The BBC launches a major new website today which could have a significant impact on its journalism.
The corporation’s journalism college website aims to create a massive training resource, and there are plans to make much of the material available to the wider public by the end of the year.
The site launches with 500 pages and over 40 video clips with both practical exercises, how-to guides helping journalists of all levels to improve their skills, and theoretical discussions on the practice of journalism aimed to stimulate debate.
The college’s director, Vin Ray, told Press Gazette: “I want, by the end of this year, to have an external site. We have a few things to work through before we can enable that.
“Most of them are technical and practical, because a lot of this site points to areas inside the BBC that just can’t be accessed from outside.
“There are some legal issues about rights, fair trading and the tone, because it is very much directed at the BBC, but I plan to do a bit of work this year on making it an external site.” Kevin Marsh, who Ray hired from the Today programme, will edit the site on a day-to-day basis, and the college is still discussing whether the external site could be monetised.
As well as featuring 10 categories dealing with issues ranging from BBC values to the future of journalism, every day the site’s homepage will lead with three new stories. The aim is to extract learning from daily examples in the news so that senior editors will have something they can work with the next time an issue arises.
The college went to all the senior journalists in the BBC and asked them to help in a number of ways. It commissioned films, articles and how-to guides from them to put on the website.
Content includes lessons on craft skills with exercises about writing, featuring Alan Little and Matt Frei. Radio 4’s Andrew Dilnot presents a feature on how to use statistics and data.
Dennis Murray talks about truth and accuracy and how it applied to his time reporting in Northern Ireland and there is a video from David Shuckmah, the BBC’s environment and science correspondent, on the art of doing great pieces to camera.
It is hoped that the interactive features the site offers will make the experience of learning more engaging.
For example, a tutorial on crafting news stories gives journalists a story that starts with a PA news flash and users are given a minute and a half to compose a story and select pictures.
During the allotted time, more information, such as Reuters feeds, BBC interviews and images pop up, simulating the real experience of working on a breaking story in a newsroom.
At the end of the task, users submit their entry and news presenter Huw Edwards pops up in a video to explain how he would have written the story.
The site also offers tutorials from journalists Kate Adie, Nicholas Wheeler, John Simpson and Frank Gardner.
Many of the elements are undeniably post-Hutton in their subject matter —there is a guide on speed vs accuracy, note-taking, protecting sources, handling allegations, statistics and risks, correcting mistake.
The site contains a wealth of content on ethics and values, and a lot on audience and how to use audience data as well as material that enables BBC journalists to get to grips with big stories of the day, ranging from climate change to the Israel-Palestine conflict and the US Presidential elections.
The site also features material stimulated by the monthly editorial policy meetings within the BBC where the big issues are discussed. Ray said: “It’s a brilliant meeting, but the problem is that only a few people can go to it, so what we’ve done is to take that meeting and make it interactive for everyone.” Ray was keen to stress that the site is a learning tool, not a way for management to impose its ideology on staff.
He said: “The site is about journalists talking to journalists — it’s not about tablets of stone or management diktats, its about debate, challenge and critique.” The BBC says the greatest amount of interest in the site is coming from outside the UK and the site could be of use to journalism schools as well.
Ray said: “There is also a huge value in allowing our audiences to see this and to see that we’ve put a lot of thought into what we do and that these decisions are never taken lightly.”