the reorganisation. If anything I think there will be more breadth because there will be a greater emphasis on what our needs are earlier in the newsgathering process.”

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