Peter Barron

Have Newsnight your way

Gavin Esler used to start his viewer e-mail with a quote of the day, but stopped this week as we're trying to make our programme summary shorter and more to the point (tell us what you think). Typically, as soon as you stop doing something, great material comes along.

Newsnight logoI loved this quote from Lord Harris, Margaret Thatcher's free market guru, who has died. "The market can cater for the tiniest minorities - those who like fancy waistcosts, or the collected works of Ted Heath".

I assume Lord Harris revelled in the market possibilities of the internet. Once, for example, the extent of your choice was to watch Newsnight or not watch it. Now you can watch it live, on time shift, on the website, on your iPod, and from this weekend in a variety of new ways.

Our weekly podcast of the best bits of the programme has been doing a brisk business. So next week we'll be offering a daily highlight to download. Let us know what you'd like - films, discussions or shorter clips?

And for those who don't want to download the podcast, you can now watch the collection of the best moments on News 24 over the weekend - it's called The Week on Newsnight.

It's interesting though that however you offer something, some people will always want it served up slightly differently.

One media journalist with a busy social life told me this week that from her point of view the best thing we could do is say at the end of the programme: "And exactly the same edition of Newsnight is starting now on BBC Four".

It's what Lord Harris would have wanted.

Peter Barron is editor of Newsnight

Rod McKenzie

A lofty ivory tower?

Beware of the wisdom of crowds - or the man in the pub. Some of the cautionary phrases used by BBC folk at an internal audience seminar chaired by the BBC's head of news Helen Boaden. I was on the panel along with the editor of the Guardian, our political editor Nick Robinson and world news editor Jon Williams (you can read Jon's thoughts on the matter below this post, or by clicking here).

Radio One logoSo where do we stand on the issue of how much to listen to our audiences - how much say we give them about story selection and running orders?. How much do we impose and how much do we interact?

Enter Sarah - a 21 year old listener to Radio 1 who gave me some good advice when we met up recently: "No matter how high up in the news you are, at the BBC or whatever, you've got to listen to us, we pay the licence fee... without us you'd be nothing". She's dead right and we ignore audiences today at our extreme peril.

It's not just a lip service thing though, it genuinely makes us editorially richer I believe - serving a young Radio 1 audience who love texting - the moment we stop reading their incoming texts on the stories of the day is the moment I lose touch with the people who make us tick - our 9.3 million listeners.

It's made our news agenda stronger and faster: We were alerted to stories like the dangers of "Snatch" landrovers in Iraq and Afghanistan by our listeners with military connections long before our other BBC network colleagues. And we were better able to gauge listener anger over Norwich Union's decision not to "quote happy" younger drivers on their insurance as well as current street issues on drugs, drink and sex.

It may not be right for all BBC outlets - and journalists still have an important role in checking out the facts and binning the hoaxes as well as sifting and editing the vast range of ideas, info and tips that come flooding in. But why should we be in charge in a lofty ivory tower? If you've got a better idea for a story - a lead - an investigation - just shout.

I am clear where we stand. Without our audience and our daily dialogue with them - we'd be finished.

Rod McKenzie is editor of Newsbeat and 1Xtra News

Jon Williams

Citizen newsgathering

So just how much should we listen to you - our audience? It's a question all of us involved in the media are pondering right now.

Just a few years ago, audience involvement was restricted to letters of complaint, requests for record on the radio - and of course the staple of radio, the phone-in. Now technology means feedback is instant - via text, email and blog. A few months ago, we started to track the stories you were reading on the BBC News website - our very own polling of "hits" and "misses". And my colleagues in TV have previously written about "The Pulse" - instant audience feedback about the stories we carry on the Six and Ten O'Clock News on BBC One.

So we know what some of you think about what we do - good and bad. But how big a role should that play in the decisions we make?

I was the home news editor on July 7th last year. We recieved 20,000 emails, more than 1,000 mobile phone pictures and dozens of bits of video; it was your phone-calls that alerted us to what was going on when the authorities weren't quite sure what to make of the "power-outage" on the underground. It transformed our coverage - and our view of the role you can play in our output.

Now, whenever there's a story, our readers, viewers and listeners send in pictures from the scene - whether it's the explosion at the Buncefield oil terminal, or the attacks on trains in Mumbai in India. For news - as news editor - it's a magnificent resource to draw on. It's not often we're on the scene when something is happening - our cameras usually get there after the event; we film the aftermath. Very often, you are in the thick of it.

It's been called citizen journalism - I prefer to think of it as citizen newsgathering.

It's an important distinction - and one that goes to the heart of the debate. It's vital our stories engage with the audience - but we need to be careful our running orders don't become a 'Top of the Pops' of news (look what happened to that!).

Yesterday more than 400,000 of you read our story about a shot of a walrus feeding on clams on the sea floor winning a photography prize. It was the second most read story of the day - but it doesn't mean we should run it in on the 10 O'Clock News. What all this information gives us are pieces of the jigsaw - whether it's The Pulse, the live stats from the News website or the stories that engage the listeners to the Radio Five Live phone-in. All should inform our decision making about the stories we do - but we must also do the stories that are significant but which may not be particularly exciting.

Today, the 25 heads of state and government from the European Union are meeting in Finland - top of the agenda are new ways to make energy supplies more secure, relying less on climate-changing fossil fuels. The story matters - and today we'll report from Siberia and here in the UK, as well as from Finland in an attempt to tell you why. I could be wrong - but I'm not sure it'll be the hot topic of debate among Newsbeat's audience on Radio One, or the most read story on the News website (at the time of writing it was the 9th most popular in Europe and doesn't appear in the worldwide top 10). But it doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. We should - we must.

The challenge is to to do it in a way that means something to you. Let me know if we succeed - that's the best audience involvement.

Jon Williams is the BBC's world news editor

Colin Hancock

Piece of string

How long should an interview be ?

wato.jpgClearly a pretty stupid question, to which the only proper response can be "it depends", but it's one many of us have to answer several times a day.

We all (even those editing continuous news services) have a limited amount of time. We all want to cover more stories than we can fit. We all want to give interviews long enough to be interesting and informative. It can only end in tears... and I often wonder whether we (and here I'll start limiting it to my programmes lest I annoy some colleagues) get it right.

Take yesterday. We covered three stories in the main body of the programme (which you can listen to here) - the crime figures (two sets); the Conservatives' Tax Commission report; and the cost and disruption of court cases stalling or collapsing through mistakes, last-minute plea changes and so on. Those of you kind enough to listen to The World at One will know we tend to have at least one main interview or discussion in each story, preceded (or occasionally followed) by some shorter interviews helping to give some context or reaction. Today our three main interviews were with the Police Minister Tony McNulty, the Chairman of the Tax Commission Lord Forsyth and the Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith. Today I reckon I got the first two about right and the last one wrong... but as yet I'm not sure how that felt wherever the programme played out.

On most stories I reckon we need to give a decent amount of information and/or a reasonable spread of views. I think the crime sequence would have been much the poorer without our former Home Office advisor and criminologist... and the five contributors ahead of Lord Forsyth did a fine job in setting out some of the arguments around the economics and politics of tax cuts. But, left with just over six minutes for the court story, was three enough in which to ask the attorney general how he thought the failings could be tackled? I felt we had to set out the criticisms from the Public Accounts Committee... but maybe we should have just spent more time with Lord Goldsmith to try to explore his ideas. The last interview certainly felt too rushed and I'm not sure we got a huge amount from it. (I can tell by now you're desperately sad you don't have to take part in our post-programme meetings.)

Anyway, the specifics of today's programme don't matter that much... and I'm sure there will be some who disagree with our story choice to start with. But I would genuinely be interested to know whether listeners would prefer fewer contributions and longer main interviews... or whether it's the context that makes the difference between predictable and informative.

By the way, for those who missed it there was an elegant end to the Paxman/Alan Duncan interview on Wednesday's Newsnight, where both accepted that to continue for the time set aside would be pointless. If only we could transfer free time across networks.

Colin Hancock edits The World at One and The World This Weekend


BBC in the news, Friday

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  • 20 Oct 06, 10:04 AM

The Guardian: The controller of BBC One comments on the future of some BBC current affairs programmes. (link)

Press Gazette: "BBC chiefs have been warned they will face an outcry from the North if they abandon their plans to move to Manchester." (link)

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