BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Archives for October 2011

New look for BBC Weather website

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Liz Howell | 15:10 UK time, Thursday, 27 October 2011

BBC Weather beta

Rain or shine, we know that many of you like to access your weather forecasts through the BBC's Weather website.

The last redesign for the website happened in 2009, and since then we've been working on plans to make it even better and update the site so that it benefits from the latest technological developments.

As a result, we are today launching a "beta" version of an improved site. This is a work-in-progress version of the site which will eventually replace the current version of BBC Weather Online.

So in the coming weeks, we'll be running this beta version of the new design alongside the current Weather website, and you'll be able to access and use both of them. During this period we'll be ensuring that the new site operates as intended - it's important to ensure we've got the basics right in order to deliver the best experience possible at full launch.

BBC Weather beta Edinburgh page

They key improvements around the new site are:

A more focused and clear homepage design gives instant access to a five day and a video forecast and also has a short summary of UK weather. The map indicates the weather conditions in selected locations at the time shown in the right hand corner, and if you're after a more detailed full colour UK map with a five day time line just click "Detailed UK Weather". Our international users will see a world map on their homepage.

The easily personalised forecast favourites allow you to save a range of locations to appear in the drop down menu on the right hand side of the page. With the beta, when you access the site for the first time in the UK, you'll see the weather in Glasgow as the default option for the time being. We are working on this showing the biggest city in your nation, so bear with us.

Improved navigation across the site, allowing there to be more editorial content and audience pictures on the home page. This means the left hand side navigation has gone, and all the key content is accessible through the home page. The latest weather related stories will be where the 'Welcome' message is now on the beta, and news stories about climate and environment can be found from the Science and Environment section of the News website.

Last but not least, all the important, detailed weather information is still there - location pages show humidity, pressure and visibility as well as UV, pollution, pollen & observations. The country guides will also still be available, and the expectation is that the current list of countries will be available via a link on every page and will eventually become part of the country pages with the five day forecast map.

The improvements to the BBC Weather site are part of a bigger programme of change within BBC Online - we've been refreshing the BBC's ten key areas or 'products' to move towards a more distinctive family of websites, supported by a shared infrastructure to allow more intuitive journeys between them. Last summer the BBC News website was updated, BBC iPlayer followed in September, and at the moment there is a beta running for the BBC Homepage too.

BBC Weather will still have its unique look and feel, and the new design will introduce improved and easy-to-use functionality. The redesign & introduction of new infrastructure also means that the new site will be easier for us to optimise for mobile and connected TV devices in the future.

In the past months, we have invited over a thousand users to try out prototype versions of it, but we're still very keen to hear any feedback from you, so please have a look around the new Weather beta website. We've created a handy user guide accessible from the BBC Weather beta or here which should help to explain new features, and this carries a survey option. Do get in touch! We're using the #bbcweather hashtag on Twitter to group conversation, or you can comment below.

My colleague Peter in Future Media will be writing a post on the BBC Internet blog next week with more details, and other blogs about the user experience and technical aspects of the redesign will follow.

Liz Howell is head of BBC Weather

The challenges of reporting Gaddafi's death

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Mary Hockaday Mary Hockaday | 11:55 UK time, Friday, 21 October 2011

When the end came, it came very suddenly. For months, the Libyan rebels, supported by Nato, were striving to end Muammar Gaddafi's rule in Libya. For weeks that goal seemed to be coming closer, but for many Libyans a tantalising question remained: where was Gaddafi? For days, attention has been on his hometown of Sirte, where Gaddafi loyalists held out. Then yesterday, Sirte fell and suddenly, unexpectedly, Gaddafi was found. A dramatic news day, which posed many challenges. Our continuing commitment to coverage of Libya means we were able to provide on the ground reporting from Sirte. We are the only UK news organisation to have had a permanent continuous presence in Libya since February and yesterday, our correspondent Gabriel Gatehouse was the only UK broadcaster in Sirte as Gaddafi was killed, able to provide first-hand reporting of what happened, carefully piecing together the day's events. We gained big audiences for our coverage yesterday across platforms.

Col Gaddafi

 

It was a confusing story. This posed another challenge. In the age of mobile phones, footage of the capture of Gaddafi soon started to emerge. We could not always be clear of its origins so it was important to make what checks we could and then be very clear with our audiences what we'd been able to verify and what we hadn't. The other challenge was posed by the nature of the footage itself - very graphic, some of it showing Gaddafi alive but manhandled and bloody and other footage and stills showing his dead and bloodied body. We judged that it was right to use some footage and stills, with warnings about their nature. Part of yesterday's story, especially in the first hours, was the swirl of rumour. The images of his dead body were an important part of telling the story to confirm reports of his death. Images of him alive but manhandled were also disturbing, but told an equally important part of the story about how his captors treated him and how far he himself had fallen. As the different footage emerged through the afternoon, it became an important way for us to piece together what happened - what were the circumstances of his death, did he die from wounds sustained in the fighting or was he captured alive and then shot? As different officials and eyewitnesses gave different accounts, the footage helped us share emerging photographic evidence with the audience.

We do not use such pictures lightly. There are sequences we did not show because we considered them too graphic and we took judgements about what was acceptable for different audiences on different platforms at different times of day, especially for the pre-watershed BBC1 bulletins. I recognise that not every member of the audience will agree with our decisions, but we thought carefully about how to balance honest coverage of the story with audience sensitivity. The News Channel faces a different challenge. We know that many people join the coverage through the day or only watch for a short while. For these audiences we need to keep retelling the story. But we also know that some people watch the live rolling coverage for several hours, and with the Gaddafi story this meant some repetition of the graphic images. It is a difficult balance to strike. For the website, we chose to use an image of Gaddafi's body in the rotating picture gallery on the front page. We recognise that it is hard to provide a warning on the front page and so while we felt it was an important part of telling the core story in the early stages, as time passed we found other ways to convey what had happened on the front page, with the most graphic images at least a click away and with a clear warning.

There were undoubtedly shocking and disturbing images from yesterday. But as a news organisation our role is to report what happened, and that can include shocking and disturbing things. We thought carefully about the use of pictures - which incidentally we used more sparingly than many other UK media - and I believe that overall they were editorially justified to convey the nature of yesterday's dramatic and gruesome events.

Update 24 October: Steve Herrmann, editor of the BBC News website, adds: "Some of the comments in response to this blog post relate specifically to the News website, so I thought it would be worth a brief addition. We included a picture of the dead Muammar Gaddafi on our front page for some of Thursday afternoon, and to those who were shocked by this, we are sorry for any distress it caused. We are working on ways to ensure that we can give appropriate warnings on our website when we think images from the news are especially disturbing."

Mary Hockaday is head of the BBC newsroom.

External linking: How are we doing?

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Host Host | 12:31 UK time, Friday, 7 October 2011

Last year we at the News website were tasked with doubling the number of click-throughs to external sites by 2013, as part of the BBC's Strategy Review.

Screenshot of BBC News external links

This was something I discussed at a panel session I was taking part in at yesterday's News:Rewired conference, organised by Journalism.co.uk, and I wanted to write briefly here about our ongoing efforts to improve the ways in which we link externally from our news articles.

Having asked for the figures from our research team for my presentation, it was great to hear that we appear to be well on track to achieve the goal set for us.

Looking back at the third quarter of 2010, we had an average of around 2.9m external click-throughs per month from UK users. That period - last year's July, August & September - was around the time of the redesign of the News website. That meant, among other changes, that the 'From other news sites' and 'Related internet links' sections moved from the right-hand side to the bottom of news stories. And we have also been doing more linking to external sources from within the text of story pages.

The figures for the third quarter of this year show that all this has had an effect, and it looks as though we've been getting something right. The monthly average is now around 6.1m click-throughs i.e. more than double what it was last year. One caveat is that there have been some big news stories over this period, including the August riots, Norway shootings and Amy Winehouse's death. Another caveat is that we are using a different method to measure the figures now, so whilst the comparison should be pretty accurate, there's a small margin for error.

It's interesting too when looking at the figures, to see where the traffic goes - who are we linking to? Around one-third goes to other news sites via 'Moreover' - the technology behind the 'From Other News Sites' box which is included on many BBC News stories. The top destinations for external click-throughs in any month depends largely on what the top stories are for that period, for example in February this year there was news of the street-level crime maps being published (www.police.uk) , ITV footage of an elderly lady confronting armed robbers (www.itv.com) and stories about tickets for the Olympics in 2012 (www.london2012.com). Those sites all showed up high in our list of onward referrals.

And just to be clear, it’s not that we don’t want you to stay with us - we do, of course . There’s lots of great content around the BBC site, we're proud of it and want you to explore it, but helping you to find relevant and useful information , whether on other news sites or from non-news sources, is also a key part of what we should be doing as a news provider. From this latest snapshot of where we are with external linking it does look as though we are getting better at doing that, but there’s always room to do more, so if you have ideas on this, let us know.

Update, 10:49: Tuesday 11 October: Thanks for all the comments on this post, I wanted to reply to a few of them briefly:

Kit Green: No reciprocal agreements, we are assuming that by and large if we provide a good link, people will come back – at some stage.

Josh: You are quite right: The link should be www.police.uk to get the postcode search for local crime maps and data. Sorry about that.

Christina, Whitefall: Yes, point taken. We are acutely aware of the benefit and value of linking to source reports, and will continue to aim to do this whenever we can. There are sometimes practical issues which make this difficult such as when the report is under embargo at time of writing, or there is a paywall. But in principle I quite agree it is the right thing to do.

Horsenanny: Very glad you have found the site useful and informative.

Bluesberry: I don’t have a reply to hand on your South America query, but if you get in touch I can seek one.

Maddyn10, Shakygorilla1: We have been covering the US protests – for example here and on the related links to our other coverage from this story.

Eddy from Waring: Yes – quantity is a crude measure, but it is a start. Relevance and quality are clearly key. We measure clickthroughs, so the fact that someone has followed a link does at least imply some value.

Pratish: I have passed your correction on to WHYS.

David: On the reasons for the linking targets – there’s more here and in the link from that post to the Mark Thompson Strategy Review document.

Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.

Families of BBC staff being harassed in Iran

Peter Horrocks Peter Horrocks | 08:00 UK time, Wednesday, 5 October 2011

The BBC has become accustomed over many years to relentless criticism from the Iranian authorities. Often the verbal claims made by the Iranian government and media are so exaggerated that we ignore them and rely on the good sense of our audiences in Iran and around the world to discount their wilder statements.

Ayatollah Khamenei listening to a speech by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

However recent direct actions against the BBC by Iran cannot be ignored.

We are seeing the levels of intimidation and bullying as well as attempts to interfere with our independence reaching new levels - particularly since a documentary about the supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei was aired.

In recent weeks the jamming by the Iranians of international Persian language TV stations, such as BBC Persian TV and the Voice of America's Persian News Network has intensified.

The jamming prevents Iranian audiences viewing a vital free service of information. In the past week alone, hundreds of Iranian viewers have sent emails and used social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to reach out to us.

They tell us how much they value us as a source of reliable independent news, ask us to persevere and to look for other - not prone to interference - ways of broadcasting BBC Persian TV.

Iran is a member of the United Nations body the International Telecommunication Union (ITU); as such the Iranian government is a signatory to international communications treaties that are designed to allow the free exchange of information and data, for the benefit of all.

The BBC and other international broadcasters have called on governments and international regulatory bodies to put maximum pressure on Iran to desist in this flagrant censorship.

The second category of direct action by Iran is aimed not at our audience but the BBC's own staff. Many of our Iranian employees who live in London are fearful to return to their country because of the regime's attacks on the BBC. But although those journalists are beyond the direct reach of their government they are now subject to a new underhand tactic.

Iranian police and officials have been arresting, questioning and intimidating the relatives of BBC staff. We believe that the relatives and friends of around 10 BBC staff have been treated this way.

Passports have been confiscated, homes searched and threats made. The relatives have been told to tell the BBC staff to stop appearing on air, to return to Iran, or to secretly provide information on the BBC to the Iranian authorities.

Six independent documentary makers whose films have appeared on BBC Persian TV have also been arrested in Iran. Although these film-makers have never been employed or commissioned by the BBC, they are paying the price for an indirect connection to the BBC.

These actions and threats against the BBC have been accompanied by a dramatic increase in anti-BBC rhetoric. Iranian officials have claimed that BBC staff are employees of MI6, that named staff have been involved in crimes, including sexual crimes, and that BBC Persian is inciting designated terror groups to attack Iran.

Whilst these claims are clearly absurd, the intensity of language magnifies the fears of BBC staff for their family and friends back in Iran. Given the vulnerability of those family members we have thought hard about drawing attention to this harassment. But this public statement has the full support of all staff whose families have been intimidated.

Our Iranian journalists have made their own decisions to work for the BBC, which they knew might cause hostility from their own government. But their families are innocent bystanders and it is outrageous that they should also be victimised.

This issue is wider than the BBC and is behaviour that all people who believe in free and independent media should be concerned about.

The BBC calls on the Iranian government to repudiate the actions of its officials. And we request the British and other governments take all necessary means to deter the Iranian government from all these attempts to undermine free media.

Peter Horrocks is director, BBC Global News.

Talking to Haqqani: How it was done

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Liliane Landor | 16:44 UK time, Monday, 3 October 2011

How and why would you interview a key leader of one of Afghanistan's most feared anti-Western militant groups?

The Haqqani network has been blamed for a series of recent deadly attacks in its home country.

So its leaders' thoughts and motivations, however distasteful, are clearly of importance.

But the people at the head of such networks do not tend readily to put themselves forward for questioning by established media organisations.

The BBC had been pursuing an interview with the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani network for some months.

Then, last Sunday, a BBC Pashto reporter in the Khost province of Afghanistan, was approached by an envoy of Siraj Haqqani - the son of Jalaluddin, the group's founder, who has a key role in the network's operations.

There followed a series of phone calls between Emal Pasarly, of the BBC Afghan service, and senior BBC editors. Here Emal describes what happened next:

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Some of the decisions were simple enough - clearly the BBC couldn't really allow one of its reporters to travel to an undisclosed location, probably somewhere in North Waziristan.

On safety grounds alone it wasn't on.

Siraj Haqqani, a rising star in the second generation of Taliban leaders, is one of the most wanted persons in that part of the world.

One of his brothers was said to have been killed in a US drone attack, and pressure on the Haqqani network had been mounting, particularly after the attack on the US embassy in Kabul and the killing of the peace envoy Burhanuddin Rabbani.

In both, the Haqqani network was mentioned as the most probable perpetrators.

Siraj Haqqani tends to avoid media spotlight. He has granted very few interviews, and photographic images of him are rare. He avoids communication via telephone and instead addresses his supporters through audio recordings. The latter later proved to be a great help to us.

One option discussed for the interview was sending questions through intermediaries in the hope of getting the answers. In principle, it could work, but there was one problem - verification.

We knew technology would be of help. A list of questions was passed to the Haqqani representatives and a request to record the answers on video.

After five days a memory stick arrived - delivered through a network of various people to BBC colleagues in the Khost province. But when it was plugged into a computer there was no video. Instead, there was a voice - in a broadcast-quality audio recording.

The voice answered the BBC's questions, although the responses appeared to be scripted - at least that's how it sounded.

Was it really Siraj Haqqani?

We set about trying to verify the recording, asking residents of Khost, who had in the past heard Siraj Haqqani, to listen to it. It took three days of painstaking work. Eventually we got the confirmation that the audio recordings were him. We then compared the voice to that on audio tapes we had of him. We were convinced it was a match. We were ready to roll.

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Liliane Landor is languages controller of BBC Global News.

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