Comments on the Radio 4 blog

A Radio 4 sticker

A Radio 4 sticker by Michael Wincott/

This week I was part of the team that helped launch the new Radio 4 blog.

The Controller of the station; Mark Damazer has used it so far to introduce himself to listeners, explain how and why  he schedules repeats,  and the background behind the selection of the Reith lecturer . The post that has received the most feedback, however, was an explanation as to why Weekend Womans Hour dispensed with its format for a week to run a 45 minute interview with former head of Haringey Social Services; Sharon Shoesmith.

Now there have been many, many other places to discuss this issue online both hosted on the BBC and elsewhere. but i was taken aback by the quality, range but also the provenance of the comments that Mark’s post attracted:

They included a:

  • A charity worker explaining how she used to visit families in their homes
  • A middle manager from a local authority childrens service.
  • A lawyer with years of experience of working in a family court.
  • A social worker with forty years experience.
  • A head teacher from Haringey.
  • An interpreter who works regularly with  inner city social workers.
  • Another user with an intimate knowledge of the Childrens Act 1989.

Mark, in a follow up post called them “richly informative thoughts and comments. Some of them reveal significant expertise and personal experience.”

The myth about commenting, because its often done very badly, is that its all back of the taxi cab, and  teenagers txting and offers no value.  Yet this is more due to poor design, a lack of community management. rather than comments per se. I also wouldn’t want to overstate the impact of comments or message board posts on Radio 4 programmes. Direct email (even letters) are still a more familiar and comfortable way of interacting with Radio 4 listeners for production teams and listeners. This is largely true of other BBC networks where sms/mms and voice of course is still the default techique for user contributions used widely across R1, 2 and 5Live.

However this particular set of responses and in a much more social context; the rather incredible Archers message board overseen crucially by a brilliant host)  is an illustration that the usual doesn’t normally apply when you try to work with Radio 4 audiences.

Because in a small way the R4 listeners have shown here that they have the capacity to respond in intelligent, unexpected ways often confounding expectations. Again. Should have expected that really.

(NB:  R4’s Feedback this week  featured both Jill Burridge; the editor of Womans Hour responding to the listeners reaction to the Sharon Shoesmith interview (mostly via email as it happens) and a feature/interview with Whizz Bang Joan about her experiences on the Archers message board.)


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