Gary Smith

Bursting the bubble

0630 Tuesday: The alarm on my mobile beeps. Where am I? I switch on the bedside lamp and fumble for my little lifesaver – a credit card sized bit of plastic attached to a white lanyard. There’s a picture of me – that’s promising – and the slogan “A New Direction” – accompanied by what looks like a child’s drawing of a rightward leaning oak tree.

Ah yes, I’m at the Tory conference. I’m in Bournemouth.

It’s a very odd time of year. The political broadcast media bundle all their kit on to a fleet of lorries and zig-zag round the country, this year to Brighton, Manchester and Bournemouth.

There we unpack into a series of car parks, portacabins and – I kid you not – toilets, surrounded by such tight security that it quickly seems too much trouble ever to step outside the zone.

Now some might fear there’s a danger that we – and the politicians – become a tad cut off from reality. But worry not: we counter that by sneaking out for a curry in the evening. Occasionally we even go as far as to despatch a producer to voxpop some local people in the nearest high street.

Inside the zone, we speak our own language. Here’s a brief conference glossary to aid your understanding if you’re watching, listening to or reading any of our conference coverage.

First, that word I slipped in at the beginning – LANYARDS. They dangle round our neck to hang our conference passes on. Lose this and you have to go home (tempting….) Sky cheekily bought these up as mobile advertising space at Labour, which meant all BBC journalists were the proud wearers of badges boasting “Sky – first with breaking news.”

BUBBLE: A mini studio overlooking the conference hall. Home for News 24’s James Landale for three weeks.

BUSHES: The live BBC Two conference programme used to dress its set with assorted plants and flowers, possibly even the odd bush or two. They don’t do this any more, but the name has stuck. Hence the bizarre panicked shout across the newsroom of a morning – “Is Jenny in the bubble or the bushes?”

POOL: Sadly, not for swimming. An agreement between the broadcasters for one crew to shoot an event and share the pictures with everyone.

INGEST: We have a baby server this year, shared with the other broadcasters. The process of copying our pictures into it is known as ingesting. Hence: “Paul, ingest that Cameron pool NOW.”

FRINGE: Where senior politicians go to make gaffes. Also where much of the real debate inside a party happens.

RECEPTION: Late night booze-up for party researchers and journalists, occasionally visited briefly by a politician.

That’s enough conference talk. Just one more day in the seaside sunshine before the bubble and bushes are dismantled, our last pool fringe is ingested, and our lanyards are consigned to the dustbin of the 2006 party conference season.

Gary Smith is editor, political news

Tim Levell

Covering distressing news for children

Stories like the American school shooting are very rare; but every time they happen, we consider incredibly carefully if and how we cover them on Newsround.

Newsround logoIn broad terms, there are four key principles that we apply. (Please bear in mind that we aim at children aged between 7 and 11.)

1) Should we cover it at all?
Quite often, we won't. If we don't think an upsetting story has registered with most children, we don't want to bring it to their attention.

For this reason, we didn't mention at all the shooting of a student in Colorado last week.

However, we know that many children will have picked up something about this shooting. I happened to be at a Newsround event with 300 seven-to-11 year olds this morning, and I asked them specifically if they were aware of the shooting. 90% of the children raised their hands.

2) Report it simply and factually

Once we are sure the story has registered with children, we believe our job is to cover the story accurately, reliably and without sensationalism.

If you add to that the hearsay and half-heard comments that children can pick up in the playground or from friends or parents, and the story can often become far wilder or more scary in their minds than it should be.

We aim therefore to stand in the gap, and provide a simple, factual explanation of what happened. Specifically:
• We don't dwell on the details (which can make it so much more real to children, and mean they start putting themselves in that place)
• We use passive constructions ("Five girls have died", not "The man went in and shot five girls")
• We consider carefully whether to show the most emotive or lingering shots (which could include stills of the killer)

3) Add in positive reassurance

It is incredibly rare for something like this to happen, and that is something that we say explicitly in our coverage. The media covers shootings like this precisely because they are still so unusual. There are 25 million schoolchildren in America. Before this incident, only one student had been shot in a school in America this year.

Children are still very safe in school, and that is something we take great pains to stress.

We also have a webpage entitled What to do if the news upsets you. This was written with the help of a child psychologist, and we refer to it on all our coverage. This gives children who are upset somewhere to go to get help.

And we are enabling children to send messages to the families affected. This provides a cathartic release, and allows children to watch our coverage and feel like they are doing something in response.

4) Don't go overboard in our coverage

Finally, it can be tempting to follow the 24-hour news networks and provide wall-to-wall coverage. For Newsround, this is fundamentally wrong. All it does is distort the significance of the event.

We will devote no more than 30% of our output today to the shooting. We will then ensure we cover other news (to show that the world is still happening), and specifically include lighter items (today, a preview of the Robin Hood series).

We hope this will mean children leave us feeling happier, brighter and more reassured about the world they live in.

I have written a longer entry than normal, but I believe it is important to set out how we approach these stories. I am happy to answer questions, if you post them as comments below.

I would also be interested to read what you think of our coverage, on air or online.

Tim Levell is editor of Newsround

Tim Bailey


George Osborne, the Shadow Chancellor, has been criticised for appearing to refer to Gordon Brown as "autistic". There was a similar complaint from a viewer of a BBC TV programme over the weekend, when a presenter also used it as a term of political description.

It's a reminder that certain conditions can be wrongly characterised in the public mind - or even if they are accurately characterised, their use can be insensitive. Other examples include "Tourettes" for being foul-mouthed, "schizophrenic" for having a split personality. And it's a reminder perhaps that people who are affected by those conditions, either directly or indirectly, can be irritated when they are carelessly used as journalistic shorthand.

Tim Bailey is editor of the Radio 4 Six O'Clock News


BBC in the news, Tuesday

  • Host
  • 3 Oct 06, 09:28 AM

The Telegraph: Reports on Tony Blair's appearence on today's Blue Peter. (link)

The Guardian: "The BBC has dismissed as "banter" an incident on Chris Moyles' Radio 1 show today in which footballer Rio Ferdinand called the DJ a 'faggot'." (link)

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