The Medium Doesn't Matter

By Trevor Gilbert , written on February 8, 2012

From The News Desk

Today, word leaked out that the BBC has issued new guidelines on how their writers should be conducting themselves on Twitter. While guidelines like these are nothing new, the restrictions they place on reporters are noteworthy for such a large organization. In fact, the guidelines seem to contradict the very purpose of a news organization: writing about and breaking news. Specifically, BBC staffers are no longer allowed to break news via Twitter.

This is hardly the first media organization to do this. The guidelines follow closely on the heels of similar guidelines set out by Sky News yesterday. Both companies seem to believe that gathering people on their sites and recording precious unique page views is a more important goal than building up the personal brands of their authors, and more important than breaking news as it happens. This may pay dividends in the short term, but is very risky in the long term.

To be fair, it is understandable that these companies would want the staffers to focus their attention on original scoops for the main site, rather than posting it on their personal Twitter accounts. In fact, that should be common sense thing above everything else, as scoops take a while to nurture and it would be a waste of hours of double-checking facts to just tweet it. (For example, if I had tweeted our scoop about Vimeo earlier this week before the story was published, Erin and Sarah would have been ticked off).

That being said, there is a distinction between scoops and breaking news. If it is a scoop that the writer has worked hard on for weeks, then it would be a major waste of time to tweet it out minutes before publication. However, breaking news is not a scoop. Breaking news is something that just happened, but which isn't exclusive to that particular member of the media. In this case, the news will be tweeted by someone else, and then retweeted, and will continue to flow, while the original tweeter gets a large portion of the credit.

In the above scenario, the BBC reporter that could have broken the news first had to wait, while a longer story is written up on the BBC. In that time period of a few minutes, other news outlets have written up a two line post, their reporters have already broken the news, and the BCC would have lost the momentum. A serious problem, when you multiply this story by hundreds of breaking events over time. If you are hunting page views or just want to build the brand, it's bad either way.

The real flaw in the BBC's policies is that they are treating their presence on the official BBC website as more important than the presence they have on Twitter. If a story is tweeted or retweeted from the official BBC twitter account, or from a reporter's account without a link to a full story, does that diminish the brand? No. In all likelihood, it enhances the brand, as the authors all gain more followers, and people eventually look to them for updates on the story. Updates that would presumably be linking to the longer BBC story, published two minutes later.

You see, the medium doesn't matter anymore. That's what the internet did to the media world, and misunderstanding this is one of the (many) reasons why old publications are faltering. Whether the news is published on Twitter or on Facebook or on the website first, it doesn't matter. Eventually, news should be published on all platforms. In the first moments of a story, though, all the reader wants is the news, and they want it now. If the BBC doesn't understand this, people will start to look elsewhere for the breaking news, and it will end up hurting the BBC.