@BBCExtraGuest – Another Stocktake

The wonderful wheel of #bbcqt and its online life keeps turning and the @BBCExtraGuest is one of the biggest, pertiest tweaks in recent months. Potentially very exciting. Since it’s launch 11th October, we’ve had five @BBCExtraGuests. We took our first stock on 17th October with the “35 Tweets Which Changed A Nation” blog post, and now it’s time to take stock again. Marco Pierre White should be proud of us (“stock” – geddit? Oh please yourself).

The Story So Far

Five humans who use Twitter have been invited to stop using their Twitter trumpets for an evening and display their human personalities through a different trumpet – the one called @BBCExtraGuest. Three of the five humans command an audience from 30k to 50k when they use their own Twittertrumpets and two of the five humans command an audience of 3k – 5k when they use their own Twittertrumpets, in total some 150k followers. Collectively over the five weeks, @BBCExtraguest has secured 8k followers. @BBCQuestionTime has 130k followers.

The @BBCExtraGuests were first off on 11th October with a human called Toby Young, a Spectator, Independent and Guardian columnist who uses the @toadmeister Twittertrumpet (circa 31k followers),  then Owen Jones, a human columnist for the Independent newspaper who uses the @OwenJones84 Twittertrumpet (circa 56k followers), then Mark Littlewood who as the human Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs tweets using @MarkJLittlewood (circa 3k followers), then a human who is unidentified but who identifies itself as “a national newspaper reporter” using the Twittertrumpet @fleetstreetfox (circa 46k followers) and then on 8th November last week Tim Stanley a human blogger for The Daily Telegraph, using the Twittertrumpet @timothy_stanley (circa 5k followers).

One little factoid: the use of a human who refuses to be identified as a human (the one behind @fleetstreetfox) as an official BBC guest, using the BBC-controlled @BBCExtraGuest Twitter account must surely be completely unacceptable. Anonymity?? It’s 2012 guys!!!

After @toadmeister, we assessed the 35 Tweets he produced and said meh. This week, we got 57 tweets and 2 retweets from @timothy_stanley. Every single tweet, a perfectly crafted, short (two-line) opinionated tweet. But still meh.

So Why?

So now we have to ask why this thing? Why @BBCExtraGuest?

The answer may be: more and better, richer entertainment. The answer could also be:

  • to better improve audience engagement with democracy
  • to provide better ways to hold our leaders to account
  • to widen the national dialogue

The BBC website says real success will be “what the audience makes of it”. It also hopes that the audience will “discuss points” with the extra guest. Another goal would be more people “wanting to get involved in the conversation” – so maybe just increasing use of the #bbcqt hashtag as a measure?


But it’s honestly hard to figure out what the goal really is. There are too many contradictions yet for its purpose to be clear. There are too many columnists / #celebritypundits  (all of them so far are media luvvies). They do not answer questions. There is no accountability. They are not in authority.  Sure, they can “contribute to the debate” but, for heaven’s sake, please let’s not have the national debate characterised by Celebrity Pundits, “columnists” and “media people” who are more adept at whipping up controversy, outrage and faux opinions – let’s have the national debate with the people who make the decisions.

Otherwise we risk having a national debate which is actually just an opinionathon. Having one Janet Street-Porter #celebritypundit commenting on the doings of 600 politicians is a good ratio of #celebritypundits to decision-makers. A ratio of 1-1 would be dire. And when there are more #celebritypundits than decision-makers – we are truly stuffed. I think we’re reaching that point.

The Role of Question Time

Actually, this discussion – and the current vile climate around the BBC – make us think again about the role of Question Time.  We think it is about holding leaders to account and that it’s a democratic institution. We may be wrong. It may just be entertainment. We love BBC Question Time as an institution – not primarily as entertainment. We hope the BBC sees it this way too.

The BBC website states Question Time as “Topical debate in which guests from the worlds of politics and the media answer questions posed by members of the public”.

No mention of business, national institutions, accountability or democracy. Maybe we are simply struck by the God-like role Dimbleby plays so brilliantly in bringing debate into check and demanding accountability.

Maybe it is, after all, nothing but entertainment. Maybe we are indeed doomed to #celebritypunditism forever. Maybe BBC Question Time will turn out just like I’m A Celebrity – but in suits.

We need BBC Question Time to express itself more – to assert what it stands for, to comment on the comments about it and to stand up for itself. (Maybe using the @bbcquestiontime Twitter ID?)

What Next – Our Predictions

Here were our predictions:

  • On 17th October 2012, I predicted 2,500 followers by 11pm that evening – there were over 4,000.
  • On 17th October 2012, I predicted 3,000 followers by the end of the show – there were 4,628.
  • On 17th October 2012, I predicted 10,000 followers by October 31st – there were less than 8,000.
  • On 17th October 2012, I predicted 40,000 by December 31st 2012 – let’s see.

The @BBCExtraGuest experiment only runs until Christmas 2012 anyway. It must continue beyond that. But it must change. It must feature, not opinionated people there to provoke, whip up, incense and agitate, but people in authority. And it must be open to questions – the @BBCExtraGuest can’t just sit there like us drunks down the pub and carp using a BBC Twittertrumpet – that achieves nothing. It must use Twitter, as she was designed, for conversation. Two way.

And @BBCExtraGuest must find a better rationale than simply being a different Twitter identity for a human who the previous day used his or her own Twitter identity – it should be a BBC identity which, like it’s Mastermind seat avatar implies, is a hotseat into which people are invited.

And @BBCExtraGuest must stop using these multiple voices: one minute it is announcing a lineup, then its a BBC pollster and the next it is a media columnist, then it’s “handing back” to the owners :

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