BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Archives for April 2008

Turn on, log on, join in

Craig Oliver Craig Oliver | 11:26 UK time, Wednesday, 30 April 2008

There's always a lot of chat about the brave new world where TV and the web are converging - but how much is it happening in reality?

With my hat on as editor of BBC Election programmes I can point to a very real example this Thursday night/Friday morning: the BBC Election Night programme.

It's become increasingly clear that the web has something extra to offer on election night. An elaborate network of opinion formers, activists and analysts collide online producing fact, rumour, and mood not found anywhere else. While guarded politicians offer the official line on radio and TV ("let's just wait and see" or "what you say is a disaster is really a triumph") the web provides the unvarnished truth about what the parties are really thinking.

Emily MaitlisThat's why we're harnessing these strengths as never before on Election Night. David Dimbleby and Nick Robinson will be in the studio with some of Britain's top politicians bringing authority and analysis to proceedings as the BBC has always done; but a new addition is Emily Maitlis who'll be sifting the chatter online with the help of some of the UK's most committed political bloggers; Iain Dale, Luke Akehurst and Alix Mortimer.

They'll be using their contacts to provide us with immediate reaction from the parties to the night's results. Our website colleagues will be providing a special webpage with the best of each of their blogs - all hosted by Ms Maitlis at "Emily's Election".

That's alongside the normal comprehensive online offering which includes a map of all the results; the chance to find out what happens where you've voted; and at-a-glance look at how the night develops.

This year's local elections promise to be the most politically significant for years. They'll also see a step change in how we use TV and online to cover the story. So put on a pot of strong coffee, turn on, log on, and join in.

BBC Election coverage:
•BBC One, 2335 BST
•BBC Radio 4 Midnight to 0300 BST with Jim Naughtie and Carolyn Quinn
•Radio 5 Live 2200 to 0500 BST with Richard Bacon and Dotun Adebayo
•and BBC London 94.9 on Friday from 1500 to 2200 BST
•On the web at

Fuelling the panic?

Mark Coyle | 16:08 UK time, Friday, 25 April 2008

It's always a sobering experience for journalists to hear in no uncertain terms from their readers, viewers or listeners.

GrangemouthOur coverage of the planned two-day strike by workers at the Grangemouth oil refinery has prompted quite polarised points of view on our Have Your Say pages.

Many writers have expressed support for the workers whilst others reckon the action is a throwback to the "bad old days" of 1970s industrial unrest.

A third strand of the argument has emerged, one where we, the media, are being accused of fuelling the "petrol panic-buying" fire.

Here are two such comments from our Have Your Say:

"The panic buying is caused by the media. If they kept quiet, the chaos at the pumps would not be as intense. Ian Drysdale, Cumnock."

"Tell people there is a crisis with no real thought to how the message is put out and there will be a crisis. Mark Mitchell, Glasgow."

But should we ignore the fact that queues have formed at some petrol stations and that some have imposed rations on motorists?

The expressions "damned if we do, damned if we don't" and "chicken and egg" spring to mind.

It's difficult to imagine how we could report properly on this story without at the same time trying to predict the consequences of the refinery being out of action on people the length and breadth of Scotland.

That said, we've been trying hard to avoid the phrase "panic-buying" on the BBC News website unless we're quoting its use by an interviewee. I must admit though that it has cropped up in places.

Human nature being what it is, even the most selective use of words would not entirely prevent some people from wanting to keep the needle on their fuel gauges right on maximum.

Overemphasis on Zimbabwe?

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 10:35 UK time, Friday, 25 April 2008

The World Tonight - in common with other parts of BBC News - has given extensive coverage to events in Zimbabwe where, a month after the presidential election, results have still not been released and it is unclear whether President Mugabe will stay in power.

The World TonightGiven Mr Mugabe's prominence as an independence leader and the catastrophic nature of his country's economic decline in recent years that has led to an inflation rate of 100,000%, an unemployment rate estimated to be 80%, and millions of people leaving the country in search of work, the story merits coverage.

But we have been discussing at editorial meetings whether it merits quite as much as it's been given. Over the years, some listeners have accused us of doing too much on Zimbabwe at the expense of covering other countries which are in a worse state.

One such country is Somalia. So far this week at least 80 people have been killed in fighting there between Western-backed Ethiopian troops - who intervened in 2006 to support an interim government - and Islamist fighters. The UN says the recent upsurge in violence is making a humanitarian crisis more likely and has accused both sides of breaking international law. And yet Somalia has received relatively little coverage.

The BBC does cover Somalia - recently our correspondents, Mark Doyle and Rob Walker, have reported from there and the BBC African Service has reporters there. And on The World Tonight this week we have covered both stories - but we have given more airtime to Zimbabwe.

Why should that be?

Is it because Zimbabwe is a former British colony and most of Somalia was not? That is what some audience feedback tells us. I think that is one explanation - audiences in Britain are more familiar with Zimbabwe and may have historical links with the country and are more interested in what is happening there.

Is it because Somalia is a very dangerous place to report from? Many journalists, including from the BBC, have been killed covering the country since it collapsed into anarchy in the early 1990s. This is certainly true, but in recent years the BBC has been restricted from reporting from Zimbabwe by the government, so the BBC has found it difficult to get correspondents' reports from that country as well.

Is it because Somalia has been in this state for the best part of 17 years, whereas Zimbabwe was until a few years ago a relatively stable and prosperous country? So the relative novelty of the what is happening in Zimbabwe could also help to explain the difference in the amount of coverage.

Many observers fear Zimbabwe is in danger of becoming a failed state. But Somalia is what those observers would say already is a failed state - maybe the most failed state in the world. It is also now home to pirates who menace shipping off the Horn of Africa; and Western governments, particularly the United States, regard the country as a source of international terrorism, so maybe the country deserves more attention than it has been receiving?

We will continue to report on both countries, but it would be interesting to know whether you think we are getting the balance right.

Russian bloggers

I knew we were starting a new project with Russia's biggest blogging platform this week. But clicking on our site - - on Monday morning, and following the links at the top of the page, I found blogger Yulia Ilinskaya describing an anti-Nato communist demonstration in Kiev, and photo journalist Aleksei Yushenkov's pictures of Russia's new president, Dmitri Medvedev, at a closed internet forum.

World Service logoThese were the result of the BBC's new partnership with Russia's biggest blogging platform, LiveJournal. With nine millions users per month, LiveJournal is similar to Facebook in its multiplatform approach, but with an emphasis on blogging and reporting events.

Together with LiveJournal, to try and access some of this fresh reporting talent, the BBC has set up Live_Report - a space for budding reporters and citizen journalists to share their content with the BBC.

Following the links, I found a video on an erotic photo exhibition in Moscow this is not featured on - and is unlikely to be in its current format. But we know it's happening and that blogger 'babyashkina' is filming it and writing about it.

So far, Live_Report has more than 350 members, and the BBC will feature the best of the reports - in a range of formats - on its own Russian-language site as well as potentially on radio in Russian. My hope is that some of the reports will make it further throughout the BBC in English as well.

For me personally, it's a good feeling to see Live_Report in the news this week. As head of BBC Russian, most of the publicity that's come my way over the last 18 months has been around the closures of several FM partnerships in Russia and the difficulty we've had bringing our radio broadcasts to listeners in Moscow and St Petersburg - not to mention the rest of the country - in FM quality. So linking up with LiveJournal is something I can only be pleased about.

It's also very good news because over the last few months we've looked more and more at how we can engage with our audience in Russia. The internet is not only a method of distribution in Russia, it is an excellent way to interact with an audience that likes to share, to set the agenda, and to criticise and praise. We already have a very active band of readers and listeners who are constantly telling us what they think, and suggesting ideas for interactive programmes. As it is, has been blogging for quite a while already - if you polish your Russian, you'll find blogs on the history of the Russian revolution and military, poetry, and the thoughts of the last few months of one contributor's life who has since died of cancer.

Russians tend to embrace technology, and mobile phone ownership is high. Internet access is widespread and access through broadband is growing. This gives us as newsgathers access to direct reports from all around the country, even though our team is based mainly in Moscow and London.

It's all about finding new ways to be relevant to our audience, and to get the best content to our audience. And what about the BBC agenda? What do we do if some of the reports are a bit less polished or a bit more edgy than we are used to? My view is that this is an exciting challenge to our team of journalists - who are already very used to dealing with user-generated content through forums, interactive programmes and so on. If there are issues with a particular piece, we can work on that on a case by case basis. And even if not in the existing form, we might yet be able to use the rather interesting reporting skills of 'babyshkina' in the future.

Comments on changes

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 09:05 UK time, Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Thanks for your comments on the BBC News branding changes. I'll try to answer some of your questions about our thinking. We will be waiting before we get the results of some quantitative research on how viewers have responded to the new look before deciding whether to make any tweaks to it.

bbcnews_140.jpgMany of you have been perplexed about why a branding change was necessary and you wondered whether we had consulted any members of the audience. We did talk to the audience and that's exactly why we have introduced these changes. Not every user of BBC News is as passionate (positively or negatively) as readers of this Editors' blog. As one comment put it, "the brand of the BBC goes without saying". But I'm afraid that is not the case. Younger people use BBC News less than older viewers. In a competitive environment news content, especially when accessed via aggregation sites, is sometimes hard to identify. Clarifying and reinforcing the BBC News brand is about defending its values for the future, not throwing those values away.

We were accused of "spending tons of money". The £550,000 cost of the changes is a large sum of money, but spread over all of BBC News services in the UK and around the world, and over many years, we feel it gives real value.

In terms of specific criticisms, the changes to the channel names and the bulletins were probably the most contentious. But we believe they do make sense in the context of the increasing lack of awareness of the BBC News brand. Of course if you'd like to carry on referring to the channel as "News 24" and the bulletin as "The Ten O'Clock" then that's fine by me. But I'm proud of BBC News, so I see no harm (and plenty of benefit) in us telling the audience where their programmes come from.

One contributor says that the BBC News brand has been foisted on the regions. You are right that there is an impression amongst some audiences of BBC News as being too London-centric, but we are making great efforts to change that. BBC News needs to reflect the interests of the whole country. So rather than reinforcing a metro-centric impression we want to make sure BBC News is embedded in our first class output in the nations and English regions.

These changes are not about style over substance. They are part of a massive series of changes that are equipping BBC News as an organisation to deliver multimedia journalism to all our audiences. We are spending far more time and money on investing in improvements to the content of our journalism than we are on marketing and branding. I hope later to return to these themes and explain further how BBC News is improving what we provide for you.

New News

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 08:30 UK time, Monday, 21 April 2008

You may have noticed that BBC News on TV has a new look. BBC News network, nations and regional output on BBC1, BBC News 24 and BBC World have changed. I'd like to explain the changes and ask for the reaction of viewers.

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We know from audience research and feedback that BBC News is widely consumed and generally appreciated on our many outlets. But in a world where news is increasingly available on a variety of platforms from many providers, we'd like to make sure that BBC News is recognised whenever you come across it.

We have asked members of the audience about the key things they associate with us. The characteristics that emerged were - the phrase "BBC News" itself, our distinctive music (by David Lowe), the globe, the colour red, the clarity and accuracy of our news services. We have taken those well-established attributes and emphasised them further and consistently in a set of designs that will apply across all of the BBC's core news services - on TV across the UK and on the internet.

bbcnewslogos_203.jpgWe employed the internationally respected designer and brand expert, Martin Lambie-Nairn, as creative director on the project. His team, in collaboration with our BBC design team led by Paula Thompson, has produced a look which we hope conveys what you said BBC News is about - clear, unfussy, direct, straightforward and fresh. It's not intended to be a massive visual change, but an evolution and clarification of what we are about, to enable audiences to recognise BBC News whenever and wherever they receive it.

bbcnews_203.jpgAlongside the look we're also changing some names, also to emphasise the identity of BBC News. BBC News 24 becomes simply "BBC News". The channel is now, by a considerable margin, the most popular and high quality news channel in the UK. The channel is not just at the heart of BBC News. Now it is BBC News.

The BBC1 bulletins at 1, 6 and 10 become "BBC News at One", "BBC News at Six" and "BBC News at Ten". Here's the new studio that we have modelled for our BBC1 bulletins and the BBC News channel.

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bbcworldnews_203.jpgOur international news channel, BBC World, becomes BBC World News.

On the web, we recently introduced an element of the new look in the globe on our red masthead. These changes were described previously by my colleague Steve Herrmann, editor of this site. Your feedback on that has led to a number of tweaks being made and we are working on further alterations as a result of your comments. We'd really like to know what you think about our changes and I'll respond to your comments.

UPDATE, 09:05 AM, 22 Apr 08: Thank you for your comments. I have tried to answer some of your questions here.

Clear brand

Richard Porter | 08:25 UK time, Monday, 21 April 2008

"News...important or interesting new happenings." So says the Collins English Dictionary. And from today, BBC World has changed its name to BBC World News. Perhaps it's not the most radical step - indeed some of you may think that's what we're already called. And if you don't, then maybe you're wondering why we're bothering.

bbcworldnewslogo_203.jpgBut this is a significant change, for two reasons really. One, because a surprisingly large number of viewers we questioned in surveys found it hard to categorise exactly what we are; what we stand for. And second, because we want to be in line with all the changes happening across the BBC - bringing together our news output in radio, TV and online to share one common identity (see Peter Horrocks' blog entry on this subject). In the increasingly-crowded global market-place, it's critical to have a clear brand which stands out from the competition.

Over the years, the mixture of programmes on BBC World has changed significantly. We used to broadcast much more features and other programming (including University Challenge India not too many years ago).

But in the past three years - in response to the clear demand of our viewers - we've gradually increased the focus on to more news and topical programming. For example we now run four editions of the hour-long World News Today, as well as World News America presented from Washington. Later this year there'll be more, and we've also expanded World Business Report and Sport Today.

So for us, the name change is a public declaration of what we have become, and where our future lies. We'll be keeping our most popular programme brands on the channel - Click, Fast Track, Our World, HARDtalk, and the rest. But by changing our name we hope we're just a little bit more clear about what we do, and the values of BBC News we represent.

BH at BH

Peter Rippon | 10:39 UK time, Friday, 18 April 2008

There will be a special edition of Broadcasting House this weekend to mark the first 10 years of the programme. For the first time, Broadcasting House will come live from the Radio Theatre in... er... Broadcasting House.

BHlogo.jpgThe BH programme has only come from the famous building itself once or twice... right at the beginning. The name was chosen by the first editor as a joke, because the production team was moved out of the beloved BH building just as BH-the-programme started. Being always slightly behind the curve has long been a feature of the programme and aside from the mail arriving on our desks in Television Centre a couple of weeks late for 10 years, it has not caused too many problems.

The original idea was the programme should be 'not the Today programme' and since launch we have tried to subvert the some of the traditional rules of news and current affairs. The Donald Rumsfeld Soundbite of the Week (we celebrated his retirement here), is one example. Our Sony Award nominated Quiz, and a theatrical arrest (which you can listen to here) are other successful examples. We even made a tape of Rumfeld soundbites for the then NATO Secretary General, George Robertson, to give to the man himself.

We have also got into trouble. Our colleagues on Today have hopefully forgotten the time we bugged their meeting room (they were not there when we did it, honest). We provoked the ire of the press when, in an attempt to mock the emerging continuous TV news channels reporting of Royal stories, we put a reporter outside Clarence House to report regularly during the programme that nothing was happening during the Queen Mother 'being 99'. It was disrespectful apparently. We also celebrated the arrival the Al Jazeera's English language service by getting Charlotte Green to read the shipping forecast in Arabic (which you can listen to here). Listeners complained it was frightening.

Over the years we have hopefully shown that on a Sunday morning the Radio 4 listener can take a mix of the lateral, wry and self-deprecating with serious journalism and sometimes uncomfortable journalism in the best traditions of BBC News. So what can you expect this weekend. Maybe something on the benefits of self indulgence?

New ways into blogs

Giles Wilson Giles Wilson | 13:52 UK time, Thursday, 17 April 2008

The upgrade to our blog software which I mentioned yesterday seems to have been a success. I promised today I'd explain a bit about changes to the way we're handling comments.

From today you will need to be registered to post comments on any BBC blogs, including any of those which are part of BBC News (Nick Robinson's Newslog, Peston's Picks, Mark Mardell's Euroblog, Justin Webb's America, and others and The Editors, to name a few).

All our research, as well as our instincts, tell us how important it is that one should be able to add comments to a blog. Indeed some would say it is the defining characteristic of a blog - and when a blog author takes part in the comments you can see the value of it. I know we probably don't do this enough in the BBC (something highlighted by Alf Hermida's analysis (pdf link) of BBC News blogs), but will continue to strive to do better.

Since we started blogging in earnest (with Nick Robinson in 2005) across BBC News we have published tens of thousands of comments. And as you might have seen, we have shown ourselves unafraid to publish plenty of comments which are critical of the BBC. We draw the line at comments which are abusive, offensive or libellous, but otherwise we've got a pretty strong stomach for comments. This is part of what people expect from blogs.

However, we have had some technical problems. It's often been frustrating to leave comments (and also frustrating to publish them) because of slow response times. Part of the problem was that we were asking too much of our software. So we thank those of you who have had patience with us and haven't given up. We fully expect the new software upgrade to have addressed our problems.

So why are we introducing registration? One problem we've had is that we were getting overwhelmed with spam - dozens a minute. Registration will help with that. But we're also conscious that whatever part of the BBC website people are using, the basic functions should be the same. So if you have already registered - eg with a messageboard, BBC Sport's 606 or with Have Your Say - then you will not need to register again to comment on blogs. And if you register here on blogs, that will give you access to messageboards, 606 and Have Your Say.

Naturally you will still be able to read everything on the blogs whether or not you have registered or logged in.

We are not alone in this. Many large blog publishers all over the web - including the Guardian, the Daily Telegraph, and even blogs like Boing Boing - now have registration. It seems to be an effective balance between maintaining access to the blog and the standard of debate.

If you're interested in exactly how the new system will work, there are more details from the BBC's Jem Stone and also the house rules.

In a matter like this there are always competing interests - no doubt some people will feel cheated that they now have to register to leave a comment. Sorry if you feel like that. But we've thought long and hard about the best thing to do, and believe that this is likely to be the most effective and efficient way of publishing as many comments as possible.

Blog refurbishment

Giles Wilson Giles Wilson | 16:07 UK time, Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Behind the scenes quite a lot of work has been going on in the past few months to upgrade the software we use in the BBC to produce our blogs. All being well, the upgrade will take place overnight tonight, which means that from 1800 BST until tomorrow morning there will be no new entries on any of our blogs and no comments will be accepted. We are also introducing registration for leaving comments - something I'll write more about tomorrow.

So - as those strange signs outside shops sometimes say - please excuse our appearance while our refurbishment takes place.

A sensitive issue

Simon Goretzki Simon Goretzki | 12:55 UK time, Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Since Mark Speight's sad death on Sunday the Newsround website has received over 3,000 e-mails, mostly from children saying how much they admired him and how much he'll be missed.

Newsround logoClearly this shocking story was something that a vast majority of the Newsround audience were quickly aware of, and something that they cared about deeply. But how much of the detail should Newsround actually report - indeed should we be reporting it all?

That was the subject of a debate on Radio 2's Jeremy Vine show on Monday, sparked by e-mails from parents saying the story was too distressing for a young audience. Interestingly, (and despite what is written in today's Daily Mail) Newsround only had a tiny handful of similar e-mails, and to be honest there was never any doubt that we would report Mark's death, but we've been aware from the start that the story raises difficult editorial questions.

Mark SpeightForemost amongst these has been the issue of suicide. After much discussion and after consulting with Editorial Policy we felt uneasy with the idea that some children's first encounter with the difficult concept of suicide would be occurring in relation to a CBBC personality whom they looked up to and greatly admired.

Trying to explain to young children why anyone would take their own life also poses problems. Newsround's usual approach is to explain difficult subjects clearly, in no-nonsense language that kids understand. Yesterday however, it was easy to imagine us explaining that someone had killed themself because they were feeling incredibly sad, and for a child who is being bullied or coping with a divorce or death in their family to then think; "I'm feeling incredibly sad too - is this an option for me?"

It was for this reason that Newsround did something yesterday that goes right against the team's instincts, and deliberately didn't include all the key facts. Our reports did not explicitly state that Mark had killed himself, but instead were written in such a way that children who may have gleaned the facts elsewhere would be able to piece together what happened, whilst the younger end of the our audience, aged around six, would simply understand that Mark had died, that he'd been feeling sad, and that lots of people would be missing him. Did we do the right thing? Were we overly cautious? We're still talking about it, and the debate will no doubt continue.

The Newsround team work in the same BBC department that Mark worked in, colleagues were friends of his, and Mark and Newsround shared the same audience. Whilst as journalists yesterday we may have felt unusual, in terms of serving that audience we hope we got it right.

PS: From 1800 this evening (UK time), we'll be doing some essential maintenance to all of the BBC's blogs. As a result of this, you won't be able to leave any comments on our blog posts from that time until early morning on Thursday, 17 April. Our blogs editor explains a bit more about this here.

Between times

Jon Williams Jon Williams | 10:08 UK time, Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Two weeks ago, during our coverage of the Olympic Torch relay protests in London, the BBC broadcast a report from Beijing, suggesting there had been no coverage of the protests, in China. Like much of the coverage associated with the recent trouble in Tibet, it has provoked a lot of discussion in China and on video sites like YouTube.

While James Reynolds's report (which you can watch here) was first broadcast on Sunday 6 April at 1900 BST, the items featured on YouTube were transmitted the following day - so the video is disingenuous. However, while it is true that at the time James's report was compiled no Chinese media had reported the protests, between the item being recorded and the report being broadcast, we now understand that some Chinese media did report the protests - although not the main channel, CCTV1, featured in James's report. It was wrong of us to suggest that the Chinese authorities tried to keep news of the protests off the air. When we make a mistake, we need to apologise. I'm happy to do so.

Blog on blogging

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 08:30 UK time, Wednesday, 16 April 2008

We do a lot of blogging these days in the Business and Economics unit. Peston's Picks, Evanomics, now replaced by our new Economics Editor Stephanie Flanders (we'll need a catchy name for her new blog if you have any ideas please…) But our technology correspondent and multi-media blogger Rory Cellan-Jones has reminded us that the act of blogging wasn't, and still isn’t, entirely uncontroversial even here at the BBC. This is his blog on blogging...


By Rory Cellan-Jones

"Should the BBC encourage its correspondents to blog? What should its attitude be to controversial posts on staff's personal blogs? And does too much blogging give you a heart attack? Three questions I've been pondering lately.

Rory Cellan-JonesThe first comes as a result of reading a piece of academic research written by a former colleague, Alf Hermida, who has now gone to a better place as a journalism professor at the University of British Columbia. Alf's paper is called The BBC goes blogging: Is ‘Auntie’ finally listening? (pdf link). It documents an extraordinary change of heart by BBC managers about the idea of blogging, from suspicion and scorn - in 2003 one website editor argued "They are an interesting phenomenon, but I don't think they will be as talked about in a year's time” - to enthusiastic embrace.

It strikes me the initial concerns were twofold - that nobody would be interested in our blogs so they would be a waste of a correspondent's effort, and that they would threaten our impartiality. But the blogs have attracted plenty of readers - Robert Peston's Peston's Picks gets a million page views a month - and they've done that without descending to the opinionated, loudmouthed knockabout which was previously seen as the prerequisite for success in this arena.

What blogging does allow a broadcaster to do is to cover stories that would never make it onto the airwaves, and, in my case, to engage with a different and very knowledgeable audience. Mind you, that's bound to be a minority audience and the danger is they become a distraction from the job of reaching the mass of licence-fee payers. Alf Hermida suggests that the BBC bloggers need to do even more to have a conversation with these people - I think there are risks in getting too involved.

And what about the blogs that some BBC staff write in their own time but where they identify their employer? At a recent internal seminar on this subject, I was taken aback at how wide the gap was between the different views on controversial posts on personal blogs. One group that I would characterise as the digital libertarians felt that just about anything was permissible in the interests of openness - including one blog post that informed readers of an easy way to hack the iPlayer. Another more conservative group – mainly like me from a news background – was aghast at this willingness to flout every BBC code, from impartiality to commercial confidentiality.

And as for those health risks, a recent article in the New York Times has reverberated around the blogosphere after it chronicled the sad plight of a number of technology bloggers who have become addicted to posting at all hours of night and day. Three had suffered heart attacks, two of them fatal. I read this article at 0730 GMT on a Sunday morning, then noticed a new development in the Microsoft story, and fired off a quick blog post before breakfast.

So yes, blogging can be a rewarding activity, both professionally and personally. But beware of the threat it can pose to your health and to the BBC’s reputation."

This article first appeared in the BBC's in-house magazine, Ariel.

Breaking into journalism

Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 09:15 UK time, Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Just back from Italy after being a guest of the International Journalism festival. I'd been asked to take part in a session about the difficulties of breaking into journalism as a young reporter. The logic here being that Newsbeat, 1Xtra News and our new strand Revealed on BBC2 as part of the teenage offering Switch, means that we employ many young journalists.

Radio 1 logoI feel the pain. It's never been easy getting into broadcast journalism - now it's even harder with a plethora of postgraduate courses and applicants with ever higher academic qualifications.

But how can journalism reflect society if our journalists have similar backgrounds and a similar view of life? It's a problem across our industry and certainly over the years BBC News has been guilty, in my view, of recruiting almost exclusively from a similar well educated, middle class background. Let me be clear: there's nothing wrong with being middle class or well educated - it's just that not everyone should be like that. It's not instead of - it's as well as.

In Italy, the picture looks similar. The wannabes I spoke to were from professional and managerial families - because, I guess, like in Britain, you have to be able to afford that pricy postgrad. I also observed a very academic approach to this business from the professors charged with passing on their wisdom. I've always believed this isn't an academic business: it's intensely practical and focused on what your audience - readers, viewers, listeners -want to know about or might be interested in - that is, if we took the trouble to explain it properly.

My current and previous trainees are working class in background - our current trainee told me she'd never have considered the BBC a couple of years ago because it seemed so lofty and remote as a potential employer and "they wouldn't look at me as I'm working class and Indian".

Thanks to people like Claire Prosser and Paul Deal, who set up the Journalism Trainee Scheme here, things are changing in BBC News training. Paul left school at 17 to work in local newspapers after being brought up in London's docklands, worked for many years in the BBC Newsroom and he freely admits he wouldn't have got into the trade today.

The scheme's director Claire Prosser believes the "who you know" principle still holds far too much sway in the BBC even now, and her aim is to recruit people from "different backgrounds and communities who we don't serve well at the moment". Her point is that BBC News has made some good strides on racial diversity - but much smaller steps in social diversity. People from different backgrounds bring different ideas, life experiences and perspectives to the media.

The Journalism Trainee Scheme has hired 21 young journalists on a 6 month apprenticeship. We train them and then help them with their job hunt at the end of it all. We don't set ANY minimum educational qualifications, and several have remarked that they simply couldn't have got this far through the established journalism postgrad other words they'd have been lost to the trade. Their talents are obvious: intelligence, good storytelling ability, a knack of finding out news, persistence and a real connection with and understanding of wider audiences. We're not alone in developing this type of recruitment and The Guardian is doing good work with its bursary scheme.

As I watched a well known American journalism school attempting to recruit students in Italy this weekend - I was struck by a very different language and approach from them. Words like "semester", "thesis", MA, PhD and "dual degree" left me thinking their emphasis is flawed. A recent discussion with "an alumna" (her words) from this very university interested me: she appeared to be more concerned with proving to potential employers that she was in possession of a planetary sized brain than any real understanding of journalism - far less an editorial empathy with the people who are most important: those who pay our wages...our readers, viewers and listeners.

Climate change debate

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 13:02 UK time, Saturday, 12 April 2008

A recent story about global temperatures by BBC Environment Analyst Roger Harrabin has been the focus of controversy in a number of blogs, and some of you have e-mailed us to ask about it. Here Roger sets out the background to the story, published on the BBC News website, and gives his reaction to the discussion it provoked:


By Roger Harrabin

"Climate change provokes some of the fiercest online debate, and for the past week the blogosphere has been buzzing over our report on global temperatures trends.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteOn 3 April we broadcast a TV news report based on an interview I had sought with the head of the WMO, M. Jarraud (which you can watch here). It said temperatures would dip a little this year because of the cooling La Nina current but even then, 2008 would still be much warmer than the long-term average. It said that a minority of scientists questioned whether temperatures would carry on rising as projected, but that the great majority said they would continue to be driven upwards by CO2. We then published an online version.

I subsequently received suggestions that the article should offer more background. The WMO wanted to emphasise M. Jarraud’s view that a slight temperature decrease in 2008 compared with 2007 should not be misinterpreted as evidence of a general cooling. Some of the feedback seemed helpful so we altered and expanded the report - improving it substantially for the general reader, in my view.

Among my e-mail exchanges was one with an environmental campaigner who published our e-mails implying that we had changed our article as a result of her threat to publicly criticise our report. We didn’t change it for that reason. We changed it to improve the piece. But we’ve stirred the wrath of some of our readers as a result.

The main criticism was not about the revised version of the story itself, which contains the same facts as the original plus extra background - but that we changed the report apparently under pressure and did not signal the changes.

The BBC’s guidelines on tracking changes were laid down by Steve Herrmann, editor of this website: “When we make a major change or revision to a story we republish it with a new timestamp, indicating it’s a new version of the story. If there’s been a change to a key point in the story we will often point this out in the later version… But lesser changes - including minor factual errors, corrected spellings and reworded paragraphs - go through with no new timestamp because in substance the story has not actually progressed any further…. pages of notes about when and where minor revisions are made do not make for a riveting read.”

Nature magazine’s website said about our WMO report: “To my mind there are only two questions to be answered here. The first of these is should the BBC have flagged the article as having been changed? The answer here is yes if they thought the original version was wrong, and no if they thought they were just altering for readability. As they think the change is minor then there isn’t really a need to flag it.“

So let us apply both sets of criteria to the WMO story. Was the original copy wrong? No, it was not. Was there any material change? I don’t think so. Should we therefore have flagged that the story had been altered? We didn’t think that was necessary, but with hindsight it might have been a good idea.

We will continue with our reporting of climate change – the policy and the science. Doubtless our audiences will continue to tell us if they think we are getting it right."

Fair trial

Ceri Thomas | 08:57 UK time, Thursday, 10 April 2008

The Contempt of Court Act is designed to be one of the underpinnings of fair trials in this country. Once a prosecution is 'active' - which usually means once a suspect has been arrested or charged - the Act prevents the media publishing anything which might pose a "substantial risk of serious prejudice" to the court case which we expect to follow.

The Today programme logoHow do we square that with the way that we, the media, have covered the news that Karen Matthews, Shannon Matthews's mother, has been charged with perverting the course of justice?

Is the sort of detail that a number of newspapers are carrying - and we in the BBC are to a lesser extent - compatible with her right to a fair trial? In other words, is there a danger that the twelve members of the public who'll end up sitting as jurors if the case goes ahead have already made up their minds about Karen Matthews's guilt or innocence?

I've been doing some research into this area of the law recently, and a couple of interesting trends emerge.

Karen Matthews leaving Dewsbury Police Sation ahead of her court appearenceFirst, judges seem more and more willing to believe that juries will disregard press coverage that they might have seen around the time that someone is arrested. In fact, they think jurors will probably have forgotten about it by the time the case comes to trial.

It's what's known as the 'fade factor'. If it exists - and no-one really knows because there's been no research to speak of - it might mean that a fair trial can take place in a few months' time regardless of what's said or printed now.

But it's got a serious downside, of course. If you're the suspect in a case, and you have to sit around for months, possibly on remand, while the rest of us forget about all those details which were published when you were arrested, that might not seem entirely fair to you.

The second interesting phenomenon is the effect of the internet. At the moment the law is based on the notion that we can create the conditions for a fair trial by denying people certain important pieces of information. So, for example, if people have previous convictions, we don't report that after they're arrested.

But what if you can't deny people that information any more?

If you're a juror sitting on a high-profile criminal trial your curiosity might lead you to check whether the alleged villain in the dock has a long criminal record. You could find that information very quickly on the internet - and, remember, it's information which would have been published perfectly properly at the time.

Can we stop that happening? Judges will certainly warn jurors not to do it, but that's no guarantee. Ministers have suggested that news organisations should take down their archive pages to stop people accessing information that might currently be considered prejudicial, but those pages are mirrored and cached all over the place. The idea of removing old news pages from everywhere on the web seems deeply impractical.

So what we have now is an Act based on two suppositions, one of which is unproven, and the other of which is increasingly undermined by the internet.

The first is that, within the jury room, jurors might be swayed by things they've read, seen or heard in the media. There's no real evidence that this is true - and judges, increasingly, seem to take the view that juries are capable of making up their minds based on what they've heard in court.

The second is the whole idea that we can withhold entire categories of information to make a fair trial possible. The internet does away with that: if 'prejudicial' information has been published, we can't un-publish it.

This isn't an argument for a press free-for-all. If everything we report can resurface in this way it's even more important that it should be fair and accurate.

But it does mean, I think, that whether we like it or not we have to trust juries more than the current law implies. And probably it requires a new law to do that.

The return of Silvio?

Alistair Burnett Alistair Burnett | 15:45 UK time, Wednesday, 9 April 2008

This weekend Italians go to the polls to elect a new government (nothing new there you may think given the country has had more than 60 governments, albeit not all as a result of elections since the creation of modern republic from the ruins of Mussolini's fascist dictatorship and the abolition of the monarchy at the end of World War II.)

The World TonightGiven this, you may ask why we are sending our presenter Robin Lustig to cover the election in depth for The World Tonight. A good question which in one sense is easy to answer in two words - Silvio Berlusconi.

Controversial is not really doing Mr Berlusconi - who is favourite to return to power this weekend - justice. A former cruise liner crooner who rose to be the country's richest man, a TV mogul, owner of one of Europe's top football teams and two times prime minister, Mr Berlusconi has also been persistently accused of corruption - though never convicted - and some of his closest advisers have been found guilty of bribery as well as collusion with the mafia. Silvio Berlusconi, who's also known as Il Cavaliere, stands out as a leading politician who also controls a large chunk of his country's media. A situation which many other European countries would probably not accept and has led to suggestions that if Italy were not a member of the EU already, it may well have trouble being accepted as a member today.

Understanding the appeal of such a politician in modern Europe is what we will attempt on the programme.

Silvio BerlusconiBut Italy has a wider importance to the rest of Europe too. It's one of the largest countries in the EU and has an economy which is in decline. It adopted the Euro at its inception, but its public finances are in such a state some Italians would like to abandon the currency, which could have a serious impact on the prestige of the new money. Italy also faces a dilemma - in some ways similar to that faced by France - of deciding whether to introduce liberal economic reforms at the risk of jeopardising a quality of life many in the rest of world envy.

In this election, both the main candidates, Mr Berlusconi and his centre-left challenger, Walter Veltroni, are promising reform. But there is doubt whether they can deliver on those promises and also whether the electorate is really going to decide on these issues when most observers agree this election will really be about one thing - whether or not to return Mr Berlusconi to office.

Robin Lustig will be examining these questions and bringing you the results of the vote. Ahead of the vote he'll be presenting the programme from Milan on Friday and then move on to Rome Monday night, by which time we should know if Il Cavaliere has returned to the prime minister's palace.

Newsbeat reporting back

Rod McKenzie Rod McKenzie | 10:25 UK time, Wednesday, 9 April 2008

A few weeks ago we relaunched Newsbeat's website. We've made a few tweaks along the way - and now it's only fair I report back on how we've done.

Radio 1 logoThe good news is that we've doubled traffic to our site - notching up five million page impressions since relaunch. Most of the comments we've had have been supportive. A few people have asked why we've dropped our reporter picture profiles and our live webcam of the Newsbeat office? The answer is that most people found them both dull - it's the news that's the star - not the journalists making it. So we dropped them.

So what were our star stories online? Entertainment news and music journalism were far and away the best box office hits for us - and thanks to our friends and colleagues at the main BBC News website, plenty of generous linking to our content spread it further, even to those who are not regular Radio 1 listeners. Simon Cowell paying off a cancer family's mortgage on Oprah was huge.

Robert PlantOur entertainment reporter Natalie Jamieson made a great video at the Led Zeppelin reunion gig, political reporter Rajini Vaidyanathan crafted a behind-the-scenes film at Downing Street, (which you can watch here) Andy Brownstone produced a great series of journalism on the snow season in Switzerland: from how drunken Brits are causing chaos on the slopes to snowboarding safety.

Technology reporter Jim Reed reported how hackers had found a way to get round the privacy settings of Blu-Ray discs, US reporter Sima Kotecha met Barack Obama and Maddy Savage brought us original reportage of how there's growing evidence festival fans - yes, she is one - are heading abroad this year - the lure of good music, strong line-ups and better weather proving more irresistible than Glastonbury - and we reported on slow ticket sales and Jay-Z's controversial headline status there, too.

It's a range of journalism we are proud of. Our reporters have radically changed the way they do their jobs: their brief now is to do video, text and radio pieces. They're loving it and we're living it - in a multi-skilled multi-media New World. Best of all, you're using it - so thanks and keep the feedback coming!

Fat fight

Gavin Allen | 17:15 UK time, Tuesday, 8 April 2008

I'm fat. Officially.

After three months of pounding the streets and just hours before I set off on the London Marathon, this is slightly disheartening news.

Politics Show logoBut the BBC's fat calculator doesn't lie - and after a rigorous diet of lager, red wine, pot noodles and pork pies (there must be some carb-loading in there somewhere, surely?), I'm officially 25.58 on the Body Mass Index.

That tips me, or heaves me sweatily, into the "overweight" category. Fat, to you and me. And unless I've got very heavy glands, it isn't glandular.

But don't mock just yet - check out your own BMI here first.

The question is what, if anything, to do. And should I be doing it alone? After all, the government's very keen to help. "Tackling obesity" is the war du jour.

There are ministers, taskforces, committees and tsars all sipping tap water and foregoing the biscuit plate as they thrash out solutions to Fat Britain.

But are my love handles - and there's handle room there for a whole lotta lovin' - really a matter for Gordon Brown? Do we really need to be told about fruit and exercise, not curries and pints?

I know it costs the NHS billions every year. I know 90% of my fellow men - assuming I'm still around to be amongst them - will be obese by 2050.

Overweight boyBurgers for kids are a form of child abuse. Every snack bar should have traffic light alert warnings. This is a fat fight to the death. And on, and endlessly on.

But does it all work? And does it even matter?

On the Politics Show this Sunday we'll examine whether the government's right to spend millions of pounds trying to educate the public into eating and living healthily - or whether diet is one choice people should be allowed to make for themselves, regardless of the consequences.

Ultimately, is obesity just not a matter for government? The Health Secretary Alan Johnson will join us to chew the fat with our resident couch-potato Jon Sopel, so let us know what you'd like Jon to ask him.

And don't forget we're on air a bit later this week - 2pm - to give the likes of me plenty of time to trudge round the marathon course.

Now, where's that packet of chocolate hob-nobs?

Case closed?

Mike Rudin Mike Rudin | 11:16 UK time, Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Normally an inquest takes place within months of a death. This one came after ten years, three coroners and millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money.

Princess DianaNot only did something extraordinary and tragic happen on the last day of summer in 1997 when Princess Diana, her companion Dodi Al Fayed and the driver Henri Paul, died in the crash in Paris; but something extraordinary has happened ever since.

There’s been ten years for conspiracy theories to evolve, mutate and grow ever more elaborate.

Ten years for officials to try to get to terms with a new phenomenon a truly modern conspiracy theory – developed on the internet, relayed on the mass media and eagerly consumed around the world.

We’ve had the initial two-year French judicial inquiry, then Lord Stevens’ Metropolitan Policy inquiry, Operation Paget, at a cost of £3.7m and now an inquest over six months and costing on a conservative estimate another £3.6m. The total cost to British taxpayers of investigating Princess Diana's death is expected to exceed £10m.

Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed CCTV imageLord Stevens said he hoped the clear verdict that Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed were unlawfully killed due to the "gross negligence" of driver Henri Paul and the paparazzi could bring “closure to what has been a traumatic event”.

Will the inquest verdict finally end the speculation? I doubt it.

Last night Mohamed Al Fayed refused to accept the verdict. He said both the French and the Metropolitan police inquiries were wrong and he insisted that Diana was murdered: "I'm not the only person who says they were murdered. Diana predicted she would be murdered and how it would happen.”

As tonight’s Conspiracy Files Special, produced by Diana Martin, shows new evidence has helped resolve some of the key questions.

For example, it's confirmed there definitely was a second car, a white Fiat Uno, which collided with the Princess’s Mercedes; all the evidence suggests Diana was not pregnant; and it's now acknowledged that her driver Henri Paul had definitely been drinking that night - he ordered and drank two Ricards in the Ritz bar, the equivalent of three measures of whisky.

The coroner said the inquest had served "an important purpose" by examining the conspiracy theories "in minute detail" through the evidence of more than 250 witnesses. Lord Justice Scott Baker concluded that there “is not a shred of evidence” to support the theory that Princess Diana was assassinated by MI6 or any other government agency. But with many important French witnesses refusing to appear before the inquest, some questions will remain unanswered.

Forensic scientists reviewing the toxicological evidence have not been able to explain high levels of carbon monoxide in Henri Paul’s blood samples - which some people claim is evidence that the samples were switched. And a key witness, the driver of the white Fiat Uno has still not been identified.

The investigative journalist Gerald Posner puts that down to the faults of the initial French inquiry. But he tells the programme conspiracy theories have a life of their own:

"When you present solid and credible evidence to somebody who has embraced a conspiracy theory it is extremely difficult to have them give up on their belief. They will claim the evidence you presented has been planted, tampered with, faked by the conspirators themselves. It’s almost impossible to get someone to change their minds."

So was it all necessary? Well yes if so many doubts persist about such a public figure.

We now have a verdict that Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed were unlawfully killed due to the actions of driver Henri Paul and the pursuing paparazzi. But should it all have taken ten years to get to this stage?

Of course officials in the UK are not alone in having to deal with counter theories.

In the United States nearly seven years on from 9/11 and yet despite tens of millions of dollars being spent on official inquiries the debate about what really happened on 11 September 2001 continues.

The final, or so it’s planned to be, official report has still to be published and it is due out this summer.

The subject is a third tower that collapsed that day. The 610ft (186m), 47-storey skyscraper collapsed in a few seconds but it was never hit by a plane. According to the official investigators it is the first and only skyscraper in the world to have collapsed solely due to fire.

Later this spring on BBC Two, The Conspiracy Files will report on World Trade Centre Building 7 – a building that has become a rallying cry for those who question the official account of what happened on 9/11.

How Diana Died: A Conspiracy Files Special will be broadcast on Tuesday 8 April 2008 at 1900 BST on BBC Two.

Memorial to journalists

Andrew Steele | 09:37 UK time, Monday, 7 April 2008

The Journalists Memorial was re-dedicated on Friday in Washington. I helped read out a roll call of more than 1,800 journalists from all over the world who have been killed in the line of duty since 1860.

Journalists MemorialAnother 92 names have been added to the memorial, making 2007 a dismal year for the Fourth Estate. Their names have been added to a soaring wall of etched glass panels inside the Newseum, a glitzy, hi-tech tribute to journalism which opens next week just down the road from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue.

As I listened to the lengthening roll call, a bell tolling after each name, I reflected on those journalists who have paid the ultimate price, just for doing their jobs. Some were my friends, some were rivals, and some were both.

I thought of my colleagues currently hard at work in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Zimbabwe….

Journalists are often characterized as grasping, petty individuals who would sell their grandmother to get the latest forgettable gossip about a Hollywood D-lister. But Friday’s ceremony reminds us all of the worthy side of our profession.

Even more feedback

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 18:24 UK time, Friday, 4 April 2008

Thanks again for all your comments about the new-look BBC News website. We’ve been going through them, collating them and feeding these thoughts into our work. I’ve addressed some of the points in my previous post, but I just wanted to let you know we have been paying attention.

A graphic of the new look BBC News websiteWe’ve tightened up the white spacing on stories and indexes – this was one thing a lot of you mentioned. The masthead and banner area of the page, specifically how the black BBC masthead works in conjunction with the current News banner, was another common theme, and we’ve asked the design team to look into this.

The masthead will soon incorporate a BBC-wide navigation area, so will be an important way of getting to other parts of the BBC website – radio, TV and much else – which is something people clearly want to be able to do easily (including those who miss the tabs that used to be on the international edition of the site).

To those who like it all, that is great to hear so thank you for letting us know. To others, we’re continuing to work on developing the site in the coming weeks and months, so please don’t see this as the end of the story.

Lastly, apologies to anyone who’s tried to post here and had difficulty – there have been ongoing problems with leaving comments on BBC blogs, including this one. Jem Stone on the BBC Internet Blog has explained our plans for improving this.

Business matters

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 15:25 UK time, Friday, 4 April 2008

Today we launched internally a fantastic new section on our College of Journalism website supporting all journalists who cover business and economics. It follows a report last year by Sir Alan Budd monitoring the quantity, quality and impartiality of our business coverage (which you can read here in pdf). He found there was no systematic bias but that sometimes we lacked balance and too often stressed the consumer perspective.

Robert Peston and Evan DavisOf course, that was all before the credit crunch and Northern Rock. What a difference a year makes. It seems hardly a day goes by without Robert Peston or Evan Davis (now replaced by Stephanie Flanders) analysing and explaining the latest twist and turns of the global economy and using terms in their blogs that would give hedge fund managers a headache. I actually overheard a conversation at the tea bar the other day where the term 'de-leveraging’ was being bandied about.

Sir Alan commented in his report that there was a lack of commercial awareness in some parts of the BBC. I'd love to get him back in for another look, but he'd better be ready for a decent debate.

iPM is back

Peter Rippon | 11:30 UK time, Thursday, 3 April 2008

The PM programme logoThe radio version of iPM is back this Saturday. iPM, through a blog, asks its audience to share what they know with us and other listeners to help shape what we do on the programme.

Our starting point is that there is always someone who knows more about a subject than we do and technology is allowing us to tap into that more effectively than ever before. It can be letting us know about things happening that others have missed, like the blogger who gave us an eyewitness account of the Awakenings movement in Iraq when it was in its infancy (which you can listen to here).

It could be working collectively with us on a story, like the broadband connection speed issue we addressed in the last series that led to us being able to hold those responsible to account.

Or it could be just having fun with some of the map projects we have done. Have a look to see where people are when listening to PM.

The one thing iPM is definitely not is just a vehicle for people to hear their views on the radio. User Generated Content is often derided by its critics. I think unfairly. A lot of what is out there is drivel, but like TV, just because some of it is rubbish does not mean that it all is. Our challenge is to use what our audiences know to fuel and inform and support our journalism. It would be a very foolish producer who felt the collective knowledge of the Radio Four audience is not worth tapping into.

Your feedback

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 12:23 UK time, Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Thanks to everyone who has posted comments on the new-look site. We are sorting through them, picking out the key issues so we can respond, and passing lots of the feedback on to our developers and designers.

A graphic of the new look BBC News websiteMy colleague Julia Whitney, who led the design work and is considerably more knowledgeable than me about these things, has written a detailed post to address the main points you’ve raised, including use of white space, scrolling, the masthead, and customisation. But I just want to say a few quick things in advance of that:

First, to everyone who posted about the lack of weather and local news in the first hour or two after launch – SORRY! – this was, as I said when we’d just fixed it, caused by a temporary problem in the deployment process.

Second – as you’ve noted, there are still various indexes around the site which aren’t yet widened – we’re working on those and they should change soon – it’s a big site and we’ve taken a step-by-step approach to rolling out the changes.

Third – we’re looking into the feedback you’ve sent on the number of headlines in the bottom half of the page under the Around the World section. Some of you regret that these are now fewer – we did reduce the number on the basis that we don’t want to overload the page and these links aren’t heavily used compared with those in other areas. Elsewhere, though, the numbers of stories remain much the same – in fact we’ve added in a new section for programmes content which wasn’t there before.

Lastly, to all those who’ve said they really like it – Good! And thanks again for all your thoughts.

Here’s Julia’s point-by-point post on the main issues that have come up.

Update, 2 April: Julia's responded to some of your concerns here.

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