BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Faces of the Year

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Giles Wilson Giles Wilson | 11:30 UK time, Thursday, 29 December 2011

It's become a tradition on the BBC News website that at the end of each year we look back at some of the faces that have been in the news, and in choosing a face for each month of the year we try to reflect a range of the different kinds of subjects that have been covered. We generally produce a list of women and a list of men, and since we regard it as part of our job to make the list interesting and engaging, we try to include some choices which are not obvious or predictable.

This, after all, is not a definitive list of the most important or influential people. It's not based on people's achievements, their popularity or their contribution to society. And it's not a celebration of either gender's role in humanity - it's just a selection of some of the faces from the headlines from the past year.

No one was more surprised than us, then, to see the phrase "pandagate" trending on Twitter on Wednesday, or the coverage in several newspapers on Thursday.

The inclusion on the list of Tian Tian, one of the pandas who arrived with such fanfare at Edinburgh Zoo, led some people to claim that we were not recognising the accomplishments of women. Tian Tian, being female, had been included in our list of women. However, as we pointed out yesterday, she was not the first non-human to be included on these lists - last year there was Peppa Pig who had got mixed up in a political wrangle. The year before there was Benson, a poisoned prize carp. Peppa was on the women's list, and Benson on the men's, though of course like Tian Tian they are not technically men or women.

One thing is at least clearer today. If Tian Tian hadn't justified her place on the list of newsmakers based on her arrival in Edinburgh, she would have done after this.

Giles Wilson is features editor of the BBC News website.

RSS feeds for BBC News correspondent pages

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Giles Wilson Giles Wilson | 17:03 UK time, Friday, 9 December 2011

I'm delighted to tell followers of our new-style blogs (Nick Robinson, Robert Peston, Mark Mardell and co) that full RSS feeds are available again.

BBC correspondents

When we launched the new pages, I said it had been an unintended consequence of our changes that we were no longer making full feeds available. We recognised that significant numbers of people use RSS readers - particularly those who read a lot of blogs - and we hope the development will be welcome.

I should also note that following feedback to the earlier post, we also changed the way comments are displayed by default on correspondent pages. Unlike news stories - where the first visible comments are those most recently added - the default on correspondents' posts is chronological order, oldest first.

We've also started including correspondents' tweets on their pages. An example is my colleague Dominic Casciani, home affairs correspondent, who was recently tweeting from the Old Bailey and from outside St Paul's Cathedral among other places. The growth of web-based short-form journalism, seen also in our Live Pages, is fascinating and is one of the ways in which our blogging is kept fresh.

Giles Wilson is the features editor of the BBC News website.

An international Magazine

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Giles Wilson Giles Wilson | 16:07 UK time, Monday, 19 September 2011

A year ago we launched a North American edition of the BBC News site, run from our bureau in Washington DC. As well as strengthening our coverage of US issues, it meant we could offer a front page of the website targeted directly at our millions of readers in the US and Canada.

Screengrab of the international magazine

 

Two weeks ago, we introduced an extra element to the website, following a further expansion in Washington - an international edition of the Magazine index. This is great news for readers of the website outside the UK, and also for the Magazine's regular followers at home, who will be able to access all the new content too. As was the case with the launch of the North American edition, the international Magazine is done with the backing of BBC Worldwide, the BBC's commercial arm, which funds our services internationally.

Since we started the Magazine in the UK in 2003 it has grown to become a focus for original features, such as our piece looking at 50 years of Private Eye covers, as well as regular items like 7 days 7questions, Who What Why, and Paper Monitor. Until now, however, it has never had a high prominence on our international site. It has also been largely text and still images.
The new edition means we can bring to the international site the same focus on some of our most popular content from around the world, such as this tale about the restoration of Hitler's sea defences.

And it's particularly pleasing that a central part of this new approach will be in video. Four new video strands - First Person, Altered States, Living Online and Picture This - have joined the Magazine and will, each week, bring fresh perspectives on stories of changing lives in the US.

By far the most frequent request from Magazine readers, when they have replied to surveys over the past few years, is that they would simply like the Magazine to have more stories in it. This new edition brings exactly that, and there will be other improvements to come in the next few weeks too.

Following the changes, all readers of the website, wherever they are, can find the Magazine displayed prominently on the BBC News front page, or by going directly to bbc.co.uk/magazine. You can also follow it on Facebook or on Twitter, and I'd be very happy to hear your thoughts on our new venture.

Update 12:00, 29 September: Thanks for your comments, and for making the point that the Magazine's long-standing readers outside the UK still want access to some of the features, like Paper Monitor, which are primarily of interest to a UK audience. Following your comments we introduced a new box on the right hand side of the index on the internation edition, labelled  "From Magazine in the UK" as a home for exactly this kind of content. So thank you for the thought.  This process isn't finished - I'll post some more details when we have them.

Giles Wilson is features editor of the BBC News website

A new home for Ouch! at BBC News

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Giles Wilson Giles Wilson | 12:42 UK time, Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The team which has for a number of years produced the BBC's disability affairs website Ouch! has this week become part of BBC News. This follows changes to BBC Learning, which has until now been its home department.

Ouch! website screengrab

 

Much of the Ouch! site will continue, including its blog and its talkshow podcast, and our intention is for the team's coverage of disability issues to reach a much wider audience through stories and features appearing on the BBC News site. Ouch's Damon Rose has explained here, however, why its messageboard will be closing.

BBC News already has a strong track record of covering disability issues, including the 'Access All Areas' coverage last year, and regular news stories on the site. We hope to continue to bring diverse disability stories and context to a broader audience while also maintaining a conversation with the disability community.

Over the coming weeks I will return here to highlight some of the new features the BBC News audience will be reading, thanks to our new colleagues.

Giles Wilson is the features editor of the BBC News website.

Our next step in News blogging

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Giles Wilson Giles Wilson | 14:54 UK time, Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Ten years ago this week, an understated revolution started at the BBC News website. It was then, with a general election campaign under way, that Nick Robinson started writing a column on the site. Nick was then in a role which meant he kept popping up on BBC News 24 once or twice an hour to report and explain the twists and turns of the day in Westminster. His new online column was designed to be a bit like that - snippets of information, bits of analysis, even possibly inconsequential observations. It took a bit of a leap of faith on Nick's part to agree to take part, not least because it was extra work for no extra reward, but also because the internet was much more of a minority sport in those days. Fortunately I managed to persuade him that it was worth a go.

Screenshot of The Campaign Today with Nick Robinson

The idea became The Campaign Today with Nick Robinson, and looking back at those pages today makes me feel that it actually stands up pretty well. We didn't know if this new format, which was loosely based on the pioneering blogs of the time, would be a diary column, or breaking news, or end-of-day analysis or running commentary - or all of them. But it went down well and later in 2001 Nick Robinson's Newslog was born.

The role blogging has played in news coverage over the past 10 years has been much talked about - we know of at least one thesis which is being written on how we do it here at the BBC - but it's hard to imagine our website without the voices of our Pestons, Flanders, Mardells, Eastons, and yes, Robinsons, with many more besides. The contribution of analysis and explanation the experts of BBC News now make to the site is undoubtedly one of our major strengths. The reason for mentioning this now is that, as we promised earlier this year, this week we are completing what we see as a pretty fundamental reinvention of how our blogs operate.

For some time we've been frustrated that the contributions of our key editors feel like they are tucked away on the site - more number 13 court than Centre Court - and so one thing we decided to do was to start producing their blogs in our main production system. For the past six years they have been created in Movable Type, a specialist blog software, which is why the pages look different to our news pages. This shift promises us extra efficiency and flexibility, and we hope that it will make our top correspondents' analysis feel much more like an integral part of the website.

Screenshot of correspondent text box analysis

There will, of course, be some changes. The design and navigation are very different. The text will look more like normal news stories or features. But the content will be the same. Nick & co will still each have their own page, and these will still operate like blog indexes, with the newest entry at the top. You can see how it looks with Mark Mardell's page here which has already moved over to the new design. And part of the plan is to make these new pages the place where you can follow a particular correspondent, whatever form of journalism they are producing. So we plan over the next few weeks to incorporate correspondents' tweets, if they have them, into their pages, along with some of their reports in audio and video, and also where they add "text box" contributions to news stories (see right). We hope that, together, these will make a compelling and new way to follow a story or subject.

There are also changes to the way comments will work, as a result of the introduction of comments on stories across the wider site (social media editor Alex Gubbay explained some of the changes here). With some news stories each day having comments on them, there may be times when a story and correspondent's analysis cover the same subject. To avoid unnecessary duplication and even confusion, generally we will seek to have comments on one or the other. So correspondents' pieces may not always include comments. In addition, in our new system, comments have a maximum length of 400 characters. It's my view that this makes for sharper contributions, though I know some disagree. As with all new developments on the site, however, it's something we watch closely to see if it's working.

Perhaps though the biggest advantage of the changes I've outlined is that it will be much easier for us to include our correspondents' articles wherever people access BBC News - mobile phones, for example, and also in apps. And - we hope - also on devices which will have been invented by the time another 10 years rolls around.

Update, 12:19, 12 May: Thanks for your comments so far. We're working through putting all the new pages live at the moment, but we are taking note of what you are saying - particularly so far about the changes to comments, RSS and the character of blogs. I'll be putting together some responses and will post them here.

Update, 17:50, 13 May: Thank you again for your comments, both on this post and on several of our bloggers' new pages.  The issue of comment length is clearly one that exercises many of you. In my original post I said I thought a character limit made for sharper comments, and I do believe that, but I also want to emphasise that it's certainly not our intention to encourage people to dumb down their contributions, as some of you fear. Others say that the changes will make debate harder. As Jan Keeskop says, my colleague Alex Gubbay did spell out our thinking about comments when he said that "this process is essentially about us online focusing more now on encouraging discussion around our content itself, rather than looking to host or manage a community". We are trying to maximise the editorial value of contributions but we do not have unlimited resources to do this. Since it's less efficient to moderate longer comments than shorter ones, length is one of the factors we are taking into account. Making these changes is not an exact science. It is something we are keeping under review, though, so please don't think that your complaints have gone unnoticed.

Changes to the RSS feeds are something I should have mentioned earlier, and I apologise for not doing so. Whereas we previously offered full text feeds of blogs, the RSS feed of the new pages is headline and summary only. I recognise that this is clearly an issue for lots of people, and is frustrating to those who have been using our feeds. The change is an unintended consequence of moving into our main production system, which does not automatically export full text feeds. We are looking at the issue and I hope to be able to come back to you with more detail.

Thank you to those who have made points about how the new page format works - the feedback is useful. We're trying to do something new with these pages, preserving the best of the blog environment while recognising that there is lots more going on with our key journalists than just their blogs. There are also more places that we want their content to reach - more platforms and more devices - and that is one of our reasons for making these changes. There will be more functionality rolling out in the next few weeks, with tweets, videos, and analysis text boxes on news stories being included; development of these pages is by no means finished. It has, however, been cheering to notice examples already where the new format seems to be working effectively, for example Mark Mardell's post here or Jonathan Amos’s post here.  

Update, 08:40, 17 June: Thanks again for your comments, and my apologies for not getting back sooner. One of the points made by several commenters was that, aside from comment length, the layout of comments on our new blogs did not encourage discussion since it showed comments with most recent first. It was therefore difficult for people to follow the debate from the beginning. I'm happy to report that since the start of this week, comments on our new blogs are now shown with the oldest comment first, meaning it should now be much easier for discussion to take place.

Giles Wilson is the features editor of the BBC News website.

Goats, condoms and paper clips

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Giles Wilson Giles Wilson | 12:49 UK time, Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Close observers of the BBC News website's "most popular" box might have noticed a rich crop of unusual - and usually old - stories appearing in the past week or two. Examples include Woman jailed for testicle attack, E-mail error ends up on road sign, Condoms 'too big' for Indian men and Man turns paper clip into house.

In 2006, a certain story about a Sudanese goat resurfaced long after it had first been in the news and my colleague Adam Curtis wrote about how the viral potential of the web makes it hard to predict which stories readers will tell their friends about.

We've seen odd stories resurface from time to time - but lately the increased number of such old stories prompted us to investigate further.

We think we've worked out what's going on. Our front page usually shows you the "most shared" list, while pages for individual news stories show you the "most read". In the process of upgrading some of the software which publishes our site, we started to show you "most shared" on story pages as well as the front.

This means that any odd eye-catching story from the archive has been displayed on many more pages than it would normally have been, with the result that more people than normal have read it, more people than normal have then shared it with their friends, and the higher it has then climbed in the rankings.

We're now putting things back the way they were - though doubtless it won't be long before the Sudanese goat makes another appearance, one way or another.

Giles Wilson is the features editor of the BBC News website.

Blogs on polling day

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Giles Wilson Giles Wilson | 15:42 UK time, Thursday, 4 June 2009

Readers of BBC News blogs might have noticed that they are today unable to leave comments on posts about political matters. This is because of the elections being held for the European Parliament and English local authorities, and it will remain the case until the close of polling in the UK at 2200BST on Thursday. You can find out more about the BBC's policies on broadcasting during elections from this Editorial Guidelines document [172Kb PDF].

Giles Wilson is the features editor of the BBC News website.

New look for the Magazine

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Giles Wilson Giles Wilson | 12:38 UK time, Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Readers of the News website's Magazine section will notice some changes from today. As well as a new look (ditching the bluey-green in favour of a vibrant shade of orange) and a wider page, bringing the Magazine into line with the rest of the site, there will be some new features, including a regular look at interesting things around the web. Regular readers will also be able to follow the Magazine on Facebook (more about that here).

Screengrabs of the old and new Magazine

Popular features such as the 7 Questions quizzes, the Clive James column, Michael Blastland's unique take on numbers in the news, the caption competition and Paper Monitor will still appear, and for a limited time only there will be an innovative new quiz in which an answer is given and you are invited to suggest what the question might have been. We're calling it the Weekly Bonus Question, and it will appear at the end of this week's 7 days 7 questions quiz on Friday.

The brief of the Magazine is to give context and personality to our news coverage, and we hope the changes will enable us to continue doing that with even more impact. We know that some people often object to familiar parts of our output changing - some of the responses to a previous entry I wrote about our new blog templates demonstrate this - but we do think that once they are used to them they will approve. We hope so anyway. I'm sure you'll let me know.

Giles Wilson is the features editor of the BBC News website.

Changes to our blogs

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Giles Wilson Giles Wilson | 09:28 UK time, Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Since we at the BBC started blogging in earnest in 2005, we have seen some incredible growth. Now tens of millions of our blog pages are being read every month, and our hope in BBC News is that they add context and expert analysis to the big stories.

When we started blogging it felt important that our blogs should follow the style of other blogs at the time, and because we used a popular blogging program, that was easy to achieve. Since then styles have matured a bit, and this week the design for our pages is also changing.

The main thing you'll notice is that the columns are wider than before, meaning the width of the page now matches that of the main BBC News website.

editors_old_new01.gif

The page headers are now also the same, meaning it's easier to find other content from across the BBC. We hope that one effect of these changes is to make it obvious that our blogs are now a core part of what the BBC website offers. Do let us know what you think about the new designs.

Incidentally, while talking about blogs, the deputy director of BBC News, Stephen Mitchell, discussed the proper role of blogging in the BBC with media commentator Stephen Glover on this week's Newswatch, which you can watch here.

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Update [27 March]: Thanks very much everyone for your thoughts on the changes. There are a few answers I can give.

1 - Isn't this just change for change's sake?
I don't think so. The entire BBC website has been changing over the past 12 to 18 months for a number of good reasons, and we think it's important that the design of BBC blogs is consistent with the design of the rest of BBC Online. Blogs are not a sideshow, they are now integral to a lot of what we are doing in News, and it's right that the design should reflect that.
 
2 - Aren't the columns too wide?
Given the extra available space, we had a choice to make between a two-column layout and a three-column layout. We did some simple testing of three-column layouts and found a generally negative reaction - it seemed that people found the layout cluttered and harder to use. We do try to consider carefully these changes before we make them, but we hear what some of you have said about them being hard to read.
 
3 - Why did you move the comment link?
Research told us that many blog readers were keen to see an indication of popularity at the top of each blog post, to help them decide if the blog entry was likely to be worth reading. We incorporated this feedback into our designs. But given what you've told us, and seeing how the redesign works in practice, we are going to investigate incorporating a second link at the end of each entry, meaning you could click through to comments after you've read the entry.
 
4 - Why don't you paginate long lists of comments?
If we receive more than 500 comments on a post, we do start to paginate them then. Until that point, we believe that the majority of people would prefer to scroll though a list of comments, rather than click repeatedly to a new page.
 
5 - Why have you moved the categories, calendar, etc, to the bottom of the page?
Very few people delve into the archive of a blog on a regular basis. We can tell this from the usage data we collect all the time. At the same time, it's important to many of our bloggers that they should be able to offer extra functionality - headlines from the News website, Twitter updates, etc. So we have separated our own navigation from the third-party content, which allows us to make more effective use of the right hand side. We did tests with users of the blogs to ask them if they could find the archives when they were at the bottom, and found that they could.

6 - Why can't I use all characters when leaving my comment?
This is obviously a problem and we are working to sort it out. It's worth saying that there is a number of improvements that we wish to make to the comment system across the BBC, and we're on to it.

7 - Why are blogs pre-moderated?
We are always reviewing how moderation works in the BBC, but at the moment we have no plans to move away from pre-moderation for the majority of News blogs. For information, our aim is that the moderators should check all comments within an hour of receipt, although this can vary considerably depending on traffic. There have been no changes to moderation as part of the redesign.
 
8. What about the other blogs which have not yet been widened?
Some blogs - Blether with Brian, for instance, and the Magazine Monitor - have not yet been widened. Our plan is for this to happen in the next few weeks.

Why blogs matter to the BBC

Giles Wilson Giles Wilson | 15:50 UK time, Monday, 29 December 2008

If you read Boxing Day warnings given in the Daily Mail by media commentator Stephen Glover, you might believe that the blogs written by senior BBC reporters such as Robert Peston, Nick Robinson and Justin Webb were sounding the death knell of journalistic integrity at the BBC. Mr Glover's thesis was that blogs "corrupt the distinction between news and views which is supposed to be sacrosanct at the BBC", and he said that by allowing "the proliferation of blogs", BBC managers were "disregarding the Corporation's duty to be impartial".

A graphic of the BBC News websiteThere are two things which need to be said in response to these concerns. The first is that Mr Glover is quite right to point out the importance to the BBC of the distinction between news and comment, the value that our audiences attach to it, and the dangers for reporters who "let their hair down" (Mr Glover's phrase) and allow their normal standards to drop, simply because they are writing in a blog. We at the BBC are acutely aware of these points.

But the second thing which needs saying is to reject the implication of his article that for a reporter to write a blog necessarily means them becoming purveyors of opinion and comment. He claims it is "impossible to write a half-readable blog without peppering it with opinions". That's just not true. We look to our expert editors such as Nick and Robert to tell us what has happened, to explain why it is or isn't important, what it means, and even what might be the effect. As to what their personal opinions about the news are, well, that's just not the business we're in.

Mr Glover also says "hard-pressed journalists are not using their time well if they spend hours penning blogs". I'm afraid the millions of people who look at our blogs will, like me, disagree with him. Research published by the BBC Trust in May this year, well before Robert's blog became such a useful companion to the credit crunch and recession, indicated that the BBC's blogs are "already highly appreciated by audiences" - and that even those who do not use them recognise their value.

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.

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