Do you care about old sea forts?

I don’t care about old sea forts. At least, I didn’t until I saw an excellent presentation on the topic at Ignite London 2 tonight. In fact, it was one of the outstanding talks of the evening.

This is a fundamentally important aspect of planning/organisation/curation/whatever you want to call it, I think: giving the audience both crowd-pleasing favourites and unexpectedly brilliant gems.

It’s something that Radiolab does really well. I never expected to be interested in what pets are thinking, but it turned out to be fascinating. When you lend your attention to a skilful guide, you can be taken to places you’d never have gone on your own.

The proposed closure of BBC 6Music has raised the ire of its small but loyal listenership for a good reason: it’s a genuinely excellent station. It’s excellent because it’s made by and for people who love music—this is genuinely unusual in the modern broadcasting environment—but it’s also excellent because of the breadth of its programming. Listen to 6Music for an hour and you’ll hear tunes you’ve never heard before—tunes spanning five decades—selected by people who really care about them.

If you listen to Radio 1, on the other hand, you won’t be challenged in the same way. Radio 1’s listeners may not care to be challenged, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be. Public service broadcasting needs to provide something significant beyond populist top 20 X-Factor pablum—that’s amply catered for in the commercial sector. The loss of 6Music is so depressing precisely because it is closer to what Radio 1 should be.

Modern communications give us many more avenues of expression than existed a few decades ago, but it comes at a cost: for each specialised community that forms, some attention is diverted from the mainstream. If this leaves the mainstream to the lowest common denominator—some kind of mediocre comfort zone—then society as a whole is poorer. We mustn’t let diversity and excellence be ghettoised, even if they are very nice ghettos.

That’s all for tonight, but I need to think about this further.