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Craig Oliver

Messy divorce


Should the Ten O'Clock News be reporting the increasingly messy McCartney divorce proceedings?

BBC Ten O'Clock News logoThat was the question at yesterday's editorial meetings. Some felt that the reports - including allegations of wife-beating and details of rows over bedpans and breast milk - were not a subject that should trouble the Ten. I can see that argument... Sir Paul McCartney flatly denies every single claim.

So why did we run them in the first half of our programme?

First of all, the Ten isn't a programme that should ignore stories that rightly have a prominent place on the news agenda - nor should it hold its nose and handle them with pinched fingers at arm's length.

That's not to say we will be diving into the latest shenanigans of c-list pop stars or glamour models - but this story is in an entirely different league. Paul McCartney is one of the most famous people on earth - the death of his first wife followed by his finding of love with Heather, moved a lot of people. When it all ends in acrimony, that is simply a good story.

Mills and McCartneyMoreover, the printing of the document in a national newspaper raises many questions about how what could be one of the biggest divorce settlements in British history is being handled. There are also questions about how the media operates - is it being used? Gavin Hewitt's piece on our programme (which you can watch by clicking here) was a serious minded look at the issues raised, with top-level media and legal commentators explaining that the stakes are very high.

The McCartney story was not the most important thing that happened in the world yesterday - but we would have been remiss not to tell it and to explore the implications.

Craig Oliver is editor of BBC News at Six and BBC News at Ten

Steve Herrmann

Meeting the audience


The BBC’s College of Journalism has been organising sessions where we get to meet the audience face-to-face and hear what they think of our reporting.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteI went to one two nights ago, slightly apprehensive. What would the audience say? Would they be nice about our work? About us? It felt like an exam. The organisers kept a close eye on the journalists. We were discouraged from leaping to our own defence. Arguing with the audience members would, I feel, have been frowned upon. And the journalists weren’t allowed to sit together - depriving us of safety in numbers. Instead, we were interspersed among the visitors.

With them, we watched, listened to and read examples of our coverage. Then we heard what they thought about it. I made some notes: “Give us the roots of the story”, was one comment I wrote down. “Explain why it matters, how it started… you assume too much knowledge.”

Another message was about the power of images - to tell the story, but also to shock. TV footage showing dead civilian casualties of conflict caused some heartfelt objections and debate. There was enthusiasm for an online email exchange as a way of letting “real people” (as opposed to journalists) tell the story. This sort of format actually takes a lot of behind-the-scenes editorial effort to produce, but on this evidence it looks as though it’s worth it.

I'm not sure what the audience made of the evening - or of us - but I'm grateful to them for giving up their time. They had some thoughtful feedback and lessons, and there’s nothing like hearing it in person. We should make a habit of it.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website

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BBC in the news, Thursday

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  • 19 Oct 06, 10:09 AM

The Times: Reports that the BBC has decided that religious symbols can be worn by newsreaders, but that they must not distract viewers (based on this blog entry). (link)

The Guardian: A report on the ethics of reporting on the Mills/McCartney divorce, featuring comments from the head of BBC TV News, Peter Horrocks. (link)

The Telegraph: "A secret guide that has helped generations of BBC newsreaders pronounce difficult words and odd-sounding names is to be made public for the first time." (link)

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