BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Out and about

Paul Brannan | 14:54 UK time, Friday, 14 March 2008

Have you used BBC Mobile services to keep abreast of football scores, or check the weather forecast, or dip into news headlines when you're out and about?

BBC mobilesIf you have then you're in a minority at the moment, but I'm guessing that if that question was asked again in five years then you'd be part of a big majority.

If you haven't tried it so far it's entirely understandable.

Telecom data charges, connections speeds, handset costs and poor user interfaces are all barriers to entry.

And for some people being part of the always-on, always-connected world simply isn't a requirement.

But there's no doubting the world has become a faster place, where transmission of data by text and e-mail and instant messenger and FTP has become part of the fabric of everyday life.

Broadband, wi-fi and Wimax have started to effect profound change with on-the-go people wanting information at their fingertips around the clock and at a time and place of their choosing.

BBC Mobile is part of meeting that change. It’s already the UK's number one service for news, sport and weather with around 2.7m users a month.

This week the wraps came off an enhanced offering to take advantage of larger, more colourful screens and to better promote existing content.

As well as dynamic updates to the front page there are new BBC Local pages for every part of the UK, There’s better promotion for travel and weather and a new site for Radio 1 Newsbeat with entertainment headlines and pictures. If you’ve never seen it and would like to know more go to the website here.

And if you’re an existing user we’d like to hear what you think of the changes we’ve made and what else you’d like to see as the service develops.

The sociable web

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Paul Brannan | 11:45 UK time, Friday, 17 August 2007

Observant visitors to our website will have noticed a new feature which we added yesterday. From now on, you will find social bookmarking links at the bottom of all the stories on the BBC News website.

bookmarks.gifThis is what they look like, and you can see how they work by clicking on any story - here's a random example.

If you're not familiar with the concept of social bookmarking, these are sites which allow you to store, tag and share links across the internet. You can share these links both with friends and people with similar interests, and you can also access your links from any computer you happen to be using.

So if you read a BBC story that you find interesting, and you want to save for future reference or share it with other people, simply click on one of these links to do so. All the sites we've chosen are free to use, but they do require you to register before you can begin bookmarking.

We're not the first - or the only - news website to offer these buttons. Others, including the New York Times and the Washington Post, have also added this functionality, and you'll see similar links on many popular blogs. We hope that adding them to BBC News pages will encourage more people to use these services, and in turn, to use them to highlight interesting BBC content.

You can find out more about social bookmarking in this Wikipedia entry.

As you'll see on that page, there are a huge number of social bookmarking sites out there. The five sites we've chosen - Delicious, Digg, Reddit, Facebook and Stumbleupon - are those which we believe are going to be most useful to our audience. We'd be interested in what you think, though, so please do let us know.

Blog talk

Paul Brannan | 13:04 UK time, Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Blogs are supposed to be a conversation, but sometimes the robust exchange of opinions they trigger develop into something far more unpleasant, even frightening.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteThat was the case for computer programmer Kathy Sierra who was targeted with death threats in anonymous posts to a number of websites.

And that, in turn, led web guru Tim O'Reilly to try to draft a code of conduct for bloggers in which civility of debate would be an enforced standard.

It could never work, of course. You might just as well try to regulate discourse around the globe, though if you were intent on making headway you could usefully start with school playgrounds or the top decks of buses.

The world is full of snarling, angry, aggressive people and the web is no different. Happily they're outnumbered by reasonable, decent, fair-minded folk who hold to standards of tolerant behaviour that aren't codified by rulebooks, however well-meaning the boundary-setters might be.

Where the web does differ is the cloak of anonymity it affords people who mount attacks on others, who use a tone and language they would never adopt in a face-to-face discussion (well, all but the most aggressive).

Another web guru, Jeff Jarvis, deals with anonymous posts to his Buzz Machine blog this way: "I will not give full respect and credence to things said by people who do not have the balls to stand behind their words.

"When people complain that I’m trying to get rid of the anonymous nature of the web, I say no, I wouldn’t do that. I’m simply telling you the way I judge your words when you’re too chicken to put your name on them."

And he goes on to say that he reserves the right to kill comments that are abusive, off-topic or irritating.

In this way he is setting the tone around the conversations he strikes up. And in this way the best blogs are self-regulating; the people involved in the conversation set the boundaries.

Shane Richmond, the Telegraph's online news editor sums this up neatly: "Communities filled with abusive, insensitive boors who won't listen to reason tend to become very small communities in short order as everybody heads elsewhere."

In a world of political correctness there are few places where people can vent their true feelings and codes of conduct to try to limit them are mistaken.

We need a place where people can sound off - and an opportunity for their opinions to be examined, debated and explored by others.

Let's cherish the reasoned, passionate debaters and leave the boors to their echo chamber.

In the buffer

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Paul Brannan | 14:58 UK time, Friday, 28 July 2006

The language of conflict has always given birth to euphemisms – collateral damage, kinetic targeting and ethnic cleansing are among the more recent entries to the argot of the times.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteGeorge Orwell covered this ground in Politics and the English Language back in 1945. He wrote: "“Defenceless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification.

“Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers."

Orwell saw this retreat into euphemism as a consequence of political expediency by those seeking to defend the indefensible. Such phraseology was needed by those who wanted to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.

A more recent commentator, Keith Woods of the Poynter Institute, cautioned against adopting the language of the military in reporting on war. “Language has always had a power that tilts towards those who define the terms,” he observed.

And my colleague Jon Williams has also written of the sensitivities of language, specifically the words used to describe the recent taking of the two Israeli soldiers.

The weight of history and its years of tit-for-tat reprisals in the region would lead many people to take issue with Orwell’s conclusion about language. Some would insist that Israel’s actions in southern Lebanon were entirely defensible. But when, in a recent report, we mentioned the proposal for a “buffer zone” between Israel and Lebanon as part of a wider ceasefire plan it prompted one viewer to write and complain.

"'Buffer zone' is a propaganda term used by the Israeli government. It should not be simply repeated by a news organisation.”

Such a description would be mendacious to many Lebanese. For them it’s a straightforward invasion and occupation of their territory.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the conflict, using the Israeli terminology - “buffer zone” - without ascribing it to them would make it appear that we accept the view of it as a purely defensive measure designed to protect Israel from aggression. Not using the term could also make us appear partial, or that we believed the argument that it is nothing to do with self-defence.

So, for future instances, I’ve asked the web team simply to make clear that the expression is one Israel has given to it.

Paul Brannan is deputy editor of the BBC News website

Personal news

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Paul Brannan | 15:13 UK time, Thursday, 27 July 2006

Users of the BBC News website in the UK might have noticed something different about the front page today.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteWe have introduced some customisation, enabling people to have news and weather relevant to their chosen postcode, along with sports news about a particular team, all displayed right there on the front page.

There's long been a debate about how much personalisation people want (see this instalment of Pete Clifton's column from more than a year ago where he discussed the issue). We think our new service is the right balance - the main stories appear at the top of the page just as they always have, but we hope these new links will make the site just a bit more convenient for users.

We know there are a couple of issues about the accuracy of postcode mapping, but we're keen to hear what you've got to say about this new feature. It's a "beta" version, meaning we want as much feedback as possible - let us know using the form on this page.

Paul Brannan is deputy editor of the BBC News website

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.

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?

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.

Helping the BNP?

Paul Brannan | 16:38 UK time, Monday, 15 May 2006

Should the BBC News website link to the BNP's online pages? In doing so are we driving traffic to the party's "ignorant, hateful and cowardly" content, as one complainant insists?

newswebsite.gifThe disclaimer that "the BBC is not responsible for external sites" cuts little ice: "I am not asking the BBC to take responsibility for the racist content of this particular website, but you must take responsibility for linking to this vile content."

The easy thing to do would be to adopt an all-or-nothing policy. After all, if people really want to find their way to this kind of material then Google is only a click away. Why help the process? A blanket ban would relieve us of the Wisdom of Solomon judgement calls.

So, for that matter, would a policy of linking to anything and everything and that would certainly chime with web audiences who see editorialising as censorship.

In reality we make decisions on which sites to link to on a case-by-case basis and we consider them carefully, in relation to the news agenda and the context around each story. In general, we link to sites where there is sufficient editorial justification. We take into account the BBC guidelines on harm and offence and the law relating to such matters as defamation or incitement to racial hatred.

And as far as the BNP is concerned we have not in general linked to their site but, in the interests of impartiality, we have done so during election periods. Sure, we drive traffic to the site but click-throughs don't necessarily convert to support for the party. In fact, the opposite may be true.


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