Photo of BBC Television Centre Stage Door reception by ‘strollerdos’. Used under licence.
The concept of an artist in residence I was surprised to learn is nearly a century old (well according to Wikipedia anyway). In the last decade they’ve become almost commonplace with writers, artists and poets being welcomed into football clubs, schools, and prisons . They are mostly designed as conduits to encourage creativity and literacy amongst staff although the best definition i’ve seen is this from the Arts Council that argues that they help “promote organisational health” (pdf). The BBC has dabbled a bit with I believe the first poet in residence being John Agard over a decade ago working for the Windrush project and several similar efforts since then.
That said when Steve Bowbrick, Mike Butcher and others reacted earlier this year to the BBC Trust’s review of bbc.co.uk by blogging/lobbying again (this agenda has a long long history) for the BBC to turn itself into more of an “open platform” then I didn’t think, following some long discussions with Steve on the night and afterwards, that it might end up, as it did last Friday, with a “blogger in residence” literally enconsed at a rather grubby desk in White City with a log in/email address and everything.
Both Steve and myself agreed that we wanted to ensure that the rather heady consensus on display at the Tech Crunch debate in June needed to be tested in more detail. The pledges on offer from C4, and the BBC that night should obviously be held to account. Afterall i’d spent the night arguing that the BBC should get more credit for our attempts to share and support the UK internet industry than was usually the case. So was this true ? What are the constraints legally/technically ? How have we progressed in the last few months ? So alongside the BBC Internet Blog (which we kicked off last summer) Steve is hired. He’s going to be more than a blogger (whatever that is these days) and will also be organising further public meetings where these issues and the BBC’s progress can be shared/tested. He’s also no BBC apologist. I’m sure that some might argue that he’s just going to be a further arm of our rather extensive publicity machine. If only.
So I’m glad its started and i realised that was the case last week when he Steve arrived a few desks over from mine only to to have to struggle for hours to get his ancient mac to log into the network and in a long standing tradition he had to ring me (very politely i should add) on his second day asking if someone/anyone could ,er let him in the building. (his real pass doesn’t arrive until next week).
In his words “I’m spending a few months at the BBC recording the Corporation’s efforts to open its bank of content, code and talent to the world at large.” Obviously its fun having Steve around but there’s real work to be done here. Whether imposed upon the BBC or developed from the grassroots then change is inevitable. Ofcom’s public service review, some challenging radical thinking over there and the tougher economic climate for the companies that Tech Crunch represents has seen to that. Thankfully we’ve seen emergent thinking amongst colleagues of the logic that stronger partnerships and a more common approach should be tackeld head on as well as some new BBC appointments that perhaps illustrate a BBC more aware of its wider context in the UK eco system and the public value of more than 80 years of assets paid for by er, us more than at any time in its history.
Perhaps to put it another way, Steve in his conversations with BBC lawyers, developers, executives, archivists over the next months will be testing out the personal aspiration of my colleague; James Cridland that UK media should be competing on content but sharing on technology.
So I hope this is going to work out. Luckily he has the v.fine Nick Reynolds on point duty to help him. And although its a shame that this will be one of the last projects i’ll get the chance to initiate at FM&T before i move soon to another job in the BBC, then if they get anywhere to improving the BBC’s “organisational health” then i’ll be.v.pleased indeed. Good luck sirs.