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BBC Newsroom Convergence, Online Journalism and Citizenship during the 2005 and 2010 UK General Elections

Einar Thorsen

Last modified: 2010-06-03

Abstract


This paper explores the changing forms and practices of the BBC’s online journalism through a comparative analysis of online civic engagement and converged newsroom practices during the 2005 and 2010 UK General Elections.

The internet has dramatically recast the relationship between news providers and their audiences – to the extent that, according to Dan Gillmor, the top-down model of news needs to be replaced by a genuine dialogue with their users. ‘Tomorrow’s news reporting and production will be more of a conversation’, he argues, where ‘the communication network itself will be a medium for everyone’s voice, not just the few’ (Gillmor, 2004:np). Allan (2006) contends the BBC is an exemplar of incorporating the dialogic principle of ‘We the Media’ highlighted by Gillmor (2004:np) in a mainstream news organisation. ‘Citizen-generated content is an important and growing feature of BBC News Online operation’, he notes, as ‘a commitment understood to be derivative of its public service ethos’ (Allan, 2006:180).

Such content may enrich the news output, but journalists are also concerned about the impact it might have on their professional values, such as authenticity, autonomy and accountability (Singer and Ashman, 2009, see also Singer, 2003, Singer and Gonzalez-Velez, 2003). To this end, Singer (2006) has called for renewed attention to a dialectical approach to journalism practice (see Merrill, 1989). One which ‘connects production to the individual producer’ and at the same time ‘connects that producer to the erstwhile audience’ (Singer, 2006:3). It is within this context that this paper will examine BBC News Online in detail, with particular focus on its commitment to engaging members of the public with its website and the impact this has had on journalists.

The BBC’s Election 2005 website was the starting point for formalising processes involving user-generated content within the Corporation, eventually leading to the creation of a BBC User-Generated Content Hub. This unit has grown rapidly over the past five years as audience material has become increasingly important, culminating in the restructuring in 2009 of the BBC’s news operations into a single, converged multimedia newsroom – in effect centred on a renewed understanding of the relationship between journalists and their audiences. The 2010 election will therefore provide an excellent comparison to the 2005 election, since it details this dramatic journey in its entirety.

The project involves interviews and observations of journalists, managers, technical and design staff all working on BBC News Online’s election website. Fieldtrips in 2010 will take place before, during and after the election, whilst comparative material with 2005 draws on a previous project completed at the time. The paper also draws on analysis of web content and relevant guidelines and policy documentation.

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ALLAN, S. (2006) Online News: Journalism and the Internet, Maidenhead, Open University Press.
GILLMOR, D. (2004) We the media : grassroots journalism by the people, for the people, Sebastopol, CA, O'Reilly.
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SINGER, J. B. & GONZALEZ-VELEZ, M. (2003) Envisioning the Caucus Community: Online Newspaper Editors Conceptualize Their Political Roles. Political Communication, 20(4): 433-52.

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