The latest casualty of the BBC’s charter renewal process is its recipe site, BBC Food. Politics aside, this has predictably prompted moans, groans, and the frenzied printing out of all those fancy Paul Hollywood bread recipes you keep meaning to try.
But really, there’s no need to panic. Contra to what everyone online seems to believe, the website and its 11,000 recipes will not be deleted, but archived. The recipes will still be online, but the website will no longer be updated or staffed. So stop your apocalypse-ready printing now.
The confusion stemmed from the wording of the BBC’s announcement. It said it would be “closing” BBC Food, along with Newsbeat, the BBC News Magazine, and iWonder (yeah, us neither – it’s an explainer site, apparently – Oh iWonder, we barely knew ye) as part of a bid to make £15m savings. But as subsequent clarifications made clear, the BBC will, in its own words, “mothball” the site rather than close it, and thereby keep the recipes online.
A BBC news story on the cuts reports that “all existing recipes are likely to be archived”. A BBC source also informed the, um, BBC that “it was not right to say recipes would be ‘removed’”.
Another point: BBC Food may be for the chop, but BBC Good Food isn’t going anywhere. The latter is a commercial enterprise run by BBC Worldwide, so is able to continue irregardless of charter decisions. “Still to be decided” is whether some of the BBC Food recipes will move to the commercial site.
“What about Nigella?” I hear you cry. “How will I make such complex recipes as marmite spaghetti or avocado on toast without a recipe to accompany the TV experience??” But recipes taken from BBC cooking shows will still be posted online for 30 days – an iPlayer for recipes, if you will.
All of this means that – whisper it – we’re not really losing very much. There’s some discussion of whether the site will still be linked to on Google, and presumably its rankings will suffer once it’s no longer live. But current devotees of its recipes will still be able to get their fix.
Today’s outcry therefore seems symbolic, rather than a reaction against any real loss. Perhaps this is because, unlike political coverage or the license fee, recipes are hard to argue with – ex-BBC employee Lloyd Shepherd writes in a Medium post that “nutrition” is a public good, which he believes BBC Food contributes to. A collection of recipes, of which more than half are user contributions, seems about as far from the political debate around the BBC as it’s possible to get. Accusations of the institution’s “imperial ambitions” seem a bit unreasonable when they’re directed at a dippy egg “exam day breakfast”.
But the issue at hand is whether the BBC is offering something distinctive with this site, which George Osborne argues is not the case:
“If you’ve got a website that’s got features and cooking recipes – effectively the BBC website becomes the national newspaper as well as the national broadcaster.”
Perhaps today was the first sign for many that for better or worse, big changes are coming to the BBC – and they, and their dinner, could well be directly affected.