channel4
First up, there are hundreds of people working on the BBC News website; there are seven at Channel 4 News, the commissioning editor of new media, news and current affairs at the channel, Vicky Taylor, explains to Journalism.co.uk.

"It means you can't do as much and you can't expect to do as much," she says. Taylor speaks as someone who has experience of both: she spent 21 years at the BBC in various positions; her last role before joining Channel 4 four months ago was as editor of BBC Interactivity, where she managed the 'Have Your Say' messageboards and user-generated content.

"One of the first questions [we ask] is what is the Channel 4 news website for? It cannot compete with a lot of the websites which have bigger staffs: the Guardian, the BBC," she adds.

Instead, the team takes a realistic approach: "What can we promote that will complement the TV programme and also add something in the web area that's so unique to it? That's what we're working out now."

Channel 4's online content has undergone some changes recently, not what could be called a dramatic facelift, but significant nonetheless:  the launch of a World News Blog, following the arrival of Jon Snow's Snowblog in January; Krishnan Guru-Murthy Twitters from his own account and there is also a main Channel 4 news Twitter presence; there have been alterations to the homepage; and video content is now at the centre of the site.

"Channel 4 News has a personality," says Taylor. It's not 'just a list of news stories,' she says, 'there's something behind it'.

Jump to:
Importance of social media
Transparency of the process
Developments at channel's own pace


Using Channel 4's News' strengths

The new World News blog is an example of how the site's strengths - a high proportion of foreign news content - can be 'exploited,' she says.

With that in mind, Taylor is leading innovations which suit the audience, including a new web audience who might not watch the TV channel: "There's a real thirst for really good journalism and really incisive ways to tells stories. You've got to reach out to these people. It's not just long tracks of text: it's ways of displaying data; engaging people through Twitter; being open to new ideas.

"The number of people who have access to broadband is growing, and 'silver surfers' are one of the biggest growth areas", she says, adding that web access is now so 'ubiquitous', they can promote web links on television without making people feel they're 'missing out on anything'.

In an integrated multimedia newsroom editorial is decided in the same way as content for television programmes, says Taylor in response to a question prompted by @BenLaMothe.

"You decide 'these are the stories we're covering in depth today'. Just as a programme editor decides this is the content of a TV programme, the web editor decides the content, the extra content, for the web proposition," she says. 

As such, reporter Jonathan Miller supplied both 10-minute film packages and images from a digital camera during his recent Gaza coverage, explains Taylor. "The web team put together 10 or 15 of his photos with his narrative - that was a web piece from a TV assignment. We're very much trying to do cross-platform commissioning."

Importance of social media

It may be small compared to the nightly broadcast audience (1.3 million during UK snow coverage in February, for example), but Channel 4 News' 4,000-strong Twitter audience is very important, Taylor says. "It's 4,000 people who might not have come to you otherwise," she says.

This an audience that understands the Channel 4 'personality,' she adds, citing the 'JonSnowman' photograph sent in during the UK's spell of heavy snow, and when the programme called for photographs, most of the images were sent via Twitter, she says.

Social media is 'a form of journalism now' with journalists using it for professional rather than personal purposes, but it requires training and awareness, says Taylor.

Channel 4 commissions ITN to make the show and produce the blogs, so creating specific social media guidelines for its journalists is not within her remit (question from @scottmalthouse), but Taylor's own approach is flexible.

"They're professional journalists - they're aware of what they can and can't write. I don't think it's a major issue; I would encourage them to use these things. If you're going to someone's home every night it's quite good they can find out a bit more about you and the process by which you did that interview."

Transparency of the process

This attitude extends to blogging, she adds. "[Jon Snow] is genuinely interested in what's going on in the world and finding out about people and his blog is how he is. Opening that up to a wider audience is really good."

While the blog material still goes through a producer before it goes live, Snow writes all the content, says Taylor.

"A lot of that [production process] is practical actually, because he's always out and about. He has a producer who puts it on the webpage. It's no different from when I was at the BBC - Nick Robinson, Robert Peston, they all go through a producer who spell checks it, does everything with it.

"He's normally doing it at speed, on his Blackberry. He does read them [the comments]. He wants people to engage with them. He's in the newsroom and saying 'oh look what they've just said' and really laughing at the comments coming back."

Developments at channel's own pace
While Al Jazeera has released material under a Creative Commons licence, Taylor isn't sure this would be suitable for Channel 4 as it externally commissions many films.

"We're going as fast as we can in this area, but there are some key things we have to do first," she says. The news team could expand its Platform4 blog - which gives some explanation of new media plans - in the mould of the BBC Internet Blog or Al Jazeera Labs, but 'you have to be careful you don't have more blogs than people to actually help produce them (...) so a few resources need to be realistic and maximise [content] for the audience'. 

Taylor is also hoping to expand the citizen involvement in the channel through sections like Freedom Files and FactCheck: "It seems to be a very Channel 4 thing, to be on behalf of the viewer or the user, and get the information. Crowd-sourced, citizen-led [rather than citizen] journalism I'm calling it," she says.

Similarly mobile, while important, is not a priority: "You can't just transfer all your web content to mobile - people want bespoke stuff. It is important but in terms of traffic we want to build up the web proposition first."

Being small may restrict the channel in some ways, but Taylor says it can allow more freedom.

"I don't want to say anything critical about the BBC because it's a fantastic organisation, but its very size makes things, the process, often a little bit slower - Channel 4 is a speedier ship," she says.

"There are in a way fewer restrictions [at Channel 4]  to try things out, you can be allowed to fail. You can try things, see if they work and then, if they don't, do something else."

Free daily newsletter

If you like our news and feature articles, you can sign up to receive our free daily (Mon-Fri) email newsletter (mobile friendly).

blog comments powered by Disqus