BBC BLOGS - The Editors

The news at Christmas

Gary Duffy | 14:30 UK time, Monday, 25 December 2006

As we all know, the news never stops and a small but dedicated team kept the website fully up to date on Christmas Day. With the death of James Brown, the "Godfather of Soul", the Queen's annual message, as well as messages from church leaders around the world, and continuing conflict in Iraq and Somalia, there was plenty to report. In among those breaking news stories was a report that that scientists may have found a way to stop an alcoholic's craving for drink.

The shared experience of Christmas around the world was marked in our picture gallery of the day, which included two 'Santas' enjoying Bondi Beach. I could tell they were from my home country of Ireland as they had only managed to turn slightly pink in the Australian sun.

Jane Little, a BBC correspondent in Washington reflected on the controversy surrounding attitudes to Christmas, while Huw Williams in Basra reflected on 'just another day' for British troops on duty far from their families.

We also posed the question - for those who chose to escape the frenzy of the kitchen or the sometimes unavoidable tensions of a family gathering(!) - 'Is it OK to go online on Christmas Day?'.

The only difference in the normal newsroom routine here was when the journalists stopped for a festive glass of wine and some top of the range BBC sandwiches. I'm sure you didn't notice the interruption and normal service has now resumed.

Care of the community

Gary Duffy | 18:00 UK time, Wednesday, 13 December 2006

How does a community feel when it suddenly finds itself caught up in the whirlwind of a terrible tragedy that also becomes a major news event? My colleague Tim Fenton, who was brought up in Ipswich, gave the BBC News website a telling insight into the distress this can cause, even for those not directly touched by events.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteThe Suffolk town and the surrounding area have been at the centre of unwanted attention from across the World following the murder of five women. With a population of about 140,000, Ipswich is in Tim’s words, "much like any town anywhere". As he points out it is big – but not so big as to be impersonal, and clearly local people have been sharing the sense of trauma. One reader wrote on our Have Your Say page: “I live approx 10 mins walk from the football ground - the area where the girls went missing from. I'm not normally a nervous person, but certainly won't be going out anywhere on my own anytime soon.”

As journalists we have been trying to reflect these feelings without adding unnecessarily to the fear that is already gripping many parts of this community. For reporters on the ground there is also the difficult balance to strike between accurately reflecting the mood of local people while trying to avoid being excessively intrusive.

There has also been a need to reflect carefully on the overall tone of a story whose consequences have spread far beyond the families most directly affected. It’s not possible to claim we always get that right, but we should be able to reconcile the journalist’s instinct to report the news while always keeping such concerns in mind.

A matter of time

Gary Duffy | 12:49 UK time, Monday, 14 August 2006

It's sometimes frightening to think how many stories we publish on the BBC News website. As the UK editor, I can sometimes lie awake at night worrying about what legal bombshell may be hiding away at the bottom of an index.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteThe internet is an evolving medium and so, naturally enough, is the law in this area. I suspect some key issues have yet to be tested before the courts (though this is not an invitation, I should say, for someone to start the ball rolling).

One of the questions that comes up quite a lot for us is the scale of the archive. There have now been over a million articles published since we began in 1997. We do sometimes get requests from members of the public who were quoted in stories a long time ago to have these references removed. The reasons can be trivial, such as they now find what they said embarrassing, or perhaps they have changed their view on the topic.

There have also been people convicted of a variety of offences who have asked us to take stories down, claiming that it is preventing them from getting on with their lives. Our response to these requests has generally been robust. We like to think of the large backlog of stories at the news website as equivalent to a newspaper archive. Every effort was made to ensure that the stories were accurate and reliable at the time of publication, and they remain in the archive for the record. If we start to alter this version of history, where on earth do we begin to draw the line?

It is true that until newspapers began setting up comprehensive websites of their own, the web provided much easier access to this kind of material, as opposed to a trip to your local library to hunt through back editions. One search on Google relating to a potential job applicant, for example, and a whole range of material may pop up.

With all this in mind, we are taking some comfort from a court hearing earlier this year where a High Court judge reaffirmed that a court report on the internet is protected by qualified privilege, even if the report is available some time after the proceedings took place. This basic protection from legal action had always been available to journalists in the past, and it is comforting to see that it still applies in this internet age.

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