BBC news site to add aggregator role

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The BBC is planning to open up its website to other news organisations as a way of countering criticisms that the corporation has become too powerful online.

In what would be a significant new strategy for the BBC, the organisation’s most senior executives are looking at making changes to the BBC News section of the website to allow users to see the major stories being covered by the leading British newspaper sites and other providers of current affairs journalism. The development follows a succession of attacks on the scale of the BBC’s online operation, most obviously from James Murdoch, News Corporation’s chairman and chief executive for Europe and Asia.

Senior BBC sources have suggested that links to the sites of rival news organisation could exist on the home page of BBC News in order to offer the user the service of a wider selection of sources and a different diet of news. The move would be seen as a development of the partnership approach that the BBC began with an agreement in July to supply video news content to British newspaper sites, including those of The Independent, the Daily Mail, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph.

The strategy for opening up BBC Online to other news sources has been confirmed to The Independent by Erik Huggers, the BBC’s director of Future Media & Technology. “The inflow of content [to BBC Online] is still limited to a bit of UGC [user-generated content] and a bit of commenting but I think what we’ll start to see is - just like we’re making news available on third party news websites through some of the technology and innovation that [was developed] in this division - I think it’s going to be interesting to see over the next year or so how there’s going to be potential for making it flow the other way round as well.”

In some respects this is merely an extension of the discussions and reviews of stories in the daily papers which occur regularly on BBC radio and television programmes, such as Newsnight. Yet the BBC’s transformation into an aggregator of the news of other organisations will be culturally difficult for an institution that has always fiercely maintained its independence and upheld rigid quality controls. It is also potentially controversial, given the arguments that other aggregation services have faced over the prominence they give to rival news providers, and which sources they choose to ignore.

As a way of dipping its toe into this difficult area, the BBC website has, since the beginning of this month, begun pioneering a service called “See Also – A Collection of the Web”, in which it samples the opinions of various newspapers and bloggers and links to their websites. This week, for example, the page carried a selection of analysis on Alistair Darling’s pre-Budget report, quoting from and linking to a piece by The Independent’s economics expert Hamish McRae, among others.

In a speech made in August, Murdoch claimed that the scale of the BBC website was damaging British journalism. “The expansion of state-sponsored journalism is a threat to the plurality and independence of news provision,” he told the Edinburgh International Television Festival. “The BBC is dominant.”

The BBC’s new spirit of openness, and its links to stories from The Times on “See Also”, may not placate Murdoch given that News Corporation has attacked Google, and other aggregators, for exploiting its content and plans to put the websites of The Times and The Sunday Times behind a subscription paywall in the spring.