BBC BLOGS - The Editors

Houla massacre picture mistake

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Chris Hamilton | 15:26 UK time, Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Last weekend the news agenda was dominated by reports from Syria of more than 100 people being massacred in the town of Houla.

For about 90 minutes on Sunday, the BBC News website illustrated its story about what had happened with a picture of shrouded bodies in neat rows, with a child jumping over one of the rows.

It's an incredibly powerful picture, bringing home the shocking aftermath of a massacre.

Except that it's not from this incident at all, but was taken almost a decade earlier, in Iraq, by professional photographer Marco Di Lauro, who works for Getty Images.

The picture was first spotted as it circulated on Twitter, the social networking site, on Sunday, apparently sourced from activists in Syria, triggering our process for checking user-generated content.

Efforts were made to track down the original source and, having obtained some information pointing to its veracity, the picture was published, with a disclaimer saying it could not be independently verified.

However, on this occasion, the extent of the checks and the consideration of whether to publish should have been better.

It was a mistake - rectified by the removal of the image as soon as it was spotted - and we apologise for it.

Fortunately, such mistakes are very rare. BBC News has a strong track record of using content from non-traditional sources, and of stopping numerous examples of incorrect material making it to air or online - but it does underline the need to handle such material with great care.

Chris Hamilton is social media editor for BBC News. You can find him on Twitter @chrishams

A new feature on the BBC News Facebook page

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Chris Hamilton | 12:11 UK time, Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Today we're launching a new feature on the BBC News Facebook page offering a way for users to personalise the updates they see from us according to the topics, people or programmes they're interested in.

Screenshot of the Control Panel


We've called it the Control Panel and we've introduced it as a result of the significant changes we've seen in the way people access BBC News Online, as my colleague Gareth Owen, Product Manager of the BBC News website, explains on the Internet Blog.

So what's changed?

In fact, the core offering on the BBC News Facebook page isn't changing. We're still offering the same mix of the biggest news stories and our best features and analysis for you to click on, comment on, like and share.

But now, when you choose to "Like" our page, you'll see a control panel of options - see the example on this page - that allows you to choose to see updates in your Facebook news feed from your favourite BBC correspondents and programmes, and the latest headlines on subjects you're most interested in.

Even if you've already liked BBC News on Facebook, you can still access the Control Panel on the left hand side of the page.

For now, you'll mostly see short headline updates via your Control Panel choices, but longer posts might be added to the mix from time to time where we want to highlight our best stories or features. Clicking a link will take you to see the full details on the BBC News website.

We hope you enjoy using this new feature. Please let us know what you think - leave a comment on this accompanying post or send us your feedback. We'll read as much of it as we can as part of our work on the next stages of development.

Chris Hamilton is social media editor for BBC News. You can find him on Twitter @chrishams

Breaking news guidance for BBC journalists

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Chris Hamilton | 14:18 UK time, Wednesday, 8 February 2012

With the rapid pace of change in digital technology, we're constantly reviewing the processes and guidance our journalists use in their jobs.

As part of that, we have just distributed some refreshed breaking news guidance to our correspondents, reporters and producers.

It says that, when they have some breaking news, an exclusive or any kind of urgent update on a story, they must get written copy into our newsroom system as quickly as possible, so that it can be seen and shared by everyone - both the news desks which deploy our staff and resources (like TV trucks) as well as television, radio and online production teams.

So what about Twitter, the micro-blogging site where millions of people, including many of our journalists, communicate via short bursts of text?

We prize the increasing value of Twitter, and other social networks, to us (and our audiences) as a platform for our content, a newsgathering tool and a new way of engaging with people. Being quick off the mark with breaking news is essential to that mission.

We're fortunate to have a technology that allows our journalists to transmit text simultaneously to our newsroom systems and to their own Twitter accounts.

But we've been clear that our first priority remains ensuring that important information reaches BBC colleagues, and thus all our audiences, as quickly as possible - and certainly not after it reaches Twitter.

UPDATE 9 February 1330 GMT
To clarify any misconceptions, this guidance isn't about telling BBC journalists not to break stories on Twitter.

It's about making sure stories are broken as quickly and efficiently as possible to our large audiences on a wide range of platforms - Twitter, other social networks, our own website, continuous TV and radio news channels, TV and radio bulletins and programmes across several networks.

Equally that we can deploy the resources we need to tell that story on some of those platforms - reporters, TV trucks - as quickly and efficiently as possible.

We have a large, worldwide pool of correspondents, reporters and producers. So we're fortunate to have technology that allows them to get text into the BBC newsroom system and to their own Twitter accounts at the same time.

But when the technology isn't available, for whatever reason, we're asking them to prioritise telling the newsroom before sending their own tweet.

We're talking a difference of a few seconds. In some situations.

We absolutely understand the value of breaking news on Twitter, both in terms of our very successful branded activity like @BBCBreaking, and in terms of our individual journalists, who become sources of news for their followers. This guidance is absolutely compatible with that.

But it should be remembered that we are talking current guidance, not tablets of stone. This is a landscape that's moving incredibly quickly, inside and outside newsrooms, and the breaking news guidance - like our overall social media guidance - will evolve as quickly.

Use of photographs from social media in our output

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Chris Hamilton | 17:23 UK time, Monday, 15 August 2011

The use in BBC News output of photographs made available via social networking sites, especially Twitter, has been receiving some attention online in the last couple of days and we want to set the record straight.

Boy takes a picture of elephants with his camera phone in Chicago


Andy Mabbett blogged about an official complaint he made to the BBC that, in our coverage of rioting in Tottenham on 6 August, we used photographs without naming the people who took them, and whose copyright we may have breached.

We've looked into the response that was sent by the team that deals with complaints for the BBC. It essentially stated such content was "not subject to the same copyright laws as it is already in the public domain".

Unfortunately, this is wrong, and the response doesn't represent BBC policy. We apologise for any confusion it caused. Another direct response, and apology, is being sent to Mr Mabbett.

In terms of permission and attribution, we make every effort to contact people who've taken photos we want to use in our coverage and ask for their permission before doing so.

However, in exceptional situations, where there is a strong public interest and often time constraints, such as a major news story like the recent Norway attacks or rioting in England, we may use a photo before we've cleared it.

We don't make this decision lightly - a senior editor has to judge that there is indeed a strong public interest in making a photo available to a wide audience.

In terms of attribution, ie giving a credit to the copyright holder, it's something we should always try and do when we use such photos in BBC News output.

But sometimes, in the exceptional circumstances just outlined, it's just not possible to make contact with the person who took the picture, or they don't want to be contacted, or we might consider it too dangerous to try and make contact - a significant issue in our coverage of the recent Arab uprisings.

Even when we do make contact, the copyright holder might give us permission, but ask not to be credited because it puts them in danger or they believe it will be used against them in some way.

So, when we can't credit the copyright holder, our practice has been to label the photo to indicate where it was obtained, such as "From Twitter", as part of our normal procedure for sourcing content used in our output.

We do want to acknowledge the value our audience adds to our output, and hope this sheds light on our editorial decision process made during exceptional circumstances.

From LauraK to NormanS

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Chris Hamilton | 14:09 UK time, Friday, 12 August 2011

Norman Smith is one of the most experienced correspondents on our team at Westminster with a distinguished career delivering incisive political reporting to a loyal and appreciative audience, most recently on the Today and PM programmes.

screenshot of @BBCnormanS twitter account

As he moves shortly to take up the post of BBC News chief political correspondent, Norman will be reaching more of our audience on TV, especially the News Channel - and on the social networking site Twitter, where he is @BBCNormanS.

In fact, like many of the best political reporters, Norman has been active on Twitter for sometime, with a following of nearly 7,000. In his words:

"It's said that Twitter is where the news is, and that's certainly true in political terms - it's a key place for news, comment, analysis and, yes, gossip.

"It can be useful, fascinating, frivolous and daunting, but it's an essential Westminster talking shop and has become more and more important to my job."

He is taking over from another keen Twitter user, Laura Kuennsberg, who is moving to become business editor at ITV News.

Since the move was announced there has been a wide range of comment and speculation about what would happen to her Twitter account. Would she re-label it, taking it and her 60,000 followers with her? Or would she leave it, to be effectively closed, or handed over to her successor?

The debate ranged over who owns Twitter accounts, the blending of professional and personal, the role of "users", and how new it is as an issue at all. Even the front page of the Financial Times got in on the act.

It is a new issue and a complex one, although the reality of the process we went through with Laura was not complicated. Over to her:

"I really enjoy Twitter and having such a smart and lively bunch of followers. But when I decided to leave I was clear that, although I wanted to keep my account and just change the name, it wouldn't be the end of the world if that wasn't possible, and I reserved a new account at @ITVLauraK just in case.

"But I was pleased that fairly swiftly we agreed that I could change the account if I was clear about what was happening and where I was going. And also I agreed to introduce the followers of my account to my successor.

"It was all very amicably done."

To Laura, the chatter around 'losing' or 'taking' followers slightly misses the point: "People who want to find info on Twitter or share or discuss what's going on are definitely savvy enough to choose who to follow themselves."

That's a view we share - plenty of Laura's followers also follow other BBC accounts, so we don't see this as the wholesale "loss" of all her followers.

We see it as a straightforward approach, in tune with common social media practice. It's also a sustainable approach, considering more and more people will be joining us with well-developed social media presences, built up through different roles and at different organisations. BBC News will benefit from those networks and audiences, in just the same way other organisations will benefit when people leave us.

Above all, users, or audiences, are at the heart of what the BBC does, and quite obviously at the heart of social media and social networks. So, as BBC News Channel controller and Newsroom deputy head Kevin Bakhurst put it:

"Our view was Twitter users can make up own minds - and hopefully follow Laura as well as @BBCNormanS."

Of course, as with our refreshed BBC News social media guidance, the pace of change in the world of digital and social media means the position will always be kept under review. But for now we're confident this is the right approach.

Chris Hamilton is social media editor for BBC News. You can find him on Twitter @chrishams

Updated social media guidance for BBC journalists

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Chris Hamilton | 11:05 UK time, Thursday, 14 July 2011

Few news organisations can now doubt the crucial role social media plays in breaking down barriers to engagement, opening up newsgathering networks, and as an outlet for journalism.

Twitter logo

Sometimes there's still a sense of risk, especially around staff use, which has prompted different responses from different organisations. At the BBC, guidance for all its employees has previously been published covering official use of social media and personal use.

Today we're publishing our guidance for staff in news [66.8KB PDF] (in fact a refreshed version of guidance we've had for a while), which goes into a bit more detail to cover issues specific to our news operations.

There are a few rules but it's mainly suggestions, reminders, best practice and housekeeping. The aim is to help people get the best out of social networks and tools, working within the BBC's editorial values that are at the core of our journalism.

We think it's important to be open about what we're doing in this area. To pick out a few key points that might be of interest:

• The guidance is based on common sense, the section on personal activity starting with the phrase: "Don't do anything stupid". It goes on to say - among other things - that you shouldn't say anything that compromises your impartiality or sound off "in an openly partisan way".

• We label the Twitter accounts of some presenters and correspondents as "official" - and are also today publishing some specific guidance for them [64KB PDF]. This activity is regarded as BBC News output and tweets should normally be consistent with this, reflecting and focusing on areas relevant to the role or specialism, and avoiding personal interests or unrelated issues. A senior editor keeps an eye on tweets from these accounts after they're sent out.

• Finally, we remind people that programme or genre content - like @BBCBreaking and BBC News on Facebook - should normally be checked by a second person before it goes out. The guidance also urges people to think carefully about the practicalities and editorial purpose of this activity. It shouldn't be started "because it's what everyone does these days".

The guidance we're publishing is not set in stone. It will change as the digital and social media landscape changes - hopefully as fast.

For now, as it is, it aims to strike the right balance for us and to help our journalists engage, gather news and spread their journalism.

Chris Hamilton is BBC News's social media editor. You can find him on Twitter @chrishams

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