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Excellent value for money

February 26, 2010

It seems the BBC is in the news again.

First, the National Audit Office delivers its judgement on the management of 3 major construction projects the BBC has undertaken.

Next, the Times newspaper starts pre-empting the Director General’s announcement of his strategic wotnot by suggesting that digital radio station 6 Music and the Asian Network are to be axed.

And today the revamped BBC Have Your Say website are asking visitors what BBC services they think should be cut back.

This kind of frenzy always seems to happen when I’m on leave.

I may only be a few hours from London relaxing in the historic splendour of Tynley Hall trying to forget about work, but it seems the place where I work is under fire … again.

It’s bound to be. One of the BBC’s core values is its accountability to the audience funding its very existence. No surprises then it comes under attack as often as it does.

And it should. That’s what accountability means. We should all have a say in it. It’s what we’re entitled to. We pay the wages bill.

As staff however, It would be wrong of me to respond to the comments left on the Have Your Say website, even more wrong to comment on the construction projects or the strategic review Mark Thompson may or may not announce as detailed in the Times story.

This is a personal blog after all. These are my views and not those of my employer.

However, I see nothing wrong in detailing areas where I believe the BBC shouldn’t cut back, even if my subjective view brings me into conflict with one of the Corporation’s other values – impartiality.

Yes, that’s right. I’m talking about myself. Again.

I – like a good many other people I know at the BBC – worked very hard to get a job there. We’re proud of the effort we put in. There’s a spring in our step every time we smile at the security guard and slam our pass against the card reader. We love it there. Sometimes we don’t remove the pass hanging around our necks until we get home. That’s how much we love it at the BBC.

When we signed our names on the dotted line, us who care entered into an agreement which extends further than the cold type of our contract.

By agreeing to the terms we also made a private agreement with every single licence fee payer. We agreed to work hard for the audience, doing the very best we can and – wherever possible – doing it with the kind of unbridled enthusiasm that is sure to banish all but the most cynical and negative of attitudes.

In fact, such is the enthusiasm for the cause it’s almost certainly the case a roaring trade in ticket sales could be developed should anyone wish to witness it first hand.

I’m not being facetious. Nor am I making any political point either (just so we’re clear on that one).

A lot of us work there because we’ve always wanted to, because we want to do great stuff at every level. Because we believe in serving the needs of as many people as possible. Because we want to connect to as many people as we possibly can. Call us soppy if you like. Really. It’s the truth.

We don’t do it for money (even though some do). Nor do we do it for fame (even though I know a handful who do). We do it solely for the warm glow of (possibly) self-satisfaction guaranteed when we can say to our loved ones “I worked on that, you know.”

What some people don’t perhaps realise is that in working in an environment like the BBC it’s very easy to unexpectedly come into contact with like-minded individuals. These are the people who work in all sorts of different disciplines who look at the employer’s output with a critical eye.

We are not people who start work at 2pm and drink tea for the rest of the afternoon, dreaming up useless ideas for a miniscule audience. Instead we are the people who absorb as much about our own work as we do about everyone else’s. We spend hours thinking about different ways to engage with that audience. Contrary to the impression the internet might give, these ideas don’t just jump out of nowhere. They need to be worked at. Ideas need to be cultivated. So too the audience who might be interested in them. These things take time.

Our working day normally starts as soon as the alarm goes off or when we’re listening to the Today programme (sometimes one and the same time) and goes on long into the night. If for example I haven’t gone to West London to do my day’s work, I’ll do it from my home office on a remote connection. And when I work from home, I really do work from home. Just ask my husband. I don’t mind, of course. I work hard because I want to work hard. That’s part of the deal.

Then there’s all the extra-curricular activities the rest of us do. The stuff we do in what little free time we have left. The videos, the question writing, the blog writing, the helping out at events. The marshalling. The stewarding. The shadowing. All of this stuff is done for free. It’s an opportunity to make new contacts and develop new skills. And by developing new skills we improve our chances to produce content in whatever field we reckon we have more than a passing interest. And it is in producing content those of us who love working at the BBC hope to connect with the people who fund it.

Yes, I know. It’s not hard work like mining coal. It’s not like fighting a war, or policing the streets or working in a hospital. That’s the kind of work I could never do. But those of us who might be seen to be taking the easier route still work hard when we’re there. We do so because we love it.

I know too that’s not a particularly business like approach to take in the face of difficult decisions. I’ll happily hold my hands up and admit such childlike naivety possibly isn’t an especially good thing to admit to (assuming you hadn’t already worked that out).

But I know the pleasure such a working environment affords me. I know too it’s an environment which has – just as I hoped it would – continued to nurture me and my crazy enthusiasm for the place as well as the equally crazy ideas I’ve pitched and produced whilst I’ve been there.

I know of no other organisation I’d rather work for and if I did I doubt I’d have anywhere near the same kind of opportunities to develop. That may sound a little airy-fairy, but really I don’t think you can learn these kind of skills out of a textbook. There’s a great deal which is learnt in the workplace. The BBC is the best workplace for me.

And no. I’m not senior management. I’m not even middle management. Like the friends who confess the same enthusiasm for the place as I do, I’m just a drone. I’ll probably not rise much higher than a drone either. A drone who always feels sad when the negativity flies.

And – whilst I’m on the subject – I’m also a staff member who hitherto hasn’t claimed expenses (mostly because I can’t be bothered to navigate my way around the claims procedure). I’m not paid an exorbitant rate. Most important of all, I wouldn’t demand a massive fee to appear on the radio. I might even be prepared to pay people to be on the radio.

I come cheap, you see. And after 5 years I still come with a bucketfull of enthusiasm. I also maintain a genuine and sincere desire to do good work.

On that basis – I’m sure you’ll agree – I represent excellent value for money to the licence fee payer.

So don’t anyone consider advocating cutting back on me. Quite apart from anything else, my mother would be livid.

  1. Alice permalink

    Ditto to pretty much all of that! And yes, I’d definitely pay someone if they’d let me do the shipping forecast. Just once. Sheer poetry.

  2. Anna permalink

    What a lot of us have as our core, our base, the thing everything springs from is a fundamental duty of public service. that’s what drives me, that’s why I engage with our audience, why I question everything I do, and look at it from all angles, not at all from the angle of self-promotion or self-advancement. I think this is true of most people who work at the BBC. Like you, my working day starts with the Today programme and ends with Radio 7, and I arrive at work ready prepared to begin my paid time, I even call in when I’m on leave if an idea has suddenly struck. When I was in Thailand during the tsunami, I posted on the Radio 4 messageboards to tell the listeners who were worried about me that I was alright. how many jobs would give me such a privilege?

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