BBC’s Newsnight is using social networking site Facebook to build closer relations with viewers.
The show’s business and industry correspondent Paul Mason created two groups, Get Yourself On Newsnight and Feral Beasts Of The Media, that have so far attracted 1,101 members and have put reporters in touch with a range of contacts.
“The editor said to me ‘I am keen to get our correspondents’ Facebook profiles linked to the Newsnight web page’. I said something to the effect of ‘Duh! It’s the other way round,” Mason told Journalism.co.uk.
“BBC TV news boss Peter Horrocks has been on there a long while and is Facebook-savvy. A lot of us are using it personally and professionally.”
The group invites story ideas and responses from members and has so far heard suggestions to change to the BBC licence fee and for Jeremy Paxman to be sent on a nationwide reporting tour by bicycle.
Even more successful, the Feral Beasts group – named following Tony Blair’s recent description of news media during a speech at Reuters headquarters – achieved notoriety after it was joined by dozens of national media professionals.
“We are not really mandating what it’s for,” Mason added. “My background is tech journalism during the dotcom era and I firmly adhere to the JFDI (“just flipping well do it”) principle.
“It has not yet yielded stories, but interesting contacts, including professional contacts. The Newsnight group is just a way of saying, hey, we’re out there. If it does not work, we’ll find another way.”
Facebook traffic is growing at 30 percent each month and boasted 4.8 million UK visitors in May after experiencing phenomenal growth.
Mason, who has covered the likes of Second Life and Californian technology culture in previous Newsnight packages, in 2005 started an independent, off-site blog for Newsnight, before his efforts were brought in to an official show blog as part of the BBC blogs network a year later.
But the official blogs, Mason said, have “slightly taken the fun out of it”, so, coincidental with BBC global news director Richard Sambrook’s strategy to devolve conversation and connection to the networks readers already frequent, and noting that social networks are “the beta stage of the web”, he opted to again explore off-site outlets.
“Personally, I think blogging is so over now,” Mason told Journalism.co.uk. “Once Guido got himself onto Newsnight, albeit SAS-style in silhouette, and Iain Dale got himself in the Telegraph, I could feel the zeitgeist moving away from blogging.
“So the good thing about social networking sites is, for me, that no media executive is going to be daft enough to try to ‘host it inside the firewall’ of a bigger media group.”