BBC Radio 5 Live has been something of a success story since its launch in 1994, winning a sizeable audience share with its mix of live news and sport. Its Web site was launched in May of this year and originally existed as a static presence, receiving only 2,000 hits a day. That situation has now changed, thanks to the work of Dennis Johnstone, the 5 Live Web site manager.
Johnstone has a background in print journalism and plays a major part in sourcing news stories for the station as well as managing the Web site. Since he took over the helm, the site has gone from strength to strength and now regularly receives 80,000 hits a day.
Putting the station's audio output over the Web using Real Audio has helped boost the number of visitors to the site. But because of complications with sports rights, the station can't yet provide the level of sports coverage on the Web as it does on the radio. This is something Johnstone is determined to change.
Despite the sports restrictions, the site still broadcasts live audio 21-hours a day, five days a week. So how much synergy is there between the station's news output and what you see on the site? "The news goes up almost straight away, as soon as it breaks on the radio," says Johnstone.
Events like the handover of Hong Kong are afforded even more coverage and links between the site and news output are even closer.
Johnstone has also been behind the introduction of a dedicated "special events coder", which will let visitors to the site choose what they want to listen to: the station's normal audio output or uninterrupted commentary of a special event.
Bookmarking both feeds means that visitors will be able to easily switch between the two. And it's a service which 5 Live will only provide on the Web.
Johnstone doesn't just take news and put it on the Internet. He uses it to find news as well. When Gianni Versace was shot dead in Florida, he found a report from a Miami radio station that broadcasted audio on the Web. He then edited it and gave it to the news department, which put it straight onto 5 Live. "It was flashed an hour before we had our own feeds coming in," he says proudly.
He admits that the Web is a great tool for research, providing you know how to search properly. "It means you get that extra edge. A lot of the research we did on Heaven's Gate (the cult that committed mass suicide in California) came from the Web. I managed to get on their site before it was closed down by the US authorities. This gave an edge to the reporting of the story. People then start picking up from us and it helps the overall profile of the site."
Johnstone says his background in journalism has prepared him for the demands of managing the site. But he believes the Web hasn't yet got the recognition it deserves. "There's some snobbery that you're not a proper journalist if you're on the Web, which is a shame as it's just another way of broadening your audience."
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