BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Archives for August 2011

Newsnight: The facts

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Helen Boaden | 12:43 UK time, Thursday, 25 August 2011

After an extraordinary year of news, perhaps we have should have predicted that the summer would be busy. Even so, events have outstripped the imagination. There was the horrifying massacre in Norway, the revelations and resignations of the phone hacking scandal, riots erupting in England and then Libya crashing back into the spotlight. And all that was set against a backdrop of mass demonstrations in Syria and the continued European debt and currency crisis.

Throughout this exceptional summer, BBC News has demonstrated its strength. Operating locally, UK-wide and globally, we have brought live coverage and in depth specialist analysis to all our audiences on radio, television and on line.
Many BBC News programmes and services have seen a surge in the numbers of people turning to them for facts and insight. We have had record audiences for our website and our News Channel for example. But it's also been an especially strong summer for Newsnight though by some of the recent comment in the newspapers, you would never know that. A wholly inaccurate and unfair narrative is emerging about Newsnight allegedly "losing its way".

Let's look at the facts about Newsnight. Over the summer, 13 editions have attracted over a million viewers on average as people have sought out an intelligent, lateral take on the news of the day. In the last two months, 11 million people have watched Newsnight - that's one and a half million more than for the same period last year.

Those strong audiences are not a surprise. Time and again, Newnight's discussions have set the agenda and made compelling television: Steve Coogan on phone hacking; Harman v Gove on the cause of the riots; Sir Hugh Orde on political interference in policing; David Starkey on race and culture.

Newsnight's sharp debates, witty insights and testing interviews may challenge or infuriate. But they rarely bore. Neither does the range of films from the Newsnight stable: Sue Lloyd-Roberts fearlessly going undercover in Syria; Paul Mason following in Steinbeck's footsteps exploring America's underclass; the investigations into the use of undercover police posing as protestors. They show journalistic skill and confidence of a high order.

Does Newsnight face challenges now which it didn't ten years ago? Of course it does. There is simply far more news and analysis available round the clock now than then. It's much harder to make an impact with any single piece of journalism. But even against a massively changed media landscape, the Newsnight brand retains real power. On big days Newsnight is attracting significant television audiences and viewers through the internet, the iPlayer and other digital outlets. It also has a passionate twitter following.

Newsnight remains a vital part of what we offer our audiences. We know they value its distinctiveness and its depth. As the news cycle gets faster and fiercer, there's never been more need for its unique and invaluable take on world events.

Helen Boaden is director of BBC News

Our coverage of Libya

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Jon Williams Jon Williams | 12:10 UK time, Monday, 22 August 2011

At the Imperial War Museum's northern outpost in Salford, a special exhibition celebrates the ranks of Britain's war correspondents - among them Winston Churchill. Before becoming a celebrated war leader, he found fame as a war reporter for the Morning Post during the Boer War. More than a century on, those same skills of courage and drive displayed on the battlefields of South Africa have been seen in Libya.

A Libyan rebel tank drives through Maya, 21 August

It takes real bravery to head towards the sound of gunfire and explosions when any right thinking person is running away - a courage shared not just by the correspondents but the often, unsung heroes, the producers, crews and engineers who get them on the air.

For much of the past week, the BBC has been the only UK broadcaster reporting from Tripoli - a five-strong team led by correspondent Matthew Price has holed up in the capital's Rixos Hotel, unable to go out unless "escorted" by Gaddafi government minders.

As parts of Tripoli fell, Matthew described his routine in a piece for the BBC News website - dinner in body armour and helmets, fear stalking the corridors as government officials abandoned the international media to their fate.

When Nato bombs started raining down on Libya, our Tripoli Correspondent Rana Jawad went into hiding. Being the BBC's correspondent in Gaddafi country was never easy at the best of times. But Rana refused the chance to leave: her life and her family was in Tripoli - and for five months, she filed a series of reports, billed only as a Tripoli Witness describing life in the capital.

At the BBC, everyone who works in a war zone is a volunteer. Like Rana, they make the decision to stay or go. Last night in a highly volatile situation, the BBC team in Zawiya, along with other major broadcasters judged it was not safe to continue with the rebels on the road into Tripoli.

Alex Crawford of Sky News took a different view and has rightly been praised for some compelling coverage. I congratulate her on her tenacity - it made for extraordinary television. But to illustrate the dangers facing those in Libya, this morning that same BBC team, led by Rupert Wingfield-Hayes came under fire as they entered Tripoli. The team is safe - but the footage which you can see here is terrifying.

Against this background we have succeeded in delivering comprehensive coverage of events in Libya since the uprising started in February. We have reported from Benghazi, Misrata and the advancing front line. Dozens of colleagues from many news organisations have risked their lives over the past five months to tell a hugely important story.

As I write, the fight for Tripoli is not over yet and some are still risking everything to ensure we can give our audiences - including those in Libya - first hand, "eyewitness" reporting. I could not be more proud of them.

Jon Williams is the BBC World News editor.

Use of photographs from social media in our output

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Chris Hamilton | 17:23 UK time, Monday, 15 August 2011

The use in BBC News output of photographs made available via social networking sites, especially Twitter, has been receiving some attention online in the last couple of days and we want to set the record straight.

Boy takes a picture of elephants with his camera phone in Chicago


Andy Mabbett blogged about an official complaint he made to the BBC that, in our coverage of rioting in Tottenham on 6 August, we used photographs without naming the people who took them, and whose copyright we may have breached.

We've looked into the response that was sent by the team that deals with complaints for the BBC. It essentially stated such content was "not subject to the same copyright laws as it is already in the public domain".

Unfortunately, this is wrong, and the response doesn't represent BBC policy. We apologise for any confusion it caused. Another direct response, and apology, is being sent to Mr Mabbett.

In terms of permission and attribution, we make every effort to contact people who've taken photos we want to use in our coverage and ask for their permission before doing so.

However, in exceptional situations, where there is a strong public interest and often time constraints, such as a major news story like the recent Norway attacks or rioting in England, we may use a photo before we've cleared it.

We don't make this decision lightly - a senior editor has to judge that there is indeed a strong public interest in making a photo available to a wide audience.

In terms of attribution, ie giving a credit to the copyright holder, it's something we should always try and do when we use such photos in BBC News output.

But sometimes, in the exceptional circumstances just outlined, it's just not possible to make contact with the person who took the picture, or they don't want to be contacted, or we might consider it too dangerous to try and make contact - a significant issue in our coverage of the recent Arab uprisings.

Even when we do make contact, the copyright holder might give us permission, but ask not to be credited because it puts them in danger or they believe it will be used against them in some way.

So, when we can't credit the copyright holder, our practice has been to label the photo to indicate where it was obtained, such as "From Twitter", as part of our normal procedure for sourcing content used in our output.

We do want to acknowledge the value our audience adds to our output, and hope this sheds light on our editorial decision process made during exceptional circumstances.

From LauraK to NormanS

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Chris Hamilton | 14:09 UK time, Friday, 12 August 2011

Norman Smith is one of the most experienced correspondents on our team at Westminster with a distinguished career delivering incisive political reporting to a loyal and appreciative audience, most recently on the Today and PM programmes.

screenshot of @BBCnormanS twitter account

As he moves shortly to take up the post of BBC News chief political correspondent, Norman will be reaching more of our audience on TV, especially the News Channel - and on the social networking site Twitter, where he is @BBCNormanS.

In fact, like many of the best political reporters, Norman has been active on Twitter for sometime, with a following of nearly 7,000. In his words:

"It's said that Twitter is where the news is, and that's certainly true in political terms - it's a key place for news, comment, analysis and, yes, gossip.

"It can be useful, fascinating, frivolous and daunting, but it's an essential Westminster talking shop and has become more and more important to my job."

He is taking over from another keen Twitter user, Laura Kuennsberg, who is moving to become business editor at ITV News.

Since the move was announced there has been a wide range of comment and speculation about what would happen to her Twitter account. Would she re-label it, taking it and her 60,000 followers with her? Or would she leave it, to be effectively closed, or handed over to her successor?

The debate ranged over who owns Twitter accounts, the blending of professional and personal, the role of "users", and how new it is as an issue at all. Even the front page of the Financial Times got in on the act.

It is a new issue and a complex one, although the reality of the process we went through with Laura was not complicated. Over to her:

"I really enjoy Twitter and having such a smart and lively bunch of followers. But when I decided to leave I was clear that, although I wanted to keep my account and just change the name, it wouldn't be the end of the world if that wasn't possible, and I reserved a new account at @ITVLauraK just in case.

"But I was pleased that fairly swiftly we agreed that I could change the account if I was clear about what was happening and where I was going. And also I agreed to introduce the followers of my account to my successor.

"It was all very amicably done."

To Laura, the chatter around 'losing' or 'taking' followers slightly misses the point: "People who want to find info on Twitter or share or discuss what's going on are definitely savvy enough to choose who to follow themselves."

That's a view we share - plenty of Laura's followers also follow other BBC accounts, so we don't see this as the wholesale "loss" of all her followers.

We see it as a straightforward approach, in tune with common social media practice. It's also a sustainable approach, considering more and more people will be joining us with well-developed social media presences, built up through different roles and at different organisations. BBC News will benefit from those networks and audiences, in just the same way other organisations will benefit when people leave us.

Above all, users, or audiences, are at the heart of what the BBC does, and quite obviously at the heart of social media and social networks. So, as BBC News Channel controller and Newsroom deputy head Kevin Bakhurst put it:

"Our view was Twitter users can make up own minds - and hopefully follow Laura as well as @BBCNormanS."

Of course, as with our refreshed BBC News social media guidance, the pace of change in the world of digital and social media means the position will always be kept under review. But for now we're confident this is the right approach.

Chris Hamilton is social media editor for BBC News. You can find him on Twitter @chrishams

England riots: Our coverage

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Mary Hockaday Mary Hockaday | 13:17 UK time, Wednesday, 10 August 2011

As many people have said, 2011 is proving an extraordinary news year, and August is proving no different. BBC News teams have been flat out the past few days covering the shocking and fast-moving riots in London and other cities and towns in England.

Riot police raise their batons


The story's unpredictable nature and wide geographical spread has been a challenge - getting rapidly to the various locations across London and around England and dealing with the safety issues for our teams on the ground. For instance, last night in Manchester a BBC camerman and two BBC vehicles were attacked, which affected our ability to get live pictures for a while.

The main task so far has been to cover the first Ws of good-old fashioned news reporting. The who, what, where and whens of the story. This is what our audiences have been turning to us for in droves with some of the highest ever audiences for our website, TV and radio coverage - and record audiences for instance for the Live page coverage.

Among the feedback for our coverage, one issue has been raised about use of language. Some commentators have suggested that we have been using the word "protests" to describe what's happening, rather than riots, or looting. A Telegraph leader even says we "insisted" on calling them protesters.

It's simply not true to suggest the BBC has portrayed these events as protests. Our role as with any story is to accurately reflect what is happening - from the original protest in Tottenham on Saturday night through to the subsequent riots and looting. We have clearly reported the riots, looting and mayhem of the past few days. The word protest or protester may have cropped up in live fluid coverage, as has been the case with other broadcasters, but none of our audiences to any platform can have been left in any doubt that we have been reporting riots and looting.

Of course there's a fifth W too - the why. You could also add a couple more: what next and what does it all mean...the debate has already begun. We've reported the different comments and arguments from politicians, police, community leaders, local people about possible causes - criminality, alienation, poor parenting, gang culture, cuts, the list goes on. And the discussion has started too about what to do to prevent such devastating events happening again. Tomorrow these issues will be debated by MPs recalled to parliament and we'll be covering that as it happens.

This is where our specialists come in - Nick Robinson, Mark Easton, Clive Coleman, Emma Simpson to name a few - as well as our London and UK-wide correspondents who will continue to report on the events and aftermath. Our audiences have been eager too to join in with their thoughts on causes and consequences - on 5 Live, Breakfast, and comments on stories.

So as we report on last night's riots and looting and the clean-up our job remains to report the facts and air the debate, which will go on a long time after burned buildings have been demolished and broken windows have been mended.

Mary Hockaday is head of the BBC newsroom.

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