BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Archives for February 2008

News black-out

Jon Williams Jon Williams | 08:27 UK time, Friday, 29 February 2008

At its simplest, journalism is about telling people things they don't know. So when the Ministry of Defence approached the BBC - along with other parts of the UK media - to ask us not to tell our audiences about a possible deployment of Prince Harry to Afghanistan, it was something we thought long and hard about.

Prince HarryA news black-out is unusual, but not unique. An agreement exists between the police and the media over the reporting of kidnaps - the police have the right to request that media organisations don't report an abduction while negotiations are under way, in case it makes the release of the hostage more difficult; in return, they accept the responsibility to update the media regularly and reveal the full story, on camera, once the situation has been resolved. When lives are at risk, it's not always helpful to have things played out in the glare of publicity.

Last summer - on the day my colleague Alan Johnston was released in Gaza - the Chief of the General Staff, Sir Richard Dannatt, met editors to make the case for a voluntary agreement. He was very candid; Harry wanted a career in the Army and he needed to be able to be deployed to do what he'd been trained to do, even if it was just for a day.

After five months of discussions, using the kidnap agreement as our model, the MoD and the UK media reached an understanding; we wouldn't speculate or report on the prince's deployments to minimise the danger to him and to others. In return, we'd get access to him before, during and after his time in Afghanistan. It was a voluntary agreement - any of the organisations could have decided to leave at any time. We - and the other UK broadcasters and newspapers - were clear that we would not report his deployment.

So, for the past ten weeks, the BBC, ITV and Sky News have been filming with Prince Harry - the first time we've been up close and personal with him. We interviewed him at Clarence House in mid-December, just before he was sent to Afghanistan, we spent some time with him at the start of January when he was settling in at a remote base in Southern Helmand Province, and most recently, we filmed with him last week at a new location in Helmand Province.

In truth, the surprise is that the agreement lasted so long. We - and the other UK broadcasters - were clear that we would not report his deployment. But nor would we deceive our audiences.

On Christmas Day, when neither Prince William nor Prince Harry attended the regular service with other members of the Royal Family at Sandringham, we agreed with the Ministry of Defence that they would say that both princes were spending Christmas with their regiments - William volunteered for Christmas duty to help out his brother! It prompted some inquiries from one US TV network who had to be briefed on the story.

More recently, on Tuesday, the German newspaper Bild ran a diary story asking "where's Prince Harry?" and speculating that the gossip was that "he'd gone to war". We agreed that while the story was speculative and confined to diary pages, that we would not break the agreement we'd reached with the MoD.

Then yesterday, the Drudge Report - the online US website famous for breaking the story of Bill Clinton's relationship with Monica Lewinsky - put the story on its front page. The game was up. We, and the other broadcasters, agreed with the Ministry of Defence that the story was out and it would be wrong not to tell our audiences what had been going on.

We don't do this stuff lightly - there are no other "voluntary agreements" in place at the moment, there's nothing else we're not telling you. Until yesterday, only a handful of people in the BBC knew about the story - trust me, keeping secrets from other journalists is hard work! Our job normally is to make these things public, not keep them from you. But this was never just about Prince Harry's safety, it was also about the security of the soldiers serving with him. No editor wants to be responsible for increasing the risk they already face from the Taleban. Nor do I think our audiences would have thanked us for doing so.

Teenage guest blogger

Robin Bulloch | 14:50 UK time, Thursday, 28 February 2008

I'm Robin Bulloch and I edit the Victoria Derbyshire programme, which goes out on Radio 5 Live each weekday between 0900 and 1200. 5 Live's got a uniquely close relationship with its audience and our programme is at the heart of that.

Radio Five Live logoWe talk to people in the news, be they nurses, students, teachers, victims of crime, teenagers - whatever. Listeners know they can contact us all the time through calls, texts and e-mails and that their voices will be heard. They can react to whatever we're talking about on the programme and share their opinions and experiences. This not only creates some great radio but also informs our editorial decisions and helps set the agenda for 5 Live every day.

Victoria's blog, which is steadily increasing its readership, has become an important new way of reaching the audience. Victoria's really committed to it and writes something new every day. The aim is to give the audience something more than they'll get by listening to the programme.

Sometimes Victoria gives an insight into what goes on behind the scenes, how we choose subjects and decide which guests to have on. Sometimes she'll share her own experiences, relevant to a topic we're discussing on air. It can be very personal and judging by the comments listeners post on the blog, they appreciate that. It's about direct contact.

This week we've asked a guest blogger to write about his life. Georgie, who's 18, is one of the teenagers we've invited to help produce Friday's programme, fulfilling a promise Victoria made on air during a discussion about anti-social behaviour when some listeners made the point that the media only ever seems to portray young people in a bad light.

We gave Georgie a pretty free rein to write about whatever he wanted, but we did give him guidelines to make sure his blog stayed within BBC editorial guidelines, didn't expose him to any kind of danger and didn't put us at risk of legal action.

Georgie has written candidly on the blog about struggling with anorexia, losing his father, being bullied at school, being gay and trying to find a job. The results have been revealing and have provoked a varied and interesting response from the audience. We aim to repeat the exercise with more featured bloggers in the coming weeks and months.

Ringing the changes

John Boothman | 08:33 UK time, Thursday, 28 February 2008

It's that time of year already (it always comes round so quickly) - the spring conferences of the Scottish political parties.

MPs, MSPs, councillors, party activists and the media's political correspondents leave their traditional habitats of Westminster, Holyrood and the council chambers to go off to an exotic location for a weekend of intense politicking.

Nicol StephenThe first one is the Scottish Liberal Democrats, so this weekend it's Aviemore and the Macdonald Highland Hotel.

This year BBC Scotland is introducing changes to the way we cover these events.

For decades we've broadcast them much the same way. Big live chunks of debate, some edited reports anchored by a presenter on site and broadcast live on BBC Two Scotland.

We've provided news inserts in our radio and television bulletins with packaged reports and live interviews on radio and TV programmes like Good Morning Scotland, Newsdrive, Reporting Scotland and Newsnight Scotland.

Live leaders' speeches and some debates have found their way onto News 24 and Radio Five Live and in recent times we've introduced stories and analysis on the BBC Scotland news website.

This year we've decided to ring the changes. In an effort to make our coverage more accessible to a wider public audience we're putting more of the conferences online, and changing our television offering. Our radio programming remains much the same.

At the beginning of each conference there'll be a live online question and answer session hosted by our political editor Brian Taylor with each Scottish party leader.

So, on Friday at 1100 GMT you can watch Nicol Stephen, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, answering questions supplied by our online audience.

We'll also be streaming up to six hours of each conference on the web, picking up key debates and speeches from the agenda.

The televised offering will bring live coverage of the Scottish party leader’s speech in a special programme, this weekend from 1430 GMT on BBC Two Scotland.

A highlights programme will also be broadcast at the end of the proceedings, on Sunday night, with the best bits from the three-day event.

It should mean our conference programmes will reach more people - viewers, listeners and users. Have a good look and tell us what you think.

Journalists and PR

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 11:28 UK time, Wednesday, 27 February 2008

I've just had an interesting day at a one day conference for PR and the media. There was quite a buzz about the book Flat Earth News by Nick Davies which looks at the relationship between journalists and the public relations world and draws some not so positive conclusions.

One of my fellow panellists duly quoted the line “news is what they don't want you print, everything else is PR” (I'm paraphrasing but please do let me know the full quote if you know it). Another mentioned the number of journalists who now move over to the 'dark side'.

But it was something else that struck me more than this uneasy relationship. As I explained how we're restructuring BBC News to meet the challenges of an online, non-linear world I suddenly realised what a challenging and difficult job PR can be these days and how much we have in common.

If you're in PR you now have the opportunity to take your message direct to the public in a hundred new ways, at least if you understand the technology well enough. Blogs, vodcasts, podcasts, Twitter streams and social networking are all there to exploit and there's more every day. And you've got to be brave enough to let your content be shared and messed around with. With all this happening, we 'traditional media' are still too important to ignore, though, as Nick Davies points out in his book, we're often too busy to take the call or read the e-mail.

It seems to me effective PR isn't about flogging a ropey product launch. It comes from a deep understanding and mastery of the issues around the industry and business you represent and the ability to express those powerfully and honestly. And that, like good journalism, takes time.

Comment problems

Host Host | 17:41 UK time, Monday, 25 February 2008

Apologies for the ongoing problems with leaving comments on BBC blogs, including The Editors. A post by Jem Stone on the BBC Internet Blog explains something about our plans for improving matters.

Making Newsnight unmissable

Peter Barron | 15:15 UK time, Friday, 22 February 2008

I was at a fascinating BBC2 marketing event this morning, complete with bean bag seating, live acapella singing and lots of facts and figures about the Channel's audience. Against the received wisdom that the growth of multi-channel homes means inexorable decline in audiences for the terrestrial channels, BBC2 is hanging onto its share and attracting younger audiences.

Newsnight logoOn Newsnight too our audience has remained remarkably solid during all these years of audience fragmentation. Throughout its history the Newsnight audience figures have oscillated between 800,000 and 1.2m - at the moment we're bang in the middle of that on 1m. And that doesn't take into account all the new ways of consuming the programme - including a million hits a month on our website.

Our big problem is Thursday nights, when the high profile presence of Question Time on BBC1 splits the audience for current affairs and blows a big hole in our figures.

But as of today, the conflicted Newsnight/Question Time fan has a solution to that 10.30pm dilemma. From now on every edition of Newsnight will be available on the BBC's iPlayer to view for the next seven days. It won't help our raw audience figures, but at least you can catch up with the programme.

The iPlayer service is only available in the UK, but the good news for international viewers is that at the end of February we launch an international edition of Newsnight on BBC America and BBC World. The one-hour programme will be a collection of the highlights of each week's programmes with an international focus, broadcast every Friday.

It should mean that Newsnight will reach more viewers than at any time in its history. It would be good to hear what kinds of items viewers around the world would most appreciate.

Reporting Bridgend

Mary Hockaday Mary Hockaday | 14:35 UK time, Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Yesterday we found ourselves reporting a story where the very issue of media coverage became part of the news.

The body of a 16-year-old girl was found in the Bridgend area of South Wales. She had apparently taken her own life, bringing to 21 the number of young apparent suicides in Bridgend county since September 2006.

Welcome to Bridgend signThat same day the South Wales police called a news conference at which the mother of a 15-year-old boy who died last week said she believed he was influenced by media coverage which glamorised previous deaths.

Assistant chief constable David Morris then gave details of a review of the 17 apparent suicides up to January of this year.

He emphasised that, contrary to some media reports, there is no evidence of a suicide pact, internet influence or criminal encouragement. He said a “constellation of factors” including very personal ones were involved in each case.

The coroner for the area has already said he is convinced there is ‘not one great conspiracy' linking the deaths, though there is evidence in some cases that victims knew others.

Assistant chief constable David MorrisBut assistant chief constable Morris also talked about media coverage. He held up examples from newspapers and deplored sensationalist reporting.

Throughout the developing events in Bridgend we have thought hard about how to make sure our coverage is not sensational. The BBC has editorial guidelines which include specific guidance on covering suicide.

We have circulated documents and articles to our journalists to help them keep across the wider debate about media coverage of suicide. For example this from Samaritans.

This thinking fed into our editorial discussions and our decisions through the day.

News of the discovery of another body emerged in the morning. We decided to report the story, but not put a Breaking News strapline with it on News 24 or our website, in order to avoid any suggestion of excitement about the story. In the afternoon however, when we covered the police news conference as a live event, we did.

We are lucky to have correspondents, for example Wyre Davies and Colette Hume, who have been reporting developments in Bridgend throughout and bring real expertise and sensitivity to our coverage.

We try to provide context to this story, for example about the real statistical picture or how other parts of the country are tackling suicide among young people.

On air and on the website we accompanied our reports with links and contact details to the Samaritans, Papyrus and Childline. We carried interviews with representatives of Samaritans, Sane, Mind, experts in child protection, the authorities in Wales and so on.

We talked about how to use pictures of those who have died. And decided that they are a part of the story-telling but that they should be used with restraint. We tried to avoid any visual treatment which might in any way glamorise anyone.

Another issue which experts point to is the question of paying tribute to those who have died, and how again this can seem appealing to other vulnerable young people searching for attention.

We decided we would not mention or link to any of the tribute sites which have appeared to some of those who have died. And on our website, when we decided to add a link to a clip of one of Jenna Parry's friends talking about his sadness, we changed our caption from ‘A friend’s tribute’ to ‘A friend reflects’.

I would not make any great claims for these decisions. Except to say they are a reflection of our awareness of our responsibilities.

This is a complex area, any possible media role being only part of a jigsaw, another being the role of the authorities (and yesterday the Welsh Assembly Government announced a new suicide prevention strategy).

What we try to do is balance our role in reporting what happens in Britain with our sensitivity to those members of our audience – whether young people, parents or concerned professionals – who may be affected, combined of course with our awareness of the tragedy of each and every one of these deaths.

Pictures from the web

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 15:33 UK time, Tuesday, 19 February 2008

As I wrote recently there’s been some discussion here of late about the use of personal photos from social networking sites.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteMost recently, it came up at an Editorial Policy meeting organised by the BBC department of the same name which sets out guidelines to help BBC staff with tricky editorial issues. They hold monthly sessions, which are open to all BBC staff who work on TV, radio and online. Following each meeting, a newsletter is produced, summarising the outcome of the discussions and this is circulated to staff, and published externally. Here's what was said about pictures from social networking sites.


When should broadcasters re-use personal pictures and video available on the internet? Until relatively recently, pictures of members of the public who became the subject of news stories, particularly tragic events, were only available if supplied by family or friends. Now the growth of social networking and personal websites has made these pictures more readily available to the media. But their re-use can raise a number of legal and ethical issues.

This emerging ethical area was considered at the latest monthly Editorial Policy meeting for staff from throughout the BBC.

The ease of availability of a picture does not remove our responsibility to assess the sensitivities in using it. Simply because material may have been put into the public domain may not always give the media the right to exploit its existence.

The use of a picture by the BBC brings material to a much wider public than a personal website that would only be found with very specific search criteria.

Consideration should be given to the context in which it was originally published including the intended audience, the impact of re-use on those who may be grieving or distressed, and the legal issues of privacy and copyright. In the interests of accuracy, care should also be taken to verify the picture.

Tough topics

Sinead Rocks | 10:10 UK time, Monday, 18 February 2008

A radio presenter in Belfast recently asked me why Newsround has decided to “change its agenda”. She was reacting to the news that we’ve been given the go ahead to make two new specials; one on divorce, the other on knife crime. “Divorce I understand...” she said “But knife crime?”

Newsround logoTo spare her blushes, I’ll say she’s 30-something. As a child, she watched the show regularly and now views it fondly, albeit through a haze of nostalgia. Her memories of Newsround are all about pandas and space shuttle launches.

And to some extent, that’s true, but Newsround also has a history of not shying away from darker stories and social issues. At times, it means our output can be contentious. Different parents have different ideas about what they think their children should know about the world and we have a duty to keep that in mind every single day. At the same time though, the reality is that children pick up on news events from other media as well and our contact with them shows that they often turn to us during traumatic and difficult times, hoping that we can provide some kind of context and reassurance.

Knife crime came to our attention when we commissioned a survey late last year into the views and experiences of children aged 6 – 12. Alarmingly, 10% said they were scared of being stabbed or shot.

We are determined that our forthcoming programme will both address and allay these fears. To a large extent that’s what we seek to do on a daily basis whether we are discussing the situation in Iraq, the pressure of SATs or terrorism in the UK.

When the London bombs exploded, the e-mails kids sent us about their reactions to the events, became the inspiration for the Bafta award winning drama ‘That Summer Day’. Similarly, our forthcoming divorce programme ‘(The Worst Thing Ever?’) takes an innovative approach – mixing drama with animation but all of it is based on the real life experiences of the children who watch our shows.

Newsround’s agenda hasn’t changed but perhaps the world has; our job is simply to explain it. Our special programmes will be on air in spring. Watch out for them and let me know if you think we’ve achieved our aims.

Inside the White House

Rome Hartman | 16:16 UK time, Friday, 15 February 2008

Physically, the White House never seems to change. I've been going there for more than 20 years, off and on, and I'm always struck by the constancy of the setting. The formal areas are quite grand, of course, and meticulously maintained.

bbcwordnewsamerica140x100.jpgOur interview with President Bush yesterday was conducted in a room simply called the library, on the lower level; it's one of several rooms on either side of what's called the cross-hallway - a long corridor that runs from one end of the White House to the other. These rooms are often used for interviews and functions. When Matt Frei interviewed Laura Bush a few months ago, it was conducted just across the hall.

The White House has a permanent staff of conservators, and there are always a few on hand during set-up for an interview. They're the only people who are permitted to touch or move any of the furniture or artwork in any of these rooms, and watching them work always reminds me that while presidents come and go, the White House and its contents belong to the people of America.

Of course the atmosphere and feel of the place do change, a lot, depending on who's sitting in the Oval Office. I first covered the White House during Ronald Reagan's presidency, as a young producer for CBS News, and I remember being struck at the time by the formality of the place, and by a sense that it operated at quite a slow pace (perhaps I was just impatient).

When George HW Bush took over from Reagan, the atmosphere changed overnight. It was as if the pulse rate jumped by about 15 beats per minute, even as the sense of focus diminished a bit.

Later, Bill Clinton's White House had an even less formal feel, and if an interview was set for 1pm, you wouldn't be at all surprised if it actually began at 2pm.

frei_bush203.jpgGeorge W Bush, on the other hand, has a well-deserved reputation for punctuality and rigour; for wanting events to happen just when they've been scheduled, and to happen just as they've been designed. Yesterday, he strode into the library ten minutes early, greeted all of us crisply, and was ready for the cameras to roll 30 seconds after sitting down.

I expected him to march right back out as soon as the cameras stopped and the obligatory 'grip and grin' photo had been taken by his official photographer. But he didn't. He lingered, talking to Matt and members of our crew for about five minutes, and then to Matt alone in the map room - another one of those rooms off the cross-hallway - for another 20. (By the way, it had been made clear by the president's staff that any conversations other than when the camera was rolling carried "an expectation of privacy;" that's another way of saying "off the record"). On any president's daily schedule, that extra 25 minutes is an eternity. The fact that George W Bush spent that much unscheduled time with us seemed to surprise even his own staff.

By this time next year, there will be a different feel to the place… a different occupant, atmosphere, and pace. But that staff of careful conservators will be the same.

On the brink of a new era?

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 12:03 UK time, Friday, 15 February 2008

This week - as our presenter Robin Lustig has blogged about - two places that have been the subjects of what's called 'humanitarian intervention' have been in the news for different reasons.

The World TonightEast Timor - or Timor Leste to give it its proper name - became independent almost six years ago following three years of transitional UN government that prepared the country to stand on its own feet following 25 years of pretty brutal Indonesian occupation. It was a country without judges, lawyers, police or teachers, who could speak the new official language proficiently. It's been in the news this week following an attempt by renegade soldiers to kill the president and prime minister, a further indication that this poverty-stricken tiny country is chronically unstable despite the relatively large international aid and reconstruction effort put in.

The other place in the news is Kosovo, the Serbian province that is about to declare independence and officially break away from Belgrade, but it will not be a truly independent country. For one thing, not everyone will recognise it - Serbia and Russia won't and even some EU states have promised not to as well. Secondly - and confusingly - the EU as a body is sending in an unprecedented mission that will run the police and justice system and oversee the government of the new state which some experts on the region, such as Gerald Knaus of the European Stability Initiative who was on the programme on Wednesday (which you can listen to here), have called an 'EU Protectorate'. Critics of what the EU is doing ask if subsidising and running other states is what the EU is for and ask how the EU got itself into this position.

But what is about to happen is unprecedented in another way. When the US, the UK, France and some other EU states recognise Kosovo, it will be a break with the settlement after World War II, and confirmed in the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, that borders in Europe would not be changed without the consent of the countries concerned. When the Czechs and Slovaks split up Czechoslovakia and created two new states, it was by mutual agreement, but this time it isn't. The Serbian foreign minister last night called it a "direct and unprovoked attack on our sovereignty". He also warned the UN Security Council that recognition of Kosovo's independence will open a Pandora's Box as there are many other separatist regions in the world waiting to break away, including some in Europe.

So on tonight's programme we will be discussing whether such interventions can work, and if they can, what lessons need to be learnt about the need to plan clearly what you do after you have achieved your initial objective.

On another note, the World Tonight has just won the 2008 Award for Statistical Excellence in Journalism from the Royal Statistical Society for a report by Jonty Bloom on how death tolls in conflicts like Iraq and Darfur are calculated and often politicised (which you can listen to here).

Weekly entertainment

Matthew Shaw | 08:43 UK time, Thursday, 14 February 2008

It's been called the return of entertainment news on News 24 - try telling that to the team who produce two Entertainment 24 bulletins four nights a week.

BBC News 24 logoOur new programme E24 aims to be the brasher younger sister of the daily round-ups, looking back at the best of the week's entertainment stories as well as giving a sneak peek at what's to come.

Blue Peter presenter and Strictly Come Dancing star Gethin Jones has signed up as one of our presenters, along with James Dagwell who’s one of the faces of Entertainment 24. They'll be talking to movers and shakers in the industry and there will be reports from here, Hollywood and Broadway.

Preparations ahead of the Oscars ceremonyWe don't want it to become a red carpet and junket show (please feel free to tell us off if that happens!) and we hope to surprise you with a few behind-the-scenes reports.

We’ll treat entertainment and arts news in exactly the same way as any political or financial story - finding out the facts behind the fiction and giving an insight into how the business works. But of course we also want the programme to be fun.

Lessons from the pulpit

Peter Rippon | 14:24 UK time, Tuesday, 12 February 2008

The World at One interviewed the Archbishop of Canterbury last week. You may have heard about it (or you can listen to it here).

World at One logoIt's common when an interview provokes such a huge reaction, most of it negative, for the messenger to get a bit of flak too. To his credit the Archbishop has not used this tactic (as his speech yesterday proved). Lambeth Palace was aware the speech needed to be handled carefully. So were we. Our reporter, Christopher Landau (MA Theology, MPhil Elizabethan Church History) knows what he is talking about and framed the interview very carefully and precisely to make sure we accurately reflected the Archbishop's view.

There has been some criticism of the 'tabloids' and media more widely for mangling the message. I am not convinced that goes very far in explaining the public reaction either. When the interview went out, nine minutes long, we broadcast no criticism of it. Within minutes we had a huge, overwhelmingly negative, e-mail and text response to what he said. That's hours before any newspapers had gone to print.

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan WilliamsA lot of comment has rightly focused on the culture clash between the cloistered academic world of theological debate and the crass, clumsy demands of the 24-hour mass media.

There's an old adage in TV that the key to good storytelling is to simplify and exaggerate. In radio there is an apocryphal story about the seasoned old hack who when asked to cut a crafted minute long despatch to 40 seconds responded. "My dear chap, I can do the Second World War in 40 seconds if you like, but you might lose a bit of detail."

However, it would be wrong to conclude it is only the media who can learn from this. As Martha Kearney points out in her World at One newsletter, the speech was very high fibre. If the Archbishop insists on writing in sentences that are 146 words long he will not get many shifts on our Newsdesk.

Mobile reporting

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 09:50 UK time, Tuesday, 12 February 2008

You might have noticed reports on the site yesterday from the Mobile World Congress taking place in Barcelona this week. There are a couple of things about the way we're reporting it which I think are interesting and a bit different from what we normally do.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteFirst is that the fullest and most detailed reporting we're doing is happening in our tech blog, although we're still running regular news stories and some features on the site too.

Second is that a lot of the reporting is being done by mobile phone. Rory Cellan-Jones is covering the event in the normal way for TV and radio, while for the website he and Darren Waters are using mobiles to report and video their interviews.

Rory Cellan-JonesThe video is no-frills, quick and simple compared with what we might normally do, and it is decidedly rough around the edges, but it has immediacy and gets across the information. If you've had a look, what do you think? Will we be reporting everything like this one day?

PS. In a fitting coincidence, I've been reading their reports on a mobile, too, on my commute home, and have typed out this blog post en route with my thumbs. Who needs offices any more...

Powerful images

Ben Rich | 10:02 UK time, Thursday, 7 February 2008

It was about four o’clock on Monday afternoon that we were told that a second suicide bomber had been involved in the attack in Dimona in Israel, and that he had been shot by the police before he could detonate his device. We were also told that the shooting had been filmed and the pictures were on their way in.

BBC Six O'Clock News logoWe have a pretty firm rule about these things, especially at six o'clock in the evening. We do not show someone actually being killed. So we had to decide how much of the incident could be included in the piece.

In the end we used the pictures up to the moment the police officer fired his gun at the bomber lying on the ground, then froze it but carried on the sound of the shots over it. We did not then show the scene after the shooting finished.

Israeli policeman at the scene of a suicide bombing in Dimona, IsraelSome would argue that none of it should have been used. But we were trying to tell the important story of the first suicide bomb in Israel for over a year, and to give some sense of how Israel was likely to react to it.

This sequence showing the chaos and fear of a suburban shopping centre in the aftermath of an atrocity of this kind is as powerful an illustration as you could possibly have of what it means to live under the shadow of suicide bombers.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Middle East situation, these events can drive change or prevent it. And it's our job to show them as directly and powerfully as we can.

8pm summary stats

Craig Oliver Craig Oliver | 15:02 UK time, Tuesday, 5 February 2008

It's been almost two months since we launched the new short news update on BBC One at 8pm.

BBC Ten O'Clock News logoI blogged about the aims of the summary at the time of launch in December - one of the key ones was to reach audiences who don't watch any BBC TV News output during the week.

I thought I'd share with you some of the audience figures we've had back from the first two weeks of the summary. 24.4 million people (or around 43% of the population) watched the summary in that fortnight.

As we thought it's not the sort of bulletin (like the Six or Ten O'Clock News) that viewers would make a special point of watching - it's something they'd catch just before or after EastEnders. Indeed 65% of the audience only watched one summary in a week.

BBC One 8pm summaryFor 1.7 million viewers the 8pm summary was the only BBC TV News they saw in that week with nearly 600,000 in the 16-34 year old bracket (again an audience we know is watching less and less TV news).

We always wanted to make sure that traditional BBC One viewers didn't switch off because of the summary and the figures seem to show that isn't happening.

From our own internal research, viewers like the mix of national and regional news - something our competitors like Five don't do with their updates. They thought the summary was “to the point” and “informative” and it appealed most to younger and more working class audiences.

It's also given us a chance to update BBC One viewers with stories that break between the end of the Six O'Clock News and the Ten O'Clock News - for example the death of Jeremy Beadle last week.

Journalism, not 'churnalism'

Kevin Marsh Kevin Marsh | 11:02 UK time, Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Guardian journalist Nick Davies arrives at some damning insights in his new book, Flat Earth News. Many will share his wrath at the "sloppy" and "morally bankrupt" British press - too much of the British press is as bad an anything anywhere else in the world. But he might have come to the right answer for the wrong reasons.

If you haven't caught up with the book yet, the headline to his Guardian article captures one half of his tale crisply: "Our media have become mass producers of distortion", it reads.

The reason, he argues: while the number of journalists on most papers has increased, the space they have to fill has increased even more quickly. Davies reckons the average national newspaper journalist now has to fill three times the space he/she used to... as well as the greedy pockets of owners and shareholders.

Result, he goes on: journalists are now forced to shovel unchecked drivel from PR firms straight onto the page or onto the airwaves - "passive processors of unchecked, second-hand material, much of it contrived by PR to serve some political or commercial interest. Not journalists, but churnalists."

And because journalists don't have the time to do their jobs properly, he argues, - and this is where the threads go ping - some cut corners and resort to snooping, bugging and bin-trawling.

I'm not sure about this route from ‘gradgrind exploitee’, through dereliction of journalistic duty to moral bankrupt - too many newspaper journalists have been too content for too long to run massive moral overdrafts without any pressure from corporate bosses.

It's true that journalists have more time/space to fill - even more, incidentally in 2008 than in 2006, the last year that the Cardiff researchers looked at - and that's a concern for anyone who cares about journalism and what it does.

Clive GoodmanNick Davies is right when he warns against 'churnalism' - news as process... but I just don't believe that the former royal reporter of the News of the World, Clive Goodman, illegally bugged royal phones (and he was not alone in that kind of activity) and went to jail because he and his paper were drowning under the weight of press releases to process.

Nor do I believe pressure to produce is the real reason why too many journalists couldn't stir themselves to check the facts of the Etireno "slave-ship" a few years back or of the Romanian "child traffickers" in Slough a few weeks back. (Though BBC and Guardian journalists did. Both.)

Nor was it why some political journalists connived at becoming little more than the publishing arm of No 10 in the Campbell era.

These are all questions of personal, moral and ethical choices. If a journalist chooses to abandon the principles that all journalists claim to hold (commitment to the truth, independence, acting in the interest of the public) then he or she can blame no-one but him/herself.

BBC newsroomAt the BBC College of Journalism, we place the ethics and values of the trade, along with safeguarding the trust of our audiences, far above any technical or editorial skill... one reason why trust in broadcasting remains much higher than that in the press.

The truth is, too many British newspaper journalists have for too long confused verification with impact, independence with arrogance and the interests of the public with the basest interests of some sectors of the public.

As the respected Guardian veteran and blogger Roy Greenslade describes, most senior, thinking journalists welcome Nick Davies' book as something to be taken seriously. Let's see if journalists - and not just editors - do take it seriously.

The trouble is, though, the British newspaper journalist has no history of taking criticism well... or working out what it is that needs to be done to turn a dysfunctional, distrusted press into something that performs a useful public purpose.

Are we unfair to MPs?

Peter Barron | 15:18 UK time, Friday, 1 February 2008

One or two of you have written to us this week to complain that we're unfair to politicians, assuming they're up to no good and generally giving them a hard time.

Newsnight logoIt is true we've done an awful lot of items in recent days concerning dubious employment practices, dodgy donations and the general lack of transparency about the goings-on of the honourable members.

Do we do too much? It would be good to hear your thoughts.

I certainly subscribe to the view that the majority of MPs are honourable, hard-working people whose primary aim is to serve the public.

I also sympathise, a bit, with the view - expressed again by Alastair Campbell this week - that the media can tend towards a culture of negativity and loves a crisis, real or imagined.

But, given all the sleaze crises that politicians have suffered in recent years, it is amazing that even a small number still appear to be willing to bend or ignore the rules.

And while - in this age of transparency - our MPs continue to resist the kind of scrutiny and sanction that others in the public eye face, it is surely right that we ask the likes of Crick, Grossman and Paxman to keep asking awkward questions.

Feedback on pictures

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 10:02 UK time, Friday, 1 February 2008

There’s been some good, well-informed feedback from you on the status of pictures on personal and social networking sites. Several – I think rightly - highlight copyright as the key issue.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteI think Juno has a point about people confusing ease of access to material with freedom to use it. I hope we don’t do that.

I also think Jay has a point when he says he – and probably others – don’t necessarily pay close attention to the terms and conditions for use of the photos they post on various sites.

Alf – the idea of “intended audiences” is an important one, and I agree it does and will create ethical dilemmas, not just around images and video, but personal information in general. Maybe the best advice to us on the matter is from Nick: treat others as you’d like to be treated yourself.

Thanks for the responses. The whole issue is being discussed by various people in the BBC, and I’m sure we’ll revisit it soon.


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