BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Remembering Mike Donkin

Adrian Van-Klaveren Adrian Van-Klaveren | 12:07 UK time, Friday, 14 December 2007

donkin203.jpgToday was the funeral of Mike Donkin, the BBC News correspondent who died of cancer last week at the age of 56.

There have been many tributes paid to Mike, who was not just a great reporter but a lovely man as well.

I worked with him many times as a television producer on the Six and Nine O’Clock news in the 1980s and 90s. Later, when I was running Newsgathering, Mike was providing radio and television reports of the highest quality from a huge variety of locations – he was always someone you could rely on absolutely to get the best from an assignment or story.

In tribute to Mike we have assembled a collection of some of his memorable reports. In 2002 he defied Robert Mugabe’s ban on BBC journalists entering Zimbabwe with some graphic reporting on conditions in the country. You can watch some of the results here.

iraqbaghdad.jpgIraq was a country Mike visited at various points in its recent troubled history. What Mike always tried to do was to make his stories come alive by telling the story of ordinary people and that is particularly true in this piece.

One of the great things about Mike was the range of subjects he could cover. He was not a war specialist or someone who could only comfortably deal with softer features. His reports from the Pacific, as the world prepared for the new millennium, showed one of his defining characteristics - his power with the English language.

Libya is not an easy place to gain people’s trust and openness but this account shows how Mike made the effort to talk to people and get them to open up.

And in one of his final assignments Mike explored a theme of our age – the impact of migration across Europe. Being Mike, he found a fresh angle and produced a vivid report, again based around the accounts of the people directly affected.

On this day more than any other, I think it’s right we allow Mike’s reporting to speak for him. His death has left a sense of loss and shock for all those who knew him in BBC News. We often talk about the values we stand for; Mike was a great embodiment of them.

New thinking

Adrian Van-Klaveren Adrian Van-Klaveren | 10:50 UK time, Friday, 6 July 2007

You may have seen reports earlier in the week, calling for more ambition and innovation from the BBC.

It’s perhaps not surprising that the BBC Trust’s research shows that people want fresh ideas – few would be happy to accept only the familiar year after year. What we in BBC News have to work out is exactly how that desire applies to the services and programmes we produce. The questions are certainly rather different to thinking about the next Saturday night entertainment format or another drama as fresh as Life on Mars.

Innovation in News can mean many things. Over the last five years we have begun to offer a much broader range of services available wherever and whenever people want them. So whether it’s news on a mobile phone, on a big screen in a city centre or downloaded to an iPod, we can offer different ways of distributing news. There is the potential to be able to do a lot more in terms of personalisation, by subject or by location. And we can make much more of current affairs content by not simply thinking in terms of particular programmes and commissioned timeslots. The aggregation of our content in different forms will be a crucial part of the future.

There is also technical innovation, enabling us to be live faster and more cheaply in more places. In our recent coverage of the floods in Yorkshire, we have for instance pioneered the use of a VSat dish to send many of the pictures and live coverage. Instead of using a large satellite truck and relatively expensive broadcast satellite space, this simply mounts on top of a normal vehicle and uses a fast broadband connection over satellite to send pictures and sound back to Television Centre. These aren’t innovations our viewers should even notice in themselves – but they should mean the reporting we can offer is even more immediate and authentic.

And finally (as one now-departed news format used to say), there is the question of formats. In many ways this is the most difficult. We know that audiences value innovation but reject gimmickry. It is not enough to do something in a different way simply because we can. But when we launch something new and get it right, the impact is huge. Radio Five Live has been a long-term success through consciously achieving a sound different from Radio 4. Television presentation has been transformed – if you get a chance, just look at a programme from 15 or 20 years ago and see how formal it feels. Our uses of studios, live location reporting and interactivity have all gone through a revolution. There is the potential to do something similar again over the next few years as long as we use the tools in a way which benefits the journalism and doesn’t get in the way.

We see innovation as key to keeping existing audiences and reaching new ones. New services and new approaches will be vital and that’s why we’re keen to hear thoughts about what we should be doing. But even more vital will be the editorial ambition which drives what we do every day. The thinking about how to select, treat and develop a story is in the end what most determines our success. The lessons all broadcasters have learned is that people will try an innovation once simply because it is new. However, they will only keep coming back to it if it is both simple to use and the content meets their needs.

Tom Stephens interview, II

Adrian Van-Klaveren Adrian Van-Klaveren | 12:47 UK time, Thursday, 21 December 2006

Those of us involved in the editorial decision-making at the BBC this week have read the comments to my earlier entry on this blog. Clearly nothing I say at this point is going to change many people's minds.

What I would stress on the issue of potentially prejudicing any future trial is that we do not believe the decision to broadcast the interview has in any way done this. Our legal advice was very clear. There has be a substantial risk of serious prejudice and the interview we transmitted, in which Tom Stephens gave his own account of events, did not constitute this.

In terms of the decision to broadcast, I can only reiterate how the position had changed between the time of the original conversation and the point at which we broadcast it. By that time, Tom Stephens' identity was prominently in the public domain, he had been substantially quoted and pictured in a front page story in the Sunday Mirror, the full conversation he had with our reporter was available to the police and he had been arrested.

It is worth reflecting on how it would have been viewed in some quarters, if given all those changes, we decided to keep from the public an extremely relevant piece of description and insight. A rather different group of critics would undoubtedly have accused us of deliberately withholding relevant information when there was no legal reason to do so, despite the fact that an extraordinary change in circumstances had taken place since the recording.

The conclusion we reached was based on all of these considerations weighed carefully against the arguments pointing in the other direction. We continue to believe we made the right judgment.

The Tom Stephens interview

Adrian Van-Klaveren Adrian Van-Klaveren | 09:37 UK time, Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Last week a BBC News reporter spoke to Tom Stephens in Ipswich. Their 36-minute conversation was recorded but was intended for background and not for broadcast.

Following Tom Stephens' arrest on Monday, we took the decision to transmit the interview on the basis that there had been an exceptional change in circumstances. The anonymity, which Mr Stephens had sought to preserve by making the interview for background only, no longer applied. His name and many other details about him were very much in the public domain.

We felt there was a compelling public interest in letting the public hear what he had to say. He knew all five of the murdered women, two of them well. He had much to say about the world of drug dealers and financial pressures in which they lived. On balance it seemed to us to be wrong to deny people the opportunity to hear his thoughts on the events of the past few weeks.

Of course, we reflected long and hard about the legal and ethical issues this interview raised. We are confident that nothing we have broadcast could prejudice any future trial. We also reached the conclusion that nothing we broadcast could reasonably be expected to impede the ongoing police investigation. A full copy of the interview had been made available to the police.

Ultimately our judgement was based on what we felt would be right for our audiences - should there be an opportunity to hear the interview or did it remain inappropriate to broadcast something recorded six days earlier on a different basis? In the very rare circumstances of this case, we took the decision to share Tom Stephens' account.

Our new recruit

Adrian Van-Klaveren Adrian Van-Klaveren | 11:33 UK time, Wednesday, 18 October 2006

We’ve just appointed our first sports editor. Mihir Bose will join us from the Daily Telegraph, where he’s been a sports news writer for the past 10 years, writing , among other things, the Inside Sports column.

Mihir BoseWhy are we creating this job? Well, we know some people are passionately interested in sports news, some are completely uninterested and others have a fairly general interest in the most important and interesting things happening in the sports world.

Although people are more polarised in their level of appetite for sport than many other subjects, it is undoubtedly an important part of the news agenda – not only major events such as the Olympics and the World Cup, but also the social, cultural, business and political significance which sport carries.

Mihir’s job will be to get under the skin of sport – both to break stories and to explain what’s really happening, whether it’s a story about money and the Premiership, the build up to London 2012 or alleged cheating in cricket.

We want people to find out what’s happening in the world of sport from the BBC – just as much as they do for politics or world affairs. This new job is a key building block in our commitment to sports journalism and we think it’s going to make a real difference to what people see, hear and read from the BBC about sports news.

Cover stories

Adrian Van-Klaveren Adrian Van-Klaveren | 15:41 UK time, Monday, 25 September 2006

The reverberations of last week’s Panorama are still being felt – but not just in the world of football. They have also provoked a great deal of comment how about how we at the BBC cover stories generated by our own journalists – particularly, as in this case, ahead of the programme itself appearing.

There can’t be much room for doubt that we used not to be very good at this.
Original reporting and investigative journalism which had taken many months of effort could disappear without trace after just one transmission. You either caught it or you didn’t. On one occasion, a piece which won the Royal Television Society’s home news award made no impact on the rest of our output. That just does not feel right.

Now as some commentators have noticed, things have changed. We do try to ensure that every part of the BBC’s journalism is aware of the stories being generated across all of our output and we ask editors to think about whether those stories are appropriate for their audience. There are some very good reasons for this.

Original journalism is both important and expensive. Finding things out and telling people about them first is at the heart of what audiences expect from news and current affairs. Every piece of original journalism we carry has been paid for by licence fee payers and they deserve to be given every possible opportunity to see, hear and read what we’ve discovered.

In a world where the individual consumer is so much more in control, showcasing the best of our journalism becomes even more important. When we talk to audiences, we find time after time that people are unaware of something we’ve done which they would have been particularly interested in. At a time when so much more choice is available, we need to find the best ways to highlight our strongest work.

Of course there are dangers which every editor is aware of. Some long form programmes just don’t translate easily into much shorter news reports. Some stories are so complicated and layered that they can’t be told in that way. And of course there is a danger of over-promoting ourselves. No one wants to watch a news programme which seems to consist only of trails and previews of other BBC programmes and events at the expense of the day’s other news.

Ultimately there is no definitive edict about exactly how and when we showcase our own journalism. Individual editors have to decide what is right for their own programmes and audiences. But we do this in a spirit of seeking to share the best of what we do with as many people as possible – that’s a measure we feel comfortable to be judged by.

Restructuring the BBC

Adrian Van-Klaveren Adrian Van-Klaveren | 16:29 UK time, Thursday, 20 July 2006

So we at the BBC have had one of those “organisational moments”, making substantial changes to how we run ourselves.

BBCMark Thompson’s announcement included an emphasis on BBC Journalism as one of the main planks of what the BBC does – alongside Audio & Music and BBC Vision. The idea at the heart of BBC Journalism builds on what we’ve been doing over the last few years. We’ve worked hard to create stronger links between the BBC’s journalistic output, locally, nationally and internationally. Sport now joins the mix as well.

Our aim is to ensure we fully achieve our mission of delivering the world’s best journalism and that what we do is available to as many people as possible across all appropriate platforms.

Of course this only really matters if it makes a difference to audiences. I think it will. It should help us be more ambitious in what we do across the big themes of our time – climate change, energy supply, China, global security and many more.

When all of the BBC’s journalists work together we can give audiences an unrivalled insight into major issues. The expertise of the World Service, the innovation of our interactive teams, the grass roots understanding from our teams across the UK can all combine to strengthen our coverage of subjects ranging from immigration to the environment.

Of course it’s happened in the past but we know we can and should do more.

Secondly it’s vital that all areas of the BBC’s journalism work together as we adapt to the changing technological world. Finding the right ways of offering content and the best technology to support that content needs to be thought about across the BBC – not just in individual areas.

What we provide in terms of news services to mobiles for example is likely to cuts across boundaries of local, national and international.

In a world where greater personalisation will be one of the key themes, audiences will be in control rather than our traditional boundaries and demarcations. There will be people who regularly want a diet of news which ranges from the local to the global and we need to make sure our way of doing things supports, rather than gets in the way of, providing this.

Journalism is at the heart of why the BBC exists. The changes to the organisation reflect this and I think can only encourage anyone who wants the BBC to continue to offer the best in on-the-spot reporting, analysis and explanation, robust interviewing and original story finding.

Adrian Van-Klaveren is deputy director of BBC News

Schooling journalists

Adrian Van-Klaveren Adrian Van-Klaveren | 12:25 UK time, Monday, 19 June 2006

The educational background of journalists has been much discussed over the last few days - with the Sutton Trust survey (read it here) of top journalists suggesting a significant bias in their education towards private schools and certain universities, above all Cambridge and Oxford (including me).

Others have tried to follow this up and today's Media Guardian reflects disappointment that we have been unable to provide figures about the educational background of all our journalists. It carries an article by Lee Elliot Major of the Times Education Supplement which claims that "while the recruitment process remains so informal, untransparent and unmonitored, it will be open to abuse".

I think this criticism is taking things too far. There is always a decision about how much monitoring to do. Our recruitment process is actually pretty closely monitored - for example we look carefully at issues of gender, disability and the progress of ethnic minority candidates. We have never felt it appropriate to monitor specifically for educational background and, given we recruit several hundred people a year, it would be a significant undertaking.

But what we try to do in our recruitment is to attract a diverse range of candidates and to build teams with a broad range of knowledge, experience and skills. Educational background is part of this diversity but so are many other factors - age, class, where people come from, and their passions and interests to name just a few. Ultimately it's about achieving the best mix of people to be able to make the best output - that does mean understanding our audiences and challenging stereotypes and preconceptions.

There are things we have done such as removing the informality from our work experience system and making much more information about audiences available to everyone. There is much more that we can and should do. But I'm not convinced that simply adding up whether people went to university and, if so, which one is going to take us a great deal further towards serving our audiences better.

Why have a sports editor?

Adrian Van-Klaveren Adrian Van-Klaveren | 13:02 UK time, Monday, 5 June 2006

There's an advert in this morning's Guardian for a sports editor for the BBC. We see this as a very high profile on-air role similar to that of political editor or business editor. It'll be someone who works for both BBC News and BBC Sport and appears on TV, radio and the web.

sports.jpgBut why create such a job and why now?

The work we've done on both sport and journalism as part of Creative Future has highlighted how important sports news is to a large part of our audience. True, there are some who are completely uninterested but there are many for whom what is going on in the world of sport is a key part of their lives.

This group includes large numbers of younger people (especially men) who BBC News often struggles to reach. Sports journalism which can offer real authority, expertise and insight is seen by them as a key part of what we need to offer in the future. We already have some outstanding sports correspondents and reporters but we hope this new role will give our sports news coverage even more weight and impact.

We are of course not alone in this. The newspapers have all expanded their sports news coverage dramatically over the past few years. There is a wealth of information about sport available on the web - often tailored to people's particular passions. But we believe that appointing a BBC Sports Editor will help us achieve our aim of offering the best sports journalism available anywhere.

The BBC can offer sports news at the local, regional, national and international level and we can reach everyone from the impassioned fan to the person who wants to know the headlines of what's going on in the major events. Appointing a Sports Editor of the highest calibre should give us the opportunity to claim another huge competitive advantage.

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