BBC: Bush House vs. Skyscraper

There is a power walking up London’s Regency Street at dusk when you see in the distance a blue lighted modern glass high rise cuddling an old fashioned church steeple.  It looks powerful .It looks modern.  It looks architectural.   It is the BBC’new headquarters Broadcast House. 

When I realized that this trip to the BBC Media Action board meeting would take me to a new headquarters for the BBC, I felt nostalgic and really sort of sad.  The BBC has been at Bush House on the Strand for a long as I was aware.  Whenever I came to London to visit the BBC team, I loved walking up to this old building on one of London’s most iconic streets and walking in the doors.  Not only was the location central and tied to everything old and powerful in the UK.  But Bush House—the name of the large and sprawling BBC headquarters building on the Strand—was always the term one used when visiting the BBC: I’m going to Bush House.   It was also the name one heard during radio broadcasts from strong voiced anchors: “From Bush House in London, this is the BBC.”

To give that up seemed to loose part of the history of this sprawling media powerhouse.  It seemed wrong to me for the news and media to move out of the history that it was so steeped in.  Bush House seemed a place that could not be replaced.  I was wrong.

After spending two days in this modern open, transparent and modern newsroom where collaboration and integration co-exist for news people working in many media, I’m sold.  Across a vast open floor and up four or five floors, the BBC has united Radio and TV and web reporters and editors with the programs for Britain, and the language programs for the Middle East, for Africa and for the Far East.

The BBC hasn’t lost its place as a voice for a country and culture, or its mission to bring independent thought and reporting to the world and it is not caught in its past; in fact it has imagined its future. Already it has built something that is flexible.  News people don’t have offices in this giant multi-floored news hub connected by a spiral staircase that goes more than three flights. They have hot desks. They plug in to their computer and log on.  All over there are small conference rooms and clusters of chairs and couches where people can talk.  But the main floor—the newsroom— that is the hub where all information arrives and is shared.

I left after our meetings impressed by the architecture of tomorrow built from the roots of a news organization that still claims the trust of the world.  I left not nostalgic for that dark and dingy rabbit warren of offices that was Bush House.  I had touched history before the BBC moved out, and I feel lucky to have walked around its storied halls.

But I’ve seen the future and it says to me that news, information, and a commitment to a media that helps a public understand their governments and societies is alive and well.

I also saw the newsroom of the future and realize this kind of hub connecting all platforms, all specialties and all communication talent, is a collaborative workspace that journalism educators must create so that old news and communication silos can come down while learning heads up.

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