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?

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