BBC BLOGS - The Editors

A big day for BBC News

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Mary Hockaday Mary Hockaday | 10:11 UK time, Monday, 9 July 2012

Most of the time a big day in the BBC Newsroom is defined by the stories. The Japanese tsunami. The death of Gaddafi. The Eurozone crisis. The Diamond Jubilee.

The Newsroom in New Broadcasting House, pictured before the big move


Today is a different kind of big day for BBC News. Our new Newsroom in central London is open for business.

At 11:00 BST we broadcast World Briefing live from studio SL1 for World Service audiences and our World online team has been publishing coverage of the US heatwave, the floods in Russia and events in Syria from the new Newsroom for our UK and international online news services.

Many other teams are already working in other parts of New Broadcasting House - including all the BBC's international language services. But today is the day when the BBC Newsroom at BH gets up and running.

NBH is a wonderful new home, constructed to the east of the original BBC Broadcasting House with its beautiful prow fronted by Eric Gill's famous sculpture of Ariel. Now seven floors of striking glass and steel complement the original Portland stone, curving around a new welcoming piazza just north of Oxford Circus. In terms of funding, the new development has been financed by a public-private partnership involving a special bond, and the overall move has enabled savings for the BBC of an estimated £736m. More details here.

Over the next few months the journalists now working in the Newsroom will be joined by many others. Next, UK Online, World News and the team that produces the summaries and bulletins on Radios 2, 3, 4 and 6 Music will be moving in.

They'll then be joined by the News at One, Six and Ten, the BBC News channel and our newsgathering staff. Our video editing and graphics teams, studio directors and studio managers are also moving in, developing and testing all the new kit right through until early next year when the newsroom will be fully operational.

Until then, we'll still be making much of our news output at Television Centre in west London. But today is an important milestone, as the BBC's future Newsroom starts work.

New Broadcasting House gives us new studios, new operating systems and new technology. But more than this, it offers our journalists a purpose-built newsroom fit for the 21st Century, truly transforming the way we work.

We are bringing all our journalists who serve UK and global audiences together for the first time. Our coverage of international news for audiences in the UK will be strengthened by working alongside colleagues from World Service.

And we have the chance to make sure that the right teams are working together to support sharing of ideas and content. We know that audiences get their BBC news from various platforms - radio, television and digital - from connected televisions to PCs, mobiles and tablets, and in the new Newsroom it will be easy to share what we do across those devices.

Our job is to do the very best high quality journalism we can, and then make sure it reaches you however you choose to get your news. New TV studios also give us the opportunity to refresh the look and feel of our news programmes, and we'll be using the backdrop of the building itself to give audiences a sense of the quality and openness of the building.

In the high-ceilinged space filled with light from the building's windows and atria, our international web team and World Service radio news team are now in place. Our job in New Broadcasting House for years to come is to produce brilliant BBC news services from an ambitious newsroom. That work starts today.

Mary Hockaday is head of the BBC newsroom.

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.

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.

Coverage of Copenhagen climate conference

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Mary Hockaday Mary Hockaday | 15:03 UK time, Monday, 7 December 2009

So, the UN climate conference COP15 finally gets under way in Copenhagen today. It's been a long time coming.

Copenhagen coverageYou can measure it from the UN climate change conference in Bali in 2007 where world leaders agreed to work on further efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions more widely and deeply than the 2005 Kyoto Protocol, and decided to meet in Copenhagen in 2009.

Or you can measure it from more recent events: the hours and hours of diplomacy this year preparing a draft treaty. Until even a few weeks ago, there was talk of a couple of thousand square brackets of unagreed text still being pored over by the politicians and their "sherpas" preparing the ground for the final gathering over the next two weeks.

Our job in the BBC newsroom has been to report on the build-up to the summit and to prepare our audiences to make sense of whatever happens. Now we aim to interpret the various negotiating positions and - if a treaty is agreed - to judge what it means for all of us.

Arctic researchOur specialist environment correspondents have been reporting on climate change - the science and the politics and the debate - for a long time. This year, for example, David Shukman has filed reports from the Arctic and Bangladesh on the changes to our climate and our planet. He was with scientists on the northern ice trying to measure its thinning, and in Bangladesh talking to those dealing with the effect of rising sea levels and looking at the analysis that links these to man-made climate change. Roger Harrabin has reported from China on the effect of warming and efforts to reduce emissions. And at his blog Earth Watch, Richard Black has built up a rich body of reporting and analysis.

The scientific background is not, of course, undisputed. The row about e-mails from the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit shows how charged the debate can be. We were the first mainstream news organisation to report the story and have since drawn out three related but distinct threads. Are there question marks over the CRU's scientific work? Are there question marks about how it has handled its scientific data and engaged in public debate? Will the row affect Copenhagen?

There are those who answer the first question with a yes, and many more saying, like UK Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband, that "one string of e-mails does not undermine the global science on climate change". The row has certainly raised the temperature leading up to Copenhagen, and the second question still needs an answer. In time, we'll report on the findings of the review of the incident and of a police investigation of the hacking or leaking.

This is because that's our main job here: to report what's going on. Our coverage of climate change comes under scrutiny and criticism too. We don't endorse one interpretation or another: we seek to report the range.

David Shukman last week, for example, reported on the variety of public opinion about how serious the threat of global warming is, and on the scientists who challenge the mainstream view. Our job is to help guide audiences and to report on where the centre of gravity lies in the debate, which is why he explained that the broad majority of climate change scientists accept that the evidence is clear that human activity has contributed to global warming. (See also Richard Black's look at sceptical objections and our feature The arguments made by climate change sceptics.)

It is complex stuff, and there are many questions for us all to try to understand. How much is the climate warming? Is it because of man's activities? How much might temperatures rise? And what can or needs to be done? Among those who support the scientific consensus - be they scientists, politicians or the wider public - there is still much debate about what to do - and that is what will be thrashed out in Copenhagen.

World Service climate change pollThe world leaders who will gather in Copenhagen at the end of the summit will make their decisions informed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a scientific body established by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization. It reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic work relevant to climate change. Governments are given the chance to scrutinise every word of the IPCC's main findings; delegations, including those from the Bush administration, endorsed the core conclusion that there is a 90% likelihood that most recent warming is man-made.

So the politicians are gathering because they believe something does need to be done to prevent rising temperatures affecting our planet and the people who inhabit it. The real argument is, then, over what to do about it. We've been covering the different approaches of various governments and varied public opinion around the world, such as today's World Service opinion poll on attitudes to climate change.

Whatever comes out of Copenhagen, there will be those who will say it is too little, and those who will say it is too much. Whatever governments sign up to, they will then have to take the case back to their publics and, where appropriate, their law-makers. So the debate will continue - as will our reporting.

Mary Hockaday is head of BBC newsroom.

Michael Jackson coverage

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Mary Hockaday Mary Hockaday | 18:30 UK time, Monday, 29 June 2009

It was late on Thursday evening London time that we first started getting reports from Los Angeles that Michael Jackson had been taken to hospital. First they were rumours, then more credible reports and finally we received confirmation that he had died.

Fans of Michael Jackson hold a candlelight vigil for the singerBy any lights, Michael Jackson was a huge figure internationally, and BBC News went into gear to report a big breaking news story.

We've had a number of complaints about our coverage, the main charge being that we simply did too much: that his death didn't justify the prominence and scale of our reporting through Friday and into the weekend.

The story was certainly very prominent, with extensive reporting on our domestic and global news channels and it was the lead story on our television and radio bulletins and on the web. But this wasn't to the exclusion of other important stories domestically and internationally. Friday was also the third day of our special coverage on television and our website from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

It is clear that Michael Jackson meant different things to different generations, both among our audiences and among our own staff. There are some who had followed him as a boy star, but there's also a large number of younger people who never saw him perform at his height but are only too aware of the controversy about his personal life and his increasingly eccentric appearance and behaviour. There was also the expectation around his comeback concerts in London. Looking at media output around the world, it was clear that his death was provoking international shock and big audience consumption.

Some stories divide audiences, and clearly there are those who aren't interested in Michael Jackson. But we have to try to serve a whole range of readers, listeners and viewers - and undoubtedly a great many of you were extremely interested.

The audiences to our main television bulletins were a little higher than average for a Friday evening and the statistics for our online content broke records: more than 8.2m global unique users, the second highest since Obama's election. The BBC News mobile site had its biggest-ever figures on Friday.

This was also a story which for which many users of the site wanted to access our video, particularly the live stream of the BBC News channel. Within the first hour, there were just under a million hits globally on the live streams of the News Channel and BBC World TV. Overall, a quarter of site users on Friday accessed audio or video (26%, compared to the daily average of 15%). There were over two million users of AV on the site on Friday, higher than the site's previous record (for Obama's election in November 2008).

We will continue to report new developments, and we'll do so in a proportionate manner where we think they are of relevance and interest to our audiences: we're anticipating covering further information about the circumstances of his death; his business and estate - and his funeral.

Throughout our coverage, we have been careful to sift fact from rumour and to assess Jackson's career as a musician and his impact as a creative singer and dancer, while not ignoring the more disturbing side to his life. This was a big news story - about the death of a big cultural icon - all around the world.

Mary Hockaday is head of BBC newsroom.

Swine flu coverage

Mary Hockaday Mary Hockaday | 17:45 UK time, Wednesday, 29 April 2009

This week, one story has been prominent in our output: swine flu. It's a story which has involved our reporters in Mexico, the US, Europe, Scotland and the rest of the UK, plus our medical and science specialists. And it has challenged us to think hard about our public service role on this kind of news story.

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Essentially, our task is to give you the facts; to tell you what we know, but also explore what isn't known; to give you the best scientific and medical information and to inform but not to alarm. There is a great deal of coverage in all the media which has led to a debate about whether the threat is being overplayed. With any public health story, there's a risk that raising awareness can raise concern. We have sought at every step to report the science soberly and responsibly, with due weight given to the uncertainty of what will happen.

We know that audiences have many questions. For the first couple of days, the comments and questions were coming in thick and fast, though they have now slowed. The majority has been from the UK, but there are considerable numbers from Europe and the US too.

Yesterday, BBC Radio 5 Live did a phone-in, taking listeners' questions about the outbreak's impact and attempting to answer them using medical and travel experts. Those contacting the network had a range of questions: "My son's an hour and a half from Mexico City - how exposed is he?" "Are anti-viral drugs safe for pregnant women?" "I'm booked to go to Mexico on 30 April; the airline won't let us cancel and get a refund, what are our options?"

To satisfy those members of our audience who've been contacting our programmes and website with questions, we put together a comprehensive Q&A. In our current Have Your Say debate on the subject, many contributors have now said they believe that the government and media are over-reacting. And World Have Your Say - the World Service global discussion programme - was presented from the rooftop of a hotel in Mexico City yesterday. It asked its audience if the world was over-reacting to swine flu. We heard from many, including Abdullah in Abuja who e-mailed to say that there really was no comparison between swine flu and the kind of diseases many African nations deal with on a daily basis.

There are voices raising important questions about media coverage of this virus. Ben Goldacre - a medical doctor who writes the Bad Science blog - says that he's been struck by the number of people contacting him to say "Is swine flu just nonsense?" and that the media is "utterly" mistrusted on its reporting of health issues. Simon Jenkins, writing today in the Guardian, has said the media has whipped up a panic in order to posture and spend.

So far, the balance we have been trying to achieve is to report what we know and, critically, what isn't known, using the science available - for instance from the Chief Medical Officer for England, Sir Liam Donaldson and the World Health Organization - as well as what respected scientists are telling us about the possible pattern of this illness. At our editorial meetings, we have been regularly discussing how to get the approach, tone and use of pictures right, and to make sure that we offer our expertise and subject depth via our website.

Interestingly, the signs so far suggest that the public is not panicking - listeners contacting BBC Radio 1's Newsbeat are showing a distinct shift in opinion. Two days ago, they were expressing serious concern, but now - for many - it's receding: "Swine Flu has changed what I'm doing. I yawned at the last radio update. I'd probably not have done that if Swine Flu wasn't mentioned."

This virus - and this story - may fade away, or it may grow. At this point, as our correspondents are saying, we simply don't know. I hope that our reporting in the past few days will help you make sense of what emerges in the next few days, whichever way it develops.

Mary Hockaday is head of the multimedia newsroom

Reporting Bridgend

Mary Hockaday Mary Hockaday | 14:35 UK time, Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Yesterday we found ourselves reporting a story where the very issue of media coverage became part of the news.

The body of a 16-year-old girl was found in the Bridgend area of South Wales. She had apparently taken her own life, bringing to 21 the number of young apparent suicides in Bridgend county since September 2006.

Welcome to Bridgend signThat same day the South Wales police called a news conference at which the mother of a 15-year-old boy who died last week said she believed he was influenced by media coverage which glamorised previous deaths.

Assistant chief constable David Morris then gave details of a review of the 17 apparent suicides up to January of this year.

He emphasised that, contrary to some media reports, there is no evidence of a suicide pact, internet influence or criminal encouragement. He said a “constellation of factors” including very personal ones were involved in each case.

The coroner for the area has already said he is convinced there is ‘not one great conspiracy' linking the deaths, though there is evidence in some cases that victims knew others.

Assistant chief constable David MorrisBut assistant chief constable Morris also talked about media coverage. He held up examples from newspapers and deplored sensationalist reporting.

Throughout the developing events in Bridgend we have thought hard about how to make sure our coverage is not sensational. The BBC has editorial guidelines which include specific guidance on covering suicide.

We have circulated documents and articles to our journalists to help them keep across the wider debate about media coverage of suicide. For example this from Samaritans.

This thinking fed into our editorial discussions and our decisions through the day.

News of the discovery of another body emerged in the morning. We decided to report the story, but not put a Breaking News strapline with it on News 24 or our website, in order to avoid any suggestion of excitement about the story. In the afternoon however, when we covered the police news conference as a live event, we did.

We are lucky to have correspondents, for example Wyre Davies and Colette Hume, who have been reporting developments in Bridgend throughout and bring real expertise and sensitivity to our coverage.

We try to provide context to this story, for example about the real statistical picture or how other parts of the country are tackling suicide among young people.

On air and on the website we accompanied our reports with links and contact details to the Samaritans, Papyrus and Childline. We carried interviews with representatives of Samaritans, Sane, Mind, experts in child protection, the authorities in Wales and so on.

We talked about how to use pictures of those who have died. And decided that they are a part of the story-telling but that they should be used with restraint. We tried to avoid any visual treatment which might in any way glamorise anyone.

Another issue which experts point to is the question of paying tribute to those who have died, and how again this can seem appealing to other vulnerable young people searching for attention.

We decided we would not mention or link to any of the tribute sites which have appeared to some of those who have died. And on our website, when we decided to add a link to a clip of one of Jenna Parry's friends talking about his sadness, we changed our caption from ‘A friend’s tribute’ to ‘A friend reflects’.

I would not make any great claims for these decisions. Except to say they are a reflection of our awareness of our responsibilities.

This is a complex area, any possible media role being only part of a jigsaw, another being the role of the authorities (and yesterday the Welsh Assembly Government announced a new suicide prevention strategy).

What we try to do is balance our role in reporting what happens in Britain with our sensitivity to those members of our audience – whether young people, parents or concerned professionals – who may be affected, combined of course with our awareness of the tragedy of each and every one of these deaths.

Choice of phrase

Mary Hockaday Mary Hockaday | 13:45 UK time, Wednesday, 19 December 2007

I took part in an interesting discussion on the Jeremy Vine Show on Radio 2 yesterday (which you can listen to here). Jim Gamble is chief executive of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre. He believes the media should stop using the phrases 'child pornography' or 'child porn' but instead use phrases like 'child abuse' or 'images of the sexual abuse of children'. He believes - if I represent his views properly - that the former phrases risk trivialising or hiding the real nature of what’s going on, and that the fact that the phrase 'child porn' (an illegal activity) sounds akin to the phrase 'adult porn' (not necessarily illegal) allows perpetrators and some of the public to downplay the grim realities behind images on the web.

I was there to discuss whether BBC News should ban the phrases from our output, and I explained why I don't believe we should.

Let me be very clear. I take Mr Gamble's points very seriously and understand well the horrible impact of child abuse. But it's a very big step for BBC News to ban words - especially ones which in the case of 'child pornography' have I believe a clear, factual meaning. But I also know that editors across BBC news think very hard about the language of our reporting. And that's what I think they should continue to do, find the appropriate words to tell a story to our various audiences.

So actually, I wouldn't expect to hear the phrase 'child porn' in a Radio 2 or Radio 4 summary - it's rather too casual for those networks for one thing. But my colleagues writing web headlines, with a very tightly restricted number of characters, might use the phrase as shorthand. Listeners to Newsbeat on Radio 1 might hear the phrase on the network - but those same listeners text and e-mail in after reports of child abuse or internet child pornography, making very clear they understand exactly the awfulness of what has happened.

If you go beyond headlines you will find our reports - on radio, television and online - use a variety of phrases - 'downloading images of the sexual abuse of children', 'images created by paedophile networks' and so on. Rather than focus on a headline or two I'd prefer to look at our coverage as a whole. Our careful reporting of Operation Ore for instance over a long period (a series of raids in 2002 targeting people who download sexual images of children) included statements from the police explaining that every such image on the web is not just 'an image' but a picture of a crime scene - that crime being abuse. Our job is to be accurate, specific and provide relevant detail which informs the audience - so that you can make up your own minds.

The Jeremy Vine discussion provoked a fair number of listener texts and e-mails - some sympathetic to Mr Gamble's point of view, some worried about 'political correctness'. I'll be interested in what readers of this post make of the debate.

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