BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Archives for August 2006

All sides of the story?

Craig Oliver Craig Oliver | 12:00 UK time, Thursday, 31 August 2006

Recent audience research came back with one big message: "We want all sides of the story."

BBC Ten O'Clock News logoWe try to challenge the received wisdom on a daily basis - but one of the most interesting examples of this came in our coverage of the decision to make it illegal to view violent porn.

Teacher Jane Longhurst was killed by a man who was was obsessed with violent pornography (he is in the process of appealing against a murder conviction). The sites show torture, murder, gang rape…you get the picture. There's clearly a market for this kind of stuff, and yesterday Jane's mother won a campaign against it.

Our cameraman, correspondent and producer spent the day looking into the story. They discovered that much of the material is faked - though a lot is extremely convincing. As other BBC outlets told the story there was an interesting audience response that challenged the assumption of many that there would be almost universal revulsion.

Rod McKenzie, editor of Radio 1 Newsbeat
, sent round an e-mail letting us know the text messages that some of the station's listeners were sending in. They included:

• This is banning S&M
• extreme net porn is staged and consensual why ban it
• You can't say what violence is in porn, where is the line crossed ? Is a porn star who's not really up for it that day being treated violently?
• what happens between consenting adults shouldn't carry the risk of going to court
• there's nothing wrong with sexual experimentation S&M between consenting adults behind closed doors or online

Denise MahoneyIt was a response we hadn't entirely expected - and Denise Mahoney (right) reflected it in her item on the Ten O'Clock News (watch it here).

So, while it was important to give the police and Mrs Longhurst due weight, it was also important to use our position post-watershed to show as much as we could - within the bounds of taste and decency - and raise the questions: can watching this material really trigger murder? If it can't, should we really ban the stuff that is clearly faked and criminalise those who view it?

Answering your feedback

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 09:54 UK time, Thursday, 31 August 2006

OK - so you didn’t like all of it.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteWe've received a lot of comments about the site design changes (discussed here last week). These have been hugely useful, so many thanks. It’s not a comprehensive, scientific sample but - taken together with other feedback we’ve had - there are a few clear messages, so here’s a summary with some replies.

The local news personalisation and 'most read' features have been popular. The greater prominence for audio and video got mixed reviews. The link in the banner is welcomed by some as a way of getting quickly to latest TV bulletins and video news summaries. Others say they don’t use video much on the web so they don’t need it.

We’re not going to completely satisfy everyone, but audio/video usage is on the increase and we believe it’s an important part of what we have to offer - so it’s going to stay well-signposted on the page.

The thing that bothered a lot of you was the fact that the audio/video section in the middle of the page is too obtrusive and doesn’t stay hidden on return visits once you’ve closed it. It’s a good point and we’re going to revisit the way we’ve implemented that part of the page.

Thanks to Dan for pointing out that there’s a whole discussion about the new A/V area here. Not sure whether to be pleased or alarmed about this...

As for the new banner, some like it, others think it’s too big or don’t like the way the BBC News logo is now in the top left rather than across the top. In fact the new banner is about ten pixels higher. We’re using that space to promote popular TV and radio news programmes and our designers felt that any trade-offs about size of the logo would be solved by moving it towards the top left - the most noticeable space on a web site. The logo is more in line with that used by TV News, and we are keen on consistency of the visual brand.

A couple of people lamented the loss of the sport and weather coloured graphics on the left-hand side of the page. We adopted straightforward text links as part of a general move to reduce visual clutter on the page and to bring those links into line with the rest.

News services – can’t we think of a better term for the mobile alerts, news feeds, podcasts etc? I’m afraid we can’t – feel free to make suggestions though.

In answer to some of the other, miscellaneous questions:
• Usage of audio/video shoots up for big stories.
• We’ve forwarded the comments about the weather service on to the BBC Weather site.
• For those who really only want a simple list of headlines there are always the RSS feeds or even the low graphics version of the News site which we link to in our banner.
• We changed the ‘Don’t miss’ labelling recently because we thought it didn’t work with all the content – and ‘Features, views, analysis’ is a better description for this area of the page.

And just quickly... yes we did do some user testing before we made the changes, and no we really didn’t lead the site with the story about the risk to the basil crop in Italy, though it did indeed feature on the front page. We try and reflect a wide range of stories on the front page – not just the most serious of the day.

Thanks again to everyone who commented – if your question hasn’t been answered by any of the above and you would still like a reply let me know.

Lastly – aside from those who told us they approved of the whole thing, this was our favourite bit of feedback – from Dominic:

"I hadn’t noticed any changes. Is that a good thing?"

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 08:56 UK time, Thursday, 31 August 2006

Financial Times: "Ashley Highfield, head of the BBC’s new “future media and technology” division, answers questions from readers." (link)

The Times: "The 14-year-old brother of a Pakistani journalist working for the BBC was found murdered yesterday in a remote tribal area." (link)

How to say: Jarosław Kaczyński

Host Host | 13:08 UK time, Wednesday, 30 August 2006

A guide to names and words in the news from Martha Figueroa-Clark of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

"Today's pronunciation is Polish Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński. Our recommendation is yarr-OSS-waff katch-IN-ski (-arr as in marry; -tch as in church).

"The barred L in Jarosław is pronounced like a W in English, while the Ń in Kaczyński represents a nasalised vowel in a native Polish pronunciation but this is rendered as a nasal consonant in our anglicised pronunciation. Lech Kaczyński, President of Poland and Jarosław Kaczyński's twin brother is pronounced LEKH (-kh as in Scottish 'loch')."

Click for a guide to our phonetic pronunciations (PDF)

On air

Craig Oliver Craig Oliver | 10:57 UK time, Wednesday, 30 August 2006

Here's an example of the difference between appearance and mundane reality.

dome2.jpgWe got a couple of calls last night questioning the Ten's decision to put a reporter in a helicopter to cover the Dome story. An outrageous use of public money?! Do we sit here thinking up ways to waste your cash?

Not quite... we have a deal whereby we can use a helicopter for an average of seven hours a week. We were planning to get some shots of the Dome from the air (the best place to see it) for all BBC TV and online outlets and we thought why not get a reporter to go up and see it at no extra cost?

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 10:18 UK time, Wednesday, 30 August 2006

The Daily Telegraph: Interview with Ashley Highfield, head of New Media and Technology at the BBC, on how a broadcaster's archives will become more important. (Link)
The Guardian: Diary item asking if people carrying trays on their heads had walked on the set during a Newsnight interview. (Link)
The Daily Mirror: Columnist Kevin Maguire says a BNP caller rang the BBC to complain that Maguire had been on Radio Four on Sunday. (Link)
The Daily Telegraph: Obituary for former BBC presenter, and Spectator radio critic, Michael Vestey, who became a harsh critic of the BBC under Lord Birt. (Link)

The news at nine

Tim Levell | 13:13 UK time, Tuesday, 29 August 2006

What were you doing when you were nine years old? And, more to the point, what was going on in the world that year?

Newsround logoIt's quite a sobering exercise. Look up the year when you were nine on Wikipedia (mine was 1978) and you'll probably be surprised how much you don't recall from the news. All I think I was aware of was the World Cup (Archie Gemmill's goal), two Popes dying in close succession and suspicious circumstances, Georgi Markov being poisoned in London by an umbrella (a real-life spy story!) and, weirdly, the Times newspaper strike.

Whereas, I remember far more clearly what I did on my summer holiday, who my primary school teacher was, and the trauma of my favourite pet dying.

I ask because Newsround has a new target audience, and it's a slightly younger one than before. As part of the BBC's Creative Future review , there will be a new teen brand, which will aim at, um, teenagers. Which allows CBBC and all the BBC's "children's" output to focus clearly and fully on the primary school audience.

It's a shift for us. In the past, Newsround has catered for a slightly older eight to 12-year-old age range - going into the first two years of secondary school. So focusing is a bit of a challenge.

But we're up for challenges. From today, regular Newsround viewers and readers will notice some differences.

We are using larger pictures on the stories on the Newsround website and a larger text size on our TV bulletins. Our round-up of 20-second stories on our TV bulletins will be chosen on the strength of the pictures, rather than including stories which are "important" but visually dull (no more court arrivals). We are aiming to use simpler language in the first four sentences of our web stories, on the basis that that's the right amount for children who are slower at reading.

And will be focusing ever more on stories that are relevant and interesting to nine-year-olds: stories about their lives, about other children in the UK and around the world. So behind-the-scenes, we have a new newsroom structure which should improve our forward planning, making richer, more proactive and more investigative.

It means that Newsround will probably cover fewer of the hard political stories that make it into the Wikipedia summaries of the year. But it might also mean that, thanks to our research, we break more stories about children's lives that seep into the national agenda.

How to say: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Host Host | 13:01 UK time, Tuesday, 29 August 2006

A guide to words and names in the news from Martha Figueroa-Clark of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

"Today's pronunciation is Iranian President Mahmoud AHMADINEJAD (sometimes also spelt AHMADINEZHAD). Our recommendation is mah-MOOD ah-mad-in-uh-ZHAAD (-h is pronounced in 'Mahmoud' and in 'Ahmadinejad') based on the advice of the BBC Persian Monitoring team."
(Click for a guide to our phonetic pronunciations (PDF).)

The attraction

Peter Barron | 11:20 UK time, Tuesday, 29 August 2006

Following my last post one viewer thought it was outrageous that the editor of Newsnight should be taking part in Stars in their Eyes at the Edinburgh TV Festival. Why?

Peter Barron as Elvis Costello
But in the main, thanks for your support and touching concern for my IBS. In the end, the extraordinary skill of the production team meant none of us was actually all that nervous when it came to our moment of glory, live in front of an audience of around a thousand highly discerning TV types.

I did Elvis Costello's Oliver's Army and thought it went pretty well - but the result was never in doubt as Wall to Wall's Alex Graham was a truly awesome Joe Cocker.

Now there's an odd and slightly empty feeling getting up in the morning without having to worry about the key change.

BBC in the news, Tuesday

Host Host | 10:43 UK time, Tuesday, 29 August 2006

The Herald: Discussion in letters page about Newsnight Scotland. (Link)

The Telegraph and others:
BBC History Magazine poll names Thatcher and Attlee as best prime ministers of 20th century. (Link)

The Sun: Diary item on Today programme's discussion of how best to prepare scones with jam and cream. (No link available)

Stress in the workplace

Peter Barron | 12:05 UK time, Friday, 25 August 2006

Earlier this week the BBC in-house mag e-mailed me to see if we could help with an item they’re doing about stress in the workplace.

Newsnight logoI couldn’t think of much to say. Obviously Newsnight has its moments, but generally it’s not a particularly stressy environment – not like air traffic control or A&E or 24-hour news. And then Wednesday happened.

We had a much sought-after interview with the Monarch Two, the two Asian lads from Manchester thrown off a holiday flight for freaking out the passengers. The Daily Mirror got the scoop and for some reason offered the only TV interviews to ITV News and Newsnight.

So there was quite a lot riding on it. When at 8.30pm – two hours before we go on air – our producer called from Manchester to say that not a single frame of the interview they’d recorded was usable because of a tape fault, our motormouth programme editor Jasmin simply responded “I don’t know what to say”, and my long dormant IBS started to play up.

Incredibly, we managed to persuade the boys to re-do the interview and with superhuman assistance from the BBC’s Northern bureau got a satellite truck to their hotel to do an as-live interview just in time for the programme at 10.30. I bet no viewer spotted our close shave with televisual death, but yes that was stressful.

I’m writing this in Edinburgh, where I’m undergoing a different type of stress. Months ago I agreed – who knows why – to take part in a special TV Festival edition of Stars in their Eyes. Obviously the protocols of the show forbid me from saying who I’m going to be, but the process is not without anxiety.

On holiday earlier in the summer - a particularly stress-free time – I was reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, and his theory goes that when people are put in situations of intense stress they become momentarily autistic. That, he reckons, explains why policemen occasionally shoot innocent people.

Not sure about autistic, but clumsy certainly. It’s apparently to do with the blood rushing to your core and thus leaving your fingers. So when, in rehearsal, the host Vernon Kay declared – hypothetically – that I had won the event, my victory salute caught him sharply in the groin.

These are the stresses we have to endure.

More swearing

Richard Jackson | 11:02 UK time, Friday, 25 August 2006

Another bit of swearing hit the airwaves on Thursday morning. It came as we on Five Live Breakfast were talking to an Israeli soldier about a protest against his country's leadership over the handling of recent conflict.

Radio Five Live logo"I'm sorry for the word, but they f***ed up and they have to pay the price," said the soldier.

Nicky Campbell apologised - and immediately people contacted us to say that was unnecessary.

"The use of the F word was in my view completely in context," said one listener, Keith.

The broadcasting industry watchdog Ofcom however says caution must be taken over swearing, particularly at Breakfast time. Indeed Radio 1 has threatened to fine presenters if they are caught swearing on air.

So is a soldier swearing something we should say sorry for?

Here's another e-mail:

"re the interview earlier with Israeli officer. Great radio, not at all offended, it's real people in a real situation that man had just walked off a battlefield and was speaking from the heart !!! It's what Five Live is all about !!!
Keep it up - Andy Owens, Liverpool"

BBC in the news, Friday

Host Host | 10:31 UK time, Friday, 25 August 2006

Independent: Asian students deny on Newsnight that an airline mutiny was a student prank. (link)

Daily Mail: Leader on multiculturalism, including Ruth Kelly's statement about integration and George Alagiah's book. (no link available)

News cheese

Peter Rippon | 16:52 UK time, Thursday, 24 August 2006

Eddie Mair's PM blog has been launched with great fanfare. Well OK Eddie was testing the software and managed to post a test message so we've decided just to keep going.

The PM programme logoWe invited listeners to the PM Newsletter to come up with a phrase that encapsulates PM that could act as a strapline for the blog. We will put up a different one each day. I hope you enjoy them. Among my favourites are:

From Sammy Loutro PM: "The creamiest gobbets scooped straight from the middle of the News Cheese"

From Wolf Marloh PM: "The Today programme for Australians"

From Mohawk Dave PM: It's better than daytime telly"

We've decided to do a blog because I strongly believe the intimate relationship PM listeners have with the programme is similar to the sense of belonging successful online communities have. The massive take up of the PM Newsletter has reinforced that view for me. The newsletter will continue, for now, but the blog allows listeners to talk to each other without us getting in the way and not just when we are on air.

What can you expect from the blog and how will it evolve? It could be the vanguard in showing what radio can offer in the BBC's Creative Future, or it could be a dump for endless inane, barely literate, drivel. Your guess is as good as mine.

How to say: Erkki Tuomioja

Host Host | 16:32 UK time, Thursday, 24 August 2006

A daily guide to pronunciation of names and words in the news from Martha Figueroa-Clark of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

"Today's pronunciation is Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja. Our recommendation is AIR-ki TOO-uh-mi-oy-uh. As with all our advice, this is an anglicised pronunciation and is not intended to represent a native pronunciation. This is so that the pronunciation flows as naturally as possible in an English-language broadcast."

Talking talk

David Kermode | 12:40 UK time, Thursday, 24 August 2006

At the risk of becoming the resident blog bore ("becoming?" I hear you say), I want to return to my theme of interaction again.

Breakfast logoAs I've said before there's nothing new per se in audience interaction - people were writing in to That's Life 30 years ago - it's just much easier to do it these days. But it's those very means of doing it that have also made life more complicated too.

Last week, Susanna Reid, our main stand-in presenter, told me she'd been tempted by the new Carphone Warehouse Talk Talk broadband package, announced amid much fanfare on Breakfast back in the spring. She said she'd had a nightmare with it and had been driven to distraction.

Susanna ReidA potential news story? "BBC presenter has problems with computer"? Err, no.

However, we sensed from what we'd heard elsewhere (including a recent report on the Money Programme, to be fair) that many of our viewers might be in the same boat.

So, Susanna made a film about her experience, which aired on Wednesday.

A few people told us it was "indulgent". Someone even said it looked like a "vendetta".

It's certainly true that the power to put something on the television because you're cross about it is a privilege not to be abused. But we sensed it would resonate, and it did. We've had hundreds of e-mails from people who have had similar problems. Largely the complaints are about Talk Talk, but other broadband providers have also been driving our viewers wild.

A few people said Talk Talk provided a great product - and we were careful to include those comments. We followed it up this morning, and we're planning something for next week on the difficulties people face switching between providers.

Two things strike me about this:

1) Technology has the capacity to make people really cross in a "can’t live with it, can't live without it" kind of way.
And 2) people like to sound off and we can help with that. But all they really want is someone to fix it. If only we could...

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 11:32 UK time, Thursday, 24 August 2006

Press Gazette: Channel Four News reporter Alex Thomson supports the BBC's Orla Guerin in her reporting of Bint Jbail. "What Orla said about the town centre is absolutely 100 per cent true. Orla is an extremely experienced and professional correspondent," he says. (link)

Guardian: Obituary of BBC producer Iris Furlong. (link).

Daily Mail:
Letters on George Alagiah's comments on multiculturalism. (no link available)

Guy goes to Hollywood

Simon Waldman | 14:50 UK time, Wednesday, 23 August 2006

Remember Guy Goma? BBC News 24 logoThe chap who came for a job interview, as a "Data Systems Cleanser" at Television Centre, and ended up live on air on News 24? No? Where have you been?

He was famous for rather longer than Andy Warhol's 15 minutes - as media outlets across the globe scrambled to hear his take on our embarrassing mix-up. Sadly, he didn't get the job he came for, but there may still be a happy ending. Reports from California suggest his story may be turned into a Hollywood movie - and that ought to earn him a couple of quid at least.

Guy Goma on News 24Of course, if the movie moguls want to hear what REALLY happened, they know where to find me....

We're taking bets on who will play Karen Bowerman, the business presenter who conducted That Interview: Sharon Stone is hot favourite - in every sense. And casting the (talented? handsome?) news editor who carried the can (er, that'll be me, then) should be a piece of cake. Step forward George Clooney.

Can I have my 15% now, please?

How to say: Donetsk

Host Host | 13:25 UK time, Wednesday, 23 August 2006

A daily guide to names and words in the news from Lena Olausson of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

"Today's name is the site of the plane crash in Ukraine - Donetsk. The correct Ukrainian pronunciation is don-ETSK, but a russified dun-YETSK is sometimes also heard."

No news is...

Gary Smith | 10:31 UK time, Wednesday, 23 August 2006

“Summertime…and the livin’ is easy. Fish are jumpin’…”

I swing my feet up on the desk in my office at 4 Millbank, open Don DeLillo's excellent Underworld, and buzz my assistant to mix me another Martini. Another 47 days until Parliament's back, so no need to worry about work…

WHOA! Stop right there.

The MPs may be away from Westminster, the papers may report Tony Blair swilling beer and flashing his manboobs in Barbados, but our newsroom is a hive of activity. Hmmm… not quite a hive, perhaps. To be truthful, there’s an air of summer calm about the place.

In parliamentary termtime, producers charge around screaming at each other; correspondents huddle to calibrate the latest Blair/Brown rift; and – a bit like that old film Broadcast News - picture editors burst out of edit suites, tape in hand, to sprint along the corridor and get their lead story into TX before George and Natasha have finished reading the headlines. (Yes we do still work on old tape technology, sadly.)

In the summer, it’s more relaxed. Politics doesn’t stop, but it generally goes a little slower. We still of course need a core team to cover whatever happens, so I can’t let everyone go off on holiday.

This year for example there’s been an important political dimension to the two big August stories, the Middle East crisis, and the alleged terror bombing plot. David Cameron has launched a new party logo, and revamped his candidate A-list to try to get more women into Parliament. There’s even a leadership contest going on. (No I don’t mean between Gordon Brown and John Reid – that one’s not officially started yet; I mean for the top job in the UK Independence Party.)

But while the daily news ticks over, what we’re all really doing here is planning the autumn. And in this, there’s a certain symmetry between the political parties and political newsrooms. Many people in the Westminster world may be “recharging their batteries,” but most of us are also working ahead on the next phase of the political story.

So our focus is on the party conferences which get underway early in September. Like buses, you wait all year, then they all come along together. The TUC, this year in Brighton, often sets the tone for Labour; hot on its heels – and handily in the same place - come the Lib Dems; then Labour swing into Manchester, breaking the seaside tradition; and finally the Conservatives, opting this year for Bournemouth.

We will do an enormous amount of broadcasting from these conferences. So now, in these quieter August days, we’re putting the building blocks in place for that – planning our coverage, negotiating space for a few desks in some God-forsaken conference centre car park, and booking hotel rooms.

Away from that, there’s all the admin that needs to be done to keep a news team ticking over – and which never seems to get done when Parliament is sitting. Completing appraisals, filling gaps in staffing, designing a new rota for the producers, that sort of thing.

So Don DeLillo will have to wait until I get home. And sadly even if I did have the time and inclination for Martinis, I don’t have an assistant to mix them.

But at least the pace IS a little less frenetic, which gives us all the time and space to think.

“So hush little baby, don’t you cry…”

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 09:49 UK time, Wednesday, 23 August 2006

The Sun: Reports that BBC News 24's accidental hero Guy Goma has struck a six-figure deal with a Hollywood producer to make a film about the gaffe that propelled him to fame. (link)

The Guardian: A report on yesterday's changes to the BBC News website. (link)

Different site

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:41 UK time, Tuesday, 22 August 2006

You've probably noticed some more changes to the BBC News website this week.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteWe've added new banners and footers, designed to promote live TV and radio news programmes better and to give more prominence to the different ways users can access news - via mobiles, RSS news feeds, e-mail or podcasts for example.

We recently added a section to the middle of our main pages to promote our audio and video content better.

Broadband use of audio and video is on the increase. BBC News has a lot to offer and we want the website to reflect that.

We’ve also introduced an element of personalisation for UK users with a postcode box on the front page that allows you to select news, weather and sport for your area.

We’re keen for feedback on any or all of these changes, so if you have a view please let me know.

How to say: Halkidiki

Host Host | 12:30 UK time, Tuesday, 22 August 2006

A daily guide to words and names in the news from Lena Olausson of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

"Today's name is the Halkidiki peninsula in northern Greece, where forest fires forced tourists to spend last night on the beach. The pronunciation is hal-kee-dhi-KEE (-dh as in "this")."
(Click for a guide to our phonetic pronunciations (PDF).)

BBC in the news, Tuesday

Host Host | 08:58 UK time, Tuesday, 22 August 2006

The Herald: A series of letters from readers objecting to the extended coverage given by the BBC to the cricket row. (link)

News tampering

Gavin Allen | 17:36 UK time, Monday, 21 August 2006

Cricket is only a game! The e-mailer, complaining to us at the Today progamme that the ball tampering row was our lead item, wanted us to be crystal clear about this - as if the exclamation mark wasn't emphasis enough - and demanded we give him, and our other listeners, a break! (Two exclamation marks in one sentence is a surefire shorthand for You're Wrong!).

The Today programme logoAnd this listener wasn't alone. Or, indeed, wrong himself. It IS only a game. But that doesn't mean it can't, just occasionally, qualify as general news too. Some blokes booting a ball into a German net four times 40 years ago was also only a game, but I'm assured it grabbed a few headlines at the time, and rightly so. Running orders don't always have to be solely about events that alter society for decades to come, or retain significance beyond the notoriously stunted news cycle (although Moore & Co did pretty well by that standard too, as it happens).

Sometimes, a news story is a news story - even a headline news story - because it fires passions or generates debate or is just inexplicably interesting. And that's it. The father who threw himself and his children off a balcony in Crete, killing his son and injuring his daughter, is only a bloke. But he's news. As is that Gunter Grass SS-soldier-turned-author chap. It makes us curious, makes us want to find out more, makes us ask questions and try to crawl towards some tentative answers in our humble mission to explain. Oh - and entertain.
In the case of Tampergate - yes, I know it won't catch on, but someone's going to grasp wearily for the cliche, so it may as well be me - there was no shortage of entertaining questions. How do you tamper with a ball? What does a ball do once tampered with? Why doesn't rubbing it against your groin qualify as tampering? In fact why doesn't rubbing it against your groin qualify as illegal?

Fourth Test at the OvalBut, protests another listener, it is not the most important thing that's happened in the last 24 hours. Perhaps not. But then, what was? Another military death in Afghanistan? New selection procedures that could propel more Conservative Party women and ethnic minority candidates into Parliament? Saddam Hussein's genocide trial? Well, yes to all that, which is why they were all lead items today - with Saddam occupying the main 0810 slot.

But cricket was important too. Not life-threatening, not career-enhancing, not nation-building, sure - but just good old-fashioned interesting to a swathe of listeners who wanted to know how, why and whether this was cricket's blackest day ever, whether the Pakistan team had cheated and what would happen as a result. Events were moving in our time - we interviewed a representative from cricket's world governing body, and an umpire from the ECB clarifying the rules - and even Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf was moved to ring his cricket team captain to pick up a few pointers on what was going on.

And isn't that what news should be all about - learning about something new? Something that matters - to him and her if not to you. Finding out something you didn't know before? This was the first Test match in history to be abandoned due to cheating, or at least - according to the umpires - to a reaction to being caught cheating. Why shouldn't we help our audience understand how it had all come about and what its consequences would be? Because, chorus the complainants, it's only a game. "You have ghettos for overpaid men's 'sport' at around 25 past the hour," bellowed one. "Please confine all such items to these slots."

In other words, I don't care, I don't want it and I don't care if other listeners want it. But that's the odd thing about sport - our listeners tend not to take it or leave it so much as love it or hate it. There's very little indifference. To the chuck-it-in-a-ghetto-ers, sports fans tend to be tiresome stattos forever fretting about a pig's bladder or slab of willow or ping pong thing, while many sports fans label the ghetto-ers news snobs who are out of touch with the effort and vigour and heroism that sport provides.

Snob or statto: which are you? And which is right? Luckily, it doesn't matter - both are characterised by opinionated self-confidence. As is news. It's not an art. It's certainly not a science. It's just a judgement about what matters and what interests and what bears further analysis. News, in the end, is really only a game. And, like cricket, what a beautiful maddening game it can be.

Are editors moribund?

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:18 UK time, Monday, 21 August 2006

There was an interesting piece by Peter Preston in the Observer about what role editors have in a world where we can see minute-by-minute exactly what the audience is choosing to read, watch and listen to.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteBut his contention that this means “editing - at least for the Beeb online - has become a more passive concept” or even “moribund” - is not quite how it feels where I am sitting.

We still have to find the news, gather it, report it, produce, publish and broadcast it before we get to see what the audience makes of it. At that point, increasingly, we have to be aware of a whole range of information about how the audience is responding to what we are reporting. This includes the new "real-time stats" on the website – how many people are reading the story – but also the thousands of e-mail and telephone comments and contributions coming in to BBC News via its website, TV and radio programmes every day.

As a way of understanding our audience and their interests, all this is very useful. It also adds a whole extra dimension of editorial awareness and thinking.

When we launched the stats service, I remember noting that some themes were consistently popular – stories about sex, space, technology, showbiz, the environment, animals, to name a random assortment. But, inevitably, so do the big news stories of the day. We had one of our record peaks for traffic this month for coverage of the UK terror alert. Lebanon has been at or near the top of the “most read stories” for weeks.

People want to know what’s happening in the world and why, what’s important, how it might affect them. It’s an age-old need for news which hasn’t gone away, and the new era of instant stats and feedback bears this out. It just means that as editors we have more ways of gauging and responding to this need, and registering, most days, the sheer diversity of interest.

An example: On the UK terror alert story this month it was clear straightaway that our airport information story was getting lots of traffic online. We made sure we devoted journalists to it for continuous updates, airport-by-airport, for a full 48 hours. That was a difficult editorial decision about allocating precious staffing and resources, made easier by the knowledge that readers were seeking out this information in a major way.

There’s another obvious point to make about editing in the world of instant feedback: you still need an editorial identity and voice of your own if you want to be recognised. So while people can use the “most popular” button to select which stories they read, it is the editors who provide the framework, by deciding which stories to cover, how to cover them and with what priority across BBC News web pages, TV and radio programmes.

Yesterday morning the most popular e-mailed story was the impact of cold weather on the basil crop in northern Italy and possible dire consequences for the future of pesto sauce. An interesting story, for sure. One that might affect many readers. But we didn’t lead the site with it.

Still, we know that if there’s a follow-up story - on the economic damage, the grape harvest, or the future of pesto sauce – it’ll have an audience.

How to say: Avastin and Erbitux

Host Host | 12:57 UK time, Monday, 21 August 2006

A guide to words and names in the news from Lena Olausson of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.
Lena Olausson"Two pronunciations for today. The cancer drugs that will not be made available on the NHS, Avastin and Erbitux, are pronounced uh-VAST-in (sometimes also ay-VAST-in) and UR-bi-tuks."

(Click for a guide to our phonetic pronunciations (PDF).)

BBC in the news, Monday

Host Host | 09:42 UK time, Monday, 21 August 2006

The Guardian: "Panorama's best-known reporter, John Ware, has warned against the programme becoming over-dependent on stunts." (link, and more here).

Daily Mail: BBC newsreader George Alagiah comments on multiculturalism in the UK. (link)

Safe sex attitudes

Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 15:06 UK time, Friday, 18 August 2006

It's like picking your nose with a rubber glove on.

Radio One logoThat was one Radio 1 listener's description of having sex wearing a condom. We've been involved in carrying out the largest ever survey into the sex lives of young Britons - more than 30,000 people took part and the findings were widely reported in the newspapers, on TV as well as on Newsbeat and other BBC radio programmes.

People have expressed their shock to me at the findings on underage sex, one night stands, the relationship between drink and sex and of course the dramatic rates of STI infections and unwanted teenage pregnancies - on which Britain pretty much leads the western world.

The experts tell us that the sex safe message isn't getting through like it did at the start of the HIV/AIDS era in the 80s. The figures certainly bear that out - more than a third of those who took part in the survey said they didn't wear a condom with a new partner.

But it's the anecdotes from our audience that are the most eye catching as a snapshot of sexual attitudes today.

Many young men say they hate wearing them - "it spoils the feeling" was a common sentiment - that they prefer to risk making their partner pregnant or catching an STI rather than wearing a condom. Nathan told us "condoms are for scaredy cats".

Many young women told us they hate them, too - we heard how when men produce condoms, their lovers snatch them and throw them away - and this came from the girls by the way.

So those infection and pregnancy rates shouldn't surprise us - however much they might depress you or worry doctors.

We found politicians largely unwilling to get involved in this issue - the dangers of prying into people's sex lives and preaching show the political risks are as real for them as the sexual risks are for young lovers.

So what are the tips for those wanting to protect their health at the moment of truth in the bedroom?

Our audience came up with some sharp 'condom comebacks' to help those struggling with the dilemma of a partner reluctant to "strap up". Kate says, "if there's no rubber I ain't your lover" while Jess prefers, "it looks like I'm dealing with one baby, I don't want to have to deal with two". LouLou says simply, "no balloons, no party" but the favourite one is this simple, yet direct approach - "sorry, no glove, no love!"

How to say: Escondida

Host Host | 14:34 UK time, Friday, 18 August 2006

Catherine SangsterA guide to words and names in the news, from Catherine Sangster of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

"Today's pronunciation is for Escondida, the world's largest privately-owned copper mine in Chile, where the workers are currently striking."

"We recommend the pronunciation esk-on-DEE-dhuh (dh represents the voiced th sound in the word "this")."

(Click for a guide to our phonetic pronunciations (PDF).)

Middle East restrictions?

Fran Unsworth Fran Unsworth | 09:01 UK time, Friday, 18 August 2006

Some blogs, as well as emails we've received, have said that BBC correspondents are failing to report that when covering the war, they are operating under reporting restrictions imposed by Hezbollah. Others complain that we did not refer to Israeli censorship rules on air. I'd like to answer those points.

One of the forms that all journalists sign, to be accredited members of the press on arrival in Israel, is a promise that you will obey the rules of the military censor. In the context of the latest war in South Lebanon, those rules mean - we are not allowed to report any Hezbollah hits on military bases, not allowed to broadcast news of ministerial visits to the frontline until ministers are safely back out of Hezbollah’s range.

And if rockets land whilst we are live on air, we have to be vague as to where they fall (the theory being that Hezbollah may be watching BBC World or equivalent, and using our information to help them calibrate their rockets launchers). Also we are not allowed to report on military casualties until the Israeli censor says so.

In practice, Israel finds these rules very hard to enforce. It is a small, talkative country and the media usually finds out about casualties quickly. The rolling news networks based outside the country are not bound by the censorship rules, so if they find out from other sources they will broadcast.

James Reynolds, one of our correspondents reporting from Northern Israel, writes...

    “Throughout the conflict we have pretty good access to soldiers, generals and ministers - all extremely keen to put Israel’s case to the international media. By and large we’ve been allowed to go wherever we want on the Israeli side of the border. We’ve often driven straight into Israeli bases right next to the frontline - in the middle of battle preparations - and nobody has kicked us out.”

So what about Hezbollah? Were they any better able to control what reporters can and cannot see? Jim Muir - our correspondent who has just spent the last month based in Southern Lebanon - says...

    “There have basically been no restrictions on reporting as such - there’s been no pressure in any direction with regard to anything we actually say, indeed very little interaction of any sort. There was however an issue at the beginning of the conflict over the live broadcast of pictures of rockets going out from locations visible from our live camera position. We were visited by Hezbollah representatives and told that by showing the exact location of firing we were endangering civilian lives, and that our equipment would be confiscated.”

Editors in London discussed both how we should handle both this request, and the Israel rules, in terms of what we said on air.

We agreed that rather than begin each broadcast with a 'health warning' to audiences, we would only refer to it if it was relevant. If rockets started to go off while were live on air, we would not show the exact location but would tell the audience that we had been asked by Hezbollah not to; on the grounds they claimed it endangered civilian lives.

In the event the situation never arose. Apart from that one incident we have been free to report whatever we wanted.

On the Israeli side, we agreed to refer to the censorship rules when it prevented us from reporting anything. In practice, it never did, so we did not see the need to mention it.

Redesign Newsnight's website

Peter Barron | 16:25 UK time, Thursday, 17 August 2006

In recent months the Newsnight website has been growing like Leylandii. Podcasts, vodcasts, blog, forum etc. And as result of this rapid organic growth it's become a bit unruly.

Newsnight logoSome of you aren't impressed. Ian Mc sent us this - "I don't think I've seen such a mess of a home page since... well, I don't know when... Web designers should ALWAYS remember: just because it can be done, doesn't mean it should be done."

Stung by that challenge we've resolved to enter a period of rationalisation.

Let us know what you love and hate, what you visit all the time, what you never visit but are glad is there. Some of you have said - is your forum a forum or is it a blog, and vice versa? Does it matter what it is? Tell us what would make it better.

Is there simply too much stuff? Website design fashion seems these days to be heading towards the minimal, personally I like the excitement of having loads to explore. What do you reckon?

Do you want to read long articles, view video, download podcasts or talk to each other? If there was a Newsnight Club, with all sorts of low cost freebies, would you join? And are there features we should quietly put out of their misery? In our office the cry of "Kill Gordaq" has gone up. Should we?

The pruning shears are in your hands.

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 10:05 UK time, Thursday, 17 August 2006

The Independent: "The editor-in-chief of the Sport newspapers is to concentrate on a new career in television and radio with the BBC." (link)

The Sun: An article attacking the amount of money spent on taxis and car hire by the BBC. (link)

Westminster debate

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 16:48 UK time, Wednesday, 16 August 2006

As you may have heard, about 150 MPs have called for Parliament to be recalled from its summer break to debate the crisis in the Middle East and last week's security alert at British airports.

The World TonightIn a letter to the leader of the House of Commons, Jack Straw, they said: "There is huge concern in the country about the current Middle East crisis, and fear that the early failure to insist that Israel and Hizbullah observe an immediate ceasefire has cost many innocent lives."

Number 10 has rejected this call and said earlier this week that with the ceasefire in Lebanon, the situation has changed significantly since that letter was sent - and so there are no plans to recall Parliament at present.

So we decided The World Tonight should step in instead to give MPs an opportunity to have their say. We've tried to organize it so it resembles as closely as possible a Parliamentary debate - and so far about a dozen MPs from all sides have agreed to come back to London to take part (with Robin Lustig in the role of 'Mr Speaker').

The debate will begin on our sister programme, PM (which will carry the start), and then there'll be an hour long special on Radio 4 at 9pm before we get reaction to the debate on The World Tonight.

The idea is to hear what our elected representatives think about what has been going on in the Middle East and for them to debate what British policy should be.

Organising something like this takes a lot of time and patience - it requires an awful lot of what our journalists refer to unfondly as 'phone-bashing' - ringing lots of people trying to see if they will take part, and to their credit some MPs are making a serious effort to join us - cancelling constituency business or coming to London from Scotland for the day.

Some MPs turned us down because they are unable to break constituency engagements, many are on holiday but some have told us they feel we in the BBC are too cynical and critical of the government. Even the reassurance that they will not be interviewed in the traditonal format but will be debating with each other was not enough to assuage them - which is a pity and doesn't reflect well on the state of relations between some politicians and the media, but that's a debate for another day.

If you get a chance to listen - it will be carried live on the R4 website.

More flight woes

Vicky Taylor | 14:50 UK time, Wednesday, 16 August 2006

Of the 16,000 emails we have received since last week’s crisis at Britain’s airports over the terror plot, the majority now are full of tales of lost or stolen luggage and miserable accounts of how people have coped without their valuables and precious possessions after a flight.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteThe two people featured on last night’s Six O’Clock News and various radio programmes - a wheelchair user and a family with a young baby - both came from stories sent into the website.

There is a great deal of confusion out there and again the Have Your Say message boards are a form of therapy for thousands of people who cannot get through to the airlines directly to let off some steam. “All my 'we're all in this together' sympathy for the airlines and BAA in dealing with this emergency is quickly disintegrating,” wrote Laura from the Isle of Islay.

Anyone who has ever travelled on a long flight with young children will sympathise with this one from John in Newcastle: “We have probably 'lost' one of our most treasured possessions - my daughter’s teddy bear 'Gary' on a connecting flight from Heathrow to Newcastle after flying in from San Francisco on Friday the 14th. Put him in my wife's vanity case. Of course out of our six pieces of luggage the vanity case is the one missing.”

Dan, from Shrewsbury has managed to see a funny side: “I took a short flight to Europe over the weekend and of course had to check everything into the hold. I have no problem with that except that the one bag on the flight that went missing was mine with my laptop, car keys, iPod, camera etc in it. I hope someone is putting them to good use somewhere.“

Interesting thought - and maybe another facet of our public service remit - the message board has become the electronic version of a good listener! Feel free to reply to have a good moan.

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 09:44 UK time, Wednesday, 16 August 2006

The Scotsman: "The BBC's £19-million-a-year Arabic TV service will launch next autumn with a mission to challenge the dominance of al-Jazeera." (link)

Just thanks, really...

Colin Hancock | 12:15 UK time, Tuesday, 15 August 2006 everyone who's emailed us welcoming Nick Clarke back to The World at One. The emails started after Shaun Ley announced Nick's return at the end of Friday's programme... continued through the weekend... then surged after Nick trailed the programme on air at 1230 yesterday.

wato.jpgAnother flurry after the headlines and then a steady stream as soon as the programme (listen to it here) ended - with listeners in Canada, Dublin, France and Lesotho among those quickest off the block.

It was particularly pleasing to have so many adding praise for Shaun to their comments... and quite a few saying incredibly nice things about the show in general (please don't feel a need to redress the balance...).

BBC presenter Nick Clarke, pictured with a cake on his return to the BBCThe team marked the occasion with a quick burst of applause as Nick came out of the studio and by demolishing a beautifully-iced cake baked and decorated by two of our studio managers.

For the time being Nick will present on Mondays and Tuesdays and Shaun will continue Wednesday to Friday, as well as presenting The World This Weekend.

For now, though, the final word should rest with a listener who, 'midst the torrent of praise, emailed to admonish Nick for his one anachronistic reference to "the British Airports Authority" rather than BAA. "Sloppy journalism", the email concluded.

Nine months away or not, good to be reminded that no-one expects mistakes from Nick and WATO.

BBC in the news, Tuesday

Host Host | 11:41 UK time, Tuesday, 15 August 2006

The Guardian: "BBC News 24, ITN and Sky News will be competing for prestigious International Emmys, after being nominated for the 2006 news awards." (link)

The Guardian: A review of BBC One's new magazine programme, 'The One Show'. (link)

Checking hand luggage

Amanda Farnsworth | 18:41 UK time, Monday, 14 August 2006

It's all been pretty confusing for passengers - just exactly what can you take as hand luggage on a plane?

BBC Six O'Clock News logoSo some bright spark on the Six O'Clock News came up with the idea of making our own baggage size checker, and taking it to passengers so they could find out on the spot whether their bag would pass muster.

The BBC's baggage-checking device at an airport, todaySo we did it - in fact our friends at CBBC made it for us for free. Not quite sure why they did, but they did...

It turns out lots of passengers are still bringing the old size hand luggage and getting told to repack - perhaps every check in desk should get one of our size checkers - we could start our own business!

A matter of time

Gary Duffy | 12:49 UK time, Monday, 14 August 2006

It's sometimes frightening to think how many stories we publish on the BBC News website. As the UK editor, I can sometimes lie awake at night worrying about what legal bombshell may be hiding away at the bottom of an index.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteThe internet is an evolving medium and so, naturally enough, is the law in this area. I suspect some key issues have yet to be tested before the courts (though this is not an invitation, I should say, for someone to start the ball rolling).

One of the questions that comes up quite a lot for us is the scale of the archive. There have now been over a million articles published since we began in 1997. We do sometimes get requests from members of the public who were quoted in stories a long time ago to have these references removed. The reasons can be trivial, such as they now find what they said embarrassing, or perhaps they have changed their view on the topic.

There have also been people convicted of a variety of offences who have asked us to take stories down, claiming that it is preventing them from getting on with their lives. Our response to these requests has generally been robust. We like to think of the large backlog of stories at the news website as equivalent to a newspaper archive. Every effort was made to ensure that the stories were accurate and reliable at the time of publication, and they remain in the archive for the record. If we start to alter this version of history, where on earth do we begin to draw the line?

It is true that until newspapers began setting up comprehensive websites of their own, the web provided much easier access to this kind of material, as opposed to a trip to your local library to hunt through back editions. One search on Google relating to a potential job applicant, for example, and a whole range of material may pop up.

With all this in mind, we are taking some comfort from a court hearing earlier this year where a High Court judge reaffirmed that a court report on the internet is protected by qualified privilege, even if the report is available some time after the proceedings took place. This basic protection from legal action had always been available to journalists in the past, and it is comforting to see that it still applies in this internet age.

How to say: Clydach

Host Host | 12:28 UK time, Monday, 14 August 2006

Catherine SangsterA guide to words and names in the news, from Catherine Sangster of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

"Today's pronunciation is the Welsh town Clydach, for which we recommend the pronunciation KLID-uhkh (kh as in Scottish "loch").

"This recommendation, for use in English-language broadcasts, is based on the local Welsh pronunciation and was researched with a number of local sources."

(Click for a guide to our phonetic pronunciations (PDF).)

BBC in the news, Monday

Host Host | 09:52 UK time, Monday, 14 August 2006

The Telegraph: "The BBC was yesterday plunged into a row after its new 'diversity czar' said there were too many white journalists reporting from non-white nations." (link)

The Independent: A profile of the head of the BBC's web operation, Ashley Highfield. (link)

The Independent: A report on the return of Nick Clarke to Radio 4's 'World at One' after his cancer battle. (link, and more here)

System of a Down

Mark Barlex | 09:34 UK time, Monday, 14 August 2006

Apologies, but technical problems meant Friday's STORYFix didn't make it as a video podcast, although it was available to watch online and via the News Multiscreen on TV.

storyfix_logo.jpgWe should sort it out soon, and it should be available at some stage today. Apologies again.

UPDATE, 1700: Video podcast system interface now working. STORYFix available again as a download. Apologies for the inconvenience. We promise to read the manual before Friday.

Thanks, by the way, for the positive comments. And for the un-positive comments. Not sure it's my place to agree with Milly Anily when he or she says it's brilliantly put together, although I like it, obviously. And of course John Charman is quite within his rights to find it not big, not clever, and certainly not funny. Although, it's not supposed to be big or clever. In the traditional sense, anyway. (Although it is supposed to be funny).

Talk about scepticism

Peter Barron | 13:15 UK time, Friday, 11 August 2006

On Newsnight we've long hankered after our own website forum. With an opinionated, argumentative, computer-literate audience it's a marriage made in heaven. So, as we launched Talk about Newsnight this week our correspondents queued up to expose themselves to your views.

Newsnight logoFirst up: Justin Rowlatt - already a successful multi-media figure as Ethical Man and the recipient of around a thousand clunky old emails this year. A bright new age beckoned.

"This 'ethical man' crap has got to be one of the worst ideas Newsnight has ever had. An entire year? That's not serious journalism, that's moronic daytime-magazine-programme s***e. Good luck with the blog though." wrote Kate, rather charmingly by the end.

"Welcome to blogging Justin", added our business correspondent Paul Mason, in what I think was solidarity.

We launched the forum properly on Thursday and the timing - coinciding with the huge news of the foiled alleged terror plot - could hardly have been better. As our deputy editor, Daniel "King of the Blogs" Pearl, spends his evenings discovering, the great attribute of the blogger is scepticism. Sceptics duly flocked to his posting (also here), Peter Simmons summing up the mood.

"It now transpires that bottles of pop are suspect, MI6 must have just seen the Tango ads and thought 'whoo, that looks dangerous'. This is sounding more and more like a farce, dressed up by the government to frighten old ladies into not flying. Meanwhile, in Lebanon...".

Don't the trusting or the gullible ever go blogging?

As I write I've just noticed this, from the improbably named Gully Burns of California. Is Gully gullible, or just sensible?

"I live in Los Angeles. People here respond to the news with immediate relief and support for the security services. There is almost no thought of the secondary implications, or having any sort of suspicion that the timing of the event is in any way related to Lebanon, Iraq or any other theatre of conflict. I personally feel that congratulations are in order to the police for this coup. All the complainants on this post would certainly be shocked and horrified if the events described today had come true, and they would then probably be complaining that the police didn't do their jobs."

In truth, one of Newsnight's aims in life is to be heartily sceptical, so we can hardly be surprised at our viewers' demeanour. But personally my favourite piece of the week displayed no edge, no cynicism, no controversy. It was the rediscovered gem of Harold Baim's travel film showing the beautiful place that Lebanon was in the more innocent age of the 1960s (watch it here) - now a tragic and poignant document.

Perhaps you hated it?

How to say: O. Obasanjo

Host Host | 11:30 UK time, Friday, 11 August 2006

A guide to words and names in the news, from Martha Figueroa-Clark of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

"Today's pronunciation is Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.

"Our recommendation is ol-OO-sheg-uu(ng) ob-ASS-an-joh (-ol as in 'olive', -g as in 'get', -j as in 'Jack'), following consultation with the BBC Hausa Section."

(Click here for a guide to phonetic pronunciations (PDF).)

BBC in the news, Friday

Host Host | 10:22 UK time, Friday, 11 August 2006

The Times: "The BBC has admitted paying out a total of £17 million in bonuses to more than 10,000 employees." (link)

The Guardian: A report on how the UK's TV news services covered the terror plot story on Thursday. (link)

Managing demand

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 14:40 UK time, Thursday, 10 August 2006

One of our concerns in covering today's events has been to make sure traffic load to the News website doesn't cause problems for our users.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteSo far our technical team have successfully made sure it hasn't, but traffic certainly has been heavy. By lunchtime we'd already had about the same number of page views as we'd normally get across a whole 24 hours. The top story alone had over three million page views, several times more than on a normal day.

According to our traffic stats monitor, the second most read story so far has been our round-up of travel advice and information from all the main airports. We've given this a lot of prominence and had people dedicated to updating it all morning, helped by all the readers' on-the-spot accounts which we are getting - it looks like that has paid off as our users are clearly looking for this information.

UPDATE 1530: Anthony Sullivan, who helped develop our traffic stats monitor, adds that it has been showing traffic levels between 60% and 70% above average today - the largest volume since July 7th last year.

UPDATE, Friday morning: Yesterday turned out to be one of our two or three biggest days on record for traffic, with 6.8m unique users and 50m page views. The most read stories were the main writethrough on the terror alert, airport/travel info and pictures. Audio Video usage was also very high - particularly the live stream of News 24 coverage - and we received about 10,000 emails from users.

Terror questions?

Daniel Pearl | 12:01 UK time, Thursday, 10 August 2006

So - we awake to news that a major terror plot has been thwarted. Security sources claim that the group, who have been under surveillance for months, wanted to explode as many as 10 planes, probably somewhere over the Atlantic.

Newsnight logoThousands of travellers are stranded, planes have been cancelled and the country's security threat has been raised to its highest level. There are a lot of questions we'll be trying to answer during the course of the day, for example:

• 1 - How close were we to "mass murder on an unimaginable scale"?
• 2 - Have the security services found any explosives?
• 3 - Why did the police decide to swoop today?
• 4 - Were they members of a foreign terror cell or were they British-born?
• 5 - How will this change the way we fly? Will we have to get used to flying without any hand luggage?

There are plenty more - let us know what questions you'd like answered, or if you can answer any of these.

Getting the tone right

David Kermode | 11:59 UK time, Thursday, 10 August 2006

I talked, in my last blog, about interactivity with our audience and I mentioned the importance of getting a sense of how our viewers are responding to a story.

Breakfast logoThis morning was a case in point.

A major terrorist plot had been foiled - we were told. There was chaos at some of Britain's airports, which was bound to get worse. And people were understandably worried.

We 'rolled' on the story from 6am, when we went on air, reporting on the unfolding developments and taking a break only for the briefest summary of other news, the usual regional bulletins and a short weather forecast.

Although we didn't read out emails or texts - the fact that our viewers were worried was hardly 'news' in itself - the traffic coming in from viewers did help to inform both the tone of our coverage and also the direction it took. We had a sense of the some of the questions our viewers wanted answered (some of which we'll return to tomorrow) and we also heard from people caught up in the chaos.

Glancing through the emails and texts at one point, I was also reminded of the challenge we face with repetition.

New viewers are turning on all the time - they want information. Viewers who've been with us for a while want new information, but they don't want to hear the same things repeated endlessly. There were a few people who told us to "'move on" and talk about something else. There were others who told us we'd provided a really coherant flow of essential information, for which they were grateful.

I hope we got the balance right.

Rip it up, start again

Richard Jackson | 11:45 UK time, Thursday, 10 August 2006

This morning's programme was an example of when the previous 24 hours' work, leading up to 0600, is ripped up and thrown out of the window.

Radio Five Live logoJust before we went on air, we learned about a security operation which, we're now told, prevented "mass murder on an unimaginable scale".

Our planned programme was junked and we were quickly into rolling news mode. There were two key elements to the story; the operation by the police and MI5 to arrest people thought to be planning attacks on aircraft, and the chaos caused to air travellers throughout the UK by heightened security.

Reporters like Anna Lee on Teeside, Ross Hawkins in London and James Shaw in Glasgow were woken by dawn phone calls scrambling them to get to their nearest airport. Others like Stephen Chittenden rang in - he was scheduled for a relaxing day off - instead he dashed off to Stansted Airport to see what was happening there.

But our reporting effort wasn't restricted to BBC people. As soon as we went on air we asked our audience where they were and if they could help us paint a picture of what was going on around the country.

One of the first responses wasn't all that encouraging. "Is it really 2 much 2 ask u 2 do the journalistic work rather than rely on the public to text you on every major breaking story?".

Undeterred, during the course of the first hour of the programme we heard from Kevin at Gatwick, Simon in Jersey, Michael at Heathrow and Jimmy in Edinburgh as we sought to reflect the scenes of confusion and delay at various airports. Other texters appeared throughout the programme as the scale of the chaos became clear.

We also heard from Fiona Bruce who was listening to Five Live on her way to the airport and rang in with her own tale of queues and crowds.

Plenty of other people gave us information about what was going on in their locality - and lots of people texted in questions they wanted answering. Some were downright impossible for us to help with - at 0611 someone asked, "I am flylng tomorrow - was wondering if the weight limit will be increased to take account of the five kilos that normally go in the cabin".

By the end of the programme, Easyjet and British Airways had come on to help us answer those questions. Others wanted to know what was happening with Eurostar services or whether their relatives flying in from other parts of the world were likely to arrive on time.

Finally, it's on days like these that you learn about who might be listening to the programme. When sports presenter Juliette Ferrington arrived at Manchester City for a scheduled news conference, she was greeted by Stuart Pearce. When she confessed she'd been listening to music instead of the news, he told her she really should be listening to Five Live - it's very informative.

Your contributions

Vicky Taylor | 11:20 UK time, Thursday, 10 August 2006

A correspondent to the debate on the doctored photographs asks an interesting question about how the BBC is countering images from the public showing 'posed or inaccurate images'.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteWe now receive around 300 images a week to our mailbox. Most of these are interesting snaps taken of people’s families, holidays or lives in general. A fair proportion on a busy week are from news events, ie from Lebanon, or Britain during the heatwave.

Of course, we are aware that some people will use this system to try and hoax us, to send something which is not quite as it seems. It’s something we are on the look out for as we go through the images, and to date we’ve not published anything which has been problematic. But that doesn’t make us complacent. You do get a second sense with these images, and the team which are looking at them are doing so day in day out.

You can obviously follow all the usual journalistic paths; you can email or ring the photographer back and check are they were they say they are, does their number appear to be the code of the area they say, it is their photograph. If you get multiple photographs of the same image you would think that maybe they have been picked up from an agency or sharing site and don’t belong to the person sending them.

If they appear 'photoshopped', or almost too good, you would double check.

Some people take grabs off a television - these you can spot. You can do a quick technical check to see when the image was taken and with what device. You can compare with other photos from the same area, from TV images you may have of the place, you can check other photo agency wires to see if the image crops up elsewhere.

Most genuine emailers will add text, a plausible story, which can be checked out. You take care, and always use your professional judgement. No matter how pressing the need is to get that image up on the web or on the tv screen, the verification process must be gone through.

However I would say that the vast majority of people don’t want to hoax you, they want to get their image published and so share their story with the world, and that for our journalism and reflecting what is really going on in the world, can only be a good thing.

While I’m here... I wanted to add a note about the sheer volume of comments we’ve received on the crisis in Lebanon.

Since it began the Have Your Say debates have received well over 100,000 comments - and had 3.5 million page impressions. It has been consistently the only story people want to talk about or read people’s views on. On one day - 26 July - we received over 6,000 emails.

But that of course means that many people who do send their views may not get them published. There is no agenda here. On massive stories like this we do try to pick a range of views expressed differently - it would be no good if every one said more or less the same thing in the same way. We do try and pick comments from people actually living through or with direct experience of the event - on either side.

We know how frustrating it can be not to get a view which is held very deeply on the pages, but I can assure all those in this position, we are working flat out to get through as many as we can. Thank you all for your contributions.

Phones, letters, e-mails

Host Host | 10:50 UK time, Thursday, 10 August 2006

Among the audience comments to the BBC in the past 24 hours were many on coverage of the Middle East crisis, with one person complaining that the BBC is not devoting enough airtime to the story.

Also, some people remarked on coverage of the verdict in the Damilola Taylor case - with at least one person saying that the story should not have led any of the news bulletins.

We also received the following comment in an email:

I no longer see the need for news. Up until now I believed that news reporting had some effect on the perpetrators of violence - I'm afraid those days are gone.

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 09:34 UK time, Thursday, 10 August 2006

The Telegraph: Commentary on Newsnight's recent investigation into Arsenal football club. (link)

Press Gazette: Senior BBC journalists talk briefly about the current state of political reporting. (link)

Other hot spots

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Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 17:10 UK time, Wednesday, 9 August 2006

More aid workers were killed in July in the troubled Sudanese region of Darfur than in the entire preceding three years - that was the stark statement from the UN and aid agencies this week.

The World TonightThere has also been the killing of 17 aid workers in Sri Lanka - both of these have received a lot less attention from the world's media than would have been the case if attention wasn't focussed on the Middle East crisis.

My colleague, Craig Oliver of the ten o'clock TV news, blogged recently to explain why the Middle East got more attention than Congo and Iraq in his programme. I could have written the same for The World Tonight.

But there is a danger in this - which came up in a conversation I was having with an MP the other day - which is that while the world's attention is focussed on the Middle East, others may take advantage to get up to no good in the hope no-one will notice much.

Apart from Darfur and Sri Lanka - both of which have seen more violence in the past few weeks, other former hot spots are getting warmer again. In East Timor, the Australian-led peacekeepers have still to restore complete order and 150,000 people (more then 10% of the entire population) remain in camps living in very poor conditions.

And closer to home in Kosovo, there are growing fears that there could be a return to violence because it looks like the international community is going to make the province independent and oblige the Serbs in the north of the province - where they remain a majority - to leave the country they were born in and want to continue living in.

On the World Tonight, we made space for the latter last Thursday (listen to it here) but not yet made space for the former. Why? Because we've been giving so much space to the Middle East.

Alistair Burnett is editor of the World Tonight

Is news funny?

Peter Rippon | 11:15 UK time, Wednesday, 9 August 2006

One of the programmes I edit, Broadcasting House, really irritates some listeners. There is a small but vocal section of Radio Four devotees who just do not accept the fundamental proposition - that you can have fun as well as do serious news on the same programme.

Broadcasting House logoThankfully the show's healthy audience figures convince me that such views are a minority. So recently Mark Doyle has exposed child labour in the mines of the Democratic Republic of Congo (listen here), but at the same time we've made a theatrical arrest (listen here).

Getting the balance and tone right is hard. In fact it is one of the hardest things we do. It regularly dominates our editorial discussions and we get it wrong sometimes. In fact, if you want to see the blood drain from any reporter's face you do not need to send them off to doorstep the relatives of the victim of some terrible tragedy. As they leave the building on a story just say "have some fun with it!" and watch them wilt.

It may be hard but I believe passionately we must continue to do it. Radio Four is often criticised for being too stuffy, too aloof and too elitist. Humour is a crucial weapon in countering such perceptions.

Peter Rippon is editor of PM and Broadcasting House

How to say: J. Kellenberger

Host Host | 11:11 UK time, Wednesday, 9 August 2006

A guide to words and names in the news, from Martha Figueroa-Clark of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

"Today's pronunciation is for the Head of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger - a Swiss national with a German name.

"It is pronounced YAA-kop KELL-uhn-bair-guhr (-air as in 'hair'; -g as in 'get'). This pronunciation was given to us by the Swiss Embassy."

(Click here for a guide to phonetic pronunciations (PDF).)

Trusting photos

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Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 09:59 UK time, Tuesday, 8 August 2006

As with any conflict, photographers are at the heart of the propaganda war - with both sides attempting to use the power of the camera to their own ends.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteYesterday’s announcement by Reuters that it has withdrawn all the pictures taken by Adnan Hajj (one of its stringers in Lebanon), following his use of Photoshop to manipulate two images, has meant all of us need to understand the processes by which these pictures are obtained and used.

I asked the BBC News website's picture editor, Phil Coomes, to explain some of the background to the images we can easily take for granted.

    "At the BBC News website we rely on a number of international news agencies to provide us with the majority of our still images. Trusted and well established names such as the Associated Press and Agence France Press sit beside new players in the game such as Getty News Images.
    "All of these companies have their own staff photographers who work alongside local freelancers around the world - forwarding their pictures to an editor who will then send it on to their subscribers.
    "At the BBC we receive over 5,000 pictures per day on the picture wire service; ten years ago it would have been less than 500. News websites need vast quantities of pictures and often in real-time - the days of a photographer providing the one defining image for a newspaper front page are long gone.
    "All the pictures we use are checked for any obvious editing - the easiest to spot being cloning of parts of the image (which appeared to be what happened in this example).
    "Today a photographer working in the field is under more pressure than ever, especially in a combat zone. He or she no longer has to just take the pictures, not to mention ensure they are in the right place to begin with, but they also have to edit, caption and transmit them.
    "For this and other reasons photographers often work together, so at any major event you will usually have a number of sources to compare against each other - giving a good indication as to the basic truth of the picture.
    "The Qana pictures are interesting, in that there are many ways to interpret the images. The basic truth is undeniable, but with so many photographers all shooting the same event, and filing many alternative pictures to their agencies, the sequence of events is hard to pin down.
    "To some extent the presence of a camera will alter the event, but it’s up to those on the ground to work around this and present us with an objective a view as possible.
    "Digital photography has altered the landscape of photojournalism like nothing before it, placing the photographers in total control of their output. All the news agencies have photo ethics policies, many of which are rooted in the days of film. The standard line is that photographers are allowed to use photo manipulation to reproduce that which they could do in the darkroom with conventional film.
    "This usually means, colour balance, 'dodging and burning', cropping, touching up any marks from dust on the sensor and perhaps a little sharpening. If we are honest though, an accomplished darkroom technician could do almost anything and there are many historical examples of people being airbrushed from pictures.
    "By definition a photograph is a crop of reality, it’s what the photojournalist feels is important. But it doesn't equate to the whole truth, and perhaps we just need to accept that."

UPDATE (from Steve Herrmann): I should have said at the start - we didn't use the Reuters picture on the BBC News website.

But we have had some emails about another picture we used yesterday of a Lebanese woman in front of damaged buildings. We got the picture from AP and it was dated last Saturday but a reader pointed out it bore a resemblance to another picture - which we hadn't run - attributed to Reuters and dating from July.

It wasn't the same image, but conceivably could have been the same place and time. We weren't in a position to get to the bottom of this immediately ourselves so we decided to update the picture with a different, more recent image. But not before it was picked up by at least one blog.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website

How to say: Vitaly Churkin

Host Host | 08:59 UK time, Tuesday, 8 August 2006

A guide to words and names in the news, from Martha Figueroa-Clark of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

"Today's pronunciation is Russian UN Envoy Vitaly Churkin, pronounced vi-TAA-lee CHOOR-kin.

"The surname might at first look as though it ought to be pronounced as CHUR-kin (-ch as in 'church' and -ur as in 'fur') but the vowel sound is closer to -oo' (as in 'boot')."

(Click here for a guide to phonetic pronunciations (PDF).)

Copycat concerns

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Ben Rich | 08:13 UK time, Tuesday, 8 August 2006

If we're not careful, it's going to become something of a theme.

BBC Six O'Clock News logoLast week the Six O'Clock News ran a piece showing a dangerous game being played by teenagers on a playground roundabout - in which a motorbike engine was used to drive it around at ever greater speeds, with two teenage girls hanging on grimly in the middle. Yesterday it was a fireman who got spun round inside an industrial tumble-dryer to the vast amusement of his friends, and the horror of fire service bosses (watch it for yourself here).

In neither case was anyone injured, but they might have been. Why did we do these stories?

Well, one discussion we've had recently concerns what we should do about things that a large number of people are clearly interested in, but which do not have some political or other wider significance. These are the kind of items that get filmed these days and end up being passed around, sometimes to literally millions of people, via e-mail, or are watched by huge numbers via internet sites.

An image of the shocking stuntMany are just curiosities, but sometimes a particular piece of human folly strikes a chord and has that shock factor that makes people want to see it - and we've decided that at least sometimes they should be able to even if they do not have access to the web.

What made these two more relevant is that they were cautionary tales that happily did not end in tragedy and could serve as a warning.

Now that's all very well, but what about the risk of copycats? Of course that is something we have to consider (for example BBC guidelines make it clear that we should never show in detail the way people prepare and take illegal drugs) but you could argue that we might actually stop a few people doing these things too.

It's a difficult calculation to make and a potentially troublesome one for a journalist. Should we show people driving dangerously? What about film of anti-social behaviour?

I believe that as editors we have to have a fairly high threshold for censoring something just because it might lead to imitators. So long as we point out the dangers, we then have to leave it to people's own good sense, the control exerted by parents and, in this particular case, the difficulty of finding industrial-sized tumble dryers.

Ben Rich is deputy editor, One and Six O'Clock news

BBC in the news, Tuesday

Host Host | 07:58 UK time, Tuesday, 8 August 2006

Financial Times: "The war in Lebanon is being fought not just on the ground but in the media... oddly enough, both sides are right." (link)

Daily Mail: BBC staff deluged with emails from girl desperate to trace 'gorgeous Gavin'. (link)

Who's telling the truth?

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Daniel Pearl | 14:05 UK time, Monday, 7 August 2006

Have you been emailed about the website showing Israeli children signing missiles? Or maybe the site which claims that the Qana photographs were staged? If you're like me you've probably been sent both.

Newsnight logoThere is an enormous online campaign by both sides to persuade the world that the media is biased one way or another in its reporting of the Lebanon/Israel conflict.

Yesterday the story took an unexpected turn. Reuters announced that it has dropped a freelance photographer after, Reuters claim, he doctored an image of the aftermath of an Israeli air strike on Beirut to show more smoke (details here).

"The photographer has denied deliberately attempting to manipulate the image, saying that he was trying to remove dust marks and that he made mistakes due to the bad lighting conditions he was working under," said Moira Whittle, the head of public relations for Reuters.

But what are the chances of the online community believing that? On Newsnight tonight we'll be discussing the images the public sees, how they are chosen and whether they are manipulated.

Leave a comment and let me know what you want us to include in the programme.

UPDATE, TUESDAY 1015: Click here to watch the item that went out last night (including an interview with Paul Holmes from Reuters).

Daniel Pearl is deputy editor of Newsnight

How to say: Tarique Ghaffur

Host Host | 13:50 UK time, Monday, 7 August 2006

MarthaA guide to words and names in the news, from Martha Figueroa-Clark of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

"Our recommendation for Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur is tuh-REEK gaff-OOR. That's based on the advice of the Metropolitan Police Press Office.

(Click here for a guide to phonetic pronunciations (PDF).)

Cuban coverage

Jon Williams Jon Williams | 12:16 UK time, Monday, 7 August 2006

Up on the seventh floor of BBC Television Centre sits a small, but perfectly formed, group of people who spend their lives killing people off. They're expert in what they do.

But don't panic - they don't do anything illegal. All of their subjects are, at the time of writing, alive (if not all them, kicking). They're the obits unit - the people who make sure that when Joe or Jo Bloggs dies, we've got the pictures and the soundbites to reflect their life, be they a film star, a sportsman or a politician.

In death, as in life, some people are more important than others - we've been planning some people's demise for years!

Fidel CastroOne of them is Fidel Castro. This week, the Cuban president should have been celebrating his eightieth birthday in grand style - but the lavish celebrations have had to be postponed as he recovers from surgery to stem internal bleeding. It's exactly this sort of scare that sends newsrooms around the world into meltdown. But with the exception of North Korea, Cuba is probably one of the most difficult places in the world to report from.

So imagine waking up to the news that President Castro has handed over power to his brother - albeit temporarily. Just how do we cover a story in a place closed to most foreign reporters?

Fortunately, the BBC is one of only two international broadcasters to have a correspondent based in Havana. But in these days of satellites and live reports from the farthest flung corners of the world, Steve Gibbs still uses the trusty telephone to file most of his reports.

The idea of "in vision", round-the-clock live reports for News 24 and BBC world is probably a dream - one American TV network is rumoured to have had a speedboat moored in Miami for many years, awaiting the president's demise!

Ahead of the president's eightieth birthday, reports from Havana suggest Fidel Castro is in a "comfortable" condition. The "plan" has been put back on the shelf, the team on the seventh floor of Television Centre has moved on, ready to "kill off" someone else; although, since one Cuban minister claims the Americans have tried to assassinate President Castro on no fewer than 600 different occasions previously, we might need to keep it somewhere close!

Jon Williams is world news editor

Vinegar with that?

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Mark Barlex | 11:58 UK time, Monday, 7 August 2006

Update. Update.

storyfix_logo.jpgSTORYFix is now available as a news take-away video podcast (vodcast?). Get it via the BBC website, or, excitingly, from iTunes itself, although it's yet to displace Ricky Gervais - or Newsnight, for that matter - at or near the top of the Apple hit parade.

It's the same content, brought to you in a different way. Let me know what you think.

Mark Barlex is responsible for STORYfix

BBC in the news, Monday

Host Host | 09:02 UK time, Monday, 7 August 2006

The Independent: Columnist Stefano Hatfield criticises the BBC's coverage of the battle over the future of ITV. (link)

The Guardian: Columnist Martin Kelner on last week's Panorama looking at the World Cup: "Not for one moment did we swallow the line that this was a festival of sweetness and light." (link)

In the bag

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David Kermode | 15:42 UK time, Friday, 4 August 2006

When I tell people what I do, there are a few questions I always face.

Breakfast logo"What are the presenters like in real life?" is one. "What do they talk about in those bits at the end of the show when the title music is playing?" is another. "And does anyone really bother to e-mail, text or call you?" is also a regular question.

The answer to that one is yes, thousands. And do we pay any attention? Yes, we'd be mad not to.

There are some mornings where it's obvious, from the relatively low traffic that no particular story has really got people going. They tend to be the days where the viewing figures are a bit lower than usual.

There are others, like today, when we are overwhelmed. They tend to be the days for bumper audiences.

And what got everybody talking this morning? Plastic bags.

Declan Curry was live at Tesco, where they're going to give customers Clubcard points for recying their carrier bags. The chief executive, Sir Terry Leahy, joined us live and found himself answering not just Declan's questions, but also those of our viewers.

plastic.jpgWe have a producer dedicated to sifting through the e-mails, texts and calls. The best ones are picked out, then sent on to Declan's Blackberry.

Interactivity isn't to everyone's tastes of course. Some people tell me they turn off when we read out viewer's e-mails.

But I think it's really important for a number of reasons. Firstly, a show like Breakfast has to be in tune with its audience to be a success. What better way could there be of knowing whether or not you're connecting with the people watching?

Secondly, we've developed our Interactive offering over the last year or so. We realised that opinions aren't necessarily that interesting, where as experiences generally are. We've also found that some of the most pertinent questions can come from our viewers and they're often that much more challenging for our interviewees to answer because they're real questions from real people.

Thirdly, we’ve actually covered quite a few news stories that came through a viewer e-mail or text. We even shut down an internet bank for a day, when a viewer alerted us to a security flaw.

Interactivity isn't new of course. Watchdog has just celebrated its 25th birthday and people have been writing to us here at Breakfast for years. It's just much easier now, with modern communication.

So, is there any point in e-mailing, texting or calling us? You bet. And, yes, every little helps.

David Kermode is editor of BBC Breakfast

Paxman was right

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Peter Barron | 14:20 UK time, Friday, 4 August 2006

Though it pains me to say it, Jeremy Paxman's new media vision has been proved comprehensively right.

Newsnight logoViewers prefer their TV with pictures. Following the launch just last week of Newsnight's video podcast, our digital digest of the best bits of the week has shot straight to number one in iTunes news podcast chart. Ms Kitcast has been duly dispatched and Ricky Gervais, who has dominated the overall podcast chart for months, sleeps a little less easily as Paxman and co. storm to number 14 in that chart. For those without the technology or a quaint preference for TV without pictures, the traditional podcast is still available at number 30 .

On this week's chart-topping edition there's another chance to see the week's most controversial moment - oddly enough from the comfortable world of designer knitwear. On Monday we asked the fashion designer Bella Freud to take part in a discussion among members of Britain's Jewish diaspora about their reaction to the events in Lebanon. Ms Freud's empassioned denunciation of the Israeli offensive provoked plenty of comment.

"Why on Earth have you got a fashion designer yarbling on about the Lebanon crisis?" wrote Neil Briscoe from Bristol, reflecting the view of many. Good word that, yarbling.

But Penelope Allen of Cornwall disagreed. "What a lovely lady Bella Freud is, if only all people behaved the way she does the world would be a better place." Better dressed too.

Even family members of the production team joined in. Download the podcast to check out the choice language of one - she'd better stay anonymous - who phoned in to berate her relative's booking.

Controversial too, and timely, was John Harris's report (watch here) this week on Cuba's healthcare system to launch our series on the Best Public Services in the World.

Of course, as many of you pointed out, Cuba's communist system has all manner of problems, but the statistics show that Cuba's health record compares very favourably with countries of the first world. Two points leapt out of John's report - Cuba's poverty has taught the country's health professionals that prevention is cheaper than cure, and because of the US embargo most Cubans live on the equivalent of war-time rations. During the Second World War, we Britons weren't obese either.

The aim of the exercise is not to suggest we import Cuban healthcare practices wholesale into Britain, but given the challenging state of our own public services, surely we'd be mad or very arrogant to think there's nothing we can learn from them.

And this is where we'd like your help. Many - probably most - subscribers to this blog and to our podcast are living abroad. Leave a comment and let us know what works where you are in terms of healthcare, education, transport, criminal justice. Or state broadcasting.

Peter Barron is editor of Newsnight

How to say: Amir Peretz

Host Host | 12:53 UK time, Friday, 4 August 2006

A guide to words and names in the news, from Lena Olausson of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

"Today's name is the Israeli Defence Minister Amir Peretz, pronounced am-EER PERR-ets. Hebrew stress often falls on the last syllable, and sometimes there is a tendency to treat all Israeli names like that. Peretz (and other well-known names such as Peres and Ha'aretz), however, have stress on the second to last syllable."
(Click for a guide to our phonetic pronunciations (PDF).)

BBC in the news, Friday

Host Host | 09:08 UK time, Friday, 4 August 2006

Daily Mail: Richard Littlejohn on Middle East coverage - "I use a rough rule of thumb whenever I watch TV coverage of the Middle East. Anyone who pronounces Hezbollah as 'Hiz-bull-arrrgh' and Israeli as 'Izza-ra-ay-lee' is almost certainly telling lies." (link)

The Sun: Columnist Fergus Shanahan attacks the BBC's Middle East coverage for "turning war into showbiz". (no link available)

Economics everywhere

Piers Parry-Crooke | 13:15 UK time, Thursday, 3 August 2006

On Monday the economics editor Evan Davis turned in a neat little piece for the Ten O'Clock News about the heatwave. It started out as quite a serious concept - "let's say something new about the impact on the economy" - but turned a bit more fluffy.

The question "does the thermometer have an agent?" probably gives a flavour (you can watch the piece by clicking here).

In a roundabout way this illustrates that economists aren't limited to things like J curves and monetary policy. Evan, for example, sometimes does essays for the Today programme about obscurely fascinating pieces of research. And from time to time economists gather somewhere in the world to exchange papers on apparently trivial subjects; a well known one, I hear - and some years ago - is an examination of why people don't sit in the front row at public meetings (that's not just a shyness thing).

But more importantly, the truth is there's pretty much nothing an economist won't take a look at, and often find something new to say about it. The reason being that economics is not just the study of big economy things: look no further than the popularity of the book Freakonomics. And, coming soon on BBC Two, a series called "Trust me, I'm an Economist" - one programme is about love.

Consider too a few recent pieces on radio and TV displaying what you might call the economist's take - why finishing the 2012 Olympic stadium too early would be a costly mistake; more controversially, why closing hospitals or wards can be a sign that NHS reforms are working. Interesting stuff. If you want to hear more about how economics relates to the small things in life as well as the big, maybe we can wheel out Mr Davis here to enthuse...

How to say: William Patey

Host Host | 11:09 UK time, Thursday, 3 August 2006

A guide to words and names in the news, from Lena Olausson of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

"Today's name is Britain's outgoing ambassador to Iraq, William Patey. The pronunciation is PAY-ti."
(Click for a guide to our phonetic pronunciations (PDF).)

BBC in the news, Thursday

Host Host | 09:08 UK time, Thursday, 3 August 2006

Daily Mail: "The BBC has been urged to pull a 'sick' new comedy show which features spoof news reports." (link)

Press Gazette: "Leading journalists have dismissed claims that the trend among war reporters not to wear ties is disrespectful." (link)

The Herald: Readers respond to Tuesday's attack in the paper on the BBC's reporting from Lebanon. (link, and more here)

Sense of déjà vu

Tim Bailey | 15:48 UK time, Wednesday, 2 August 2006

A correspondent filed a piece on the reopening of the Bath Spa after a series of delays. She opened her dispatch with this sentence - "Many Bath residents will be having a sense of déjà vu". She went on to explain that there had been a ceremony to reopen the Baths three years ago. At the last minute the decision had been taken not allow the public in. Until now.

The correspondent used the word déjà vu to mean that the people of Bath would be reliving something they had already experienced.

However, according to the dictionary, déjà vu does not mean that at all; in fact rather the reverse. It means the experience of thinking you are reliving some event or feeling when you have not; you are experiencing it for the first time.

But this raises the question - when does a word change its meaning? Words are for conveying understanding, never more so than in radio reports when the audience has only one chance to hear what is being said. So if most people use a word to mean one thing, does that become its true meaning?

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

Middle East semantics

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Liliane Landor | 12:13 UK time, Wednesday, 2 August 2006

This war has all been about semantics and the failure to read the small print.

World Service logoAs I write, our reporter in Brussels is filing on the EU foreign ministers meeting that's just ended - the gist of her report is that the ministers agreed not to call for an immediate ceasefire in Lebanon. Instead, they're calling for an immediate cessation of hostilities.

The difference between ceasefire and cessation of hostilities? A cynic would say none. Just a way around various political sensitivities.

But it’s not just the Europeans that have a taste for linguistic fineries. The Israelis and Lebanese can also play at that game. Here's two quick examples.

Example 1 - early Monday morning Israel announces it's agreed to a suspension of air activity for 48 hours to investigate the Qana incident - we duly register. It’s the lead of our news bulletins and breakfast programmes.

A few hours later, Dan Damon on World Update interviews a Lebanese minister who insists aerial bombardment was still going on, and claims the Israeli airforce had just attacked a Lebanese military post near Tyre. Clearly the story's moving fast but we need to confirm and get this right. If the minister's claims are correct, we can’t possibly keep leading on "a cessation of aerial hostilities".

The programme's editor decides to turn to Jim Muir in the South of Lebanon who confirms artillery was hitting, but most likely it's naval he says. Jim adds he could hear planes flying but did not think they were dropping bombs. The editor decides to get it from the horse's mouth - the always-accommodating IDF spokesperson. No joy there. It's finally Richard Miron, in Metulla on the Israeli/Lebanese border who sheds some light over the elusive aerial "pause"...

He explains that Israeli jets had been operating in the area and quoted the Israeli army saying, "it reserves the right to strike Hezbollah targets where it believe its forces and civilians are under imminent threat". Hot of the press, he then confirmed the Air Force was indeed assisting ground operation. Ceasefire meant in this instance that the Israeli airforce was not carrying on with its timetabled operation - simply responding.

Riddle solved. We changed our headline.

Example 2 - from the other side of the border. It is well known there is no love lost between Hezbollah and the Lebanese PM Fuad Siniora. Mr Siniora is anti-Syrian, a good friend of Condoleeza Rice, and certainly not a fan of Syed Hassan Nasrallah.

Yet in an emotional speech after the Israeli strike on Qana, the prime minister praised Hezbollah, calling them resistance fighters, protectors of Lebanon and the Lebanese - you could say he "re-named" Hezbollah.

Mere semantics or a more profound shift in internal Lebanese alignments? Time will tell.

Liliane Landor is editor of World Service news and current affairs

How to say: Baalbek

Host Host | 12:05 UK time, Wednesday, 2 August 2006

Lena OlaussonA guide to words and names in the news, from Lena Olausson of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

"Today's name is the Lebanese town Baalbek (sometimes spelt Ba'albek).

"The pronunciation, BAAL-bek, is listed in English gazetteers and dictionaries and is an established anglicisation. The Arabic pronunciation has a pharyngeal consonant before the second A."

(Click for a guide to our phonetic pronunciations (PDF).)

BBC in the news, Wednesday

Host Host | 09:45 UK time, Wednesday, 2 August 2006

The Times: "The BBC governors have sought assurances that Radio 1 will not play music that encourages crime, in response to concerns raised by the Tory Party leader." (link)

The Scotsman: "The BBC yesterday stepped in to defend its star motoring pundit Jeremy Clarkson." (link)

The soldier - and his wife

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Richard Jackson | 16:11 UK time, Tuesday, 1 August 2006

The story of Steve Roberts - and the campaign of his wife Sam to know exactly how he died - has been a very unusual one for us.

Steve RobertsSteve Roberts was the first British serviceman to die in action in the second Gulf War. Usually, when covering news, we only come across people like the Roberts in the aftermath of a tragedy. But in their case, we knew all about them beforehand.

How? Well, Sam Roberts had been a guest in Leeds when Five Live Breakfast had hosted a discussion about the merits of going to war in Iraq. She had passionately argued her case, supporting the decision to go to war and speaking with pride about what her husband had gone to do.

Samantha RobertsAfter the programme, the production team had commented that she had been a very powerful and impressive contributor. We ought to keep tabs on her story, we decided. But there was shock in the office when, within days, we got news that a Sgt Roberts had been killed in action in Iraq. It couldn't be the same officer, surely? It wasn't long before it became clear it was.

A couple of months later, we arranged with Sam to present the programme from her home. Nicky Campbell, complete with producer and engineer, set up camp in her front room in North Yorkshire. Her story was told in what was to become her trademark manner; calm, considered - and compelling.

During that programme we got the first indication that there was even more to this story. We learned that Steve had kept a diary of his experiences - a diary that was to launch a huge political row about whether troops were adequately protected.

And - apart from following Sam's fight to get the truth about her husband's death - she also appeared on the programme as a guest reporter. As the military claimed victory in Iraq, she interviewed various people as she assessed the cost of that success.

And when George W Bush made a controversial visit to Britain, she reported on people's reaction to his trip - and gave us exclusive access to other wives who has been bereaved by the war.

We await with interest to know whether Sam is satisfied with the official report into her husband's death. We hope to hear from her on Thursday.

Richard Jackson is editor of Five Live Breakfast

How to say: Helmand

Host Host | 11:19 UK time, Tuesday, 1 August 2006

A guide to words and names in the news, from Lena Olausson of the BBC Pronunciation Unit.

"Today's pronunciation is the Afghan province Helmand, where two British soldiers have been killed. This name is sometimes mispronounced as HEL-mand, when it should be hel-MAND - with stress on the last syllable."
(Click for a guide to our phonetic pronunciations (PDF).)

Environmental changes

Fran Unsworth Fran Unsworth | 10:30 UK time, Tuesday, 1 August 2006

You would have had to have been in hibernation for the past few years to have missed the ascent of the environment up the news agenda. We have been suffering a heat wave this week that many people have found unpleasant, the south east is crippled with drought and the UK apparently now produces award-winning wine because we can grow vines successfully in this country.

Many are questioning whether climate change is responsible for all this; others argue these events are cyclical.

There is a huge responsibility on us to be a trusted and reliable source of information. But to report the subject properly we have to look not only at the science, but also the impact of environmental issues on economics, business and politics. Like all journalistic organisations we tend to have difficulty doing joined-up reporting.

Roger Harrabin, on the Ten O'Clock News setThat's why we have decided to appoint an environment analyst to try to pull together some of these threads. Roger Harrabin has covered the environment for two decades, largely for radio where he has reported the story as it appears through energy, transport, housing and politics.

In his new post he will spread this approach across a wider range of BBC outlets offering original stories and new perspectives, and tackling such subjects as...

• What is a safe level of climate change?
• Can technology provide the solution?
• How much would we need to spend to stabilise the world's climate?
• Can we adapt to climate change?

Hopefully through his work (such as this report on last night's Ten O'Clock News), audiences will be armed with more information to help better understand controversial and complex issues surrounding the subject.

Fran Unsworth is head of Newsgathering

BBC in the news, Tuesday

Host Host | 09:08 UK time, Tuesday, 1 August 2006

The Herald: A columnist writes, "The BBC has succumbed to the pressures to emotionalise events in Lebanon: dumbing down almost, it seems to me, to the level of EastEnders." (link)

Manchester Evening News: "The Bishop of Manchester has said that squabbling between Manchester and Salford councils could scupper the BBC's move to the north." (link)

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