Together, at last

Popping next door

The new home of the BBC's journalism Broadcasting House. Everyone together

The new home of the BBC’s journalism Broadcasting House. Everyone together

The BBC is completing the move of all its international journalists into an exciting new building in Upper Regents Street.  So they’ve emptied and closed the studios in Bush House where the World Service had been based since the 1940s, while the UK people (Today Show, Newsnight…) and the teams from BBC World News have moved from Television Centre, in Shepherds Bush.

They should have called the building The Hand, because it’s worth as much as the two bushes….


it’s really sad for the old buildings (I used to LOVE the pub in the basement of Bush House), but it’s clearly for the best.  Being spread across different buildings can ruin the cohesion of an organisation.

I remember a meeting in which two World Service radio journalists explained how they had got on when they were sent from international radio in Bush House to work in different parts of the BBC in Television Centre.

One had gone to the BBC news websites, and one was working at the international news channel BBC World News.

A radio script about a Writing Conference might look like this. Wouldn't work online

A radio script about a Writing Conference might look like this. Wouldn’t work online

The first one hated the experience.  As a highly experienced radio journalist, he could edit a complex news story into a tight script, delivering the facts and the analysis, but texturing the words to the particular tone of the programme.  It was about concise information and flow.  Working in online, he was forced to follow a strict style-guide that could be re-edited by others on later shifts.  Each story had to be both permanent, and constantly editable.  But he also had to worry about horrible detail such as spelling and specific naming conventions. He was delighted to be back in radio, where this didn’t matter.

The other journalist was younger, and relished leaving radio to work first in online, and then on TV.  Telling stories with images and video opened up exciting possibilities for him.  His problem came when he asked his TV news colleagues if they had listened to that morning’s English World Service news bulletin. They had not only not listened to these long running programmes such as Newshour, or World Briefing, and they had barely heard of them.  These were BBC journalists, working in international news, but they lived separate lives because they worked in different buildings, just a few miles apart.

Separate lives. Simple geography can do that. I'm more of a Gabriel fan myself.

Separate lives. Simple geography can do that. I’m more of a Gabriel fan myself.

No longer.. they’re all together in the same building.  The journalists will share stories, and expertise, and get to know each other and it’ll all be lovely.  And perhaps the skills will start to rub off on each other.  I think it also sounds very intimate.

What’s this got to do with TV audiences?

Well, consider that households with HD television sets spend four or five times as long watching ITV on a standard definition as on HD. It seems that the proximity of the standard channel to the other main ones is all it takes.  Why go ALL the way up the dial, just because the picture is better quality? Being next to each other really matters.

Also, consider that the biggest satellite channels are the partner channels to the terrestrials, such as ITV2 and ITV3, BBC 3, Cbeebies and BBC4, E4, Film4 and the like.  The only way to compete with this is to spend a shedload on exclusive football (Sky Sports 1) or drama (Sky 1), or to show endless BBC2 programmes (Dave).  Being on all the platforms helps, but audiences also seem to like something they already know. It feels like a transferable skill, and a habit they can continue.

One objective of the move to the single building is creating a cohesive editorial identity, and the hope that audiences will follow the BBC on radio, TV and online.  This is FAR harder.  It seems obvious that a BBC TV viewer in another country would go to the BBC website, or listen to the World Service.  And vice versa.  But we’re in the world of audience habits, time of day effects, and a whole mass of stuff that’s way too scary to contemplate.

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