Is the BBC reporting on Twitter too much?

In the last six months, thanks to a certain Stephen Fry, Twitter has catapulted from being a past-time restricted to, mainly, geeks and journalists into a mainstream hit.

It’s everywhere. On Thursday, freebie London mag Shortlist led with it on the cover, a magazine which generally tends to stick to top actors, sports people or beautiful women on their front page.

It’s also all over the BBC, as this Google search demonstrates. It appears some readers have had enough.

This post by Darren Waters on BBC News Technology blog fell onto the pointy end of the licence fee payer stick in the comments:

Here is a line-up of self-appointed ‘techies’, neither of whom can claim any real scientific or technological qualifications, who are being paid, with license fee-payer’s money, to inform us precisely how they waste our money.

Says one.

Any chance you could shut up about Twitter, and start to do some journalism for a change? For example, a half-decent investigation into Phorm and BT, or are you scared you might upset someone?

Says another. And one more:

You’re peddling the same opinion (note, not “story” or “news”) again and again – that Twitter is a journalism tool. We get that you believe that. Thanks for pointing it out. Repeatedly.#

It would be wrong to ignore their points (and indeed, I was surprised to learn when I joined, comments are taken very seriously at the Beeb. Pressure from readers via blogs really does make a difference here).

It’s easy to see their argument. If you don’t use the service, it must be a bit tiresome to see so much coverage on what is essentially one solitary website.

In comparison to other sites, though, the BBC is relatively Twitter-free. Darren Waters tweeted these figures a few moments ago:

Readers complain we talk about Twitter too much. BBCNews: 450 refs in 1 month. Guardian:1,700 4,500 NYimes 9,800.

And what if those nay-sayers are just, y’know, wrong? When BBC blogs (and most mainstream media blogs) first started out, the comments ranged from the crazy to the bored unemployed. But now their a little more diverse, and often raise points as well put as the original piece. I draw your attention to this (from the same entry):

It’s *really* nuts to complain that Twitter is just full of “mindless drivel”.

Twitter is a medium, not content.

Content is provided by human beings, not the medium itself.

Hence, if you’re reading drivel it’s because you’re talking to the wrong people. If you were at a party listening to a bunch of people stood around together and the conversation was rubbish, you’d drift away quietly and find some more interesting people to talk to.

This is like complaining that it’s the fault of “the telephone” that people ring you up and try and sell you double-glazing. Or putting your foot through the TV because you’re watching a rubbish programme on a crappy channel.

Twitter is an extremely powerful tool that enables conversations between lots of people simultaneously. That’s all. If you’re finding it tedious, follow some different tweeple.

Brilliant point, I’d say. Many of the readers that are anti-Twitter complain it is simply full of rubbish. The above comment deals with why that’s no reason to give up on it.

But we must consider this valid perspective too:

You see, conventional social discussion mediums such as email and SMS (used by the BBC, in this case, for the acquisition of public opinion on TV and radio channels, read out by presenters) are all regulated by international internet or phone network standards, none of which is protected or owned by a particular trademark or brand name – at least not one the BBC ever endorses. You can SMS a BBC TV or radio station with your opinions in numerous different ways, as you can also email from any domain or webmail package out there. It is transparent, free and bereft of any endorsement or brand advertising.

But Twitter is different. Twitter isn’t a standard or a protocol, it’s not regulated by any government or any international internet organization. It’s a brand name. A trademark. A business. It is self-regulating and self-managing. And for the BBC to chime out messages, from the public writing on Twitter, to their audience via TV or radio, they are endorsing Twitter – simply by mentioning it to this audience.

I couldn’t possibly argue against this. He/she is right. We rarely say ‘micro-blogging’ is taking the country by storm, do we? We just say Twitter. But then why wouldn’t we? Micro-blogging, on the whole, isn’t doing all that well — Twitter is only popular choice. But it’s still a business which will, eventually, come to use its dominance for commercial gain. The BBC, in that respect at least, should be very careful.

But here’s the twist: I firmly believe Twitter is part of a communication revolution. It’s not just some little website.

Just like the telegram, the telephone and the email that came before it, Twitter is already changing how millions of people communicate.

Therefore, it’s the BBC’s duty to be on top of its every development. To not be would fail license fee payers. Technological advances are never popular — even among technology readers. Skepticism runs wild: “Why do I need this?” is the common cry. But, I’d argue, it’s our job to hold onto a makeshift crystal ball. There are few tech journos who don’t think Twitter is a major player in the internet. I myself recently penned a piece assessing how Twitter can be right up there with Google in web search stakes — look out for that soon.

Whenever I think of skeptics, I think of two groups of people. The first I was reminded of a couple of days ago when I met a man who worked on the launch of He told me that there was some opposition to the BBC using the internet at all. I wonder how those opposers feel now.

The second group was a bunch of people who said that the video phone was a pile of steaming proverbial. And they were right.

I’m not saying Twitter is as significant as the maturing of the internet. What I’m saying is that the principle behind Twitter is, despite its simplicity, a major shift in how the world interacts. A shift that should be covered, dissected and scrutinized at every turn. Not only by the BBC, but by everyone.

  1. Wonkie 10 years ago
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