Bad news online 

2 March 2011

To some outside observers, the loss of people like Pete Clifton from the BBC’s online news operation may seem relatively trivial from a day-to-day basis because it’s the journalists and subeditors that actually create online content for the corporation. It’s a loss of one manager from an organisation that is often criticized for having too many of them.

However, such a basic observation is missing an important point, because it was people like Clifton who were fundamentally instrumental in driving forward the BBC’s online operation to the success story that it is today.

Based on that premise, can we therefore conclude that BBC management are also now trying to restrict future innovation in order to pacify some of the commercial media sector? And if any similar work is required in the future, will it be subcontracted to third parties instead? How much money will be saved as a consequence, if any?

Will the BBC now be judged more on its online editorial integrity than television or radio programming? And will it take a future major blunder to (perhaps) inevitably expose potential weaknesses in any of its output?

These are all important questions that have yet to be answered, but when management seem content to remove key differentiators such as non-news content from local websites, regardless of whether or not there are commercial equivalents (and without significant consultation), it’s hard to know exactly what to expect.

Except that it will inevitably be something less in stature than before, which won’t be good news at all.