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Taking stock

Steve Herrmann Steve Herrmann | 14:32 UK time, Friday, 9 November 2007

This week we launched the tenth in our set of correspondent’s blogs, with Justin Webb's America. It seems a good time to take stock.

A graphic of the BBC News websiteOver the past couple of years they have quietly changed the way in which the best of the BBC's journalism gets out to our audiences.

When Nick Robinson started his blog – which was the first of these - someone in the newsroom likened it to a kind of hotline straight to Nick's brain – because by reading it you got to find out – often way ahead of his appearance on any broadcast outlet – what angles of a story he was contemplating, and what his take on events was going to be. You still can.

There have been some fine moments on Nick's blog, most memorably the time when he blogged as he was "eyeballed" by President Bush at a White House press conference, or when he explained (in what some readers told us was too much detail) how he'd had to get from being naked in bed to interviewing the home secretary in the space of just seven minutes. Thus helping prove that blogs are even more informal than TV "two-ways" (interviews between presenter and reporter).

And what Nick has done for our Westminster coverage, Brian Taylor, Betsan Powys and Mark Devenport have done for our political coverage of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland respectively.

The other correspondents’ blogs, as they have rolled out, have each had their distinctive character – as you'd expect. Robert Peston has made a habit of setting the day's business news agenda early in the day (in a businesslike way) on his blog – he did it right through the story of the Northern Rock crisis, which he broke. Evan Davis demonstrates, in his, how to make intimidating economic phenomena friendly and accessible – like here where he talks about immigration and the labour market in terms of a question about a bus driver’s job.

And Mark Mardell, who is very attentive to comments on his blog, went to the trouble of consulting website readers about whether he should start it in the first place. Mark's Euroblog is one of the most engaging ways I know of keeping up with European affairs – it also contains an intrepid experiment in long-term reporting – tracking
every step in the lifecycle of a certain piece of EU legislation.

Responding to comments consistently across the blogs continues to be one of the biggest challenges for all concerned. There are often hundreds, and the relevant editors are almost always having to focus on the next development, and the next deadline. After all that's what we – and perhaps you – expect from them.

So that's my assessment of where we've got to. How do you think they're going? What should we do differently? Or what should we do next?


  • 1.
  • At 03:27 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Stephen Turner wrote:

I happy to be able to tell you that I love them and subscribe to several. I find them a convenient way to read consistently thought-provoking and insightful commentary.

I continue to think that the blogs and HYS need a community moderation scheme akin to Slashdot in order to reduce the number of "me too" posts and so that thoughtful, worthwhile comments can be given greater prominence.

  • 3.
  • At 07:58 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Steven Martin wrote:

I don't know about the blogs, but drastic improvement is needed on Have Your Say. On the recent France/US Special Relationship topic, only 18% of posts were published!

  • 4.
  • At 11:22 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Frankie Roberto wrote:

Responding to comments more consistently would definitely be good. Blogs are a two-way medium, not just another output channel.

  • 5.
  • At 09:07 AM on 10 Nov 2007,
  • DaveH wrote:

I suspect Rory Bremner subscribes to them too!

Comments which add to the debate should be published but those which are rambling or simple repetitions should not. Right now one has to wade through comments and separate the grain from the chaff. Quality but not quantity should be the yardstick. Sometimes real gems get lost in a sea of comments. So Editors should exercise their experience in vetting comments. Wake up BBC!!

  • 7.
  • At 02:42 PM on 10 Nov 2007,
  • john somer wrote:

Since I am interested in the UK's attotude to the EU, I read Mark Mardell's blog, which I find consistently negative towards the Union. That attitude is widely reflected in the comments. You can ask yourself what impact it has both on British and continental European opinion

  • 8.
  • At 09:52 PM on 10 Nov 2007,
  • JustSomeCalifornian wrote:

Disagree with those (Kendrick Curtis and Pancha Chandra so far) who opine that the number of comments should be slashed by removing 'repetitions' or rambling comments. Suspect that you (the editors) realize that you are human--which is part of why you even have these comment sections--and that what you might consider to be repetition or rambling may actually be a new opinion that may resonate with some readers. Obviously, comments such as "ditto." could be culled, along with comments which are completely irrelevant.

But those which do pertain to the subject and are fully formed opinions should be shown. There may be a lot of comments for readers to wade through, but some "gems" might be removed otherwise.

And that the writers even respond at all is commendable.

This might count as rambling since it is by far longer than the other comments currently up.....

Americans are stereotypically notorious for long talking, you know.
Guess it applies to typing comments, too.

I have had a personal blog for a long time which ended up quite fortuitous because 3 years ago I suffered a head injury and most of my memories are now scattered but if i read my words from years ago or see a picture they all come flooding back.

A large chunk of my life would be gone if I had not had the good luck to takes notes as it went.

There is not enough debate in the comments I think.
Occassionally two people fight it out with words and that is great to read but too often you see isolated comments and reactionary replies but no real debate which is the point I feel of having blogs such as these

  • 11.
  • At 12:30 PM on 12 Nov 2007,
  • Dan wrote:

I am increasingly finding the correspondents' blogs the most interesting content on the bbc news website - a bit like From our own Correspondent on R4 they enable correspondents to communicate their perceptions & understandings freed from the contraints of a typical short news report or spot. But I can't find them easily! Why isn't there a link to the blogs other than the editor's blog) on the home page? Please don't treat the blogs as an afterthought, they should be seen as a core part of the site's coverage.

I reckon the blogs are great - informal but insightful views on subjects that are in the news.

Like some of the other commenters, I am less keen on the quality of many of the comments - too many trolls, too many axes to grind. That said, this is an endemic problem with blogs and I am not aware of any effective solution.

  • 13.
  • At 09:39 PM on 12 Nov 2007,
  • robert ronson wrote:

The bbc site is missing the jewel in the crown. When Is Mr Paxman going to get his blog. I think it would be the best thing you could do.

  • 14.
  • At 10:19 AM on 13 Nov 2007,
  • Joe Carstairs wrote:

Hi Steve,

I enjoy most of the BBC news website and as a result check it constantly. But can't you do better when it comes to spelling mistakes?
I've just been reading the article "Carnage on Wall Street as loans go bad" and this is what I read:

The non-government mortgage backed securities market has rapidly in recent years, and mortgages are now the largest since part of the $27bn bond market.

Bus since 9 August, bondholders have effectively gone on strike, refusing to buy some $2.8 trillion worth of sub-prime, Alt-A, and other types of securities not guaranteed by government-sponsored agencies.

I don't mean to single this article out as anything more than an example of the errors that litter the website.
Have the BBC cuts hit the editing department really hard?
I'm sure real time news is not the easiest environment to work in, but compared to reuters, and sky's websites, the BBC's performance in this area of accuracy is woeful.

  • 15.
  • At 12:03 PM on 16 Nov 2007,
  • sally greenhill wrote:

I am shocked at the parochial nature of BBC TV News at the moment. Always acres of coverage of murders and the rest of the world is largely ignored. The 6.00 pm news used to be a good way of keeping abreast of the day. It is supposed to deal with international news after all, the murders would seem to be more appropriate to local news.

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