BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Archives for June 2006

Pictures on the radio

Peter Barron | 16:10 UK time, Friday, 30 June 2006

Last week I was taking issue with the Guardian's Emily Bell on the subject of podcasting in an article entitled "Top of the Pods". This week I find myself taking part in a podcast, in discussion with said Emily and a chap called Rob who's the editor of an independent podcast called "Top of the Pods", of which I was previously unaware.

Newsnight logoIt sounds like some sort of anxiety dream, but the proof that it really did happen can be downloaded at the Guardian's Media Talk podcast. The striking thing about the Guardian's podcast is that it's a tiny operation - a Mac in a room with a little sound desk and a couple of microphones. But the result is that what was first a newspaper and then a website is now effectively in the radio business. As Rob pointed out, the great thing about podcasting is you don't need funding or a licence or anyone's permission - you just do it. Emily's point is - given all that - should the mighty BBC really be doing so much?

(And talking of spooky coincidences, how about this one?)

Not that the citadels of the old media are exactly crumbling. I bumped into Today's Jim Naughtie at the chancellor's summer drinks this week. He was telling how within an hour of their item about dogs' names more than 400 listeners had emailed the programme with pictures of their dogs (more here).

So if dogs are your thing - and it seems for a great many people they are - Terry Wogan's corny old maxim that the pictures are better on the radio appears these days to be becoming literally true. Incidentally, when the Chancellor finally arrived he headed straight for the boys from The Sun. New media may be powering ahead, but with Rupert Murdoch publicly wondering whether to support David Cameron at the next election, Gordon Brown has no illusions where the old media power still resides.

Elsewhere... we've had plenty of our own user-generated content this week - much of it following FIFA's decision to clear Arsenal in relation to Newsnight's report about secret loans to a Belgian club - and not all of it polite. Frequently asked questions have included: why did Newsnight decide to investigate Arsenal when much more serious things are going on elsewhere in soccer, did we time our item to coincide with David Dein's re-election bid to the FA board, and now that Arsenal have been cleared will Newsnight be apologising?

Here are some answers.

I've no doubt there are all sorts of murky things going on at football clubs up and down the country and across the continent, but the reason we looked at Arsenal was that we were shown a document proving that Arsenal had provided secret loans to prop up Beveren. No, we didn't plan our item to coincide with Mr Dein's election - we learned about that on the day of broadcast.

And no, no plans to apologise. Arsene Wenger himself is on the record as saying "there is no question of financial support" to Beveren because "this is not allowed". Arsenal continued to deny a financial relationship until the day of our broadcast and then admitted they'd lent a million pounds. That isn't, as some viewers have suggested, a non-story. It's a fact, but what the FA and FIFA choose to do about it is a question for them.

School programmes

Ric Bailey | 12:01 UK time, Friday, 30 June 2006

It seemed like a good idea at the time... and I think it still is...

Question Time logoThe teenagers who won the Schools Question Time Challenge (and are producing next week's programme) decided they wanted a Joe Public panellist - and a young one at that.

They also wanted some new-fangled internetty way of finding the right person - get 18 to 25 year olds to send in a video clip of themselves on their mobile phone.

Well, we had a pretty good response in the circumstances. It has to be said, a fair few entries never quite overcame the technological hurdle (or was it our ability to fathom how to access them?). By no stretch could you say those entering were a representative sample of the age group - but it was striking how many said they were Conservative supporters. And each assumed they'd be highly unusual to hold such views when so young. And surprisingly few green types - or is that my middle-age stereotyping expectations? Some Labour supporters - rather fewer actually expressing enthusiasm for the government - and quite a decent smattering of Lib Dems and others not yet committed to a party…

But we absolutely have to do this on merit - sticking them on the programme with four professionals is a huge ask. So we distribute the shortlist to the student producers, some now more absorbed in exams than programme planning - more technical and logistic hitches - but they start e-mailing back their views. Thankfully broadly in line with ours.

Those who almost made the final cut included a brace of Cambridge undergraduates and ranged from an Iraqi medical student to a single-mother voluntary worker.

Anyway, having got the shortlist down to four, we're now organising our own mini "Politics Idol" - run a dummy Question Time (with David D in the chair of course) putting these finalists through their paces. The aim is for one of them then to join the normal-ish Question Time panel, next Thursday and spout their views to the nation on whatever subjects come up.

I say "aim" - frankly, that's my weasel-word way of saying that if, when it comes to the crunch, none of them are quite up to it, then I still reserve the right to protect BBC One from a duff programme - and abandon the whole idea. I keep reassuring myself that it won't come to that and that taking risks (reasonable ones) is part and parcel of keeping a long-running and treasured flagship fresh and relevant.

Ask me again a week from now.

So, assuming it goes to plan and looking on the bright side, expect to see one of the following on the last Question Time of the series, on July 6th:

• Gareth Davies, a 22 year old from Leeds, who, uniquely among entrants, managed, simultaneously, to walk and talk into his mobile phone - and make good sense.

• Louise Box, who's 21, just moving to Manchester and works in retail. One of her hobbies is shouting at the telly every Thursday night.

• Matt Pollard, a student at Exeter who once got to ask a question from the audience on Question Time.

• Sarah Hajibagheri, an 18 year old gap year student who's just had a stint working for an "inspirational" MEP.

Good luck to them and to the Question Time student producers - and I must remember to send heartfelt appreciation to the regular Question Time team, who put a huge amount of extra work into this.

Going to the dogs

Ceri Thomas | 10:34 UK time, Friday, 30 June 2006

It was e-mail number 1,226 on the same topic which finally did it for me.

The Today programme logoThe other 1,225 had pictures attached (dogs in prams, dogs in clothes) but this one contained a new feature: a link to the dog's own website. Our fault of course - we were doing an item (listen here) about dogs' names and we'd asked for photographs - but the size of the response was still surprising, almost shocking. Have you really (dear listener) been poised next to your laptop all these years, digital camera at the ready, just waiting for the moment when you could give Thompson the Chocolate Labrador or Colin the Spinoni their fifteen minutes? That's the way it looks.

Some Today listeners' dogsI'm being slightly unfair to us. We always knew that the dog item would have 'legs', but it's very hard to predict how much any of the subjects we cover will grab the audience.

E-mails are one way for us to judge whether or not we're hitting the right notes (and, incidentally, there've been another 30 to do with dogs since I started writing this). Like all the other means at our disposal - focus groups, surveys, and so on - they're imperfect but they serve a purpose.

And sometimes feedback comes in less subtle forms: the high-profile politician who phoned this week to say why he "loathes the programme"; the letter to a presenter which opened with the novel greeting, Dear C***. But if there was a prize for best feedback this week, I'd award it to the cabbie who was giving me a lift early one morning.

I asked if he'd mind putting Today on the radio, and he confessed he'd never listened to it. After all of three minutes he started chuckling to himself, and a couple of minutes later he turned to me. "Gawd, mate," he said, "this is dreadful, isn't it?". And then quietly, under his breath, "Absolutely minging."

Break in transmission

Jamie Donald | 17:12 UK time, Thursday, 29 June 2006

What goes through an editor's mind after his programme falls off air?

The Daily Politics logoToday on The Daily Politics, Jenny Scott gave a "big board" presentation on the troubles in Gaza - the kind of item where to tell the story we run pictures, graphics and clips into a big screen in the studio with a presenter, standing in front, linking them all together live.

Suddenly, in the middle of it, a picture of a bearded man in a studio flashed up, followed by the BBC Two caption saying there had been a break in transmission. We were back on air within two minutes; it was still a good show, and there weren’t loads of complaints; but there are two things I still think are worth talking about.


jennyscott.jpgThe first is about what went on in the studio. The problem was a straightforward bit of finger trouble: I won’t name names, but someone hit the wrong button in the gallery, was distracted by another problem and there we weren’t. The production team were understandably upset – all that work and careful preparation wasted. There was much grumbling. But to his eternal credit, the un-named button man, immediately owned up and then sent an e-mail to the entire production team apologising to each of them. That was a great move. But it made me think...

We all make mistakes. It was unfortunate for him that this one was at the end of the production chain and immediately apparent to anyone watching. Mine are never so exposed, but might often be much more damaging. When I (or any of my producers) make a bad call on a story, miss a key fact, rubbish a reporter, or perhaps – whisper it gently, despite my devotion to the BBC guidelines – let something untrue hit the air, the consequence is not there for all to see. But the effect is long-term, rarely addressed, and almost never the subject of an e-mail of apology to those affected.

The other thing worth talking about is the effect on the audience. Though it may not look like it, we spend a bit of time in meetings at The Daily Politics to find and produce the angles on the day's stories that are political and will move the narrative on. Today, before we were rudely interrupted, the big board would have laid before our audience some important facts; on the nature of the conflict in Gaza, and on the limits to British political influence there.

So the instant calculation when we went off air was this: to stop and reset everything so the argument could be followed by everyone once we returned to air – or to plough on with the big board regardless, unwatched, apologise once we came back on air and hope people picked up the gist anyway in the interviews that followed. I chose the latter course.

As I said we didn’t get many complaints, and I don’t think the viewing figures were affected. People either didn’t notice, haven’t written or rung yet, or were as engaged by the Auntie’s Bloomer unfolding in front of them as by the original story. So I’m inclined to think it was the right thing to do, and have told everyone we handled it brilliantly. But I’m still not sure. And it may prove to be another mistake which, unlike the one by my much appreciated technical colleague, will remain unnoticed and undiscussed. Perhaps I should apologise to him.

Gaza stories

Jon Williams Jon Williams | 12:55 UK time, Thursday, 29 June 2006

Two nights ago, Israeli forces bombed the only power station in Gaza, knocking out power to thousands of homes and offices. Anyone who's had a fuse blow knows the inconvenience when the lights go out. But factor in 35 degree temperatures, the need for air conditioning, and the loss of water pumping and communications networks, and you begin to have some idea of the difficulties facing everyone living and working in the Gaza strip.

BBC reporter Alan JohnstoneThe BBC is the only Western broadcaster to maintain a permanent presence in Gaza. It's on days like this that the expertise of people like correspondent Alan Johnston comes into its own. He and his colleagues from the BBC's Arabic Service live close to our bureau in Gaza City, enabling them to draw on the context - and contacts - gleaned from literally living the story.

It's that imperative - of eyewitness reporting - that goes to the heart of what we do. It's why we maintain a network of more than 40 bureaux around the world. So in addition to Alan in Gaza, as the crisis over Cpl Gilad Shalit deepens, we now have reporters with the Israeli military, in Jerusalem, in Ramallah - and in Syria where the Hamas military leadership is based.

But deployments - who goes where - are only part of what we've been wrestling with. As ever in reporting the Middle East, language - and the choice of words - is incredibly important. Was the soldier kidnapped or captured, were the Hamas politicians arrested or detained?

Our credibility is undermined by the careless use of words which carry value judgements. Our job is to remain objective. By doing so, I hope we allow our audiences on radio and television to make their own assessment of the story. So we try to stick to the facts - civilians are "kidnapped", Cpl Shalit was "captured"; since troops don't usually make "arrests", the politicians were "detained". Doubtless some will disagree. But that's, in essence, the heart of the story - two competing narratives.

Wartime reporting

Paul Brannan | 12:01 UK time, Thursday, 29 June 2006

We've long since ceased to be amazed at the near real-time delivery of news.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteAnd modern life has been conducted in the full gaze of the media for such a long time it's become routine. So it's difficult to imagine what it must have been like before TV and radio took hold of our collective consciousness and shaped our world.

As BBC outlets reflect on the 90th anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of the Somme it set me wondering how modern media coverage might have affected the tide of events.

July 1, 1916, was the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army - 54,470 casualties, 19,240 of them deaths. Whole battalions were wiped out in less than half a day. "Pals" units - men from the same town who enlisted together - suffered catastrophic losses.

Had that been fed back immediately to the British public - for all the patriotic fervour of the time - how might public opinion have been affected? Would politicians of the day have been able to sustain the offensive? Would Haig have been relieved of his command?

By the time the Somme slaughter came to an end the Allies had advanced only five miles, the British had suffered 420,000 casualties, the French 195,000 and the Germans around 650,000.

It's fanciful to speculate on whether the war might have been brought to a swift conclusion if the peoples on all sides had known the true horror of what was happening. But it does bring into sharp focus the crucial role of the media in helping to create an informed and functioning democracy.

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 09:19 UK time, Thursday, 29 June 2006

The Guardian: "The BBC's commercial arm expects to launch an advertising-supported website by next March, the chief executive of BBC Worldwide, said yesterday." (link)

The Independent: Television presenter Jonathan Ross defends the controversial questions he put to Conservative leader David Cameron. (link)

Reporting China

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 15:11 UK time, Wednesday, 28 June 2006

Last night, The World Tonight won the Amnesty International Media Award for radio for a series of reports we ran last year on forced evictions and forced abortions in the Chinese countryside by the BBC's Beijing Correspondent, Rupert Wingfield-Hayes.

The World TonightWinning awards is great for morale. It's recognition that we do more than slap each other on the back and that others - out there, outside the BBC - recognise the quality of what we do.

However, I have to admit to mixed feelings at entering for an award from a campaigning organisation because that was not what motivated me to commission the reports. This came home to me when I was giving an interview after the award presentation to Amnesty's PR people, and I felt I had to point out that we didn't run the reports in order to support any campaign, but because I felt we need to give rounded coverage of the China story.

The emergence (or in the grand sweep of history the re-emergence) of China as an economic powerhouse is more than a story of extraordinary growth statistics, gleaming skyscrapers, and Chinese investment in Africa. And while many Chinese are becoming better off, there are losers in this story and it is important to hear their voices so our listeners can make sense of the story for themselves.

Losing fingers

Amanda Farnsworth | 10:48 UK time, Wednesday, 28 June 2006

We had an exclusive from our medical correspondent yesterday - an interview with Ryan Wilson. He was one of the young men who reacted almost fatally to a drug being tested in a trial at Northwick Park.

BBC Six O'Clock News logoIt was a moving interview and one of the most moving things was how Ryan was very matter of fact about the reality that he will have to lose most of his fingers and toes because they've essentially died as part of his reaction to the drug.

Ryan Wilson, one of the drug trial volunteers Life goes on, he said. For us on the programme, we were again confronted with the issue of how much do we show of Ryan's injuries. In truth I didn't think this was a hard one - his hands were unbandaged, the tips of his fingers simply black, and it wasn't too unpleasant and of course the fact that he was going to undergo amputation was at the heart of the story.

His toes were covered and I am told looked far worse. But these issues - about showing strong images of injury or suffering - are the subject of continued and heated debate in the newsroom. Iraq and Gaza are just two of the stories recently where we've had to make difficult judgements. I think I shall be blogging on this subject frequently.

Somme memories

Vicky Taylor | 09:59 UK time, Wednesday, 28 June 2006

About a week ago, when we first asked people if they had family relatives who had fought in the Somme, we were surprised to get over 50 e-mails back within an hour. Now the page has just under 500 contributions, many of course with moving, heroic tales of how young lives were lost. Photographs too - obviously carefully kept in a cupboard over the years, now in the computer age, scanned and shared with thousands.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteNews 24 and the Six O'Clock News have been reporting from France and asking for people's memories. This is one of the responses, which came from a 16-year-old boy:

"I've been watching your series on The Somme with fascination, as I have just been on a school trip with other Year 11s to visit the whole Western Front. It was an amazing experience, once in a lifetime, and totally unexpectedly I found I had an ancestor who had died on the Somme, and who is commemorated on the Thiepval memorial. The experience was totally awe-inspiring, and moved me to researching my great-great-great-great- uncle's history."

I read this after spending an hour at a rather down-beat presentation about public participation in civic life and why Britain fares so badly compared to other European countries and the United States.

To find that so many people want to share something of an event which happened 90 years ago certainly helped me put some of those findings in perspective.

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 09:26 UK time, Wednesday, 28 June 2006

The Independent: "Kirsty Young, anchor of Five News, has been confirmed as the next presenter of Desert Island Discs." (link)

The Guardian: "The government will unveil plans to involve the public in the search for members of the new BBC Trust." (link)

The Guardian: "A quarter of the journalists in the BBC's flagship television current affairs department are to be forced to take compulsory redundancy." (link)

C'est La Guerre

Craig Oliver Craig Oliver | 15:01 UK time, Tuesday, 27 June 2006

Sometimes defeat is snatched from the jaws of victory.

BBC Ten O'Clock News logoHome Editor Mark Easton got a great, unexpected scoop - an interview with Charles Clarke, sacked as home secretary last month.

Even better - it was embargoed until 10pm. That meant the Ten O'Clock News would be the first programme to run with it - ahead of a longer version on Newsnight.

You may think that's of little consequence, but we editors care deeply about such things.

What we hadn't factored in was that last night's Ten would follow what was arguably the worst football match of all time: a no-score-bore that went to extra time and then penalties. That meant we ended up on air at 1040pm - well after Newsnight had started.

I wouldn't have minded - but even the penalties were boring. Switzerland didn't even score one.

What does an editor do

Kevin Marsh Kevin Marsh | 11:26 UK time, Tuesday, 27 June 2006

So this is the editors' blog. But what do we mean by "editor"?

The first thing to note is that the person who edits a particular edition of a programme - what we call "the output editor" - is not necessarily "the Editor".

So what's the difference?

The set of the BBC One O'Clock NewsAs with all the best questions the honest answer is - it depends. On some programmes, there's less difference than on others - often the Editor will be the output editor on any particular day. But in broad terms, the output editor is responsible for one edition of a programme; the Editor for the programme, and the team, over time.

So what does being responsible "over time" mean ?

Every programme has a programme remit - a description of the programme, its key features and in particular the features that make it original and distinctive. Some are written down, though most programme remits are less formally set out and often agreed only verbally with Department Heads. That doesn't make them any less binding on the Editor. Recently, objectives dealing with aspects such as audience size and appreciation have supplemented or even superseded formal programme remits.

In addition to these, all Editors set themselves objectives when they get the job. The selection process demands detailed pitch which can include anything from changes in programme agenda and tone, to changes of presenters or personnel - or even what shouldn't be changed.

The tools the Editor has are limited. Money is one; you have to manage the programme budget - which includes the annual argument for more (you always end up with less) as well as making it all add up at the end of the financial year, having spent a proportion of it on things intended to achieve your objectives. Staff is another; you appoint - or supervise the appointment of - staff, appraise them, decide who does what on the programme, give them feedback and advise them on their performance.

A BBC Radio 4 studioThe other tools - the really powerful ones - are less easily defined. Influence... setting the programme weather... stalking the floor... hunting down inaccuracies... generating an atmosphere where originality can flourish... spotting flair and encouraging it... spotting bad habits and discouraging them... knowing whose case you need to be on, who you can cut a bit of slack. And dealing with The Talent - the presenters, the real power-mongers in the BBC.

And Editors will have influence over programme decisions, though different Editors have different approaches. Clearly, as Editor you have to make the calls on the big, risky stories. And you have to have the means in place to make sure you know all you need to know before making those big calls; and the nous to know when someone on an even higher grade than yourself should be aware of the risks you're about to take on the BBC's behalf.

But you can't - and shouldn't - make every decision. Though you do have to be prepared to take the rap for decisions made in your absence or ignorance, even if you'd have made a different one based on the same facts. There are two phrases no Editor should ever use outside the programme. "It wasn't my fault" is one. "I didn't know" is the other. Both might be true in fact, but never can be in spirit; and anyway, the skill of the Editor lies in making sure they never are in any sense. It is your fault and you did know. Live with it.

And output editors? In the broadest sense, output editors are responsible for everything that happens on their watch. Which may be anything from a day to a couple of hours. They don't work in a vacuum, though - indeed, it's the Editor's job to make sure they don't. If the programme Editor has done the job properly, output editors will know as clearly as possible the direction they should be taking each edition of the programme.

They'll express that direction by a number of means; they'll choose the lead story and the running order... choose the guests... and the way stories are treated. They'll also be responsible for getting the best out of the team that day; running meetings and discussions creatively... chasing progress and keeping the story in sight. They'll stamp on inaccuracies and keep a mental note of fairness and balance; they'll brief reporters and presenters and give feedback after the programme.

Journalists working in the BBC News 24 galleryThey'll also know when to involve the Editor. Some output editors prefer to avoid discussing anything with the Editor until after transmission; others like to feel they've thrashed out their ideas - and their problems - beforehand. In all cases, though, having antennae for the possible consequences of decisions - consequences that may go way beyond a single edition of the programme - is a key requirement of both output editor and Editor. The first has to know when to consult, the second has to learn how to spot the signs that an apparently straightforward decision might turn out to be anything but.

Which leads to the final responsibility of the Editor; accountability. While the output editor will deal with the small rows around a particular programme - and some are inevitable - it is the Editor who has to explain why decisions were made or how - in spite of evidence to the contrary - the programme did uphold the highest standards and values.

Or if it didn't, apologise.

Blogs on the BBC

Host Host | 11:18 UK time, Tuesday, 27 June 2006

A round-up of what's being said about the BBC in other blogs. Today, the launch of this site.

CBS Public Eye: "It appears BBC News is hopping on the transparency bandwagon." (link)

BuzzMachine: "The BBC's new editors' blog is another move toward transparency by another big news organization and I’m glad to see it." (link)

jamesAntenne: "We’ll have to see what sort of comments make it on to the blog." (link)

Quite Random: "Comments on The Editors are peppered with spelling mistakes... everywhere you look, glaringly poor English." (link)

The Gorse Fox: "I wonder if the blog will include dilemmas and issues regarding truth and bias." (link)

I'm Simon Dickson: "There’s a risk of the editors blog becoming a bit too Points Of View, but another positive step." (link)

Pick of the Day

Liliane Landor | 10:33 UK time, Tuesday, 27 June 2006

A regular entry that highlights strong BBC journalism.

How do you cover Iraq day in day out? How do you get people interested in one explosion after another, in random, nonsensical attacks, in countless hijackings and executions? As I write I'm listening to the World Service in the background and I hear the ominous "we're just getting news..."

World Service logo"...of an explosion in a crowded market in the Iraqi town of Hilla, south of the capital, Baghdad. Preliminary reports say at least fifteen people have been killed, and more than thirty others injured. Few details are available. Hilla is a mainly Shi'ite town which has witnessed a number of bombings in the last two years."

How in that context do you communicate to your listeners across the world that Iraq is not all about about deaths, and women screaming their grief at funerals - but can also be about the small random pleasures of the day today? The Iraqis are as excited as the English or the Uruguayans about the one event that's managed to bring the world together for the past 2 weeks, the World Cup.

The difference is that with a supply of 4 or 5 hours of electricity a day, you hope and pray that you can catch a football game - any game, you can’t afford to be picky - when the current comes back on or the diesel generator splutters back into life.

How do I know this? Hugh Sykes, to my mind one of Radio News' most engaging, humane reporters, has been in Baghdad for a few weeks to give one of our correspondents there a short break. Hugh knows Baghdad well; which is why he never takes risks but still manages to go out with a translator, a body guard and a tape recorder attempting to capture the human dimension of the conflict, the everyday...

Members of a family in Baghdad watch a World Cup matchYesterday he filed an extraordinary package from a sports café in Baghdad - Café Arabia - where he sat chatting to a group of young people about the usual stuff - who they support, who they want to see win the cup etc etc. And in between shouts of "Brazil!" or "England!", you learn that not so long ago boys and girls used to play football on the streets but that it's far far too dangerous to venture out now.

He talks to a young man who idolises Beckham and carries his picture around; someone else who can recite the names of the Arsenal team past and present - and we realise that people are always anxious, tense, and very rarely venture out their neighbourhoods. Too many unpredictable dangers.

Anyway, fabulous report. You can listen to it by clicking here. A lesson in how you can humanise a conflict without even trying.

BBC in the news, Tuesday

Host Host | 09:13 UK time, Tuesday, 27 June 2006

The Telegraph: "The BBC apologised yesterday for a hoax that provoked 70 complaints during the Queen's party for children at Buckingham Palace.." (link, and more here)

The Guardian: Mark Lawson considers why David Beckham vomiting during a World Cup match was considered taboo by some TV executives. (link)

Spoof newsflash

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 14:20 UK time, Monday, 26 June 2006

Who'd have thought my first proper entry on the new BBC News editors' blog would be prompted by the activities of Noddy, Tracey Beaker and the whereabouts of the Queen's handbag.

Yes, the Party at the Palace may have been a grand day out, but for some people the opening sequence left them with their hearts in their mouths, as Huw Edwards broke the news of a "serious incident at Buckingham Palace".

Huw Edwards and Sophie Raworth during Sunday's 'newsflash'Of course within a very short space of time it became clear that this was all part of the show. But enough people were misled by the spoof news bulletin for it to have caused concern.

Viewers contacted the BBC yesterday to say they felt it was inappropriate to begin the Children's Party at the Palace with a made-up news report.

Here's a sample: "I have a daughter and two grand children there, my heart was in my mouth. It was awful to open like that. There was no fun at that, for goodness sake how irresponsible". And there's more in a similar vein: "I cannot believe the crass insensitivity of this fake newsflash. We had a daughter caught up in the London bombings and a granddaughter at the palace. I was terrified when I saw this."

The tone of Huw and Sophie's news report had of course been considered and we assumed people would respond in the context of the fun and fantasy of the party at the palace. But having watched the opening sequence again, I can quite see the combination of Jonathan Ross's hurriedly broken off introduction, then the newsroom with Huw's sombre expression could have led some to have to concern.

All I can do is apologise for anyone who was momentarily misled. The lesson for us all is simply one of clear labelling... even if Ronnie Corbett as the butler Tibbs and Meera Syal as maid Mary are the main eyewitnesses to the crime.

Who's reading what

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:12 UK time, Monday, 26 June 2006

We’ve had our “real-time stats” of most popular stories on the site for a couple of weeks now. No major surprises so far, though the up-to-the-minute rankings by region and section have proved slightly addictive to some of our journalists (and me).

A graphic of the BBC News websiteWhat have we learnt so far and has it changed what we do?

So far, it’s confirmed some things we already knew - that stories about sex, space, technology, showbiz, the environment or animals (or, better, a combination of any of the above) somehow always gets a lot of attention from our readers and viewers. There are also the perennially popular sub-categories, like animals doing human things.

But, as we also knew, the main headlines each day get well read too. So in the past week the most popular stories have included the Saddam trial, the International Whaling Commission conference, the investigation into alleged airline fuel surcharge price-fixing - and of course, the World Cup.

It hasn’t all been predictable – there was the day when the third most popular story was a long series of thoughtful pieces on the future of the world’s cities (not an obvious headline grabber) - or the morning when the most popular video on the site was the full-length version of Gordon Brown’s Mansion House speech.

All this extra data can help inform our thinking – if we see there’s major interest in a story we might look at whether it’s worth following up with a further angle or more information.

We also get clues about what makes for effective signposting and promotion of stories.

But In the end we can’t let it get in the way of the editorial job we are here to do, which is to report on what we judge to be the most important and interesting news around the world, drawing on all the resources we can muster.

I think it just makes it easier for us - and you - to see what the audience's perspective is on it all.

Phones, letters, e-mails

Host Host | 09:46 UK time, Monday, 26 June 2006

Among the audience reponse received by the BBC in the past 24 hours were numerous complaints about a spoof news bulletin starting the coverage of the Queen's birthday party: some viewers said they had been scared because they thought it was genuine. There were also complaints claiming that reports of arrests of English football fans in Stuttgart labelled them British, which, some viewers said, was unfair on Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish fans.

We also received this e-mail:


I was concerned that your coverage, along with the rest of the UK media, chose to run the foster care abuse story initially with the word 'gay' at the front of the headline. I was wondering if in future cases of child abuse you will ensure the words 'heterosexual', 'white', 'black', 'Asian', 'Christian', 'Muslim', 'secular' and so on will also be applied? I feel once again the media is putting gay men into the usual boxes of sex-obsessed, tragic, funny, victims or criminals.

BBC in the news, Monday

Host Host | 08:40 UK time, Monday, 26 June 2006

The Sun: "Viewers flooded the BBC with complaints over a spoof Newsflash claiming there was a major incident at the Palace." (link)

The Guardian: "Jonathan Ross is a chancer and politicians who accept an invitation to sit on his Friday night sofa know they are taking a chance too." (link)

The Telegraph: In an interview, chairman of the BBC Michael Grade says criticism of the corporation's development of digital media is unjustified. (link)

Welcome

Helen Boaden | 08:00 UK time, Monday, 26 June 2006

Welcome to The Editors, a new blog written by editors from across the range of BBC News outlets - TV, radio and interactive - about their issues, dilemmas, and highs (and lows) they face in doing their jobs. From Newsround to Newsnight, via everything from Radio One Newsbeat to the BBC News website, we hope all areas of BBC News will be represented here.

We are committed to being impartial, fair and accurate - these are the qualities which BBC News is rightly expected to uphold. But we also want to be open and accountable, and while this is nothing new (my colleagues and I are quite used to appearing on Newswatch on News 24 and Feedback on Radio 4), we are hoping this blog will be a fresh way of having a direct conversation with you, our audiences.

But of course the real strength of blogs is that they can be a conversation - which is where you come in. Tell us your views, either by adding your comments at the bottom of individual entries, or by e-mailing us directly. We want to know what you think.

Top of the Pods

Post categories:

Peter Barron | 13:43 UK time, Friday, 23 June 2006

It's fashionable these days in media columns to lobby for things that would assist your own media organisation and restrain the excesses of others.

The estimable Emily Bell of the Guardian is always at it, complaining recently about the BBC's digital plans and asking "is it really necessary, useful or at all enhancing to have a Newsnight podcast?". The viewers of course have answered resoundingly by propelling our weekly offering to number three in the news podcast chart.

Newsnight logoAnd this is where my own bit of lobbying comes in. We would, pace Emily, love to be number one. But while the current way of classifying news podcasts persists, that would appear to be beyond us. I've no complaints about number two. That's Radio 4's From Our Own Correspondent and it is classic stuff - I subscribe myself. But what is number one? Sky's excellent offering, including - and Jeremy would approve of this - pictures? Or one of the Guardian's own range of podcasts? No, it's something called Kitcast.

Kitcast is, according to the blurb, "a ten-minute weekly videoblog covering the world of sex. " Each episode, it goes on, is "hosted by a lingerie clad (non-nude) hostess Ms Kitka" - a little red box warns of explicit content.

Does that matter? Well, consider two developments in the digital revolution this week. First, that traditional showcase of musical popularity Top of the Pops was summarily swept away. Then, the BBC's website launched an ingenious new device which tells you at any moment of the day or night what the most popular and most emailed stories are. With every passing day, what viewers watch is being decided less by editors and more by algorithms which place one thing or another at the top of the pile. And in that world, how content is categorised is everything.

Imagine Jeremy Paxman sitting beside a lingerie clad (non-nude) Ms Kitka at a future TV news awards dinner. If that thought disturbs you, you know what you must do - click here to download Newsnight, or another reputable news podcast.

A more altruistic lobbyist altogether is our latest recruit on Newsnight, Eric Dickens. Eric - who makes an improbable and possibly not pressingly busy living as a translator from Estonian - has been writing to the programme for years, pointing out its inadequacies and praising its strong points, always with wit and sometimes with savagery. Of late, he's been complaining about what he sees as the modernising tendency on Newsnight, so in a stroke of modernism we decided to give him his own column on the website. A little oddly though, since he's gone on public display he's become a whole lot more polite.

Also complaining in print this week was the Telegraph's Arts correspondent Rupert Christiansen. In an article railing against the BBC's arts coverage, he didn't savage Newsnight Review, but he did wonder - rather loftily - "Couldn't Newsnight's Friday arts review be expanded into something more like Bernard Pivot's famous French television programme Apostrophes?"

Sadly, Apostrophes has long since gone the way of Top of the Pops, but I hope Rupert - and you - will appreciate tonight's Review special with Harold Pinter. Part performance, part masterclass, part intellectual discourse. Kitcast it ain't.

Phones, letters, e-mails

Host Host | 11:04 UK time, Friday, 23 June 2006

Among the audience response received by the BBC were some complaints that a rogue voice could be heard swearing over the end of Question Time, and a complaint that the World at One used the word "Schadenfreude" when it was not obvious what it meant.

This e-mail was also received:

Please pass on my thanks and admiration to Nick Clarke and his wife, Barbara Want, for their diary, Fighting to be Normal, which I listened to today. Brilliant radio. It had me in tears at points for its truthful and honest look at how real people in normal life meet and deal with the extreme. Thank you both so much. You cannot beat radio as a medium and you cannot beat honesty and humour as ways of tackling cancer. The twins are wonderful!

Ghana goes global

Liliane Landor | 10:05 UK time, Friday, 23 June 2006

Ghana has just made it to the knock-out stages of the World Cup - within minutes Newshour gets the first interview with an elated President Kufuor (listen here).

World Service logoLots of "firsts" here - first time ever Ghana makes it to the World Cup, first African country to get past the group stage, and most important to the Ghanaians - first time Ghana beats the US.

Try reading that out loud and you'll understand the reaction of the Ghanaian president who tells us: "the mighty have fallen before us... we are going global!" He tells Newshour presenter Julian Marshall that he was so nervous he had to lock himself in his office to watch the match on his own!

We've headlined the story - of course. But it's not a lead though, not yet. We'll wait for Ghana to beat Brazil. Then it'll be a world lead!

BBC in the news, Friday

Host Host | 09:18 UK time, Friday, 23 June 2006

The Sun: "Telly weathergirl Helen Willetts got soaked when someone switched on sprinklers behind her during a live broadcast for BBC Breakfast" (link)

Media Guardian: "Television news tended to "toe the government line" during the Iraq war, a new international study claims" (link)

Media Guardian: "BBC director general, Mark Thompson, is planning more major changes to the structure of the corporation" (link) [Update: Mark Thompson has denied this.]

Phones, letters, e-mails

Host Host | 14:43 UK time, Thursday, 22 June 2006

Among the audience response to the BBC in the past 24 hours were calls complaining that BBC Two's Daily Politics was biased against the Conservative party, and others claiming it was biased against the Labour party. Some callers thought generally BBC News had given Michael Owen's injury too high a priority. Several complained at the degree of football coverage on radio and TV. One complaint said it was wrong to refer to 21 June as "the longest day", since all days are 24 hours long.

We also received this e-mail, which proves the value of giving as much information as possible:

I did not see anywhere anything that told us what wine the Queen had with the meal that was cooked for her 80th celebration Lots about the food but could you let me know what wine they had with each course?

Revising history

Paul Brannan | 12:21 UK time, Thursday, 22 June 2006

One of the great strengths of the web is its function as a searchable, retrievable archive. The ability to isolate and zoom in on information has made Google one of the powerhouse companies of the last decade.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteBut there's a cloud to every silver lining and that ability to summon up items from the past can cause thorny problems in the present, as we've found on the news website.

What should we do when a reader asks for the removal from the site of something he or she had said several years ago? People's views, after all, can change, and the positions one takes as a young person are not always the same after a few years. With a trend for employers to "Google" prospective employees, those comments could be potentially damaging to future job prospects.

In the past, retrieving such information from, say, a local paper would have been time-consuming and an unlikely recourse for an employer. Now, with the results available in a few seconds, past indiscretions can quickly become public knowledge.

My instinct is to refuse requests for removal; airbrushing material from the past just feels plain wrong and could open the door to hundreds, if not thousands, of revisionist requests. It seems to me that you have to live by the consequences and if you've expressed a view in a public forum you have to accept that it might come back to haunt you.

For the future though, might this realisation of Google-power sound the death knell of the vox pop and phone-in?

World Cup fever

Kevin Bakhurst Kevin Bakhurst | 12:08 UK time, Wednesday, 21 June 2006

Quite a strange - but nice - one this.

BBC News 24 logoThe BBC News team out in Baden Baden were talking to the England squad last week and the players said how much they would appreciate getting a feel of the World Cup fever back home.

But they can't get British TV in their hotel. After a brief conflab, my colleague Kevin Bishop and I suggested a possible idea: that we could arrange with the BBC engineers to provide them with News 24, and arrange a time for them to see a special World Cup Sportsday to see how England was reacting to the tournament so far.

The players were very keen - so we're up and running. We're also asking for viewers' messages for the team, with some help from Breakfast and Newsround. It's 18.30 UK time on Thursday - straight after their dinner.

Paxman beaten?

Peter Barron | 11:05 UK time, Wednesday, 21 June 2006

When the BBC starts running programmes called "How to beat Jeremy Paxman", you know there's trouble lurking.

Newsnight logoLast night we booked Ann Coulter, the extraordinary new phenomenon of the American right who has been topping the US bestseller list with, among other books, her own guide - "How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must)".

Now, Jeremy wouldn't categorise himself as a liberal, and Newsnight certainly welcomes conservative and alternative thinkers, but in the course of the day he wondered with some anxiety how best to talk to her.

Ann Coulter, being interviewed on NewsnightHer many utterances are so outrageous - for example, "I think the government should be spying on all Arabs, engaging in torture as a televised spectator sport, dropping daisy cutters wantonly throughout the Middle East and sending liberals to Guantanamo" - that he had to challenge them, and ask if she really believed it or was just saying so for effect.

Once the interview was underway (watch it here) it quickly became resoundingly clear that she believes everything she says, otherwise why would she have said it?

Some bloggers felt Coulter beat Paxman. I prefer to think that in this electric encounter TV was the winner.

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 08:15 UK time, Wednesday, 21 June 2006

Daily Mail: BBC radio presenter Jeremy Vine apologised on air on Tuesday after his show ran a spoof news item saying that Soham murderer Ian Huntley had been murdered in his prison cell (link)

The Guardian: "A request from the England camp for news of how their World Cup performances are going down back home has prompted BBC News 24 to adjust its schedules" (link)

Financial Times: The BBC's director-general writes, "all BBC journalism must be rooted in our values and in an agenda, not just of what is interesting, but what is important" (link)

Representing readers

Kevin Marsh Kevin Marsh | 13:31 UK time, Tuesday, 20 June 2006

Is it the job of a newspaper to "represent" its readers?

Tweak (or wrench) the paper’s news agenda to reflect readers’ prejudices – I get. Argue for and defend those prejudices – I get that too. And campaigning on their behalf – of course.

All good stuff, well within the finest traditions of Britain’s lippy, gutsy, argumentative, pluralist press.

But “represent”?

That’s what the News of the World claims it does – or has been doing with its campaign for a so-called “Sarah’s Law”; a law that would enable local people to find out if a convicted paedophile were living in their neighbourhood.

It was in response to the World Tonight’s interview with Terry Grange, the Chief Constable of Dyfed-Powys and the child protection spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (listen to it here).

The Chief Constable’s criticisms of both the paper and Government was tough; likening the relationship between Ministers and the tabloid press to that between blackmailer and victim. And the World Tonight listeners who joined the debate seemed to share his view.

It’s absurd to argue that newspapers aren’t political players; campaigning does – and probably should – influence Governments, change public sentiment or the law. All the best campaigning journalism has a moral component; “stop this evil now.”

But can campaigning newspapers “represent” anyone?

They can speak for them; articulate their views, or what they perceive them to be; hunt out the facts to confirm their readers’ views of the world. Press the case hard. And in doing all of that they play an important role in our messy and sometimes fuzzy democracy – but do they, can they, “represent” anyone?

There’s a confusion here about the role of elected politicians and their non-elected critics. Editors have the right - the duty - to call for the heads of elected politicians they and their readers think have failed; and they have the right and duty to put the evidence that they’ve failed in front of their readers. That’s accountability.

But that doesn’t put them in the same place in our democracy as elected politicians - for the simple reason that they represent no-one but themselves.

I can’t un-elect the editor of the News of the World, even if I want to. I can’t hold him to account for the consequences of his campaigns - intended and unintended.

That’s fine so long as he doesn’t claim to “represent” me - for better or worse, I am one of his readers.

But once he does claim to represent me, then I want to ask him some awkward questions.

The obvious ones, like - how does he choose which readers he represents and which he doesn’t ? How do I change his mind or get him fired?

Or; what if he fails the readers he chooses to “represent”? What if the Government decides in the end that “Sarah’s Law” would be the charter for vigilantism that some claim and some in the United States claim Megan’s Law already is? Does he apologise to those he “represents” and resign because he’s failed to get them the law?

Or; what if he succeeds and “Sarah’s Law” is enacted? And the casualty list of mobbed paediatricians grows? Does he take responsibility for the unintended consequence and compensate the victims? And does he resign, just as he’d call for an elected politician to resign whose legislation went similarly awry?

The press may be many things; argumentative and campaigning; a powerful and legitimate force in democracy, certainly.

But “representative”? I think not.

Why editors should shut up!

Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 09:26 UK time, Tuesday, 20 June 2006

We've had a string of visitors to our morning meetings lately, from across BBC News.

Radio One logoMost of our visitors say the same things - but I was struck by one recurring theme. You don't say much, do you Rod? That's true and neither do other senior editors. It's not that we've struck dumb by some terrible creative vacuum that's hoovered all original thought out of our heads - it's a deliberate policy to take the dread out of those early morning brainstorms.

OK - why do we do it? Aren't editors supposed to have all the good ideas and be generally, sort of, in charge? Editorial grip, like?

Yes they are - and they do. But not, I would argue, at the expense of giving everyone a say and acknowledging that the best ideas often come from the most junior - least experienced and least jaundiced - staff.

We're also responding to a bit of feedback. Previous staff thought our process was a bit "scary" - not that there was shouting down and bullying - just that the pace was fast and furious and some people were left feeling pretty bruised. Some developed thick skins - others stayed schtumm.

We also did a bit of work with individuals on idea selling, positive posture, voice authority, confidence, eye contact and preparation - what's your killer opening pitch? What's your follow up to the knock-down question? How will you bounce back and not limp off into the corner to lick those raw ego wounds?

At the last count we've done this with no fewer than 24 individuals in the current Newsbeat and 1Xtra TX team and publicly encouraged the rest of the team to overcome their fear of "seniors".

There is one more key element in all this: The Audience is the real - though absent - Editor. The best ideas come from our belief that the audience is central to everything we do. Audience research, listener panels, real interaction with real people in their daily lives makes such a difference to our journalists' creativity. Their editorial judgement is centred in the audience's interests. Don't spend too much time talking to other journalists.

Does it work? Well, we're certainly not missing any stories this way - if the rest of the team haven't spotted something important, we can chip in at the end. And there's plenty of time to re-shape the unworkable or idea afterwards, but quite honestly this system doesn't produce those. In fact, it's far more about nurturing the genuine spark of brilliance from a young journalist - and not just the hacks, either. Some of our best ideas come from our broadcast assistants and admin team.

I was shocked by a recent conversation with a BBC lawyer who told me that when they had spoken in an editorial meeting they had been frostily told "we don't expect lawyers to get involved in this sort of thing". Whatever next? The audience chipping in with a request for story coverage!

Well, I'm asking for it - from our journalists and other staff, most of all listeners (we do this too) - and even the odd lawyer if they're passing. Always good to get a different take on Celebrity X-Factor, anyway.

Phones, letters, e-mails

Host Host | 09:20 UK time, Tuesday, 20 June 2006

Among the audience reaction received by the BBC in the past 24 hours were claims that Newsnight inferred that people who opposed whaling did so only on sentimental grounds, though another caller was pleased at the emphasis given to the subject on programmes. There was also a claim that it was said people who opposed screening of embryos did so only on religious grounds when some people have other reasons. There was concern about the safety of children shown on Newsround firing party poppers over birthday candles.

This e-mail was also received:

The panels used to project the graphics and pictures on the back wall of your news bulletins show the lines where they join. Has no one else seen this poor quality of display.The weather map shows the flaws as it scans the country and the background is uneven when panned back. It looks as if some dodgy decorator did a quick job and will be back to finish some-time.

Schooling journalists

Adrian Van-Klaveren Adrian Van-Klaveren | 12:25 UK time, Monday, 19 June 2006

The educational background of journalists has been much discussed over the last few days - with the Sutton Trust survey (read it here) of top journalists suggesting a significant bias in their education towards private schools and certain universities, above all Cambridge and Oxford (including me).

Others have tried to follow this up and today's Media Guardian reflects disappointment that we have been unable to provide figures about the educational background of all our journalists. It carries an article by Lee Elliot Major of the Times Education Supplement which claims that "while the recruitment process remains so informal, untransparent and unmonitored, it will be open to abuse".

I think this criticism is taking things too far. There is always a decision about how much monitoring to do. Our recruitment process is actually pretty closely monitored - for example we look carefully at issues of gender, disability and the progress of ethnic minority candidates. We have never felt it appropriate to monitor specifically for educational background and, given we recruit several hundred people a year, it would be a significant undertaking.

But what we try to do in our recruitment is to attract a diverse range of candidates and to build teams with a broad range of knowledge, experience and skills. Educational background is part of this diversity but so are many other factors - age, class, where people come from, and their passions and interests to name just a few. Ultimately it's about achieving the best mix of people to be able to make the best output - that does mean understanding our audiences and challenging stereotypes and preconceptions.

There are things we have done such as removing the informality from our work experience system and making much more information about audiences available to everyone. There is much more that we can and should do. But I'm not convinced that simply adding up whether people went to university and, if so, which one is going to take us a great deal further towards serving our audiences better.

Phones, letters, e-mails

Host Host | 12:00 UK time, Monday, 19 June 2006

Among the calls to the BBC in the past 24 hours were a complaint claiming incorrect usage of the word "schizophrenic" on Panorama, and a claim that unemployed people are not represented on the news. These are two of the e-mails received:

Something I have noticed about BBC News, which I previously thought only happened on the other channels is the clear misuse of the word "paedophile", to describe any convicted child molester - even the term 'convicted paedophile' - which is obviously ignorant of legal definitions. The term simply means 'one who shows sexual *desire* - directed towards children' (Oxford, 1991), and is therefore simply a description of sexual orientation, alongside, say zoophilia or heterosexuality...The objective word for someone who practices sex with prepubescent children is "pederast", and in most countries, the legal definition is "child molestor".
Why do news readers talk to their correspondents as if they themselves are having a conversation instead of talking to us, the viewers? It irritates me beyond belief! I love the BBC news, but these two way conversations exclude the viewer; no-one seems to talk to us except when welcoming us to the programme, then these two way conversations occur, obliterating the welcome to the programme.

Fight when they're losing?

Hayley Valentine | 11:20 UK time, Monday, 19 June 2006

England fans make me laugh. Midnight, the night before the Trinidad game, and they are in full voice outside my Nuremberg hotel window. Every time a German fan walks past they sing "five one... even Heskey scored". It's an old line, but they haven't thought of a better one yet.

Radio Five Live logoThe next day we discuss if it's the right time to set up a debate on whether England fans have successfully shaken off their hooligan image for the Victoria Derbyshire programme. The production team is split.

Some think we should wait until after the Sweden game. They've had no-one to fight with yet, they argue. But if the fans behave tonight then its worth talking about. It'll be three major tournaments and no violence to speak of. And they could have picked fights with the German fans or police at any time. After the opening game in Frankfurt there were fewer arrests than on an average Saturday night in most English towns.

We decide to go with it.

Sir Peter Torry (British ambassador to Germany) has described a minority of England fans as great fat uncouth bad-mannered people. He won't repeat his words on air, but says he's delighted with the way the vast majority are behaving.

Is it enough that the fans aren't throwing chairs and rioting, Victoria asks? The image of the England fan abroad, both to the average German and to those watching the TV coverage at home, is that of beer-swilling masses singing Ten German Bombers (the Germans, oddly, don't seem to take offence, unlike my mum who was utterly appalled when I told her) and taking their shirts off at the slightest hint of sunshine.

But it’s a world away from Charleroi or Marseilles, and one long-time travelling fan predicts that the end of violence will lead to an evolving away support where people travel happily with their families and no longer fear any trouble.

After the programme I walk back through the Nuremberg square. The remaining England fans have a new song. "We're s**t, and we won two nil", they sing. Admit it, it's funny. They say that football fans only sing when they're winning. Do England fans only fight when they're losing? Maybe Beckham and co will stop being quite so s**t and, this summer, we won’t get the chance to find out. Come on England.

BBC in the news, Monday

Host Host | 09:52 UK time, Monday, 19 June 2006

Financial Times: "Tessa Jowell, the culture secretary, has given the strongest signal yet that the government plans to scale back the BBC's licence-fee bid" (link)

Telegraph: "It is impossible to listen to BBC news without hearing a procession of spokesmen for what was referred to as "the community" condemning the police action in east London..." (link)

Independent on Sunday: Director of BBC Sport Roger Mosey talks about what he hopes the BBC's new sports editor will achieve (link)

Choosing the lead

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 11:25 UK time, Friday, 16 June 2006

Why Somalia and not Sri Lanka - that was the question I was asked by one of our researchers about last night's programme (listen to it here, for the next 6 days). We led on the former, while the latter was only covered in the bulletin.

The World TonightIt's a good question which had two parts.

Firstly, why cover Somalia and not Sri Lanka given there was a horrendous bus bombing there and the government had sent planes to bomb Tamil Tiger positions as the ceasefire threatens to fall completely apart?

Secondly, why lead on Somalia when the row over sentencing was the main story on Radio Four news throughout the day?

The second question is easier to answer than the first. The lifeblood of radio news programmes is their distinctiveness and as The World Tonight comes at the end of the day, covering stories that have been running all day is - in managers jargon - a challenge. If we can't think of anything new to say about them, we sometimes opt not to do them which is what we did yesterday - after all, the listeners who have not heard the news during the day and tune in at 10 will get the main points of the story in the bulletin.

The first question is more difficult and debateable. Given that the 20-year civil war that ended four years ago claimed over 60,000 lives, if full-scale war returns to Sri Lanka it will be a human tragedy in a country familiar to many Brits who have been there on holiday. And it will affect Sri Lankans and people of Sri Lankan descent living in this country.

However Somalia has the potential to have greater international impact. It is strategically located at the entrance to the Red Sea, the Americans are very worried it could be a haven for al-Qaeda types, and the advance of the Islamic Courts Union - which now controls much of the south of the country - is reminiscent of the rise of the Taleban in Afghanistan ten years ago - and we know where that led.

What happened yesterday was also significant because the US appears to have changed its approach to Somalia - it could almost be called a u-turn similar to the recent one they performed in relation to talks with Iran. It had been backing local warlords and clans who had been fighting the Islamists, but they have apparently been routed, so the US has hastily assembled a contact group which met for the first time in New York and asked the Norwegians to take the lead in coordinating with the Somali factions - the weak interim government, the Islamists and the clans.

Added to this both Today and PM had covered Sri Lanka, and hadn't covered Somalia.

That was the reasoning, but I know other editors would have raised an eyebrow at our lead last night.

BBC in the news, Friday

Host Host | 09:40 UK time, Friday, 16 June 2006

The Independent: "The city of Salford has beaten Manchester, its neighbour and old foe, to pole position in the race to house parts of the BBC when they are relocated north" (link)

Press Gazette: "Scotland's First Minister Jack McConnell has attacked the BBC and ITV for being too biased in favour of England in their World Cup coverage" (link)

Phones, letters, e-mails

Host Host | 13:28 UK time, Thursday, 15 June 2006

Among the audience response to the BBC in the past 24 hours, several callers objected to Mark Oaten's appearance on Question Time, saying it was inappropriate. Others thought that government minister Hazel Blears had been given a tough time on Newsnight, while one thought fellow minister Yvette Cooper had been given too easy a ride "because she is an attractive lady".

One viewer e-mailed to say:

The news/sport presenters seem to have learned a new word. Actually its a very common word, but recently its been used to give special emphasis to just about anything. The word is "that". For example, with regards to Wayne Rooney's foot, we hear "that foot". Today is "that match", referring to a World Cup match. There are so many examples (I can't list them all here), and it's not only related to sport/football.

Life and death

Mark Wray | 12:44 UK time, Thursday, 15 June 2006

Five Live is The World Cup Station: 'Every game live'. But when we chew over the remains of the day, after dark, there's plenty of room for news as well as footy. In fact with action in Germany dominating most of the daytime and early evening schedule this month it's all the more important for the Anita Anand and Stephen Nolan programmes to talk about the day's main news stories and to give listeners an opportunity to share their views with us and each other.

Radio Five Live logoThe extent to which some listeners are prepared to bare their soul in doing this never ceases to amaze me.

Stephen Nolan, whose Friday, Saturday and Sunday night shows are now broadcast from Manchester (more of this in a future blog posting) has a special knack of getting callers to share the most intimate experiences with him… and several hundred thousand other listeners. It's one of the reasons he's amassed a record-breaking haul of Sony awards.

Last weekend the Association of Chief Police Officers warned that the World Cup could trigger an upsurge in domestic violence and Stephen asked listeners if they agreed with that assessment.

Among the callers was Paul in Luton, who confessed to having beaten his wife. He'd phoned in risking an interrogation from Stephen, the reprobation of other listeners and a confrontation with his own demons. But still he felt able to explain how financial worries had led to arguments, arguments had led to beatings, and those beatings to him leaving his wife, living rough, turning to drink and drugs and twice attempting suicide. He felt a deep sense of shame and wanted to tell other men who might be tempted to abuse their partners to seek help.

Stephen started the conversation by telling Paul: "You're exactly the kind of bloke I can't understand." Five or six minutes later, punctuated by searching questions, honest responses, and difficult silences, Stephen was telling him: "Actually, I admire you." For his part Paul offered: "Thanks for giving me this chance."

It was a remarkable interchange but by no means exceptional. People put great faith and trust in us and we do our best not to let them down. Of course, we're all caught up in World Cup fever, but sometimes it's healthy to remind ourselves it's not such a matter of life or death."

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 09:31 UK time, Thursday, 15 June 2006

The Guardian: "The biggest threat to the BBC's future may not be commercial pressure, but its commercial success" (link)

The Independent: "There is no sharper sword in the BBC's armoury than Jeremy Paxman, so it is intriguing to hear they are offering politicians advice on how to deal with him" (link)

More swearing

Peter Rippon | 13:32 UK time, Wednesday, 14 June 2006

Following Kevin's posting about swearing on News 24, we also used the F-word on PM yesterday at about seven minutes past five in the afternoon. However, we did not do it by accident. We chose to do it.

The PM programme logoMy initial thought was there was no way we could use it, but after discussing the tone and context we decided we should, but with a "health warning".

Radio Four listeners expect adult journalism. We felt that Abdul Kahar's account of the first words the police spoke to him was a powerful punctuation point in the story he was telling. As such, it was a really important moment in the narrative and to lose it would have detracted from the impact. The word was also used a couple of other times in the news conference, but we felt that in those cases we could avoid using it because they were not so integral to the story.

So far we have had only two complaints. Very few. In the past we've had far more from listeners complaining we are being patronising when we've bleeped swear words.

We do try to avoid offensive language whenever possible. Each case is different. I recently apologised to listeners who were rightly offended that we had used the word "shag". In that case we got it wrong and the tone and context in which we used it were not justified. It was my fault. A producer asked me if it was OK to say shag and I assumed it was being used to mean exhausted or knackered. We ended up with a contributor advising the new England manager to make sure his players did not "shag prostitutes". It was completely out of context.

Trust me

Kevin Marsh Kevin Marsh | 12:18 UK time, Wednesday, 14 June 2006

Apparently 32% of BBC staff don't think news organisations should be more open with audiences.

More than 600 have voted so far in a BBC intranet poll which was started after I made a speech to Bournemouth University Media School's Newswatch '06 conference (you can read it here).

I'd be intrigued to know how that 32% breaks down.

Presumably some think that news organisations are already open enough with their audiences - though, I guess they've never tried to get a correction to a newspaper story they know to be untrue or watched helplessly as two completely unrelated sets of facts are mashed together into a tasty, but fundamentally misleading, newspaper narrative.

Presumably, too, some think they should be less open - which would be difficult. It's worth spending a bit of time trying to get out of British newspapers anything resembling a code of conduct or ethics. The Guardian has one - against which it audits itself - and which goes a little further, though not much, than the Press Complaints' Commission's code, itself more of a trade code designed by newspaper editors for newspaper editors.

The point, though, is this. The new media - including, but not limited to, the web - are giving audiences and readers degrees of choice they've never had before. There'll always be a demand for gutsy argument and opinionated "news" - though it's interesting to ponder where the differentiation will lie in two years' time between "news that confirms my world view"/my favourite column and the blog.

The demand for news - facts about the world that professional journalists have gathered, verified, made sense of - continues to grow. The organisations that will do best at servicing that demand among developing audiences will be the ones that show their workings.

The ones that don't just say "trust me" - but show why you can.

Just five words - no more

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 10:23 UK time, Wednesday, 14 June 2006

A lot of Americans like our News website. I was reminded of this on Monday night - by a lot of Americans - at the Webby awards in New York.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteWe were there to receive, for the second consecutive year, the two top prizes for best news website. A tough assignment, but someone had to go.

The ceremonies for the Webby awards - often dubbed the online Oscars (to the annoyance of the actual, offline Oscars) have a reputation for being unstuffy and a bit wacky (some pictures here). Last night's featured Prince, one of the prize winners, who sang a song, then threw his guitar away and disappeared. Damon Albarn's Gorillaz got a prize and in puppet form they did a comedy routine on behalf of their human creators.

A cameraphone picture taken at the ceremonyThomas Friedman told us globalisation meant the world really is flat, as he’s famously explained, and Robert Kahn recounted his role as one of the internet's founding fathers. He also delivered his acceptance speech in binary code. Decoded, it apparently said the future of the internet belongs to “digital objects and handles”. Peter Sharples of our live site team was one of our party at the bash and was able helpfully to explain what this meant to us in between speeches.

It made a lot of sense at the time.

Beyond that I recollect being interviewed by Guto Harri, making the obligatory five-word-only acceptance speech - "'We did it again, THANKYOU" (read the rest here) - going to the after-show party, then the airport after three hours’ sleep.

Main impression though: What we do is hugely respected by a group of the most influential people working on the web - and it was fantastic to witness that in person.

Phones, letters, e-mails

Host Host | 09:53 UK time, Wednesday, 14 June 2006

Some of the issues raised by callers to the BBC in the past 24 hours include continued complaints about the amount of World Cup coverage in news programmes, and claims that coverage was too sympathetic to the two men arrested in the Forest Gate raid. One said there was too much emphasis on building bridges with Muslims. One viewer e-mailed to say:

"I work at home and listen and watch news a great deal. This is the first time I have ever written to complain about what I usually consider to be a good unbiased service. However last night I was concerned that on News 24 (6 ish) the item on Tony Blair attending the Bevis Marks Synagogue to mark the anniversary of Cromwell's readmittance of the Jews was immediately followed by coverage of an incident in Israel, where criticism was levelled at Israel. I am Jewish but not a Zionist and I am concerned that in most viewers minds these two items are inextricably linked. They are not! I would like to know how the running order is decided and whether sensitivity plays any part."

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 09:07 UK time, Wednesday, 14 June 2006

The Guardian: "The BBC is planning to launch a weekly news magazine linked to its flagship news programmes Newsnight and Panorama" (link)

The Times: "Critics of the BBC often accuse it of political bias. Rageh Omaar exemplifies the untruth of the charge" (link)

The Guardian: "The BBC's new media chief says that by 2013 the corporation's online operation will cost licence fee payers the equivalent of just "one music download" a month" (link)

Risk of swearing

Kevin Bakhurst Kevin Bakhurst | 15:07 UK time, Tuesday, 13 June 2006

In a news conference this morning given by the two men arrested - and now released - after the Forest Gate raid, some strong language was used.

BBC News 24 logoOne of the men, Mohammed Abdul Kahar, said: "He [a policeman] just kicked me in my face and kept on saying 'shut the fuck up'. I said: 'Please I cannot breathe'."

What to do when you're broadcasting it live, as we were on News 24?

Well, we try to assess the risk of swearing or legal issues before we go to a live event and minimise this if possible. Sometimes we even use a minor delay. In this case, I'm afraid it was unexpected and unforeseen - and the brothers said they were directly quoting the police.

We apologised afterwards - but I think the audience understand that sometimes these things are out of our hands, and viewers on a news channel are very understanding and tolerant when it occasionally happens.

When news and sport collide

Amanda Farnsworth | 09:58 UK time, Tuesday, 13 June 2006

It's that time of year again where I feel a bit conflicted. As editor of Daytime News, I of course love to see long bulletins full of exciting exclusives and reports our audience wants to watch.

1and6news.jpgBut every summer at Six, we risk being bumped off to BBC Two when the inevitable Tim Henman match goes to five sets. And this summer, the World Cup means we are chopped, moved to later slots and (I'm sure) moved on to BBC Two on occasion. Heaven knows what will happen when World Cup meets Wimbledon around teatime...

Trouble is, the other part of me loves Wimbledon and I love the World Cup even more. I have my flag on my car and, I'm afraid, one on the door to my office. Hence the confliction. But then again I suspect my own internal contradictions may indeed reflect different parts of our audience - so maybe that will help me make the right decisions!

BBC in the news, Tuesday

Host Host | 09:12 UK time, Tuesday, 13 June 2006

The Independent: Reports that Kate Silverton is to be given the prestigious job of fashion reporter at this year's Ascot (link)

The Guardian: "Sepp Blatter had his breakfast ruined yesterday by a private screening of Sunday evening's BBC Panorama programme alleging corruption at Fifa" (link)

Daily Mail: "Television shows such as Top Gear have been accused of encouraging bad driving" (link)

Bongs and Birds

Peter Rippon | 11:26 UK time, Monday, 12 June 2006

For many, the loss of the bongs was a shattering blow. One of the unique intimacies of radio is the way it can regulate your day. So when we were told Big Ben and its sidekicks were being silenced for repairs for a few weeks, we knew we had a problem. 'The Bongs' at the end of PM and the beginning of the Six O'Clock News are one of the key anchors in a Radio Four listener's day.

The PM programme logoDogs would go unfed. Children unbathed. One listener worried he'd miss his turn on to the A303 from the A34.

So what were we to do to fill those precious 15 seconds (roughly) each day? We decided to ask the listeners and subscribers to our daily newsletter for their thoughts. Predictably lots wanted the return of the UK Theme, other wags suggested a new News Briefing item. But in the end they came up with an inspired idea...... Birdsong. Until the Bongs return we are playing the song of a different bird up to the pips. The response has been overwhelming. Listeners are sending in their own recordings.

At first we feared a Roland Rat moment, but the bongs will be back soon.

On reflection there is a lot we in the business of trying to communicate by sound alone can learn from the birds. Birdsong is one of the purest, most poetic and intensely beautiful audio experiences nature produces. Something for all who work in radio to think about.

Off the pitch

Colin Hancock | 11:15 UK time, Monday, 12 June 2006

First, an admission. I'm obsessed by football.

wato.jpgMy earliest memories are of FA Cup finals. I first fell in love with the wonderful Dutch team of the 1970s and felt desolate when they lost to the West Germans in 74 (to think it was our own Jack Taylor gifting the second penalty), and I've spent far too much time and money following Manchester United and England around the world.

I've seen England lose on penalties in Turin, at Wembley and in St Etienne... and three of the happiest nights of my life were spent back in Turin and then Barcelona as United twice fought back from the impossible to triumph in Europe, and four years ago in Sapporo as Beckham scored to defeat Argentina.

And yet I haven't broadcast a second of World Cup coverage thus far in the main body of either The World at One or The World This Weekend. Nor will I unless something remarkable happens in the next month of glorious football.

It's not that I don't want to - it's just that it doesn't really, well, work. For a start we've only got 24 minutes, once you take out the headlines and bulletin - and that pushes the bar for stories pretty high.

Then our programmes are, we like to think anyway, about news...so that rules out all the fascinating, but clearly straight sport, discussions about teams, tactics and performances. Of course there are great stories - for example there's clearly been the mother of all rows between the FA and Sir Alex...and we did indeed ask for interviews with all the main parties to this yesterday - but in general, because we don't cover sport that often, we don't know each other very well and frankly it's not in their interests to discuss the difficult stuff.

On top of all that, unlike political parties, such bodies aren't usually looking to push a particular policy, they don't have a raft of practised interviewees and they don’t feel any sort of democratic imperative to explain themselves in public.

That still leaves, of course, a huge amount of general material we could broadcast: the experiences of fans as they travel around Germany, the thriving black-market, the security preparations, the impact of participation in the countries of some of the first-time finalists....there's certainly enough there to fill every minute of every Radio 4 news programme for four weeks. But while some of this can be very illuminating, very little would pass the hard-news test.

However, the main reason is that I don't think our audience needs or wants another programme featuring World Cup coverage. We specialise in national and international politics, public policy, social debates - and generally, that's what our listeners tell us they want.

For us football fans and those interested in the surrounding stuff (until you've travelled around a major championship it's hard to get a feel for such things as the policing tactics, the origins of any violence, the genuine international friendships that develop and the ludicrous ticket allocation and huge black market it creates) there's just so much out there.

Fantastic websites and blogs will get you closer to the fans' experience than we can. Networks such as Five Live have the airtime and expertise to range across virtually any subject you'd care to listen to...and of course every match is live on 5Live and terrestrial television. I wouldn't swap a World Cup month for anything: I'm only sorry you won't be hearing any of it on The World At One. Unless England win of course.

Great expectations

Ceri Thomas | 08:51 UK time, Monday, 12 June 2006

How to judge an audience at a time like this is a very delicate matter. I could, of course, rely solely on Today's e-mail Inbox where the mood is clear for all to see...


"Spare a thought for those of us who have no interest in football whatsoever. We don’t give a stuff for Rooney’s foot and, quite frankly, we don’t care who wins. I intend to put a bag over my head for the next month and wait till it’s all over!!"

The Today programme logo Leaving to one side the enticing mental image of six-and-a-half million Today listeners blundering around, heads covered with brown paper, contributions to the programme website could suggest a simple logic: no one writes to demand more World Cup coverage; quite a few people (tens, not hundreds) threaten to pour concrete into their ears or even tune to Radio 3 to get away from it. The answer must be to do less football.

It's not that simple, needless to say. We know from previous audience research that Today listeners like football less than the national average - but, actually, only a little less. And there's nothing like a World Cup to turn the disinterested into experts. Is it just the Provisional Wing of the Cultural Elite who are clogging up our e-mail with their howls of anguish?

It's probably not that simple either. There's one further possible explanation which is difficult to test or to respond to: can you be interested in football, fascinated by the World Cup, and still not want or expect coverage from your favourite public service breakfast programme? Expectations are powerful things. Maybe there's something in that.

BBC in the news, Monday

Host Host | 08:35 UK time, Monday, 12 June 2006

The Guardian: "The BBC is looking to rebrand all its domestic news outlets, including its News 24 channel, under the BBC News name" (link)

Daily Mail: "An influential committee of peers has demanded Parliament has a greater role in determining the TV licence fee" (link)

The Times: "The BBC may stop its broadcasts of England’s World Cup matches on giant city-centre screens after violence broke out in London and Liverpool" (link)

A new guru

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:26 UK time, Friday, 9 June 2006

I’m pleased to announce I’ve just been officially promoted to the status of Guru.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteYou may not have heard about this elsewhere, but on the blog of the newspaper editor’s conference which I spoke at in Moscow this week, I was designated as the BBC’s “interactivity guru”. Now I didn’t want to quibble publicly but I have a feeling that those in the department who know more than me about interactivity might be a bit bemused at this, outraged even. So, apologies to them for my sudden elevation.

But I must say it’s quite a cool title.

What else did I learn from the conference? There was an impressive and varied cast list, ranging from Vladimir Putin to Google News, so here are some snippets:

• President Putin emphatically did not agree with the conference’s view that freedom of the press in Russia leaves a lot to be desired. You can read his response here. You can see from his expression he wasn’t impressed.

• Most major newspapers are now extremely serious about their websites and digital services. From what was arguably a slow start by many, they are now taking notes from us and others who got ahead early. My feeling is we’re still among the leaders in many areas – particularly AV and breaking news, where I think it will take them longer to catch up. But we can’t be complacent.

• “Convergence” was a much-used word. Listening to people like the Washington Post describe their plans, it struck me that they are almost a mirror image of ours. As a broadcaster we do audio and video like no-one else and have added what I think Emily Bell once called “a rampaging global online newspaper” only recently. The papers, on the other hand, already have global brands for their text services and are now busy getting to grips with AV. But for all of us, one of the keys to survival will be how good we are at integrating the old and new bits of our operations, changing the culture of our organisations and providing a seamless offering to users

• Starting each day early with a working “editor’s breakfast” and ending it with a networking event fuelled by free vodka makes for a rather punishing schedule

• Google News don’t want to be editors, or publishers. In an attempt (only partly successful) to allay the fears of the assembled editors, they described themselves as computer scientists and said their main interest was to get people OFF their site as quickly as possible, to the news sources they list. Product manager Nathan Stoll (who looked alarmingly young to me) said their aim was to work with news organisations, to give people greater diversity of information and “to make readers passionate about news”.

• News agencies hope to have a guaranteed future in the changing media world, because, according to AFP’s Pierre Louette, “content is king, and we deliver it”.

• Microsoft have developed new software which they say will make newspapers (and text in general) easier and more fun to read online. They’ve developed something called “Times Reader” with the New York Times which eliminates scrolling, adapts to fit to any screen size and has clearer fonts. Bill Hill, head of advanced reading technologies at Microsoft, delivered his speech in ponytail, beard, kilt and sporran, which I thought made it doubly impressive. You can read about it here.

Aside from the guru designation, how did my speech go down? Well I managed to answer one questioner who quizzed me in French, which was a bit of a personal triumph, but that aside, the gist was that BBC News is doing more with interactivity than most other major news organisations, particularly when it comes to integrating it usefully into our journalism, which for me is the acid test.

But they also got the message that to do this well needs resources and commitment.

Sharp lyrics

Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 14:42 UK time, Friday, 9 June 2006

David Cameron's remarks about hip-hop lyrics and Radio 1 - which triggered strong rebuttals from the station's executives - also prompted our biggest audience interaction for a while, both on Radio 1 itself and sister station 1Xtra (which specialises in black music genres).

Radio One logoWe were expecting a bit of stick from the papers. A leader in The Sun, and Daily Mail features. "In a sad bid to be trendy, the BBC coarsens countless lives". So after extensive editorial coverage of the row on both Newsbeat and TXU, what did the listeners think? Don't know about you, but I think that's far more interesting than chattering classes response:

On Radio 1 the audience was split more or less 50/50, far less supportive of the station's position than you might think, while on 1Xtra the response was much more supportive of Radio 1 and hostile to the Tory leader.

Many Radio 1 listeners pointed out that loving rap hasn't driven them to carrying blades or packing a Glock. One wrote that he'd analysed this argument for his academic coursework and found the argument that hip hop promotes gun crime to be "absolute bollox". Others argued that not everyone who likes indie music is clinically depressed - so why should love of rap go hand in hand with criminal tendencies?

But others argued that Cameron is right - that the Westwood show sound effects of gunshots and bombs glorifies violence and makes role models for an abusive generation. Some think Radio 1 plays too much black music anyway - some of the songs and lyrical content is "appalling" and the "Big Dog Baby" stuff is just wrong.

On 1Xtra - the listeners were less supportive of Cameron's view: but some reckon if its got people talking about politics that normally wouldn't then that's good. Is it, as some think, about the way the music is presented? Aggressive on Westwood, more chilled on 1Xtra, with more emphasis on UK hip hop whose lyrical content is different?

And what about David Cameron's own choice of music? The Smiths and Radiohead? The Smiths "I Know it's Over" features the lyrics, "the knife wants to slit me / do you think you can help me". Radiohead's Knives Out, "look into my eyes / I'm not coming back / so knives out". And again, from another track by the same band, "I got bombs, I got guns, I got brains".

Last word to one of Radio 1's youngest listeners who texted Newsbeat with a blunt message: "Cameron is stupid. Luv Beth xxxxxx (aged 12)"

Too much global warming?

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 11:17 UK time, Friday, 9 June 2006

The audience log makes interesting reading on some days - but this morning it recorded that one of our listeners thought we covered global warming too often on the programme.

The World TonightTo those who missed Wednesday's show, the report that provoked this comment was Paul Moss's walkabout (listen here) at the new Natural History Museum exhibition, "The Art of Climate Change", which is intended to help raise awareness. I asked Paul to go find out if it works.

I have to hold my hand up though - we do cover climate change reasonably frequently on the programme - for two reasons. Firstly, it is a big story - scientists tell us this, politicians tell us this and - here's the clincher - our listeners tell us this. Whenever we cover environmental stories we are guaranteed to get a large and lively response to our online listeners debate - which bears out the old adage - you can please some of the people some of the time, but...

BBC in the news, Friday

Host Host | 10:01 UK time, Friday, 9 June 2006

Financial Times: "As the main 'face' of the BBC's effort to build a US audience, George Alagiah plans to put a stronger personal stamp on BBC World's daily news programme" (link)

Daily Mail: "Lyrics that celebrate gun culture have no place anywhere, let alone on the airwaves of a public sector broadcaster" (link)

Roojoice? Roobore?

Dan Kelly | 16:21 UK time, Thursday, 8 June 2006

"Cometh the hour, cometh the scan," one of George's better lines I thought, as we prepared for last night's Six.

BBC Six O'Clock News logoIn screens all across the newsroom "Rooney's Scan" screamed in bold type, as Wayne's every movement - from Germany, on to his private jet, in and out of his Bupa hospital, and in to his in-laws - was captured by the cameras. We even had slow-mo pictures of Colleen leaving her house - "is she smiling?, is she smiling?," came the cry.

The coverage was great fun - like a particularly good episode of Footballers' Wives. So how much prominence should we give it on a bulletin? It's an interesting question, because - to some extent anyway - your intuition is pitted against known audience research. We know from family, friends and everyday conversations that there is significant interest in whether Rooney will play in the World Cup. However, the pulse audience survey, viewer e-mails and the duty log would suggest that many of our viewers are completely turned off by the subject. In truth it's all about balance again (boring, I know).

So what did we do? A strong Mark Simpson package (complete with "Rooney's Big Day" sketches) and a great live, in which the latest news from inside Wayne's hospital was texted to Mark by a Man Utd source. The story was in the first half, after NHS debts and an exclusive interview with a Taleban commander.

So when should a news bulletin lead with a sports story? Well, let's wait and see how Rooney and Co get on first shall we?!

PS: To those viewers who phoned in to complain that we had a picture of a Union Flag "upside down" in one of our pieces, we've checked it with a higher authority ("Flags of the World Atlas"), and though it was not technically "upside down," it was hanging at the wrong angle…so sorry about that.

Football fanatics

Peter Barron | 15:15 UK time, Thursday, 8 June 2006

Since our investigation into Arsenal's secret loans last week the press and blogosphere have gone into overdrive, and it's been suggested in one or two places that our motivation was linked to the fact that I'm a "devoted Spurs fan".

Newsnight logoCertainly Spurs are my team of choice, but I think devoted is putting it a bit strongly - I hold no season tickets or bonds or club memberships and in fact have been to Highbury far more often than to White Hart Lane on account of the fact that some of my best friends are Gooners.

I know some Spurs fans hate Arsenal and vice versa, but isn't it time to get over that? We have a few devoted football fanatics on the programme - Michael Crick's devotion to Man United is well known, Peter Marshall lives for Liverpool, deputy editor Daniel Pearl is an Arsenal (yes Arsenal) season ticket holder - but I can't claim to be one of them.

Would it matter if I was? While only a small number of Newsnight employees follow football with a passion, all of them follow politics and presumably hold views and in some cases membership cards (though for the record I've never belonged to a political party either). As BBC employees they are required to leave their personal views at the door when they come to work.

When our producer Meirion Jones brought me the story I didn't think for a second: here's a good way to get back for that lasagne incident, not least because he first raised it about two years ago. I simply thought: this is potentially a very good story about the state of modern soccer, whose salaries, payments and bungs have been an issue of huge concern.

And to those of you who say this is not the most serious thing that's ever happened in football, you may well be right. We'd be delighted to hear more stories about football's murky deals, no matter which clubs, countries or associations are involved.

Championing diversity

Jon Williams Jon Williams | 11:16 UK time, Thursday, 8 June 2006

The bloggers have been having great fun following BBC television's decision to appoint a Diversity Executive.

Why is it that everyone seems to think that "diversity" is just about race? Six months ago I agreed to become the diversity champion for the news division. I did it because I believe BBC News has to reflect the UK all our audiences are part of.

For me diversity is about a whole variety of things; age, views, tone of voice, class and sexuality - as well as race. It's not about box ticking, or political correctness. It is about serving the people who pay our wages - ensuring they see themselves and their life experiences reflected in our output.

The alternative is we simply report the bit we, mainly white, middle class, university educated journalists live in. That's a recipe for certain disaster. Already younger audiences watch and listen to the BBC less than they once did; young black audiences watch and listen even less. More than two thirds of UK homes now have multi-channel television; digital radio has transformed listening for millions across Britain.

At the point at which our audience think the BBC is out of touch and failing to report the stories, the issues and the people that they're interested, they've got plenty of other channels to turn to - not just for News, but for soaps, entertainment and music too. So why should they tune to the BBC? Since they pay their licence fees too, that's potentially a huge problem for us!

Back in March, Mark Thompson unveiled his vision for the BBC's Creative Future - one in which audiences are at the centre of everything we do. So the appointment of a diversity executive to look after television is common sense. This is about so much more than political correctness. The stakes couldn't be higher; it's about a BBC that remains relevant to all our audiences, ensuring its very survival in an increasingly competitive media world.

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 11:08 UK time, Thursday, 8 June 2006

The Sun: "David Cameron has accused Radio 1 rap DJ Tim Westwood of stoking Britain’s knife culture" (link)

The Times: A columnist writes about the experience of appearing on Question Time with Michael Winner (link)

Balanced Breakfast

David Kermode | 16:54 UK time, Wednesday, 7 June 2006

This came through our 'duty log' for feedback this morning:

Breakfast logo

"[Caller] feels that the background studio colours used by the programme are politically motivated. "I have noticed that they have been a red colour since the late 1990s and have now changed to a blue colour. Is this political psychology? I think the BBC are using background colours to influence people's political thinking."

What this particular viewer neglected to mention was that we have, this week, 'warmed up' our studio to incorporate far more oranges and a bit of brown. Does this mean we've switched allegiance to the Liberal Democrats?

If so, we'd be a pollster's nightmare. The ultimate swing voter. We'd have backed all three main parties in a month.

I'm not sure whether there could be any subliminal advantage for a particular party in news branding? Personally, I suspect our viewers wouldn't fall for it, even if there was.

We have run into these sort of problems before. When we launched our general election coverage with an ambitious outside broadcast from Bristol, it poured with rain. Dermot broadcast the entire show protected by a BBC Breakfast umbrella, in our house colours back then - red and yellow.

We had three complaints about the absence of blue in our brolly, including one man who wrote to me suggesting the choice of umbrella reflected Dermot Murnaghan's own political preferences. I wrote back to our viewer, assuring him that, to my knowledge, Dermot had never revealed anything about his political persuasion and that he'd certainly not got involved in the programme umbrella ordering process.

Anyway, try putting red, yellow and blue together. It might look balanced - but it also looks hideous.

Ticking along nicely

Paul Brannan | 16:20 UK time, Wednesday, 7 June 2006

After a gestation period akin to that of an elephant, the News website has rolled out a new version of its popular desktop ticker.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteOperating system changes saw the old one run into the sand, bedevilled by gremlins which meant it became increasingly high maintenance.

The latest version to come out of the hangar replaces the former breaking news desktop alert and updates the sport version while retaining the sheepskin-clad Mini Motty character. Quite remarkable.

The shiny new application was developed with an external firm called Skinkers and offers a greater range of personalisation.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteThere are up to 300 content options with variable speed scrolling for headlines from a range of categories including health, science, technology and entertainment.Click on a headline and you get a four-paragraph summary of the story. If you want more detail another click takes you to the full-blown web version. It also triggers desktop alerts about forthcoming TV and radio current affairs programme.

So far, we haven't made too much of a song and dance about it because we're a cautious lot and want to see how it beds in.

But if you want to join the pioneers and offer feedback to product manager Anthony Sullivan, the application is just a couple of clicks away.

This being the BBC you may have some permissions issues about downloading software to your machine, but don't be put off.

Because we wanted this up and running before the World Cup we weren't able to bring out a Macintosh version, but that has been pencilled in for later in the year.

And Anthony is already looking at expanding personalisation with things like keyword alerts and five-day weather forecasts. If there are any things you'd like to see then do let him know.

Team talk

Craig Williams | 12:44 UK time, Wednesday, 7 June 2006

I might as well be up-front about this. I will not be supporting England in this World Cup. Or indeed in any World Cup. Or any other game for that matter. I don’t actually wish any ill to Sven’s boys. But the fact is I’m not English, my team isn’t playing, so I can support whoever I want. This year, as in most competitions in which Scotland don’t appear, I will be shouting for the French, though I do like the Croatian strip.

Newsnight logoShould Scots support England? The question comes up every time our neighbours play. In the past few weeks, the public prints and airwaves up here have been full of it. Most of the coverage has centred on the Chancellor’s declaration that he will be supporting England, while his colleague, Scotland’s First Minister, Jack McConnell, says he’s a Trinidad and Tobago man.

That stance led to equal praise and brickbats, and much subsequent punditry about why we can’t ever bring ourselves to support England. As a programme editor, this is a gift as we slip into the silly season. There’s nothing like football, mixed with a dose of sectarianism and dirty politics to get an audience interested.

In truth, no matter how much time we devote to discussing this, it tells us very little about the Scottish character. But it is amusing, it takes us away from the every day reporting of grey politics, and gives us the chance to show THAT GOAL by the great Archie Gemmill time and time again. And no Scot will ever tire of that.

Newsflash

Craig Oliver Craig Oliver | 11:52 UK time, Wednesday, 7 June 2006

The Ten O'Clock News nearly brought new meaning to the word "newsflash" last night.

cassell2200.jpgAndrew Cassell was doing a "live sandwich" - a report on tape that is surrounded by a live top and tail from location. He was outside the bank in Edinburgh's Princes Street where a manager had stolen £21 million.

The live top was a little troubled - viewers will have seen someone attempting to put him off with a red laser light (see picture).

As his tape rolled we could see Andrew on our preview monitors turning to have a discussion with a number of drunks... suddenly a woman was in front of the camera flashing her breasts. We asked Andy if there was any danger of this happening live on air - he assured us he was fine, and he completed his live tail like the true professional, leaving viewers none the wiser.

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 09:48 UK time, Wednesday, 7 June 2006

The Guardian: "The BBC may argue that Chris Moyles is supposed to be down with the teenagers - but that doesn't necessarily mean that he should behave like one" (link)

The Telegraph: "The BBC is hiring a 'diversity tsar' to ensure programmes are 'culturally authentic and accurate'" (link)

The Telegraph: Andrew Marr's notebook - "I am beginning to wonder whether the much-discussed decline of journalism is 100 per cent explained by the commercial threat of the web" (link)

Strong language

Kevin Marsh Kevin Marsh | 16:23 UK time, Tuesday, 6 June 2006

The Governors are funky dudes. Or their programme complaints committee is, at least.

Their latest complaints bulletin rules that Radio 1's Chris Moyles wasn't being homophobic when he called a ringtone "gay". Young people - apparently - now routinely say "gay" when they mean "rubbish". And the complaints committee is "familiar with hearing this word in this context".

Coo.

That's the problem though. Keeping up with the latest street argot. Is "bollocks" now OK or not? I have to say, I thought it had been since the Sex Pistols won their case back in 1977. You'll remember it. The title of their album was "Never mind the bollocks, here's the Sex Pistols". A policewoman in Nottingham complained. M'learned friends got involved... and it was decided that "bollocks" was OK following the intervention of a linguist from the local university.

Chris MoylesSome 30 years later, it's still not a unanimous view. When Today referred on-air to those rather popular "Bollocks to Blair" T-shirts that were doing the rounds after the hunting vote, sensitivities were aroused. We argued - successfully - that the word, while clearly abusive, wasn't necessarily offensive.

It's not always that simple. I used to receive two or three letters a month complaining that once again Brian Widlake - when he was one of the presenters of The World at One - had used the phrase "cock-up" to describe some public figure's minor oversight. I decided to settle it once and for all and started to compose a well-researched letter showing how the complainant was flat wrong and an idiot to boot - but no slang dictionary could help. In fact they made it worse, linking the phrase to a very dubious practice at a minor public school.

There is a very useful chart which, sadly, was last updated some time ago. Even so, it's re-assuring to know that you can say "peace off", "wear the fox hat" or call someone a "salad tosser" with relative impunity. In the intervening six years, it seems that "shag" has moved down a peg or two and - if Chris Moyles is now our arbiter in this - so has "slag".

Context is all ... as those funky dudes on the Governors' committee explained when they reviewed a deluge of complaints over the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves back in 2005. The Committee noted the words ‘bastard’, ‘bollocks’, ‘piss’, ‘bugger’ and ‘bloody’ and "after careful consideration given to the context" decided that "the language was part of the rough-and-tumble of the story, appropriate to the rough and coarse characters depicted and the age they lived in".

Maybe that's what got Moyles off the hook this time.

The movie business

Fran Unsworth Fran Unsworth | 15:12 UK time, Tuesday, 6 June 2006

The issue of how broadcasters deal with the huge increase in "user generated content" or "citizen newsgathering" has been highligted again by the Forest Gate incident. It has been sniffily reported that some TV producers (apparently working for rival broadcasters) were offering members of the public cash and contracts for their mobile phone clips. People are obviously getting wise to the notion that their material could earn them a bob or two.

This is not a new occurance however. Newsgatherers have always been prepared to pay money for what we formerly termed "amateur video". It has netted us crucial pictures which we have used in the coverage of stories such as ferry disasters, the aftermath of explosions etc. As we wish to be able to hold the copyright for such pictures in order to be able to cut them into packages which are then passed on to our partners, we tie the deal down with a contract.

Along came the BBC News website which made a point of asking the public to send in their pictures, for which they were quite clear they would not be paying. Apart from anything else, they didn't have the budget, but in addition it didn't really fit the spirit of the new medium with its greater emphasis on interaction with the audience. So in effect we had two different systems for handling material provided by the public.

What has significantly changed the way we deal with these issues is the enormous growth in UGC content. With so many digital cameras and mobile phones out there it provides us with a huge increase in picture gathering capability and has proved enormously valuable: the 7/7 London bombs, the Buncefield fire and the recent Cleveland Explosion are the most notable recent examples.

We cannot be in the business of buying all the content provided by the public. There is simply now too much of it and most of it is not worth the expenditure. But there is nonetheless still a competitive market for really special material and the BBC should be part of that market in order for our journalism to remain of the highest quality.

Whether we pay the public for the material, and how much, is up to the judgement of producers on the ground who can see the pictures and the Newsgathering editor at base. Their decision would be based on the value of the shots as far as telling the story is concerned, the price, and how much we think it appropriate for a publicly funded broadcaster to pay.

A major consideration when dealing with this material though are the safety issues around it, and our responsibilities to the public. Our professional crews are fully safety-trained and have an understanding of the risks and precautions that need to be taken when covering stories such as oil depot explosions. The public might not. When appealing for this material from our audience, we need to ensure we are not encouraging them to put themselves in any danger.

The big one

Richard Porter | 10:52 UK time, Tuesday, 6 June 2006

Last time I wrote about a BBC World publicity campaign, I was told it wasn't the sort of thing we should be reading on The Editors. It didn't involve an editorial dilemma, or an explanation of a controversial decision.

BBC World logoSo I'm treading a little carefully this time. You see, we've been getting ourselves noticed again. This time in the USA - the big one, the one we've wanted to crack for years, the original home of the news channel. At long last, BBC World has some full-time distribution there. Everybody involved in the channel is very exicted about it...and I just wanted to explain why.

Why so significant? Because until now, you can only watch BBC World either through the half-hour bulletins shown by PBS stations in the States, or through our morning transmissions on BBC America (recently extended to a full three hours). But now, if you live in New York, you can watch the channel 24 hours a day. I'm not sure I'd recommend that to anyone (although my colleague Steve Williams, recently the father of twins, is doing his best to maintain a viewing marathon while he feeds his babies night after night).

George Alagiah launching BBC World's new serviceIt's taken many years to get this far. The cable networks in the US took the view that they didn't need any more news networks. But our PBS broadcasts have been attracting very healthy audiences - more than CNN can claim for almost all of their programmes. And it's maybe a sign of the times that some American audiences want to see a channel which has a serious commitment to international news, and which doesn't see everything from a Washington or New York perspective. We don't profess to replace any other network, but we think we can offer something extra to the market. And we hope the New York deal is the first of many.

George Alagiah was in Times Square promoting the channel and his new news hour last week. World News Today will air from 0700-0800 EST (ie midday here) every weekday, and we intend to showcase the extraordinary range and depth of BBC Newsgathering resources. The hour will be targeted towards America, but that doesn't mean its agenda will be American - because that's not why people will be watching us. Equally, however, it would be daft to miss opportunities to explain how the world sees America - but that's not difficult when you consider the current news agenda. And, as ever with BBC World, we'll have to remember that while it's the morning for one audience, it's the middle of the evening for another.

Distribution in the US is the last big link in the chain. You can currently see the channel 24 hours a day in around 140 million homes around the globe, but until now all that growth has been outside the biggest TV market in the world. In terms of profile and revenue (because don't forget, we are commercially funded), this is the one we've been waiting for. So yes, we're very excited.

BBC in the news, Tuesday

Host Host | 09:15 UK time, Tuesday, 6 June 2006

The Times: The word "gay" now means "rubbish" in modern playground-speak and need not be offensive to homosexuals, the BBC Board of Governors has ruled. (link)

The Independent: "Channel 4 has launched a bid to become a national radio broadcaster to rival the BBC." (link)

The Telegraph: Interview with former BBC News chief Tony Hall: "The Royal Opera House is very like the BBC in being "creative, passionate, chaotic,'' he says. And full of prima donnas? He nods." (link)

Get a fix

Mark Barlex | 16:36 UK time, Monday, 5 June 2006

By day I work on the BBC's One O'Clock News. By night, and during my lunch-hour, I look after a project called STORYFix, which is uniquely difficult to explain. So here's a Q&A.

storyfix_logo.jpgQ. What is it?
A.
It's an experimental weekly video round-up of what's been happening over the past week.

Q. Is it really?
A. Sort of, yes. Actually, it's less about what happened on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday etc, and more about the impression we're all left with come Friday morning.

Q. How long is it?
A.
Originally, it was supposed to be about 20 minutes long, but it turned out to be about five. At most.

Q. What does it look like?
A. It's very fast. It's got about twenty graphics and a hundred shot changes in it.

maitlis203_storyfix.jpgQ. What's it for?
A. It's trying to do news in a different way, hitting a particular audience. It's an experiment.

A. Where can I see it?
Q. News 24 at about a quarter to eight on a Friday evening, and from time to time over the weekend. And on the BBC News website's News In Video section. And on the News Multiscreen. And here.

Q. Is it any good?
A. Not for me to say, really. Some people really, really like it. Some people just hate it. You'll have to decide for yourself.

Why have a sports editor?

Adrian Van-Klaveren Adrian Van-Klaveren | 13:02 UK time, Monday, 5 June 2006

There's an advert in this morning's Guardian for a sports editor for the BBC. We see this as a very high profile on-air role similar to that of political editor or business editor. It'll be someone who works for both BBC News and BBC Sport and appears on TV, radio and the web.

sports.jpgBut why create such a job and why now?

The work we've done on both sport and journalism as part of Creative Future has highlighted how important sports news is to a large part of our audience. True, there are some who are completely uninterested but there are many for whom what is going on in the world of sport is a key part of their lives.

This group includes large numbers of younger people (especially men) who BBC News often struggles to reach. Sports journalism which can offer real authority, expertise and insight is seen by them as a key part of what we need to offer in the future. We already have some outstanding sports correspondents and reporters but we hope this new role will give our sports news coverage even more weight and impact.

We are of course not alone in this. The newspapers have all expanded their sports news coverage dramatically over the past few years. There is a wealth of information about sport available on the web - often tailored to people's particular passions. But we believe that appointing a BBC Sports Editor will help us achieve our aim of offering the best sports journalism available anywhere.

The BBC can offer sports news at the local, regional, national and international level and we can reach everyone from the impassioned fan to the person who wants to know the headlines of what's going on in the major events. Appointing a Sports Editor of the highest calibre should give us the opportunity to claim another huge competitive advantage.

BBC in the news, Monday

Host Host | 09:20 UK time, Monday, 5 June 2006

The Independent: Armando Iannucci, creator of 'The Thick of It', said it was "depressing" to hear that Downing Street had requested a set of recordings of the series (link)

The Independent: Five Live's controller, Bob Shennan, says, "the World Cup will be our station's lead news story for much of the tournament" (link)

The Observer: "Broadcasters including ITV and the BBC have formed an unprecedented alliance to develop a TV service that will broadcast live to mobile phones" (link)

Body count

Craig Oliver Craig Oliver | 16:25 UK time, Friday, 2 June 2006

How much should I show?

BBC Ten O'Clock News logoIt's the question every editor faces when confronted by pictures of dead bodies.

There are two powerful, opposing arguments:

1) It is only by showing uncensored picture that people can fully understand the horror of what happened - and if we don't we are in danger of sanitising the story.
2) Does the audience really need to see blood and gore to understand that something terrible has happened?

On Thursday the Ten O'Clock News obtained pictures of an alleged massacre in Iraq. Eyewitnesses claim the 11 victims (including five children, one of whom was a baby) had been murdered by marines. The US military claimed there had been a firefight involving an Al Qaeda terrorist - and that the 11 had died when their house collapsed on top of them.

simpson203_2200.jpgAs important as telling both sides was judging what pictures we could show. They included deeply distressing shots of the dead children with terrible, gaping wounds. We decided to show only two shots of the children - we blurred their faces to avoid showing their shattered skulls. Our sister programme, Newsnight, showed more pictures and decided not to blur any of them.

The next morning senior editors at the BBC had different views on what should have been shown. Some argued we had played too safe, others that Newsnight had gone too far - even though they broadcast later at night and to a different audience.

Having slept on it, my own view is that we should probably have shown a little more and Newsnight should probably have shown a little less... but ultimately there is no right answer.

Hedge fun

David Kermode | 14:30 UK time, Friday, 2 June 2006

I know a dog's breakfast when I see one. I have a dog. I make him breakfast. It doesn't look appealing, but he likes it.

Breakfast logoKate Silverton came to work on Thursday morning looking, at first glance, like she'd been in collision with a Carnaby Street hedge. It was bold and bright and, err, certainly striking.

But I liked it - and it certainly bore no resemblance to a dog's breakfast. Initial reaction from the viewers was hostile. So much so that Kate began to wonder if she'd made a mistake.

Kate being Kate, she was big enough to ponder it on air: "My blouse has divided opinion - I apologise if it's made you turn down the contrast on your set". Suddenly, we had a flood of e-mails and texts - evenly split over whether or not it looked like a dog's breakfast.

blouse.jpgSadly, there are some people who won't accept a female newsreader unless she's wearing an 80s' trouser suit complete with padded shoulders that make her look like an extra from LA Law. Kate isn't like that. She's funkier and she's willing to take a risk.

Thursday was a reasonable news day, so why was the bulk of our interactivity centred on a blouse? And why did we have 17 press enquiries about it? I'm not really sure. But it does underline the importance of the way our presenters look and it also highlights the kind of impact we can have.

Kate remains sanguine - albeit somewhat baffled. But she was big enough to lend us the blouse this morning to be modelled by a mannequin, while we discussed the fallout.

Will she wear it again? I think she should. Should we be bothered about all the fuss? Probably not.

Diary of an anxious editor

Peter Barron | 12:57 UK time, Friday, 2 June 2006

A tense day on Thursday.

Newsnight logoAfter an investigation going back over several months on and off, we're on the point of broadcasting our investigation into Arsenal's relationship with the Belgian club Beveren.

Normally on days like that you'd hope to have the film done, dusted and legalled, but it rarely works out like that...

Click here to read the rest of this column.

Knives out?

Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 10:47 UK time, Friday, 2 June 2006

Is the knife amnesty doomed to fail?

1Xtra logoThe answer, if the listeners of Radio 1's Newsbeat and 1Xtra's TXU are to be believed, is yes.

We've covered the story heavily on both networks after the recent spate of stabbings in the headlines, and many of our listeners reckon ministers simply don't get it. They don't get modern culture, the need for self defence and the sheer impracticality of expecting the bad boys (or even the good girls) to dump their blades.

1Xtra's documentary 'Young, Armed and Terrified' aired on Wednesday (you can hear it by clicking here). Presented by Aml Ameen (who played Trife in Kidulthood), we asked are people looking for trouble when they carry a knife - or just trying to stay safe?

Vivid case histories of the devastating effects of knife crime followed - along with the fear of attack so many feel on Britain's streets. Urban teenagers are more at risk from crime than any other group - and this group rapidly responded to our doc. Gary texted in, and we phoned him back and put him on air straightaway - he was stabbed four times in the back trying to protect his girlfriend, and his view was that you can't stop people from fighting or carrying knives - it's the language and the rules of the streets.

Other views from Radio 1 listeners (following some brilliantly compulsive reporting from Newsbeat's Toby Sealey in Bristol) included the women who carry knives in their handbags for protection - and always will, even with the threat of 5 years in jail. And also the teenager who lives in rural Britain who said, "I live in a really quiet, peaceful village - there's no trouble here - but me and my mates carry knives 'cos it's so cool."

SOS 606

Host Host | 10:41 UK time, Friday, 2 June 2006

There's been an interesting debate over on the Sport Editors' Blog about changes that have been made to the 606 messageboards. You can keep track of it by clicking here.

BBC in the news, Friday

Host Host | 09:51 UK time, Friday, 2 June 2006

Daily Mail: "BBC Breakfast presenter Kate Silverton had to apologise for wearing an outfit which put viewers off their cornflakes" (link)

The Independent: "BBC World has just launched in the New York area... and billboards across Manhattan are highlighting the BBC's reputation for objective reporting" (link)

Keep it simple

Robin Britten | 09:27 UK time, Friday, 2 June 2006

Do we editors take too much for granted of you our listeners? Are we all a little too full of our own supposed knowledge? Maybe we are. Certainly sometimes our very own experts in the field, our correspondents, think that. What do you think?

Radio Five Live logoThis week on 5 Live we decided to try to get as comprehensive a picture as possible of life on the ground for the million-plus Palestinians living in the Gaza strip. They are literally running out of money. Israel and the international community have been withholding money from their newly elected Palestinian Authority until the majority Hamas party publicly recognises Israel's right to exist. Tens of thousand of people in Gaza work for the authority. So, no money, collapsing economy and civil order. Chaos.

Complicated, huh? Well, our two correspondents, Alan Johnson and James Reynolds worked wonders. They found desperate housewives selling gold heirlooms to raise much needed cash. They visited drug-starved hospitals. They talked to farmers and young people.

They got closer and closer to painting a real comprehensive picture. But what was the question they liked most? Not some arcane sub-note about the minutiae of Hamas. No ...

"Tell us exactly where is Gaza? How big is it". That was the question they liked most.

Do we sometimes get too complicated for our own good ... And yours?

Texting Tony Blair

Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 13:57 UK time, Thursday, 1 June 2006

When, if ever, is it right to tell the prime minister to FCUK off?

Radio One logoThis is the dilemma that faced us after a tidal wave of texts hit us when we told listeners that we were interviewing the PM. Judging from the texts and other interaction we received, they're fired up about the state of the government: "Useless", "pathetic", "crap", and "incompetent" were four of the more common and most printable words associated with the recent stories over the Home Office, Education, the deputy PM's trousers and more.

So when we rolled in to do the PM off the back of the pensions story we wanted to reflect some of this dis-satisfaction. Our audience uses vernacular and slang language and it's something we feel pretty comfortable reflecting on air and in the way we talk, too.

One texter put it succinctly: "Tony Blair when are you going to FCUK off?"

Our interviewer put the very quote to him, along with context - sourced to the listener. Blair was stunned, muttered "that's unhelpful" and moved on - he sounded genuinely, we thought, wounded for the rest of the interview.

Many listeners thought we'd gone too far and clearly felt sorry for him - he's the prime minister after all, we should be more respectful. Lots were angry, while on 1Xtra (where the interview was also broadcast), there was a more supportive reaction. You can hear the interview for yourself by clicking here.

Dun-D-Man wrote to us: "I was impressed 1Xtra would have the guts to put such a graphic question forward to the PM that reflects the views shared by some listeners". Another wrote: "Fair play to her for asking dem questions."

It was clearly a section of our large audience that we'd offended, which we can analyse by age and background. It's interesting stuff and gives me food for thought in future - on how we do context, set-up and impact of the 'real listeners' questions' - but I'm convinced we need to keep robustly reflecting the audience back to those in power.

That's our job after all.

Covering the university row

Amanda Farnsworth | 11:37 UK time, Thursday, 1 June 2006

The lecturers pay dispute is certainly a hot topic in my sister's house - and I suspect in the thousands of houses up and down the country where young people are trying to graduate, and enter the job market for the first time.

1and6news.jpgSo have we covered this story enough? Well the answer is, probably, not quite.

The Six O'Clock News was the only bulletin to package the story last week, but yesterday when the pay offer was rejected both the Six and the Ten did the story in detail.

We plan to lead on it on the One today, which is the result of two things - firstly a big national demonstration that happens before 1pm and gives a good top to the story (plus new comments from employers and government). As well, it's a really quiet news day and it just looks like a decent story to put at the top of our programme.

Sometimes it's hard to gauge when to start doing a story - at what point does it cross the line and make it a "must do" for a national news bulletin? There's often a huge amount of stories all pushing for space... and sometimes we don't get that decision quite right.

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 09:23 UK time, Thursday, 1 June 2006

Telegraph: "Even though Rageh Omaar believes reporters are virtually imprisoned in Baghdad, he doesn't think the BBC bureau should be closed" (link)

Press Gazette: "BBC director general Mark Thompson has denied that plans to move much of the corporation to Manchester have been put on ice" (link)

The Guardian: Nicky Campbell says, "when BBC News 24 interviewed the wrong guest the other week, the whole world was laughing at them - not me" (link)

The Guardian: "The Commission for Racial Equality is to call on the culture secretary to enforce strict new rules on the BBC's employment of black and ethnic minorities" (link)

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