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Visual journalism at the BBC – where web meets TV

Seminar Report

Outside the BBC visual journalism is often understood only as a ”web only thing”, meaning interactive graphics and multimedia pictures made for the web, says Amanda Farnsworth.  But in the BBC visual journalism is considered in ‘a much wider perspective’.   

In her current post Farnsworth manages the web team who do those tasks for BBC News, but she is also in charge of TV designers and TV picture editors. She puts these three teams together and sees what they can do in the interface where TV meets the web and the web meets TV. A lot of her time is spent on thinking how the BBC can use on TV things made on the web, and the other way around.

Visual journalism can answer three big audience challenges which the BBC faces, says Farnsworth.  According to her, the BBC is sometimes considered mistakenly as a large, slightly old-fashioned example of legacy media. The media market is a fully competitive one, where many players cover the same stories and big media events. Firstly, original and quality visual journalism can help the BBC to be distinct from its rivals. Secondly, visual journalism can give their different products liveliness and modernity. Thirdly, it can help people to understand the story. For example, good infographics can say more than a thousand words, says Farnsworth.

Farnsworth presented many different examples of the BBC´s visual journalism products. Class calculator, which assesses which class British people belong to, was a big success and popular, as the BBC received more than 7 million users. It was also a good example of a cross-media product. TV journalists reported from the street holding tablets which calculated the class of the interviewees, and so produced TV content out of the class calculator. Farnsworth pointed out that it’s better value for money if you can use the same products on many different platforms, and it also helps to move your audience from one platform to another.  For example, when a reporter used the class calculator on the TV News at One bulletin, you could immediately see a peak in traffic on the BBC website.

Another example was how BBC uses the ‘green room’ technique or a virtual reality studio as it´s also called. They move their correspondents from the bottom of the sea to Mars even though all they actually do is present their items from a green room at Broadcasting House. These kinds of exercises help the BBC to display the BBC’s modernity to the general public, says Farnsworth.

Now the BBC is putting more effort into making interactive videos. When you innovate and produce these kinds of new products the feedback from audience is very crucial, says Farnsworth. One example was made some time ago about the rise of Islamic state, known as ISIS.

The BBC tries to make their products available for as many different devices as possible. This costs time and money, but it’s something a publicly funded company has to do, says Farnsworth.

Mobile devices, particularly mobile phones, are becoming more and more important for gaining audiences for the BBC.  In the morning there is a peak in usage during commuting from 7 am to 9 am, then again in the early evening when people travel from work back home; at weekends more traffic is coming from mobiles than from laptops. 

Written by Petri Jauhiainen.

Amanda Farnsworth, Editor, Visual journalism, BBC spoke at the Business and Practice of Journalism seminar at Green Templeton College on Wednesday 11 November 2014.