Monday, November 05, 2007

Eddie Mair: Rather Likes the Sound of his Own Voice?

Eddie Mair (or 'Mare, above) of BBC Radio Four has it seems been mouthing off about user created or user involving content. Including a big collective dig at bloggers. He doesn't much like it. Not on first reading. If you want my opinion. You don't? Never mind, here it is anyway.

Too much competition for Mair's meagre talents perhaps? Rather likes the sound of his own voice is it? Or very reasonably thinks that some celebrity bloggers are way too big for their size tens? Not to mention encroaching on the lives and work of time-served professionals.

It seems obvious that mainstream media ought to be interactive and reactive as well as being proactive. They are in the communication business after all. Of course there are dramas and films and education and entertainments and news shows and documentaries that are in effect largely one way traffic. Like a play, a lecture, a book, or an after dinner speech.

Only applause/response/reaction is required. But separate. Not mixed in.

But there are plenty of other broadcasting formats that clearly wish to be more like conversations with the audience.

This is hardly a new phenomenon. While Blue Peter has now entered the controversial world of the 'phone-in they have always had art competitions, always encouraged feedback and letters, always had audience appeals, and indeed very often had community groups, sports teams, school choirs, effectively members of their target audience, taking part.

So this is hardly a new phenomenon for broadcasters. Lots of strong formats are absolutely based on audience participation. Points of View is such a show. On radio we have Gardeners World, Any Questions, Any Answers. There's Question Time, with QT Extra extending this from the studio to the whole audience.

These are just the most obvious examples. Newspapers have letters pages, problem pages, submitted filler paragraphs and "got a story?" boxes don't they? Why should broadcast media be any different?

Radio Five Live, like Mair's own show, has a very high quotient of phone in content and often gets callers who are better experts than the ones they hire. A day or two ago, Friday, they had an extremely effective GP speaking about teenage pregnancy who had simply called in "off the street" whereas an expert hairdresser talking about weave problems was useless - and he'd been booked.

There is also of course an issue with more and more audience generated content as jobs are cut ... especially when that content is free ... but interactivity is very very important if you want to build a brand for a show, a blog, a paper.

The same ought to go for political parties, natch.

Question Time is of course a model of participation. Though with a predominance of pre-vetted questions they can be rather like auteurs by proxy, creating faux interaction by picking others to voice the questions they would ask anyway.

QT Extra extends this illusion or reality - you decide - from the studio to the whole audience. The yoof culture expert and author Rupa Huq, inspired by an appearance on QTE, blogged interactively here. Not such an obvious Mair-ite on the face of it. Or is this just a come on for a chat?

Rupa may agree that it is just possible that as the winner of a Sony Gold Award as "Best Interactive Programme 2007" Eddie is aiming his prickly barbs at the lowest common denominator end of the market? Where the 'phone-in green inkers take over the asylum? Not to mention those damned up themselves bloggers?


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