Beware of cut and paste culture
An important wake up call for everyone in the creative industries comes in a policy paper from the BBC's outgoing Director of Future Media & Technology. The paper by Erik Huggers gives the strategic thinking behind the BBC's decision to cut their online budget by 25%, close 170 websites and shed 360 jobs.
Every BBC website has been reviewed using the three criteria of meeting public purpose, meeting editorial priorities and distinctiveness. The latter criteria is defined by Erik Huggers as:
How does it differ from what else is out there in the market; is it distinctive?, and if not - should we be doing it all?It is this focus on distinctiveness, see diagram above, which should be sending a message far beyond Broadcasting House. Contemporary culture has fallen into the trap identified by Marshal McLuhan back in 1964 of confusing the medium and the message . Binary thinking is part of this confusion as is cut and paste culture which replaces distinctiveness with cloned creativity.
Nowhere is cut and paste culture more evident than in the BBC's own Radio 3. Cut and paste music in cut and paste programmes is introduced by cut and paste presenters and almost every "innovation" is cut and paste from Classic FM. But the problem extends far beyond BBC Radio 3. Record companies release cut and paste discs and concert halls present cut and paste concerts while classical blogs publish cut and paste press releases.
It is all so obvious. Being distinctive gives an audiences a compelling reason to engage. Whereas the cut and paste route, which is rapidly becoming the norm in classical music, gives no unique selling point and no reason for an audience to engage. And then we are surprised that classical music is losing popularity.
Erik Huggers paper is typical of the objective and incisive thinking that comes from the BBC's new media team. The distinctiveness criteria now needs to be imposed on his ego-fuelled colleagues in the BBC's programme making departments. And it should go far beyond that. Everyone in classical music should be applying the distinctiveness test to new projects - how does it differ from what else is out there in the market; is it distinctive? and if not - should we be doing it all?
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and then there's Prokofiev and his notebook of 'tunes' ...
So we must be careful when we wash a whole domain with one brush. 'Distinctive' as well can mean the instantly recognizable unique melodic style of Beethoven or the trash-can machine-guns of Alvin Lucier (ok, lets not start that argument), and so here again, I think we have to come back out to the circumference whirl of that chart, to ask if the website makes sense to both the audience and the management. A pastiche can still be fun, a copy cat reframed can still inform (this is the essence of the RSS by which way I read your blog, stripped of its style, reframed on my phone as your words alone)
and then, on the subject of making sense we also need consider the madness of dropping three whole symphony orchestras worth of people out on the dole for no crime other than that their bosses became bored with them, and so they are left to pick up the cost; if they were truly mindful of the public purposes and market impact, they would pledge first to find those 360 alternate venues of employment and then clean up their own mess.