BBC video embedding – proof of commodity news?

I’ve had little time to mull over the implications of the announcement that the BBC is to share its video content with Daily Mail & General Trust, Guardian News & Media, Telegraph Media Group and Independent News & Media. Yet, in the moments when I have, I have this nagging worry that it is not a good sign.

I can completely see the benefits: additional video content that can really enrich a story, but at no real cost to the newspaper groups involved. Plus, if you’re getting BBC content on your favourite newspaper website, perhaps you might switch your homepage allegiance.

The one thing that has personally been bugging me is that the owners of the Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Telegraph and The Independent all decided that BBC content would sit well alongside their stories.

This suggests that they thought it likely that they would be covering enough of the same stories as the BBC, and doing so with a tone and style that was unlikely to clash.

So a BBC video would sit as well next to a Daily Mail article as it would a Guardian article? When the unique selling points of a newspaper are supposedly its focus, editorial tone and world view, that seems surprising.

I guess you could argue that it is a testament to the BBC’s objectivity and that each newspaper group will have different priorities: selecting video for different stories.

But I can’t get yesterday’s quote from Vivian Schiller, CEO of NPR in the US, that “news is a commodity” out of my head.

I’ve got this horrible feeling that the BBC deal proves that many articles produced by newspapers provide little or no uniqueness to help distinguish them in a flooded market.

5 thoughts on “BBC video embedding – proof of commodity news?

  1. The BBC, the Daily Mail and the Guardian might well cover the same story already, but they do so using very different tones and styles. I doubt that is going to change.

    Videos embedded into stories on the BBC website generally aren’t news reports. They are very straight footage which add context to the story, such as words spoken by a politician or another public figure. I suspect, although we’ll have to wait and see, that this is what the newspapers will be using.

    For example, look at the video on this page:

    It shows the chair of the Iraq war inquiry reading a statement about how the inquiry wil be conducted. You’d expect any major news organisation to cover the inquiry in some form; and however exactly they cover it, the words of the man in charge are going to be relevant.

  2. I understand what you’re saying, but unless a statement or a speech is captured in its entirety (as it is in the case you linked to) then all sorts of editorial judgements creep in.

    Even the choice of when to cut a speech includes an editorial judgement over what part to emphasise. And, remember, it’s editorial judgement that newspaper orgs are setting out as what distiguishes them in their market.

    Plus I don’t think it’s just statements that are being videoed. On The Guardian they are using interviews (here on Microsoft and here on the Government’s action to reduce soldiers’ injury compensation).

    In these the BBC journalists choose the questions and the direction of the interview.

    It is, of course, absolutely fine for newspaper websites to embed these if the interviews work well with their content.

    But if they do work well with their content, then the question of “how can that be when they claim their stories are so unique” has to be asked.

  3. Come on, Joanna: you know that online journalism is more collaborative – you build better stories by using the shared resources available online, rather than replicating the work other people have done. And the BBC’s content, after all, is paid for by the public.

    In this case, the deal is not “we must always use BBC videos” but about finding ways to tell stories on a case by case basis. In that sense, organisations can show editorial judgment in which videos they use. And if I would happily embed a video from any organisation, or an individual, or from YouTube in a story if it added something I couldn’t/hadn’t produced myself, why shouldn’t that also apply to the BBC’s material?

    I think the elephant in the room here is pretty obvious: News International.

    Sky News videos get used on the Times + Sun websites all the time. Does that mean that all three organisations share the same view of the world? Does that mean the Times and Sun have no value over and above Sky? I don’t think so: it just means that it is beneficial for them all to share – and since those who have partnered with the BBC are not part of a huge multinational news conglomerate, they are happy to look to other partners + sources where they can.

  4. Hi Bobbie,

    Thanks for the comment.

    First can I say I think you’ve got me a bit wrong!

    Yes, it was the BBC deal that sparked my thinking about commodity news, but that doesn’t mean that news orgs that weren’t part of the deal produce this type of news any less!

    I sometimes forget that, since I changed employers, my thoughts on news orgs are in danger of being percieved as wading into the tit for tat petty competition I’ve seen some in nationals indulge in.

    I promise, it’s not something I am intentionally seeking to do. Apologies if that is how the post came across.

    Your collaborative point stopped me in my tracks. You’re absolutely right. It’s how I feel about online news and it drew my attention to a type of doublethink I’ve been doing.

    On one hand I fundementally believe in increasing collaboration.

    Yet, on the other hand, I’ve trained in an industry that has taught me the distinctiveness of a brand’s editorial tone and judgement is one of the most important things it has.

    So if we all cover the same stories, and we all share content on those stories, do we lose distinctiveness? Was there ever a great deal of distinctiveness in these stories in the first place?

    These are the questions that are troubling me.

    “Commodity news” is a dirty term in our industry. Yet I am beginning to think that, especially online, there are some stories that are reported by a large number of news orgs in a pretty similar way.

    I’m thinking that if these news orgs can share content on these stories – be they the BBC, The Guardian, The Mail, The Telelgraph, ITV, The Sun, Sky or The Times – then that is great, but the argument that they’re all producing something amazingly unique looks weak in these instances.

    If we decide commodity news exists it isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it might change the way we look at the business of news.

  5. >So a BBC video would sit as well next to a Daily Mail article as it would a Guardian article? When the unique selling points of a newspaper are supposedly its focus, editorial tone and world view, that seems surprising.

    I’d say that since much BBC video is short snippets, there may be room for a selection of clips for tone or content to match each editorial stance or to provide background; after all the BBC usually puts out quite a diversity of views.

    I’m resenting that it isn’t available to independent sites, though !

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