Blogging at the BBC: Part 7 - The downside of blogging from the inside

 by Martin Belam, 19 December 2007

Yesterday I was almost relentlessly cheerful in my description of how blogging about my work when I was at the BBC was 'a good thing'. The truth though is that there was a downside as well as an upside.

Anyone thinking about starting a blog about their work that isn't anonymous should bear in mind that being well known for your site internally can also have drawbacks. There would be times when I would be half-way through a very important meeting, and the person I was talking too would suddenly stop mid-sentence, look fearful, and exclaim "Oh my God, you are not going to blog this are you?". Which I guess I just have done - so maybe they had a point!

I also remember at a small party to celebrate the re-launch of a site I had been working on, one of my managers 'quipping':

"Have you written it up on your website yet?"

That left me a whisker away from issuing a tirade that would have started "No, because if you haven't noticed, I've hardly left the office in the last 48 hours, trying to get this project actually launched on time."

But with much, much, much more swearing.

There were also occasions when people within the BBC complained to me about content on the currybetdotnet site. I always altered or removed the 'offending' content, but, it must be said, with varying degrees of good grace.

By far the most amusing time was when another BBC staff blogger was nervous that a post I had written revealed more about the plans for his project than had so far been made publicly available, and he emailed and asked me to alter it. On another occasion I had posted up a presentation I had given which featured some screenshots of an internal system, and there was some concern over the intellectual property displayed on the interface.

The one time that really irked me though was when a senior member of staff from one of the radio networks objected to a light-hearted quip I had made about one of the votes that my team were running.

Wembley vote on BBC Radio Five Live

The vote in question was to name the new footbridge at Wembley Stadium. The BBC was hosting the vote to select the winner from a short-list of Sir Alf Ramsey, Sir Bobby Charlton, Sir Geoff Hurst, Live Aid and, eventual winner, Billy the White Horse.

Billie the White Horse at Wembley

The open-ended nomination process had been plagued by attempts by Scottish and German football fans to name it after anything other than an English football hero - a battle that even wasted time in the Houses of Parliament. In fact Dietmar Hamann had managed to poll over half a million votes in the first phase. I said on my blog something to the effect that if it was going to be named after any Germans on my watch, it would be after Ralph Hütter and Florian Schneider instead. The network objected that it could be construed to compromise the integrity of the vote result.

Kraftwerk Trans Europe Express album cover

What I took exception to wasn't so much their complaint in the end, which I still think shows an intense lack of humour, but the fact that they pursued it by contacting the Executive Producer I reported in to. I've never understood why they choose not to contact me directly and informally, rather than make it an issue that then involved my manager. After all, it isn't hard to contact me directly via the blog, and since the point of their complaint was that I was a) BBC staff and b) the senior member of BBC staff responsible for the vote, they knew who I was, my email address, and my phone number.

I complained about it at the time, and I understand that it was subsequently used as an example of how not to handle the situation. Given the ensuing scandals about voting at the BBC, it also seems quite funny in retrospect that someone was so worried about idle banter on my blog post.

With blogging becoming more widespread and getting more attention in the mainstream press, and with the BBC at times having to react to controversy over staff with newspaper columns, a BBC code of blogging conduct was inevitable. Tomorrow I want to look at the successes, and what I perceive to be some of the failings of that policy.

1 Comment

"Refer up" versus "talk to each other".

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