The BBC News website is to embark on a new push to link to rival commercial publishers, in response to last week’s damning regulatory review. Aside from the £36 million BBC.co.uk overspend, the BBC Trust was “disappointed” the site still wasn’t pointing to newspaper competitors, who have routinely complained about its perceived unfair advantages.
BBC multimedia journalism head Pete Clifton told me at the Social Media Influence seminar in London today he would commit to throw rivals more traffic through Newstracker, a Moreover-powered sidebar that linked to off-site stories and was introduced following identical concerns in the 2003 Graf report but which now lays unused.
“There will be another push to put Newstracker on those stories,” he said. “We haven’t really integrated it as seamlessly as we’d like in to our CMS. Sometimes, the journalists are in a hurry and just don’t do it. But we have to be really serious about this going forward, we have to be willing to put this out to the local media to show we’re not monopolising coverage. We will principally do that on the Newstracker technology.”
External-facing links will also come in BBC.co.uk’s long-promised new category aggregator pages, which collate material on a topic from across the broad site and of which, Clifton revealed, 70 have been launched today (also here), with around 500 anticipated by year’s end – starting, in Olympics year, with “China“. Whether any of this can ease the fears of rival commercial publishers – from Guardian.co.uk right down to Trinity Mirror (LSE: TNI) and Johnston locals – is uncertain, however, since they have heard similar commitments before and are resolute in their belief the BBC enjoys anti-competitive state support.
Clifton also said the news site is “strategising” options for improving its reader participation commitment, saying that, in traffic terms: “It’s quite low down, it performs badly. It doesn’t feel like a totally satisfactory experience.
“While we’re very proud about the level of engagement we give to people around our stories, there’s something not quite right about what we’ve got. (For a discussion about severe weather), we’ll get 20,000 pictures – we may use 50 of them and 19,500 will think ‘Why did I bother?’ So we’ve got some real issues in terms of engagement. If we ask for something and don’t use it, we’ll probably lose a lot of people in the process. So we’re spending a lot of time thinking about what we can do.
“We’ll be taking some of the emphasis away from all these debates we have every day. The emphasis is going to shift to … how we ask for case studies and ask people who are at an event. There are lots of debates at other places and we should be much more prepared to point them out. We’ll be much more relevant about how we link out to other sites.”