Archive for the ‘BBC’ Category

woodWhat other broadcaster in the world would commission films in which there was no dialogue, no music, no camera movement and a stipulation from the director that shots should last a minimum of 10 seconds instead of the usual two or three?

Welcome to Handmade, three lovingly-made gems from the BBC that enter the workshops of three master craftsmen to separately follow the process of the creation of a glass jug, a kitchen knife and a Windsor chair.

This is slow television that reveres its subjects in a back-to-the-future style of filmmaking where the action comes to the frame rather than being pursued by the camera.

For modern audiences accustomed to frenetic delivery and torrents of supplementary detail it requires some adjustment. Lingering shots focus attention on what’s happening but there’s no commentary to explain the process.

These aren’t meant to be ‘How To’ films that will equip you with skills, they’re about appreciating the aesthetic, and the gentle pace reinforces the time and effort invested by the makers. The world may be rushed but some things can’t be hurried.

Framing of events in the workshops is exquisite: long shots, close-ups, mid-shots – if the artist Jean-Francois Millet had been asked to storyboard video scenes this is how he would have done it.

If the visuals are a delight then the audio is an especial treat, augmenting the notion that you’re there, watching and listening, but invisible to the workers.

Picking up the subtleties of natural sound doesn’t come easy: Metalworker Owen Bush has tiny microphones taped to his shirt and his turn-ups. You hear his boots scrunch through scraps of metal shavings and grunts of effort as he pounds away at his anvil.

The apparent ease with which you hear these aural embellishments belies the technical complexity of their capture and the skills of post-production editing – master craftsmen at work with master craftsmen.

There’s no ‘performance’ requirement of any of the three experts featured, they’re doing what they normally do, and the fact that they don’t speak helps concentrate the viewer on the task rather than the individual.

Each film is self-contained and lasts less than 30-minutes; together they are a serendipitous delight.

On the X/Y crosshairs of an audience data graph the series would fit the upper left hand quadrant: small audience, high appreciation, yet it’s not the kind of program-making that comes from focus groups or ask-the-audience sessions.

Handmade captures the uniquely creative essence of public-service broadcasting – a license to experiment, a chance to be original and the opportunity to tell a story free from the burdens of commercial pressure.

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Huffington PostIt’s great to see the Huffington Post pushing the boundaries of social media integration to better serve readers, especially since it endorses a point of view I’ve long held and promoted.

The site’s social media editor, Rob Fishman, has blogged about letting readers follow topics, reporters and bloggers both on the site and across other platforms with the aim of not missing stories that often slip through the cracks.

Back in the day, I suggested the BBC should automate the aggregation of correspondent reports in “shrines” to their output (and egos) across all platforms and all media types.

I’d always enjoyed Matt Frei’s perspective on life in the US, but trying to keep abreast of his video pieces, his audio packages, his features for the web and his musings for From Our Own Correspondent was a job of work.

The best correspondents are brands within the brand, something newspapers have long understood with their star columnists, and I always thought they deserved better packaging and promotion.  Before I left there was a project in the pipeline which was tackling this and I  hope it bears fruit this summer.

There’s more to this than just doing a better job of showcasing correspondent material though, tracking stories, people, companies and individuals’ interests is the next big step in filtering the news that’s relevant to you.

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On a visit to Poynter earlier this week Bob Woodward of Watergate fame reflected on journalism and digital media and made the point that technology on its own is nothing without high quality, probing journalism.

Nowadays high quality, probing journalism involves harnessing digital tools and using them to mine vast amounts of data as well as the virtues and skills Woodward deployed in his day.

There’s no better recent example than the work of Seattle Times reporter Michael J Berens whose tenacious approach earned him the $20,000 Bingham Prize for investigative journalism.

Berens produced a six-part series that dealt with the treatment and exploitation of elderly and frail people in Washington State’s adult family homes.  Along the way he filed 50 state record requests, acquired and then analysed thousands of pages of health service documents and interviewed 250 people.

You can read a fuller account of the investigation here and if you’re interested in learning more about data journalism then Elena Egawhary at the BBC in west London  is a fount of wisdom on the subject.

On this topic, however, Woodward gets the last word with his acerbic world view: “I get up in the morning and I ask the question: ‘What are the bastards hiding?’…You get at the truth at night, the lies during the day.”

Japan Nuclear power plants map. source : http:...

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The news coming out of Japan over the past seven days has eclipsed everything else and rendered the techfest that is SXSW a noisy irrelevance.

If anything, the inanity of some of the Tweets, Facebook and Foursquare messages served only to highlight the self-absorbed, publicity-seeking vacuousness of the mass gathering of geeks.

While a tide of thoughtlessness flowed from Austin, Tx, the tsunami of unimaginable power did its horrible worst to coastal communities in north-east Japan.

For Sam Leith in the Evening Standard we were all watching catastrophe as if it was just theatre; “Earthquake porn” as his girlfriend dubbed it, with nothing to learn.

Leith’s assertion was wrong, though his sentiment that the least we can do is “pay for a ticket” and donate to the Red Cross appeal was unquestionably right.

There are learnings aplenty from the devastation – everything from pragmatic lessons on the siting and safety regimes around nuclear power plants, to a more Zen-like appreciation of the fragility of life.

It’s because we watch, examine and learn from catastrophes that we survive and thrive. A quake of that magnitude almost anywhere in the world other than one with Japan’s building codes would have killed many thousands more people. The tsunami – even with advanced warning systems – was another matter.

Throughout it all there has been some extraordinary footage, including this UGC clip: Six minutes of terror as tsunami destroys town

Google again deployed its people-finder service though the shysters, sharks and sickos were never far behind as this Metro story highlights and this bogus BBC radiation alert shows.

Assorted mayors of London, complete with chains of office, paid a visit to the BBC this week expecting a talk from the news website’s editor.

Unfortunately he was unavoidably detained so I was press-ganged to talk about emerging platforms and how I thought the future would unfold.

My spiel about iPTV, mobiles, augmented reality, near-field communication, and the moneyless society seemed to go well, but I have to admit I was a bit flummoxed when one of the worshipful company asked where the power would come from to keep the connected society running.

The question was based, I believe, on this old Sunday Times story which asserts that a couple of Google searches generates as much CO2 as making a cuppa.

The Harvard researcher on whose work the report was based doesn’t accept the Times’ conclusion and the truth is that Google is well along the path of making itself carbon neutral

But in the wider context the questioner had a point – power-hungry devices in the hands of billions of people are bound to have an impact and there’s no ready answer to the question. The carbon footprint of a technology depends on what’s in and what’s out when you assess its impact.

It’s easy to see how making a call or sending a message rather than travelling to a face-to-face meeting might bring a big CO2 saving over existing technologies, and when multiplied across the billions of daily interactions the potential benefit is huge.

The carbon cost of manufacturing and distributing hardware and its ability to be recycled also has to be taken into account, especially with blisteringly fast turnover in device evolution and obsolescence.

Harder to measure is the impact of mobiles in enabling so many more connections and interactions between people then were ever possible in the past. Big thoughts and banalities are just 1s and 0s in the digital world. How do you cost a connected world?

At a pragmatic level, energy consumption and device efficiency is being tackled in multiple ways.

In the macro world memristor’s hold the prospect of chips that run 10 times faster than conventional models using a tenth of the power. There are solar chargers, hydrogen fuel cells and even ways of harvesting kinetic energy to trickle life back into a battery.

This Yoyo charger and this bike dynamo from Nokia show some of the solutions coming to the market, but I bet Harold Wilson never imagined his “white heat of technology” vision needing pedal power to keep the conversation flowing.

oscarappThe sycophantic slush of another Oscars ceremony is already a fading memory but there are some learnings from ABC’s two-screen, Backstage Pass coverage that are worth further reflection.

The 99 cent app for iPhone and iPad users gave users access to live streams from more than 25 cameras dotted around LA’s Kodak Theatre – TV gallery-type command in the palm of your hand – plus access to additional content.

ABC’s acknowledgement of the multi-tasking tendencies of TV audiences allowed people to flit away from mainstream coverage to the likes of the unruly paparazzi cam, another one focused on famous faces and one on fashion.

Alessandra Stanley writing in the New York Times said the extra feeds gave viewers “an all-too-vivid look at how the air leaves the theater and the night starts to drag.” Miaow!

She was talking about how the streams showed winners celebrating backstage while TV was left with losers “smiling tightly through their rancour and disappointment”.

Sounds to me like TV had the best of that carve-up, but it depends whether schadenfreude or success is your preferred measure of enjoyment in such things.

Stanley also queried whether advertisers would be happy about a network inviting viewers to spend commercial breaks watching backstage camera shots of stars.

Probably not, but the world of advertising, like journalism, is having to react to profound change and the Superbowl has shown that compelling ads can hold and engage audiences if they’re good enough.

Update: The Chrysler Born of Fire ad featuring Eminem that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago has been seen 8.8m times on YouTube.

The benefit of a fully integrated two-screen production is that it keeps viewers tuned in rather than turning off or going elsewhere when the televised action flags.

Having more options shows the audience you’re working harder to give them a better experience, and it doesn’t have to be confined to big set-piece event like the Oscars.

Imagine, for instance, being able to rate in real-time the performance of panellists on Question Time via a second screen, to see the results on the TV, distinguishable by location, and then to share them with friends.

Imagine watching Click and at each mention of a device or a technology getting a back-catalogue of reviews, features and stories on your second screen.

And imagine news packages being amplified with information – the assumed knowledge the audience is expected to bring – because there simply isn’t time to recap everything in a two-minute piece: What’s a Green Paper? How is inflation measured? What is the Monetary Policy Committee and how does it work?

Now it’s true that all the information is already available on the web if you’re prepared to search. But this is about tethering, about extending the leanback ease of television to make extra material available without effort.

In this same vein, there’s a much bigger body of work being undertaken by colleagues over at BBC R&D which is set out here by Stephen Jolly.

Do read it; it holds clues to the future of television.

mailsorryNot so long ago, wire copy was the bedrock of many a publication but papers never openly revealed their dependency on agency material. The intro was tweaked, the copy jigged and the reporter’s byline put at the top.

The web exposed the lie when people were easily able to read multiple but strikingly similar versions of a story across a range of titles.

Now the Media Standards Trust is shining a light on the cut-and-paste culture around stories and press releases with a churn engine that seeks “to distinguish journalism from churnalism”.

By dropping a press release into a text box on the churnalism.com site it’s possible to run a comparison with articles appearing in the UK media.

A fake chastity garter story by Chris Atkins found its way into the Mail Online’s science and tech section as a potential Valentine’s Day gift.

Churn stats show 40% of the Mail piece had common content with the fake story: – For the Footballer with a suspicious mind…the garter that texts if his WAG is unfaithful The churn engine even highlights the text that is common to both, ie has been ‘lifted’.

The Mail has pulled the story but offers no explanation or admission to its readers.

It’s easy to scoff, but the Beeb doesn’t come out of it unscathed, with 5Live giving airtime to a spoof story about Downing Street’s new cat.

The back-story about the technology that underpins the results is interesting in itself and has been written up here by Donovan Hide.

Public service broadcasting is having a tough time on the other side of the pond.

Last Saturday the House of Representatives voted 235-189 to pass a continuing resolution that eliminates funding for public broadcasting. It still has to get Senate approval but the BBC’s situation looks pretty favourable when seen in this light.

A campaign to raise awareness and to save local television and radio called 170 million Americans argues that public broadcasting funding is too important to eliminate.

Chris Bishop, the creative director at PBS Kids put together this graphic to garner support for what it does and why it’s worth supporting.

Commentator Tomi Ahonen’s mobile industry statistics guide is always compelling reading, in fact many of the numbers have found their way into Marc Settle’s excellent BBC College of Journalism course.

There’s one number in the blizzard of information that’s especially interesting – that, according to Nokia, the average person looks at their phone 150 times per day. That’s a glance every six and a half minutes.

I’m guessing much of that activity is associated with SMS or other forms of instant messaging, but part of it will be to monitor Facebook’s news feed or Twitter’s continuous stream of what Google’s Eric Schmidt calls “newness”.

It’s why I’ve bored for England over the past couple of years about the need to present the flow of news from the BBC as a chronology as well as an editorially weighted, sifted and sorted set of headlines.

There’s drama in minute-by-minute information flux and no reason not to do both if suitable filters can be added.

We already offer agency-style running updates for set-piece live event pages, but all of life is a live event and this kind of treatment should be our normal operating procedure.

The dip in, dip out behaviour seen in mobile use patterns needs a different news mix and a different metric to measure engagement.

When web stats are talked about it’s rare for anyone to mention that up to half of unique users only visit a site once a week, that dwell times are scant and fewer than half a dozen pages are looked at.

With all the resources at our disposal and with the development of the BBC’s internal Quickfire breaking news tool we could lead the way in a different kind of news delivery.

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The week after next I’ll be at the BBC College of Journalism’s awayday to do a brief turn on future trends in an attempt to signpost some potential training needs for BBC staff.

Data journalism is looming large on my radar as demands grow for greater openness and accountability from government and businesses in all spheres of life.

Rufus Pollock, one of the founders of the Open Knowledge Foundation, has just built a new site called Get the Data which aims to help users get started on finding the information they want, in the format they want, and on ways to use it.

It’s a bit like Wikipedia meets Quora – it’s a Q&A site for data-related topics in which both questions and answers can be revised and improved according to moderation rights that individuals earn from the data community.

Scraperwiki is a Beta site also trying to help people make sense of data via an online tool to make the process simple and collaborative.

It likens data retrieval to “trying to build something from Lego when someone has hidden the bricks all over town and you have to find them before you can start building”.