Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Appraisal time for BBC Monitoring

The following submission was received by Pro-Veritas from a verified email account used by BBC Monitoring staff.

"No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee." – John Donne, Meditation XVII

It's appraisal season for staff at BBC Monitoring and we thought this would be an ideal time to turn the spotlight on the appraisers, to paraphrase the Operational Coordinators.

We don't wish to appraise individual members of management, whether senior or middle management, but in the spirit of the BBC's interactive craze we would like to know your views about the various corners of Chris Westcott's empire, both at Caversham and overseas.

Let's not discriminate against one bit of the empire or another but give them all fair treatment.

So, tell us what you think. We are most interested in the views of staff who don't yet belong to the Dissident Majority of BBC Monitoring. Email us your appraisals – or spotlights, to use a word that's temporarily in vogue. Your spotlight need not be negative: you can also tell us how great things are at BBC Monitoring, if that's what you think.

But, please, don't try to contact us using BBC computers, even if you're using your own, private email account. And we prefer not to know your real identity; it's best if you set up a web-based email account, for example with Yahoo, Hotmail or Hushmail, and use a pseudonym that is known only to you. We will know from the content of your submission whether or not you are a real BBC Monitoring staff member.

We realize that most of you are tired and jaded and probably don't even want to think about writing a spotlight, so here are a few prompts, in alphabetical order so that we are fair to everyone.

  • Business Development & Customer Relations (BDCR). How does it differ from Customer Services Unit and Monitoring Marketing Unit, apart from having different middle managers (Account Managers, as they are now called) and two new positions – Senior Account Manager and Strategy & Business Intelligence Manager? Is having a twin head better or worse than two separate heads? What does the Senior Account Manager actually do? And the Strategy & Business Intelligence Manager: what strategy, what business intelligence? As for customer relations: are they better, worse, the same? Do we know more about official or commercial customers? Is it true that our commercial revenue has never been better?

  • Geographic Group. We said that we don't wish to appraise individual members of staff, so we won't say, or ask for, anything about listless team managers. But how do the various parts of Dynamo Peter Robertson's fiefdom gel together? The Moscow office and the Russian team at Caversham, for example? Or the Kiev office, where there has been much talk about having a larger slice of the salary cake, if only the Caversham headquarters of BBC Monitoring were abolished or reduced to an administrative core? (Sorry, it doesn't work like that, tovarisch!) And how are some of the international offices "managed" – Moscow, Kiev, Baku, Tashkent, for example?

  • Media Specialists. They have grown in size and stature (they are now mostly Band 8, not Band 7) – we do not begrudge their elevation to Band 8 but what has been the benefit of their physical expansion? Yes, we know, there have been more pieces published with the word "analysis" in the title but how much of this is actually analysis? What do they do now that's better than they did before? Has anyone outside BBC Monitoring noticed?

  • News & Multimedia. We bet you had all forgotten about the "news" bit in their title! Now that you have been reminded, don't spend too long on the "news" bit – it really isn't just you who can't figure it out – but what about the other part of their title, "multimedia"? Yes, OK, they do a little bit of audio actuality for the BBC and they append a few pictures to the few pieces they write for BBC News Online but, surely, there must be more to it than that to justify having "multimedia" as part of their name! Once considered (by themselves) as the crème de la crème of BBC Monitoring, why do they all look so desperate, so miserable, some of us think even suicidal? Why are most of them searching for an escape route? With little or no substance to the "news" or "multimedia" parts of their name, they are left with the "&". Maybe they should be called "Ampersand". Time for le coup de grâce?

  • Operational Coordination Group. Can anyone anywhere in Monitoring, at Caversham or the international offices, think of one example of coordination accomplished by the Operational Coordinators? Close your eyes and imagine that all the Operational Coordinators had vanished overnight – perhaps done a runner. What difference will it make to anyone, apart from less noise and more space for everyone else to work in? What would happen if they were halved in size or brought under Dynamo Peter's or Steve Watcham's control? Would anyone notice the difference?

  • Source Management and Video Services (or whatever). We don't want to appear unduly cruel, so here's just one question to prompt your thinking: since October 2006 this succinctly-titled group has benefited from an increase in resources. What do they do now that they didn't do before?

That's about enough to chew over for the time being. But do feel free to send us appraisals of other parts of BBC Monitoring other than the ones we've highlighted above – Monitoring Research, Technological Services & Development or even Finance, for example. And, please, don't forget: no personal stuff and nothing libellous or defamatory.

Monday, June 11, 2007

BBC Monitoring's pain continues

It had been almost a year since I visited the headquarters of BBC Monitoring at Caversham Park, near Reading. When I visited it in late spring 2006, it was a bright, sunny day and, despite the temperature being in the thirties, the gentle breeze blowing over the lake created a pleasant, relaxed atmosphere.

But the reality was anything but pleasant. The air was heavy with resentment, too heavy for the gentle breeze to blow it away. Recriminations flew back and forth, with staff pointing a huge finger of blame at the director of BBC Monitoring, Chris Westcott, and his senior management colleagues, for a multitude of woes, and Mr Westcott accusing his staff of defamation. It was a sorry state of affairs; despondency and despair on the one hand, and self-righteousness arrogance on the other.

Nonetheless, it has been more than eight months since staff at BBC Monitoring – the Dissident Majority of BBC Monitoring – had posted a blog through Pro-Veritas, and even that last blog sounded a little more optimistic than previous ones. So, I wondered whether BBC Monitoring had finally pulled itself together and stepped back from the doldrums.

I decided to call Seán Macstíofáin, the chairman of the Dissident Majority of BBC Monitoring, to ask if I could interview him. I did not know whether he was still working for BBC Monitoring or had been made redundant along with the 80 or so others who had lost their jobs. Nor did I know whether Chris Westcott was still the director of BBC Monitoring or had been booted upwards or downwards – or perhaps outwards. And what of the other characters in his troupe – Peter “The Dynamo” Robertson, for example?

To my pleasant surprise, Seán was indeed still working for BBC Monitoring. And so too was Westcott and his troupe – Dynamo Peter, Stephen Watcham, Rosy Wolfe, Brian Rotheray, Jon Eagland, Daniel Cameron, Irina Grinuk and Paul Knight. I wanted to interview Seán over the phone but he insisted that I visit Monitoring. “Why don’t you come and see things for yourself,” he said. So, I headed for Caversham.

This time it was a grey, dismal, drizzly day. A black cloud hovered over the old mansion and a cold, piercing wind blew across the car park. Seán was at Reception to greet me; he was as welcoming and as polite as he had been the previous year, although he looked about ten years older. It seemed that time at BBC Monitoring was taking its toll.

We made our way to the staff restaurant, which had undergone some refurbishment: it had shrunk to about a third of its previous size and now resembled the cafeteria at Sevastopol airport, circa 1966. As I began to sip my coffee, my attention was drawn to a group of people a couple of tables away. They had suddenly switched from quiet conversation to loud laughter, sneering and some expletives. I asked Seán what was the matter. He motioned with his eyebrows to two people who had just entered the restaurant, one with spiky, greyish hair, the other diminutive and sounding like Stephen Hawking’s voice synthesizer.

I started the interview by asking Seán what must have been on the minds of many observers of BBC Monitoring. Without further ado, here’s the transcript of our conversation

[Michael Collins] It’s been eight months since your last blog. Why so long?

[Seán Macstíofáin] The last blog you refer to was posted on 1 October 2006. Chris Westcott’s cultural revolution had just been promulgated. The reselected team managers and account managers – known internally as the “Band 9s” – were about to take up their duties. Some members of the Dissident Majority of BBC Monitoring argued that, in order to convince people – stakeholders and the taxpayers who pay for BBC Monitoring – of the justness of our cause, we had to be seen to be giving Mr Westcott’s cultural revolution a fair chance without publicly criticising it every other week. So, we decided to suspend our blogging activity for a few months. But we have continued to meet regularly, both physically and in cyberspace.

[Question] You have just said “Chris Westcott”; in the past you’ve called him “Christopher” Westcott. Does that mean that you don’t feel as hostile to him as you did before?

[Answer] No, not at all. It’s just that some of our members have pointed out that most people looking him up on internet search engines are likely to search for “Chris Westcott”, not “Christopher Westcott”. We wanted his legacy at BBC Monitoring to be high up on their search results, to follow Mr Westcott wherever he went, forever.

[Q] Your blog of 1 October 2006 sounded an optimistic note. Was your optimism well founded?

[A] That blog has been very widely misunderstood. All it said was that one member of the Westcott team had given a presentation that was focused more on bread-and-butter issues and less on propaganda. You have to remember that we had just gone through a long series of presentations by Mr Westcott and his people on culture, values, behaviours, and so on. We were sick and tired of all that, of being preached at about behaviours and standards that Mr Westcott and his friends felt should apply to all staff except themselves and their cronies. So, when we were given a presentation that was directly related to our work, we were relieved, even though many of us disagreed with the substance of that presentation. But the fact is that the Westcottians had no choice but to talk about bread-and-butter issues. There were matters that had to be dealt with and which could not be delayed. Thus, it would be absolutely wrong to conclude that Brian Rotheray, who gave the presentation, was somehow different from the rest of the Westcott crowd. He just happened to be the first to deal with work-related matters after a long propaganda campaign. Others followed suit, for example, Dynamo Peter, who gave a presentation in graffiti about clusters, but after all the criticism we received following the 1 October blog we weren’t going to write about that.

[Q] A presentation in graffiti?

[A] Yes, it was a pioneering piece of random art, a form of art which up until that day had been familiar only to graffiti artists. It it pioneering because we are sure that it was the first time it had been used as a managerial tool. Dynamo Peter should take his talents to the nearby Henley Management College.

[Q] In a previous blog, you claimed that Mr Westcott was trying to create a culture “where staff will never question or complain or criticise but salute, applaud and curtsey at every opportunity”. Is he succeeding in creating such a culture?

[A] No. But many staff are tired – tired of Mr Westcott and his entire management team. They are also deeply disappointed that their cries for help have been largely ignored by the corporate BBC management. I would say that a kind of fatalism has descended on BBC Monitoring. Perhaps this is what Mr Westcott wants.

[Q] What about you and the Dissident Majority of BBC Monitoring. Are you resigned to your fate?

[A] Ha, ha, ha! We shall do whatever we can to help salvage what is left of BBC Monitoring. We do not believe that Monitoring has outlived its usefulness, although some of us feel that Mr Westcott and his troupe do. We believe that, by publicly airing our grievances, we stand a small chance of someone in authority hearing our cries and bringing our managers to account. All we want is someone with a vision and proven leadership skills to take charge of BBC Monitoring. Is that asking too much?

[Q] Do you think someone will hear your cries and come to the rescue?

[A] We are realistic. The BBC is a large and complicated organisation, and Monitoring is on the periphery of that organisation. Sometimes it’s convenient to push people you want out of the way on to the periphery.

[Q] Many people will say that you are harming your own cause – and BBC Monitoring – by airing your grievances so publicly. Are you being wise?

[A] We have no choice. We started blogging a year ago because it had become clear to us that Mr Westcott had closed his mind to all discordant voices and was about to institute a Stalinist regime of absolute intolerance of all criticism, including constructive criticism. Over the past year his regime has gone further down the Stalinist road. Mr Westcott himself has never been tolerant of alternative views but we are now in a situation where his minions note down any criticism of him or his troupe and use this against those staff who still dare to criticise the official line.

[Q] These minions, do you think they are acting on Chris Westcott’s instruction?

[A] No, we don’t think so. They are just creepy crawlers who think it would be good for their careers to do a bit of posterior scrubbing. Some are simply lacking in self-confidence and intellect so, when confronted with criticism, they victimise the critics rather than use their persuasive skills, which of course they don’t have.

[Q] Are you just talking about members of the top management team?

[A] Oh, goodness, no. Some are at the top but there are also others at the middle-management level and others still lower down the food chain who aspire to be in that select group.

[Q] Last year you wrote a blog about Chris Westcott’s vision project. What has happened to it?

[A] It’s done and dusted. We’re now in the post-vision era.

[Q] Go on...

[A] The vision culminated in a video, a visionary video. The video was shown to staff and we’re now in the post-vision era, which may generate another video. Or perhaps a play. Or maybe a feature film. Or a street theatre featuring Dynamo Peter’s random art.

[Q] Will it be another eight months until we hear from you again?

[A] No, I explained earlier on in our conversation why we have not blogged for eight months. The silence is over now. Keep watching this space.

[Q] Have we missed anything out? Is there anything else you would like to say?

[A] I am sure we’ve missed plenty out but it doesn’t matter, just keep an eye on our blog. We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Pro-Veritas for their invaluable advice, for checking our copy and for allowing us to blog under their name. We’re also deeply indebted to the three legal firms who are still pledged to aid us, free of charge, in the event of trouble.

[Q] Seán Macstíofáin, it’s been a pleasure talking to you.

[A] You are very welcome, Michael.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

A breath of fresh air

The following submission was received by Pro-Veritas from a verified email account used by BBC Monitoring staff.

For the first time ever, a senior manager at BBC Monitoring has received a round of applause from staff - ordinary staff, not people specially selected for their posterior-licking qualities. The hero of the day was Brian Rotheray, joint head of the Business Development & Customer Relations department. The occasion was a presentation on the outcome of a review of products undertaken in the light of a substantial cut in funding by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, one of the sponsors of BBC Monitoring.

Why was he applauded? We know little about Mr Rotheray, other than that he is a pragmatist who appears to shun hyperbole, propaganda and bullshit in favour of getting on with his job. He has not become known to us through grievances issued against him by his staff, and he seems to have avoided being soiled through membership of Christopher Westcott’s “Culture Club”.

But we don’t think these are the reasons for the applause given to Mr Rotheray. After all, he is a member of Mr Westcott ‘s “Direction” team and must, therefore, take his share of responsibility for the many ill-conceived decisions of that team.

Rather, the answer can be found in everything that Mr Westcott stands for - in other words, everything that is wrong with BBC Monitoring. Ever since that fateful day on 1 April 2003, when he was appointed Director of BBC Monitoring, Mr Westcott has deluged staff with his tedious, vacuous, meaningless yapping about culture and the evil of distrust in his “leadership”. Staff have grown sick and tired of his Pol Potian vision of a “Year Zero” where no one ever questions or complains or criticises but salutes, applauds and curtsies at every opportunity. They have had enough of his double talk, his impatience with anyone who challenges him, his summary dismissal of any idea other than his and his thinly-veiled meanness. They have yearned and yearned for real direction, for real leadership, for someone to tell them exactly what is being asked of them.

Enter Mr Rotheray with his presentation. Concise and full of substance. No propaganda or bullshit. Not one superfluous word. No self-praise. Delivered with modesty, courtesy and humour. And, throughout the presentation, he established a rapport with his audience.

No doubt, this post will upset Mr Westcott and his chief flunky, Peter “The Invisible” Robertson, who will be consumed with jealousy. No doubt also, the cynics will say that our intention is to sow discord within the “Direction” team. That is not our intention but, if our comments do result in discord within “Direction”, then what can we say? Bon appetit?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Legend of Dynamo Peter

The following submission was received by Pro-Veritas from a verified email account used by BBC Monitoring staff.

Something earth shattering has happened at BBC Monitoring.

Just as the cynics were gloating at the new depths of indecision, half decisions and futile gestures to which BBC Monitoring had sunk under the captainship of Christopher Westcott, his hapless consultants and his hangers on, the unthinkable happened. Amid the tedious taunts of “I told you so” following yet another failure by senior management to match some 60 potentially redundant staff with about 60 unfilled posts, Peter Robertson walked in, fresh from a long holiday and ready for action.

Known affectionately as “Dynamo Peter” because of his limitless energy, his reputation for burning the midnight oil and his obsessive attention to detail, Mr Robertson had ended the “summer term” at a low ebb, having failed to make himself known to almost any of his staff - baggage he had inherited when he became head of the Geographic Group.

However, rejuvenated and refuelled after several weeks of holiday, Dynamo Peter was clearly determined to recoup his fearsome reputation and to make up for having missed at least two important milestones in Mr Westcott’s campaign to eradicate the culture of BBC Monitoring.

Like a military genius, Dynamo Peter chose his time and location carefully and, the truth has to be said, struck where his detractors least expected him to strike.

The day was Wednesday 30 August 2006, a day that will be inscripted on the listed walls of BBC Monitoring’s headquarters at Caversham, a day that will be celebrated as the beginning of the end of indecision and prevarication at this remote outpost of the BBC’s Global News Division. The location was the West Wing gallery area. The occasion was the last old-style 10:00 a.m. “Operational Meeting”.

We have no eyewitness account of the momentous event, such was the skill with which it was delivered - a cruise missile fired from a Stealth bomber, to use a military example. However, below is what we have been able to gather from the bits and pieces of evidence left behind (as with all momentous, historic events, facts inevitably get mixed up with fiction, so we must allow for the possibility of a degree of myth as the Legend of Dynamo Peter unfolds).

Here is what appears to have happened: As the august meeting got under way, the jaded editors started trembling as someone whispered, “A figure resembling Dynamo Peter appears to be heading this way.” A sudden, eerie fall in temperature confirmed that that figure was indeed Dynamo Peter. The fearsome Head of the Geographic Group entered the meeting area, sat on the periphery and then suddenly began to deliver words of wisdom. Almost simultaneously, the cleaning staff in an adjacent area began using their vacuum cleaning machines. Not a word of wisdom could be heard. Dynamo Peter left the meeting, and the jaded editors started to take their coats off as the temperature began to rise again.

At that point, no one knew that the deed had been done, that Dynamo Peter had struck and left, almost invisibly. Moments later, all was revealed. A simple note in the log said: “Peter Robertson to ask House Services to try to reschedule hoovering in atrium from its normal 1000 slot.”

It was as simple as that. As one editor said, it was like saying: “I have just launched a nuclear missile with a multiple independently-targeted re-entry vehicle at Tilehurst. It’s all quiet now.”

Years of pleas from staff to change the time of the noisy vacuum cleaning had come to nothing, yet one word from Dynamo Peter had made it happen in an instant. On the following day, Thursday 31 August, it was all quiet. The hoovers had fallen silent.

As staff ponder the implications of Dynamo Peter’s strike, the speculation is that the silencing of the hoovers may be the start of a bid by Mr Robertson to replace Christopher Westcott as BBC Monitoring’s top man. In the meantime, his legend is growing by the minute. It is said that posters of Dynamo Peter are selling like hot cakes at a fantastic premium. His silencing of the hoovers has been likened to Donald Rumsfeld’s “shock and awe”, while many female staff can be heard muttering a version of Shaggy’s song, “Not fair”, but substituting “Mr Hoover Man” for “Mr Lover Man”. For most staff, he is quite simply a hybrid of Rumsfeld and Shaggy.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Quiff Restcott goes for job interview

The following submission was received by Pro-Veritas from a verified email account used by BBC Monitoring staff.

It is 1 April 2007. Having decided to move on after four years as head of the British Beetroot Company - Maidenhead (BBCM), the flagship branch of the United Kingdom’s leading beetroot wholesaler, Dr Quiff Restcott has been shortlisted for a post at the British Beetroot Company’s headquarters.

Below is a transcript of Dr Restcott’s interview for the post of Senior Adviser, Directorate for Reject Vegetables.

(Quiff Restcott) Hiya folks!

(Des Stranger - interviewer 1) Dr Quiff Restcott, first of all, let me thank you for coming to this interview. This is a competency-based interview during which we shall be asking you for specific examples from your experience to illustrate your proficiency in each of the required competencies. We expect the interview to last for 45 minutes. How would you like us to address you?

(Quiff Restcott) Doctor.

(Interviewer 1) Doctor, I’d like you to give us an example to highlight your ability to make balanced and objective judgements based on a thorough understanding of our guidelines for growing, displaying and marketing our vegetables.

(Quiff Restcott) Thank you. I am really, really glad that you’ve asked me this question. I believe this is a question which touches on the very essence of the British Beetroot Company - its ability to build on the very strong foundations that I have laid for it and to prosper into the second decade of this Millennium. In fact, just the other day - at the last meeting of the Central Committee of BBCM to be chaired by my good self - we spent the entire meeting discussing the need to develop the ability of all managers - members of the Central Committee, leaders at all levels of the branch and ordinary members of staff - to make objective judgements based on a thorough understanding of our guidelines for growing, displaying and marketing our vegetables. So, your asking me this question is not only fortuitous, but is also timely and demonstrates your awareness of key issues and challenges facing our great company.

(Noel Bite - interviewer 2) Doctor, I’d like to ask you about your planning and organising skills. Can you give us an example to demonstrate your ability to think ahead, prioritise and plan activities?

(Quiff Restcott) The whole issue of forward planning and prioritisation is so important that, if you didn't ask me about it, I would have asked you to ask me about it. I don’t think I would be exaggerating to say that this, together with the ability to make balanced and objective judgements, is so vital that our great organisation’s future would be in serious jeopardy if we did not give it serious thought and allocate appropriate resources to allow our capability in this regard to develop, prosper and exceed any combination of similar capabilities of existing, potential and conceivable future competitors. So, Noel, full marks for asking me about it. Thank you!

(Stepan Welly - interviewer 3) Doctor, I’d like you to give us two examples that show your ability to get your message understood. Please choose examples to highlight how you have used a range of styles, tools and techniques appropriate to the audience and the nature of the information you were communicating.

(Quiff Restcott) Yes, certainly. I think it’s obvious to everyone in this room that, without clear and effective communications, we might as well throw our vegetables away, pack up and go home. It’s as simple and as important as that. You know, global 3G subscribers have passed the 100 million mark – this a rate of growth that exceeds that of the first-generation of mobiles in the 1990s. It’s projected that there will be 210 million mobile TV subscribers in 2011, with 10 per cent of all mobile handsets then sold containing a broadcast receiver. Nielsen Media Research - the US based TV audience tracking company - has plans to track TV viewing on the web and on mobile phones. As MSN looks to launch a rival site to YouTube, the site serves up 100 million videos a day. I can give you dozens more examples but I think I have made the point.

(Interviewer 1) Doctor, looking back to your most recent post, can you give us two examples to illustrate your ability to present sound and well-reasoned arguments to convince others. Please choose examples where you have used a range of strategies to persuade people in a way that resulted in desirable behaviour change.

(Quiff Restcott) I think it was Pol Pot who said that culture is the bedrock of behavioural change. He was, of course, right then and he is still right now. But it’s only right and proper that we should pause now in order to reach the right and proper conclusion that change should be undertaken only, and I stress only, if it is change in the right direction. And you should ask, and its perfectly correct to ask at this juncture, whether we are now equipped with the right tools to reach an objective definition of the right direction. I am sure we all agree that the issue is not just one of possession of the appropriate tools for the right direction but, and its a very crucial but, are we actually ready for the right direction? Of course, this takes us back straight to the question of culture. I don’t think I need to spell it out, but communications, as you are well aware, is right at the heart of all this. Yes, as Mengistu Haile Mariam said, it’s communications, communications, communications.

(Interviewer 2) Doctor, we’d like to ask you about your skills in managing relationships and team working. Please give us an example to illustrate your ability to build and maintain effective, cooperative working relationships with a range of people.

(Quiff Restcott) I see culture writ large on this question. Without the right culture, it’s inconceivable to have effective working relationships as the British Beetroot Company prepares to enter the second decade of this Millennium. So, you are absolutely right to ask me about this. Well done!

(Interviewer 3) Doctor, we have finally come to our last question. We’d like you to give us an example that highlights your ability to manage your emotions in the face of pressure or set backs, or when dealing with provocative situations.

(Quiff Restcott) Yes, absolutely and it’s only right and proper that you should ask me this. Let me just very briefly give you an insight into my resilience by explaining why I am called Quiff when it’s as plain as plain can be that I have no quiff. To be precise, I had a quiff, and I wore it right up until the late 1980s - that’s how I acquired the nickname “Quiff”. In the end I abandoned it in the face of adverse comments from my colleagues and members of the public. But simultaneously I changed my name by deed poll to Quiff, so that the name can serve as a constant reminder of the cost of not changing with the times. In fact, change, has become my motto ever since, and I would like change - permanent change - to be the norm in the British Beetroot Company’s Directorate for Reject Vegetables.

(Interviewer 1) Doctor, thank you. We expect to be in a position to tell you the outcome of this interview by the end of the month.

(Quiff Restcott) Thanks to you. You’re spot on with all your questions, which goes to show that you are all well aware of the challenges facing our great company. So, well done boys!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The story of the Westcottian Vision

The following submission was received by Pro-Veritas from a verified email account used by BBC Monitoring staff.

Christopher Westcott, the Director of BBC Monitoring, has a vision. It is not as visionary as Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream...” nor as profound as Pol Pot’s vision of Kampuchea in the Year Zero, although it has other elements of the latter. Rather, it is a modest vision - one that will be constructed by a committee.

The Westcottian “Vision” is set out in a document called "’Telling the Story in 2010' a.k.a the Vision”. In true visionary language, it sets the scene for the "Vision", defining its purpose as “to provide a documented baseline for the initiation of the ‘Vision/Story’ project”!

“Telling the story” is roughly what it is all about. In fact, it is about telling a story. According to the document, “the Vision” project will

  • ”Provide a coherent description of the future through describing BBCM in 2010

  • Provide a checklist of what will be different (and the same) in 2010

  • Set out a sequence of milestones describing key elements of the journey between 2006 and 2010.”

In what seems to be a misunderstanding of what journalists mean when they refer to a story, the Westcottian “Vision” project says:

“Being part of a creative, journalistic organisation, staff ascribe a high level of importance to ‘telling the story’ as a means of helping us all understand the future of the business and our part in it.

“This project has therefore been developed to tell that narrative in a manner which is inspiring, aspirational yet grounded in reality, allows us all to assess where we are in ‘the story’ and which gives many of us the opportunity to participate in its telling.”

Relaying the narrative of events that have not actually happened is, in our understanding, tantamount to telling a story, as in a bedtime story or a novel.

To be sure, bedtime stories and novels are both functional - helping many children sleep soundly and giving adults a means of escapism - and also an integral part of culture. This appears to have been well understood by Mr Westcott, who whets our appetite with tantalising teasers from the story that is to be told. In his “Vision” document, he outlines elements of the story - also called “deliverables” - as follows:

  • "Engaging, illustrative examples of what our future will look and feel like, which will spark:

  • An ongoing debate inside of BBCM of factors impacting our future, rather than decisions which impacted our past, which in turn will provide:

  • Demonstrable (through metrics) engagement of staff/stakeholders in the change programme."

If the appetite-whetting deliverables are the barebones of the novel, what about the flesh? Do we have any hint of what the plot will be? Here, too, Mr Westcott has been more than forthcoming. For the past few months he has been dishing out bits and pieces of visionary information - randomly-chosen sentences of the story that has yet to be told, perhaps, or the “birth pangs” of the new novel, as Condoleezza Rice would put it.

So, at the end of the July briefing, suddenly came these visionary gems, without explanation and without any pointers as to how they might impact on the work of BBC Monitoring:

  • ”Global 3G subscribers passed the 100 million mark in June - this a rate of growth that exceeds that of the first generation of mobiles in the 1990s;

  • It’s projected that there will be 210 million mobile TV subscribers in 2011 with 10% of all mobile handsets then sold containing a broadcast receiver...

  • Video site YouTube now allows its users to build their own TV “channels” in a manner reminiscent of iTunes playlists;

  • The International Herald Tribune is to carry stories written by members of the public following a deal with the Korean website Ohmynews...”

And more of the same ilk came at the end of the August briefing:
  • ”As MSN looks to launch a rival site to YouTube, the site serves up 100 million videos a day...

  • At the end of May there were 420 million mobile subscribers in China while the growth of voice over wireless LANs saw more than 100% increase in the Wi-Fi phone market in 2005...”

As to who will tell the story, well, it won't be storytellers specially recruited for their oratory skills, nor will it be Mr Westcott. The story of the Westcottian "Vision" will be told by "interested members of staff" who have been approached or recruited to "participate in fleshing out 'the story'".

There is a comforting thought in all of this. The late John Lennon once said that some of his best lyrics emerged from sentences written on individual bits of paper and put together at random. So, maybe Mr Westcott is on to something here. Let's hope it won't start like

He's a real nowhere Man,
Sitting in his Nowhere Land,
Making all his nowhere plans
for nobody.

Doesn't have a point of view,
Knows not where he's going to...

He's as blind as he can be,
Just sees what he wants to see,
Nowhere Man can you see me at all?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Global News guru to visit BBC Monitoring

The following submission was received by Pro-Veritas from a verified email account used by BBC Monitoring staff.

Richard Sambrook, the Director of the BBC’s Global News Division, is to visit BBC Monitoring on Tuesday 1 August.

The Global News Division is made up of BBC World Service radio, BBC Monitoring, BBC World television and the BBC's international facing online news services.

In an email to BBC Monitoring staff, Christopher Westcott, the current Director of Monitoring, said that Mr Sambrook “wants to get out and about and meet as many of you as possible - he'll also be hosting an open Q&A at 1330-1430 BST in the Conference Room”. We encourage as many staff as possible to attend the question-and-answer session, which we hope will not be attended by Mr Westcott or any of his so-called “Executive Direction” colleagues.

We welcome Mr Sambrook’s desire to meet staff - a desire which stands in sharp contrast to other BBC bosses who on previous visits to Monitoring almost invariably contented themselves with hiding in the Director’s office, except for brief cameo appearances here and there on the shop floor.

But Mr Sambrook is no typical BBC boss. In his previous life, as head of BBC News, he stood up to the bullying of Tony Blair and his spokesman, Alastair Campbell, during the Andrew Gilligan affair in 2003. Together with the then Director-General of the BBC, Greg Dyke, he showed courage and principle - extremely rare commodities in people at his level in the BBC.

It is our sincere desire that Mr Sambrook will show similar courage and principle during his visit to BBC Monitoring and challenge Mr Westcott on all the issues that we have aired in our postings on this blog, in particular "J’Accuse" and "The reality of cultural transformation at BBC Monitoring".