BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Archives for March 2008

Refreshing changes

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 07:57 UK time, Monday, 31 March 2008

A graphic of the new look BBC News websiteThis morning we launched a new look for the BBC News website, you can see what it looks like here on the right, with previous versions further down the page. We’ve been working on this for the past few months, and in fact it is still a work in progress, because the changes will continue to roll out across the site in the coming days and weeks, and beyond that we have further improvements planned for later in the year.

But for now – here’s what we’ve done:

First - we did some research asking you what you thought we should change about the site. Many of those we asked said leave it alone - don't change a thing. But it was also clear from the feedback we got that there were others who thought the site design could do with a bit of a revamp – something we’d been thinking about doing for a while.

So our designers embarked on a mission that they have called a “site refresh” - they say it’s “like gardeners doing a bit of pruning and weeding, but not digging it up and starting from scratch" ie it’s not a fundamental redesign of everything – many of the basics stay the same, because we know they work.

Specifically, here’s what HAS changed:

A graphic of the BBC News websiteIt’s wider - We’ve had lots of feedback from you about making best use of available screen space - we’ve always taken a rather cautious and gradual approach to this because we want to make sure that the maximum number of people can still access our site wherever they are, whatever the screen size or device. But we now reckon that 95% of you have your screen resolution set to 1024 pixels or wider, and we’re confident that it’s the right time to use the extra space to improve the site.

More open design - Our research told us you wanted the content on the site to have more “room to breathe”, so we've opened up the design to let more space in. We hope this will make it easier for you to read the pages and to scan for what you're looking for.

New masthead and centred pages - Some of the changes are part of a new visual style that will apply across all the BBC's new and redesigned websites. The centring of the pages, the underlying layout grid, and the pan-BBC masthead are examples of this. Areas of with this new “visual language” that have already launched include the homepage, /programmes beta, BBC Wales and Cymru, and The Passion. The new BBC masthead aims to strengthen the presence of the BBC brand across the breadth of the whole BBC site. We'll also be adding a button into the BBC banner area that says "Explore the BBC", which reveals links to other parts of the BBC's site.

A graphic of the BBC News website in 1998Bigger images - Elsewhere in the user feedback, people have told us they think the pictures we’ve been using on the site look a bit small and cramped. So the new design takes advantage of the wider pages to allow bigger photos - something our journalists also really welcome, recognising as they do the power of pictures in telling stories on the web.

Incorporating ads - For our international users, who already see advertisements on our pages, we wanted to do a better job of incorporating them into the page design, and that’s made easier with the wider pages.

Better presentation of video and audio - As I’ve mentioned previously, we are introducing embedded audio and video on the site – so that you can watch and listen within the page, rather than in a separate player. This should significantly improve ease of use, and should also enhance your experience when following a story – the text, stills, graphics and video should work better together as an integrated whole – and our journalists will be able to adapt their storytelling to make best use of video within the narrative, rather than apart from it. To coincide with this new development, the way we signpost video and audio from the main pages is also changing slightly – we are moving it higher up the page, and displaying the links more simply, replacing the multiple options and expandable “stacker” area on the page (which, some may recall, a number of you weren’t too keen on from the outset).

TV and radio news programmes - We’re creating an area on the front pages where we can show you highlights from the great range of journalism produced each day by the BBC’s news and current affairs programmes on TV and radio. Here we’ll be able to link consistently to the best of their audio and video offerings, also to related text articles and to the programmes’ own websites, which are going to be undergoing changes and improvements too.

So have a look around, and let us know what you think. I hope you like what we’ve done so far. Meanwhile, work is continuing – to widen the rest of the pages across the site (there will be a period when they aren’t all the same – but we’re bringing the rest into line as fast as we can) and work will also continue to build in the other improvements and new features we have planned in the coming months.

A new look

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 17:55 UK time, Friday, 28 March 2008

It’s been a time of even more hectic activity than usual here on the BBC News website over the past week or two. Our development and design teams have been putting the finishing touches behind the scenes to a new look for the site which - all being well - we're aiming to launch next week.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteFor the journalists it's been a period of familiarisation with the changes, and briefings on how it will affect the way they create pages in our content production system.

I'll go into more detail about the changes once you’re able to see them for yourselves, but the new look will include wider pages, bigger images, a new programmes area on the front page and a new pan-BBC masthead.

Overall the idea is to make the whole site even easier to use, creating more room for the content to be easily seen and scanned.

Along with this, as I mentioned previously, we’ve been gradually rolling out a new system for showing video and audio – embedding it within our story pages (here’s an example) so it’s quicker and simpler to access. It’s confined to just some stories for now, and we’ve been assessing how it’s doing.

Early signs suggest that on those stories where we’ve embedded the video in a story, as opposed to providing the link to a pop-up player as we've done up to now, the video gets about ten times more usage than before. So it looks like it’s working well so far… More soon on the rest of the changes.

Going Carla crazy

Peter Barron | 15:22 UK time, Friday, 28 March 2008

Newsnight logoA couple of weeks ago I was talking to a French diplomat about the forthcoming Presidential visit to Britain about what the key issues might be. I struggled to think where points of controversy might arise and concluded that the big story could actually be Carla Bruni. The diplomat shot me a look of Gallic disdain.

Why has the media gone quite so mad about the new Mrs Sarkozy? The Daily Mail devoted more pages to her than even their beloved plastic bags, and today the high-minded Guardian's G2 did a six page front cover feature. Are they satisfying a genuine public fascination or does this represent a new low in the media's obsession with supermodels, celebrity and gossip?

Carla BruniIn the Newsnight office Carla Bruni has, I admit, been the most talked about subject of the week, although so far our coverage has been limited to Jeremy's more-detailed-than-usual scrutiny of the front pages (which you can watch here).

In this morning's meeting we had a long discussion about an appropriate Newsnight response, and concluded that we should discuss the Carla Bruni phenomenon and the media's handling of it on tonight's Newsnight Review. Let us know what you think.

Feels Like...

Richard Chapman Richard Chapman | 13:27 UK time, Thursday, 27 March 2008

Since the Easter weekend there has been a lot of discussion about the wintry weather. Viewers have been asking how unusual it was to get snow falling at Easter and we have been asking ourselves to what extent we got the weather story effectively across to the audience.

Weather map showing temperaturesPart of this story was the use of the Feels Like temperature icons. These were used across the weekend to highlight the fact that the heavy snow showers were not the full story, rather the biting northerly winds would make it feel very much colder than the thermometer might suggest.

So is the data scientific? The answer is yes. The data is supplied by the Met Office who are using a well respected formula, the JAG/TI, to produce the temperatures for the winter season.

The JAG/TI algorithm, measures 'face only wind chill' and is one used in Canada. The Met Office use this formula as it has been clinically tested, it is simple to use and based on advances in science, technology, and computer modelling.

Specifically, the JAG/TI Wind chill Temperature index:

• Calculates wind speed at an average height of five feet (typical height of an adult human face) based on readings from the national standard height of 33 feet (typical height of an anemometer)
• Is based on a human face model
• Incorporates modern heat transfer theory (heat loss from the body to its surroundings, during cold and breezy/windy days)
• Lowers the calm wind threshold to 3 mph
• Uses a consistent standard for skin tissue resistance
• Assumes no impact from the sun (ie clear night sky).

The formula...
T(wc) = 13.12 + 0.6215T - 11.37V**0.16 + 0.3965TV**0.16

(Where T(wc) is the wind chill index based on the Celsius scale, T is the air temperature in °C, and V is the air speed in km/h measured at 10 m (33 ft, standard anemometer height).

Weather map showing Feels Like temperatureWhy is it called Feels Like? Our aim was to find a way to provide a quick indication of what it would Feel Like when you step outside all year round. This winter has seen the first use of Feels Like but we have been using wind chill for many years. The difference now is that it will be used in the summer during periods of extreme heat. Although the formulas used to calculate the temperatures are different depending on whether it is summer or winter, ultimately the end result is the same – what it will Feel Like.

At the end of the day we will be using it when it helps give the complete weather picture. It might be bright sunshine out of the window, and the thermometer may read 5C but if there is a breeze, then it will feel colder than 5C and this might have an impact on what people want to wear. As with our wind graphics and isobar charts we will use these graphics when relevant to the weather story of the day.

The branding of the white temperature disk and blue square outline is a recent development on the weather graphics system, introduced in 2005. It was developed from the previous wind chill graphics - a blue temperature and a yellow outline – to fit in with the current look and feel of the weather graphics.

Unblocking access

Jon Williams Jon Williams | 11:00 UK time, Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Last week, I wrote on the blog about the difficulties we were facing reporting from China. There have been two interesting developments since then. This morning, the Chinese made good on the promise by the Premier Wen Jiabao to take a group of international media to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. The bad news is they decided not to invite the BBC on the trip. We will be able to show you what they are allowed to see - cameras from the Associated Press news agency are on the trip. But it's no substitute for first-hand reporting.

Chinese soldiers disembark from a truck in Lhasa on 21 March 2008Fortunately, we now have another source of material. As you may have seen elsewhere, the Chinese authorities appear to have unblocked access to the English language section of the BBC News website. It's not clear whether this is a permanent or temporary move. What it does mean is that we now have thousands of readers inside China. Typically fewer than 100 people read stories from Chinese computers - but yesterday that figure jumped to more than 20,000. And it means that comments have been flooding in to BBC forums from all over China - many providing a different perspective on the violence and our reporting of it.

There's no doubt that many in China are annoyed at the way the western media have reported the story. A video on YouTube takes the BBC to task for captioning what appears to be an ambulance with the phrase "there is a heavy military presence in Lhasa". It was a mistake. We don't always get it right - when we get it wrong, we need to say so. On this occasion, the caption was not appropriate for the photograph. The facts are not in dispute - there is a heavy military presence in Lhasa - but we should not have captioned the photo in the way we did. However, to suggest that this is part of an orchestrated campaign is unfair. The BBC has no agenda - our job is to report all sides of the story. Which is precisely why we want to be allowed into Tibet.

Social networking

Host Host | 16:35 UK time, Thursday, 20 March 2008

You may remember that Steve Herrmann, editor of the BBC News website, has written about the BBC's use of photos from social networking sites. Head of editorial policy David Jordan has now written further guidance for BBC journalists, which you can read about on the BBC's Internet blog.

Something of a star

Craig Oliver Craig Oliver | 10:12 UK time, Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Tonight marks the end of an era for BBC News.

BBC Ten O'Clock News logoEvan Davis is leaving his post as economics editor - and going on a year-long attachment to Radio 4 as a presenter of the Today programme. It's a great move for him - but we're feeling more than a little sad on the Ten O'Clock News.

I could try to sum up why we'll miss him - but someone has already done it perfectly. Ipsos Mori were looking for someone who personifies how they want to be seen - they hit on Evan and this is how they described him:

Evan Davis"Fun, quirky, lively, outspoken but apolitical, approachable, explains the complex simply (eg Evanomics); uses technology (his blogging); commonly cited and sought out for opinion. Seems passionate and interested in what he’s doing. Not just a corporate clone or hack."

They could also have written "self-deprecating". When I first joined BBC News a couple of years ago, Evan dropped by to give me an idea of what I could expect from him and his presenting style - he was laughing hard when he said The Sun's Garry Bushell had seen one of his early TV appearances and described him as "a cross between Gollum and a needy vicar".

So how did he go from being bullied by TV critics to being one of the most respected people in journalism? For me it's because Evan took the road less travelled. Some journalists can be showy and hyperbolic - in trying to get people interested in what they have to say, they can oversell their stories. Evan has always been utterly clear that economics is rarely an area of blacks and whites, but varying shades of grey - a world where things tend to happen in increments over a long cycle, not easily matching the hourly demands of modern broadcast news.

I once told him a literary anecdote about Samuel Taylor Coleridge not being impressed by William Wordsworth's poem Daffodils - Coleridge's point was that if you are going to get that excited about some daffodils, what are you going to say when it really matters? Evan agreed that he would have been very much on Coleridge's side. It's that unwillingness to shout loud about everything that made Evan saying a fundamental shift was happening in the global economy last autumn pack a real punch.

Over the last few months Evan has been leading the way in pointing out that the world's economy is slowing down, that slowdown will hurt - but how much will depend on the skill of the world's central banks. As other journalists have struggled to see their way through the complexities of the economy Evan has been clear and right time after time.

Evan has been unique; he's also become something of a star - but most of all he's been a brilliant journalist.

He's followed by Stephanie Flanders - another first class journalist with a style of her own, I'm sure she will be equally successful.

Update, Thursday 20 March: And here's Evan's last piece from the Ten O'Clock News.

Denied access

Jon Williams Jon Williams | 14:19 UK time, Tuesday, 18 March 2008

There are a handful of countries where the BBC is not welcome - but not many where our services on radio, TV and online are actively blocked.

Tibetans throwing stones at army vehicle in Lhasa, TibetFor the BBC, reporting China is a complicated affair at the best of times - and the current protests in Tibet present particular issues. Along with every other news organisation, China's internal security laws mean we can't get into the region without permission - that has been refused.

But in addition to our problems in the field, China also routinely blocks access to BBC services in most of the country. Until now, our international TV service, BBC World has been available in diplomatic compounds and in the big hotels aimed at foreign tourists.

But since the first reports of the protests emerged on Friday, even here, the BBC's reports on the trouble have been interrupted - not always terribly discreetly. Mention the Dalai Lama or trouble in Lhasa, and for a few moments the screen goes black. But getting accurate, first hand reports out of Tibet is a real problem. Without our own people on the ground, we're largely reliant on "eyewitness" accounts - we have no means of independent verification.

Fortunately, the BBC's former Beijing correspondent, James Miles, is in Lhasa and has been able to describe the situation on the ground. Now a writer for the Economist, James was reporting for the BBC when the Chinese tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square 19 years ago. It gives him an unrivalled perspective on the story.

Dalai LamaWe've also managed to obtain some video of events on the streets of Lhasa. They show some of the violence between Tibetans and ethnic Han Chinese. Among the viewers was the Dalai Lama himself. At his news conference this morning, in his exiled home of Dharamsala in India, he spoke of his concerns at seeing on the BBC the pictures of Tibetans attacking Chinese. He said he'd resign as leader of Tibet's exiles if the violence worsened.

The irony of course, is that no-one in China will see the Dalai Lama's plea for calm; in Lhasa, BBC World is still being blocked while in Beijing, the signal is interrupted every time Tibet is mentioned.

Update, 05:00PM: Earlier this afternoon, the press counsellor at the Chinese Embassy in London, Liu Weimin repeated an offer made by the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing this morning. Mr Liu said the Chinese authorities would give serious consideration to organising a foreign press trip to Lhasa so the international media could see for themselves the situation in Tibet. We'd welcome this opportunity - there is no substitute to first hand reporting. The BBC is ready and waiting.

Suppressed coverage

Marek Pruszewicz | 17:13 UK time, Monday, 17 March 2008

BBC World started going off air in China last week. It wasn't a sporadic technical fault, but a reaction by the authorities to one particular story - Tibet.

BBC World logoAs a presenter began reading the introduction to a report on events in Tibet, screens in China showing BBC World would suddenly go black. It wasn't consistent - some reports would go out unmolested one hour, only to be taken off air the next. Whenever the channel moved onto other stories, normal service was resumed.

Nevertheless it was clear reporting on the story was incurring the wrath of the censors.

The question for us - how should we react?

Protesters led by Tibetan Budhist monksThe primary story was about events in Tibet. Whether or not BBC World was being blacked out in China would have no impact on how we reported those events - it simply denied Chinese viewers our coverage.

But the reaction of the Chinese authorities was part of the wider story, an attempt to suppress coverage, so we duly reported that too.

The BBC's James Reynolds, who is based in Beijing, came up with a very simple but effective means of showing what was happening.

James filmed himself watching two televisions - one showing BBC World, the other Chinese state television. As BBC World began an introduction on Tibet, that screen duly went black. The Chinese state station continued to broadcast.

Whether our report about BBC World going to black in China also went to black in China I'm afraid I don't know.

Out and about

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Embedded video

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 11:42 UK time, Friday, 14 March 2008

A graphic of the BBC News websiteEagle-eyed users of the BBC News website today might spot what is quite a significant moment for us - the start of widescale use on this site of video embedded into a story page.

We ran a trial of this last year, but this is the first stage in a roll-out which will soon include the whole site. I'll write more about this when we make a few other changes to the site later in the month, but in the meantime you can read some technical details about how it's done from John O'Donovan on the BBC Internet Blog.

Teenage reporters

Helen Shreeve Helen Shreeve | 15:49 UK time, Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Can the gap be narrowed between how teenagers create and broadcast their own content via the internet and mobile phones and the traditional news broadcasters?

Students from John Fernely schoolYoung people complain that we only see them on the news when they’re in trouble but what stories would they choose if they were in charge? On Thursday 13 March, BBC News is working with more than 250 schools across the UK to turn thousands of teenagers into news broadcasters for the day.

Over the past few months BBC journalists and other broadcast professionals have been working with 11-14 year olds so they can broadcast their own news to a 1400 deadline and publish it on their school website – with a link to our own School Report site.

More than 10,000 have been involved over the year and around half that number will be working on News Day making this a massive journalism deployment.

Stories that have already been filed include items on social networking, mobile phones, living with cancer, and campaigning on Darfur. Other school reporters have covered battery farming, what makes them happy and media images of teenagers.

Students from Greenwood Dale, NottinghamWe have films on what it means to be Scottish in the Highlands, contraception and the state of school toilets. There are teams of students interviewing political party leaders including the PM in Downing St.

Other students are reporting on News 24, Radio Five Live and 40 local radio stations - as well as at outside broadcasts in Belfast, Aberdeen and Snowdonia. And there are web-based radio and TV “channels” for the day being streamed live on the website.

But will the hard work of all the schools, students and professionals involved pay off? What will the audience think of their reports? Tune in and let us know.

Weather warning fatigue

Richard Chapman Richard Chapman | 12:44 UK time, Tuesday, 11 March 2008

After Monday's weather warnings, our dilemma at the BBC Weather Centre today is warning fatigue. Forecasters at the Met Office have issued an early warning of severe gales with potentially damaging gusts for late Tuesday into Wednesday. The question is, will viewers listen to today’s message?

Waves lash the sea wall at Holyhead, WalesThe difference from Monday's event is that more areas are likely to be affected than on Monday. The strongest winds are expected to reach Northern Ireland late on Tuesday evening, and then transfer across parts of southwest Scotland, northern England, north Wales and the Midlands during Wednesday.

Gusts of 65 to 75mph are expected with the possibility of gusts in excess of 80mph on exposed coasts and hills, especially across Northern Ireland and northwest England. Further disruption to transport networks and power supplies is possible and there is the potential of damage to buildings and trees.

As a further complication the winds are expected to be accompanied by some heavy snow over the higher parts of northern England and southern Scotland.

So, how do we continue to get the message out without viewers feeling that it's just another warning? Following our morning briefings with the Met Office and discussions with our colleagues here at TV Centre it is clear that tonight’s event is very serious and could lead to even more disruption than on Monday.

Confidence is high at the Met Office that wind strengths could exceed 80mph and as a result we are leading our national weather bulletins with the early warning and making sure that the message is getting out across all of our services.

With each run of data we continue to monitor the situation and increase the emphasis for the potential of damage and disruption.

Arabic TV

Richard Sambrook | 16:00 UK time, Monday, 10 March 2008

BBC World Service launches a new channel tomorrow morning - BBC Arabic will be adding television to the mix. Initially it will broadcast 12 hours a day, moving to 24 hours later in the year.

World Service logoTogether with our radio and internet services in Arabic, it will form part of the first multimedia offer to the Arab world with programming scheduled across all three media - from the web, to radio, to TV.

Arabic was the first language beyond English the World Service launched 70 years ago. It was also the first language to have its own website. That track record means the BBC is well known and well respected in the region. Since then, of course, the Arab media market has exploded with many hundreds of channels now available. So why should the BBC offer a TV service and what will it be like?

The Arab world is one of the most important regions of the world. Events there affect all of us in some way, from terrorism and war, to oil prices and trade. It is natural therefore that the World Service should seek to reach as many people as possible with its broadcasts - and today that means being on TV which is now the most used medium for news and information.

BBC Arabic channelWe won't, as some have suggested, be seeking to get more viewers than broadcasters like al-Jazeera or Al Arabiya. As an international broadcaster that is unlikely. However we believe we can be distinctive for Arab audiences offering an international, not just Arab, perspective on events and an objective approach to issues. It will have the same standards and values as any other BBC service, reporting on the rest of the world as well as the region. In surveys in the region, 85% of those asked said they would watch the BBC channel. We hope some 35 million people will be using the service in 5 years time.

Like the rest of the World Service, it is being funded by Grant-in-Aid from the Foreign Office - not the UK licence fee - which has led some of our competitors to suggest the channel will simply be Western propaganda. It won't. As with all World Service programmes, it will be editorially independent - something clearly written into our agreements with the Foreign Office - and will represent the same standards which have made the BBC one of the most trusted broadcasters in the world.

So the BBC Arabic newsroom is ready, the teams are recruited and trained, the pilots are over and from 10:00 (GMT) we go live. Wish us luck.

Here's how to watch:

BBC Arabic television will be free-to-air across North Africa and the Arab world on satellite TV via Nilesat and Hotbird, and also visible in the UK on Hotbird 8 (Transponder 50). It will also be streamed on

On Tuesday, when the new channel goes live, we'll post details here about how to watch online.

BBC Arabic buttonUpdate, Tuesday 11 March: To watch BBC Arabic's live stream online, go to and click on the red button (as pictured here).

Stormy forecast

Richard Chapman Richard Chapman | 15:24 UK time, Monday, 10 March 2008

At 5.10am, as I left the house in Folkestone this morning, I had an appreciation of how bad the weather was going to be – I knew from the weekend forecast that the worst would be along the south coast, with breakfast time being the peak and I wasn’t let down. The train into London was buffeted all the way with several pieces of debris on the track causing some concern.

Commuters on the Millenium Bridge, LondonForecasters at the Met Office were alerting us as early as last week, and yesterday the areas for likely disruption were clearly identified. But the gales were not the full story, as the strong winds coincided with spring high tides, increasing the risk of coastal flooding.

At the BBC Weather Centre we have to weigh up the need to give viewers a steer on what is ahead but balance that with crying wolf. On Sunday we were confident that the winds would be strong but exactly who would be in the firing line needed to be watched. The Met Office computer model is run every six hours and with each successive run we monitored the track and intensity, firming up on the forecast.

When I arrived at TV centre the weather team were already in full swing with Matt Taylor on Breakfast and Chris Fawkes on Radio 4.

The winds were expected to continue to gust to 75 to 85mph at times though the rest of today especially in exposed locations. The weather team were reporting on the current weather situation using the latest satellite and radar data with league tables of the highest gusts. Our durations were extended on BBC News 24 to two minutes 30 seconds so that we could provide the additional details required. The worst hit areas were parts of Wales, western and southern parts of England where all emergency services were put on alert.

Rain and high winds in Lyme RegisAs the stormy weather lashed parts of the country, leaving homes without power and disrupting travel, the team kept updating the forecast and bringing the very latest information to viewers on TV, radio, online and mobile. The highest reported gust was 95mph on the Isle of Wight at the time of writing and this news was first to air on the One O’Clock News with Kirsty McCabe.

Very few places escaped the bad weather with northern parts of the UK seeing both rain and snowfall – up to 15cm was forecast over the Scottish Highlands.

As the thunder rumbles around TVC, the word is that more gales are on the way for Wednesday – so keep watching!

Missing children

Robin Bulloch | 15:11 UK time, Friday, 7 March 2008

Why aren't all missing children treated the same? A number of Radio 5 Live listeners got in touch, comparing the case of nine-year-old Shannon Matthews, who's been missing for two weeks, and that of Madeleine McCann. Some felt Shannon's case had been given considerably less attention. Here are a couple of the texts we received:

Radio Five Live logo"you give this story less attention than if she'd been a middle class kid left alone in an unlocked appartment. From james in read ing"

"Maddie's case is VERY different - kid left alone, abroad, much younger etc etc. Don't do the 'ooh, us poor northerners' line. Tim, Hull"

Did the perceptions match the facts? We asked reporter Cory Allen to compare both cases.


By Cory Allen.

Nine-year-old Shannon Matthews has been missing for over two weeks. She got off the school bus after a swimming lesson in Dewsbury West Yorkshire and never came home.

Shannon Matthews and Madeleine McCannThe similarities drawn with the disappearance of Madeleine McCann are stark; two little girls go missing without a trace. In both cases the police appear to have very little to go on. Madeleine was snatched from her bed in the night while her brother and sister lay sleeping in the same room. Shannon Matthews got off a school bus at 3.10pm on Tuesday, 19 February and never stepped foot through her front door. In Shannon's case the investigating officers have less to go on, due to a lack of witnesses. No-one saw which way she went.

For the past two weeks the media has been following the story of Shannon's disappearance with leading articles on all major networks and coverage in the press including her mother 32-year-old Karen Matthews appealing for her safe return on Mothering Sunday. But has the media been as enthusiastic in the sheer volume of coverage as that of the Madeleine McCann case?

If you look at the statistics as reported in the Belfast Telegraph nine days into the coverage of Madeleine there was 465 number of press stories compared with 242 of Shannon.

Big screen showing Madeleine McCann at UEFA Cup FinalIn the first two weeks, we heard something from the McCann family every other day and a campaign got underway very quickly with well-known people like J K Rowling, Bryan Adams, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo all getting involved. The England cricket team at the Test match against the West Indies at Lord's all wore yellow ribbons as well to make sure that Madeleine's name kept a high profile. Madeleine's aunt, Philomena McCann lobbied MPs. She had a personal meeting with Gordon Brown, the then chancellor, who offered support on "a practical and a personal level".

In Shannon's case, on Friday 29 February her picture was put up on the screen at half-time during the Carnegie World Cup Challenge between Leeds Rhinos and Melbourne Storm at Elland Road. Dewsbury MP Shahid Malik has been to visit Shannon's mother Karen Matthews and pop star Leona Lewis has donated money and also made an appeal.

Dewsbury residents wearing Shannon appeal t-shirtsThe reward offered for information leading to the safe return of Shannon Matthews is £25,000 and is made up of donations from a newspaper, a local company and £500 from Wakefield pensioner Winston Bedford, who is a neighbour of the family. Public donations are estimated to be in their thousands.

At the same two week point in the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann, the reward for information leading to her safe return stood at £2.6m. Donations came from a range of sources including newspapers Stephen Winyard, Philip Green, Simon Cowell, Coleen McLoughlin, Sir Richard Branson and J K Rowling.

In terms of the police investigation, West Yorkshire police say 10% of the operational force is being dedicated to the task of finding Shannon and will be until she is found. That's 250 uniformed police officers and 60 detectives.

Police officers in DewsburyThe houses around where she lives are being searched with sniffer dogs and the backgrounds of her extended family and those close to them are being checked by police. In Portugal, around 100 local police and detectives were working on the case in those first few weeks looking for Madeleine.

The families and friends of both Madeleine and Shannon are desperate for good news, that their loved ones are somewhere safe. Both have publicly stated they believe that keeping the girls names high in the media news agenda will mean they are not forgotten and hopefully returned safe home one day.

Surpassing all expectations

Andrew Steele | 09:14 UK time, Friday, 7 March 2008

With the dust settled on the primary contests in Texas and Ohio, the BBC teams have returned to Washington to regroup. But with the Democratic race in such delicate balance, it's clear we'll only have a short respite before we're back on the road again.

Hillary Clinton and Barack ObamaThe election was always going to be the principal element of American coverage this year, indeed one of the world's biggest diary stories in 2008. But the gripping race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is surpassing all expectations.

Within the States, the quantity and quality of election coverage has been a subject of discussion this week - the New York Times bemoaned the fact that US networks failed to break their schedules on Tuesday evening to cover the results and left the breaking coverage to cable news stations. In that respect, BBC America's World News America special results programme, which was simulcast on BBC World and News 24, received an approving mention.

Our challenge on major US stories is to cover for our world audiences with clarity and authority, without appearing simplistic or condescending to our increasing legions of US-based online readers, viewers and listeners. It's also vital for us to get beyond the Democratic horse race to deal with the real issues of the election - Iraq, health care and the economy to name just a few. Matt Frei's moody report this week on Ohio's economic challenges is an example of how we're doing this.

But it's a long haul and for the time being, the race for the Democratic nomination dominates air time and column inches. We are now turning our attention not only to states where primaries and caucuses are yet to be held, but also to the mysterious world of the super-delegates - the party grandees who now hold the fate of Obama and Clinton in their hands. The super-delegates are already relishing the limelight - expect their role as king- (or queen-) makers to be a key element of our coverage in the weeks to come.

10 days to war

Peter Barron | 16:07 UK time, Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Next week on Newsnight we're making our foray into drama with a series of films entitled 10 Days to War. This may prove controversial, but we hope it will also open up the debate about the war in Iraq in new and revealing ways. The issue our viewers most often ask us to revisit is - by some distance - the decision to go to war in Iraq.

Newsnight logoOver the next two weeks, to mark the fifth anniversary of the invasion, we will look back and examine again the circumstances of the run-up to war: the WMD claims, the question of legality, the diplomatic wrangles and so on.

The reason we've chosen drama is that now we can recreate the scenes the cameras couldn't capture at the time - inside the Foreign Office on the day the legal officer Elizabeth Wilmshurst resolved to resign, inside the UN as Britain and America cajoled for a second resolution, inside the House of Commons on the day of the vote to go to war, with the troops on the Iraqi border as Colonel Tim Collins delivered his rousing eve-of-battle speech.

Kenneth BranaghThe eight episodes, each of which focuses on the events and issues from the same day exactly five years ago, have been painstakingly researched by our team of journalists and woven into mini-dramas by the dramatist Ronan Bennett. They'll be played by an all-star cast including Kenneth Branagh, Juliet Stevenson and Tom Conti. (Watch the trailer here).

But is it Newsnight? Not quite. The 12-minute films will run each night in the 10.30pm slot just before Newsnight, and then on Newsnight proper we'll pick up the issues raised with some of the real players portrayed in the drama and other key figures involved at the time. I hope you'll enjoy the drama on TV or online, join the debate and let us know what you think.

Alternative views

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 15:27 UK time, Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Over the past week, we have devoted quite a bit of coverage on the World Tonight to the escalation in the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians which has seen Palestinian missile and rocket attacks on southern Israel and Israeli air and ground attacks on Gaza which have left more than 120 Palestinians and three Israelis dead.

The World TonightWe have heard from Israelis and Palestinians who have blamed each other for the violence and lack of progress in peace talks. With the US secretary of state in the region and with the violence continuing, we decided yesterday we needed to hear something different on this story.

In our editorial meetings, we often discuss our Middle East coverage and how we can shed new light on what can sound a very repetitive story given that politicians and officials on both sides are so entrenched in their positions and are often unwilling to budge from those positions in public - even if what happens behind closed doors can be different.

So yesterday, we decided to look for alternative views on both sides.

Israeli activistsA recent poll in the Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz, suggested a majority of Israelis wanted their government to talk to Hamas to try to reach a ceasefire, something the Israeli government has ruled out unless the missile and rocket attacks stop first. Reporters on the ground in Gaza have also been saying that privately quite a few residents of Gaza are angry with Hamas, blaming them for provoking the escalation in Israeli attacks which have led to so many deaths.

We found two bloggers - one a Palestinian in Gaza and the other an Israeli in the south of the country - who met and now have a joint blog to keep in touch. The idea was to get that alternative view from the usual official one. They reflected on the mood and how difficult it is to advocate peace when the violence continues. It was on Wednesday's programme after 22.30 (and presenter Robin Lustig has blogged about it). Take a listen here and see you think we succeeded in airing an interesting alternative.

A valued colleague

Sue Inglish Sue Inglish | 17:06 UK time, Tuesday, 4 March 2008

It's always hard to accept the death of a valued colleague and friend but when that person is just 42 years old and dies suddenly and without warning, the loss is even harder to come to terms with.

Gareth ButlerMany of us in BBC News have been shocked and saddened by the death of Gareth Butler, until very recently deputy editor of the Politics Show and a man who had worked on a wide range of news programmes during his many years at the BBC.

Gareth had a passion for politics and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the subject which made him an invaluable member of the BBC's political programmes department in Westminster.

He was a founder member of the team which launched the Politics Show on BBC One in early 2003 and played an important role as deputy editor in shaping and developing its unique remit for covering politics.

In recent years, he edited a number of election results programmes for radio where his ability to make sense of the fast moving story was a huge asset.

His calm good humour will be hugely missed by all of us.

Jon Sopel, presenter of the Politics Show, has written an obituary of Gareth for the Guardian.

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