BBC BLOGS - The Editors

BBC's reporting of the economy

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 14:10 UK time, Monday, 6 June 2011

The Chancellor George Osborne gave an interview to Sarah Montague live on Radio Four's Today programme this morning. You can listen again here. During that interview he strongly suggested that the BBC's approach to reporting the economy was relentlessly to focus on the bad news and the most gloomy statistics.

George Osborne

 

Ordinarily, we're pretty used to these sorts of claims, part of the political rough and tumble. We regularly receive calls from both Mr Osborne's team and the opposition very keen that we more heavily report this or that statistic, or de-emphasise a particular figure that is less helpful to their stance.

However, Mr Osborne was public in his criticism of how we are doing and chose to give three concrete examples of where he thought we had gone wrong. We feel it merits a response.

1) Mr Osborne claimed that comments made recently by the OECD's chief economist Pier Carlo Padoan, which seemed to suggest the UK might have to change its deficit reduction strategy if growth stayed weak, had been over-interpreted by the BBC.

In actual fact, it was our judgement that these comments had indeed been over-interpreted elsewhere in the media and we made a conscious decision, after an early report, not to report the comments prominently on any of our outlets throughout the day and that evening.

You can read our online piece on the story here and see if you agree it has over-interpreted Mr Padoan's comments as the chancellor asserted.

2) Secondly, Mr Osborne claimed that, after listening to BBC output for the last year, he had yet to hear a single item that large numbers of jobs had been created.

In fact, had the chancellor been listening carefully to Today just an hour earlier (he seemed to suggest he had been but may have missed it) he would have heard our economics editor Stephanie Flanders say clearly that over the last year employment has been very strong and that private employment was especially strong.

Viewers of our main Six and Ten O'Clock News bulletins will know that virtually every single time we report unemployment figures we also give the employment figure for fairness and balance.

It's also worth noting that in our heavily read online coverage we have reported on at least seven job creation stories in just the last few of weeks. Here are a couple of those as examples of this.

3) Finally, the chancellor observed that we only report manufacturing surveys which are disappointing and gave the example of a disappointing Markit survey last week and today's more positive Engineering Employers Federation survey.

In reality, we gave very little coverage last week to a set of three Markit surveys, including one showing the manufacturing sector grew at its weakest pace in almost two years in May. On the other hand we have indeed covered the EEF survey today. There are a large number of market surveys and data each day and we attempt to make the best judgement we can about the editorial strength of the story.

At this point I should say we don't always get it right. Sometimes we may over-emphasise or under-emphasise something. That always ensures a lively and valuable editorial discussion in the newsroom. Very occasionally we may miss something interesting completely, though we'll try to catch up as soon as we realise.

While we understand the political context around all our business and economics reporting, our sole purpose is to report and put context around the data for the benefit of all our audiences, reflecting that there are differing points of view and analysis which may occasionally make uncomfortable reading from both sides of the political divide.

Jeremy Hillman is editor of the BBC News business and economics unit.

Reporting on banks' results

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 12:54 UK time, Tuesday, 15 February 2011

As the UK bank reporting season gets underway with Barclays today we are naturally very keen to put questions, on behalf of our audiences, to those running our banks. Those questions would of course reflect a number of major issues firmly in the public eye. Unfortunately, as our Business Editor Robert Peston describes, the week hasn't begun well.

Jeremy Hillman is editor of the BBC News business and economics unit.

Electric car challenge

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Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 16:03 UK time, Wednesday, 12 January 2011

On the BBC's Business website we've devoted quite a bit of coverage over recent months to the electric motor industry.

There's no doubt it's growing in importance as evidenced by an increasing number of makes and models and changing consumer attitudes. That was the reason behind our idea to set our correspondent Brian Milligan a challenge this week - to drive an electric car from London to Scotland using only public charging points.

I'm delighted to say it's already drawing quite a following on our website as well as on our Facebook page and Twitter feed and a lot of you are engaging with our little adventure. We've even had a class from Preston School in Eaglescliffe, Stockton-on-Tees, coming along to see the car and find out about the environmental issues of electric motoring.

Pupils from Preston School, Stockton-on-Tees looking at the car

Of course, as Brian acknowledged in his opening piece, the challenge could be a seen as a little unfair. Many electric cars are designed more for short commuter runs than a journey of the sort we're attempting but we're not making any great scientific claims for this, rather we're hoping to bring the issues about electric cars and their infrastructure to the widest possible audience and we seem to be doing that.

However, I hear that our project has a challenger and a rival electric sports car has now set off from London in pursuit! For those of who haven't yet seen the coverage please do feel free to follow our progress here.

Why we've interviewed RBS but not Lloyds

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Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 08:35 UK time, Friday, 26 February 2010

Many of you followed yesterday's story about Royal Bank of Scotland posting losses of £3.6bn for 2009 whilst at the same time paying bonuses of £1.3bn to its staff.

It's a story which provoked high emotions. Not only do many of you bank with RBS as individuals and businesses but we all, as taxpayers, own a very large chunk of the bank - 84 % to be exact.

One of the ways we were able to cover both sides of the story was the willingness of the RBS boss Stephen Hester to be held accountable. Through interviews on the BBC he was able to speak to his customers and shareholders - you may not agree with what he had to say but he laid out a reasoned and coherent case for his actions. You can see one of his interviews here.

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There's another bank in which we all have a major stake (41% in this case) and which owes its existence to support from all of us. Lloyds has announced its results this morning. It too has made big losses and its share price sits well below what we taxpayers paid for our stake.

The BBC has been asking Lloyds bosses for interviews but so far they don't feel the need to answer our questions or explain their plans for taxpayers to get their money back.

Lloyds CEO Eric Daniels - the only boss of a rescued UK bank to keep his job throughout the crisis - and on a salary of more than £1m - doesn't seem to feel the same responsibility to be accountable as his opposite number at RBS. If you do have questions you'd like to put to Eric Daniels or the Lloyds Chairman Sir Win Bischoff, then please write them here and we'll keep asking and hope they change their minds.

PS. Robert Peston has written a post about Lloyds' latest figures.

Jeremy Hillman is editor of the BBC News business and economics unit.

Lehman collapse: One year on

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 08:52 UK time, Monday, 7 September 2009

Today we're launching several weeks of coverage across radio, television and online to coincide with the one-year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the largest financial bankruptcy in US history.

Aftershock indexThe sudden and shocking collapse of one of the most well-known financial institutions in the world marked a seminal moment and triggered a dramatic meltdown in global finance which has left the world a different place from the one it was 12 months ago. Its aftershocks have had implications for all of us.

After Lehman's, the global economy ceased to expand for the first time in 60 years with poor countries severely hit by the fall in commodity prices and remittances. The crisis is estimated to have thrown an additional 100 million people into absolute poverty (earning less than a dollar a day).

In the UK household, wealth has fallen by around £1.1 trillion - or around £40,000 per household. Government debt is expected to reach £1 trillion in a few years, an increase of £600 billion, and unemployment is expected to top three million, or 10% of the workforce. The crisis has also led to unprecedented international co-operation at the G20 summit in London and later this month in Pittsburgh, which could lead to stronger regulation of the world's financial markets, including bankers' bonuses.

So what are we hoping to achieve in our coverage over the next few days and weeks? Firstly, with the perspective of a little time, we will ask what caused the crash and whether it's possible to design a system to prevent a future repeat. We will look at the current state of the global economy, at whether the crisis has fundamentally altered the power balance within that economy away from the US. And we'll also ask whether we are now in a recovery and what that recovery will look like.

A specially created area on our site will aggregate all the best of the journalism we are creating. There will be opportunities for you to participate in the discussion and debates, and you'll hear from our most authoritative voices including business editor Robert Peston and economics editor Stephanie Flanders, who will be speaking to all the main players from the world of business and finance. There may be no easy answers but we will do our best to ask the difficult questions.

Clear answers to straightforward financial questions?

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Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 16:55 UK time, Friday, 7 August 2009

All I can say is "Thank God It's Friday".

We're coming to the end of a full week of reporting UK bank results which started with Barclays and HSBC, moved onto Northern Rock, then Lloyds-HBOS and today finished with RBS. We even had a surprise £50bn of quantitative easing thrown into the mix for good measure.

Robert Peston and Stephanie FlandersWe've reported all this in a great deal of detail on radio and TV and online and they have all painted a mixed picture. It's clear that a lot of our audience members want some clear answers to some straightforward questions.
• Are the banks doing enough to support the economy?
• Are the worst of bank losses behind us?
• Is quantitative easing working?
• Where has all the money the taxpayer has put in actually gone?
• And when will we get it back?

Well, it's pretty tough to give definitive answers to those. If there's one thing confirmed by reporting this weeks results, it's that interpreting them is as much art as science.

For confirmation of that, you need only look at our reporting of today's RBS results, where we are reporting a broadly break-even £15m profit while others, including the FT, are reporting a £1bn loss (it depends whether you include the pre-tax post-exceptionals, and we had a lively debate about that ourselves).

Or you could look at how banks have chosen to report their business lending. RBS tell us that they have approved 85% of new loan requests (down from 86%). Barclays claim a figure of 90% approval for loan applications from credit-worthy businesses - spot the difference?

What we have tried to do this week is to extract the meaning and find the story in each of this week's results, and I'd urge you to take a look at Robert Peston's blog posts throughout this week to get the best picture we can provide.

One thing that would have helped this week is if the chief wxecutives of Northern Rock and Lloyds-HBOS - banks in which we as taxpayers have a huge interest - had been willing to speak to us. They could help with the answers to the many of the questions you are rightly asking.

Jeremy Hillman is editor of the business and economics unit.

It's never just 'bad news' first

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 13:34 UK time, Saturday, 21 February 2009

I've just watched the BBC's Newswatch on my laptop, catching up as I do at the weekends with bits of the output I haven't been able see during the week. (In fact I saw the link to it on Twitter, another subject handled by Newswatch this week).

One of issues mentioned by Ray Snoddy was the number of audience comments asking why the website's top story on Monday 16 February was about the 850 jobs being lost at BMW's Mini plant at Cowley, whilst the smaller story just underneath was the creation of 9,000 jobs by KFC.

Some have taken that as proof we are always keener to report and highlight the bad news. In fact we had a detailed editorial discussion about this on Monday and I believe we made the right choice on journalistic grounds, though I can fully see the argument both ways.

The jobs being created by KFC are over a three to five-year period, the jobs being lost at Cowley were immediate and entailed stories of human pain and shock. The wider story of the car industry, and the political debate surrounding it, was deemed by us to be more newsworthy at this moment than the also interesting phenomenon of "value" food chains doing pretty well in the recession (McDonalds has also had a good story to tell recently).

In the end we had to make a judgement call, but it's never just a case of us deciding to put the "bad news" first.

Money Matters

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 15:30 UK time, Wednesday, 18 February 2009

I'm writing this from the Trafford shopping centre in Manchester where we're in the middle of a BBC financial roadshow which we're calling Money Matters.

Crowds at Trafford shopping centreWe've assembled a large team of independent financial advisors and together with the BBC's own team of personal finance and business experts we're offering advice and finding out what's most important to people now we've entered what could be a steep recession.

Already we've been broadcasting live on Breakfast, the News Channel, BBC2's Working Lunch and Radios 4 / 5live as well as local and regional radio and television. You can see a lot of what's being generated on our Money Matters website which has been constructed specially for today.

Of course the range of problems and issues people have is wide but what's struck me is that all day the longest queue has been for "savings and investment" advice.

Across the age range people are most anxious about what to do with the money they have. That's both in terms of getting a return for it, and, even more importantly for many, keeping it safe.

Of course, the answer is not straightforward and a lot depends on whether we're heading for a long period of deflation, or conversely high inflation in a couple of years time. You can find economists who passionately hold each of those points of view (there's a surprise).

Please do have a look at the site and enter our money quiz. I got 8/10 right which isn't great for the business and economics editor.

Recession coverage

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 16:15 UK time, Friday, 23 January 2009

On the day the UK has moved into an official recession, I thought it would be worth returning to a subject which has come up before but on which we still receive a regular flow of e-mails and comments.

There's no doubt that a proportion of audiences for TV and radio, and here online, feel that the BBC is just too gloomy in its reporting of the economy. Some of you feel that the coverage is just relentlessly downbeat and while you don't question its accuracy, you tell us that it's just a switch-off and that you've heard it all before. Others, even more worryingly, feel that our reporting is positively undermining confidence and has actively contributed to the situation we're in.

On the first question, whether we're just too gloomy: it's something that we're acutely aware of and which we regularly discuss. It's a concern which has been shaping our coverage in different ways. A simple example may illustrate.

It's clear that reporting every single house price survey that comes across our desks, can, by simple dint of repetition, create an overall impression of a picture more gloomy that it is. For instance, if we report a 2% house price fall three times in one month from different organisations, it may be completely accurate. Yet some regular viewers will take away the impression that house prices are falling much more steeply, assaulted week after week by essentially the same story.

For that reason, we are very choosy about which surveys and statistics to report and we plan our coverage more broadly than a simple "on-the-day" reaction. Similarly, our "downturn" graphics with the plunging red arrow have attracted some criticism. Seen once or twice, they have a far milder effect than constant repetition many times a day over a period of weeks or months. That visual power and the reinforcing effect of repetition is something we've taken into account in designing our new "recession" branding which began today.

We've also made real efforts to reflect the nuanced picture of the economy. We understand that many people are unaffected by this recession and that some have even benefited. You can see some examples of the variety of coverage here and here. Only yesterday, we widely reported gas price cuts which will benefit millions.

Secondly, the allegation that our coverage has somehow contributed to the worsening economic conditions. It's a that view I reject, but I'm not going to pretend that we do our journalism in a total vacuum.

Clearly, confidence plays a part in any economy. Yet I don't believe that accurate and factual coverage, of the sort we provide, does anything other than help people make sensible, rational judgements about their own economic behaviour. The UK is in the midst of global financial crisis and financial reporting can surely have had nothing to do with governments around the world being forced to inject trillions of dollars into their banking systems?

The BBC has a duty to accurately report and reflect the facts and statistics of the UK economy in a proportionate and measured way and I believe we do that to the best of our ability. Our audiences would not expect us to talk up the economy any more than they would want us to talk it down.

Jeremy Hillman is editor of the business and economics unit.

Simpler message

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 13:08 UK time, Wednesday, 26 November 2008

In my job I expect to spend most of the time obsessing about the financial crisis and looming recession, its implications for all of us and how we are covering it. Yet I was still surprised when it became the centrepiece of my seven-year-old son's school assembly which I went to before work this morning.

The theme of the assembly was choice and personal responsibility and the kids all did brilliantly with readings about a wise man and foolish man and a song to finish. Then the headmaster talked to the whole school about the origins of the global financial crisis. Not surprisingly there were no mentions of mortgage backed securities and collateralised debt obligations!

Instead, he talked to the children about personal responsibility, not spending more than you have, and about thinking about the consequences for the future of your decisions now. This Christmas, he told the children, you should decide what you can afford and stick to that - it was obviously a message too for all of us parents sitting at the back.

As we spend a lot of our broadcasting time discussing bank behaviour, corporate greed, and failures of regulation it did make me wonder if there is a simpler message we should be conveying more strongly in our coverage.

I suspect my son though will still want that remote control helicopter and damn the consequences.

'Recession' - banned?

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 11:50 UK time, Friday, 24 October 2008

Following on from my blog yesterday on why we weren't going to brand our economy day "The Recession" the Daily Telegraph has got very exercised this morning by our position with a news piece and a leader article. The suggestion in the leader that the word recession won't be found on any BBC reporters' lips today is misplaced.

The UK is more than likely heading for a recession - both the prime minister and the governor of the Bank of the England agree - and you'll hear that a lot in every BBC report today.

As viewers and listeners know we've been using the "R" word all week and for several months. It's ironic that just a few weeks ago some were criticising the BBC for being too pessimistic and "talking the economy down", and some still are.

As we all know in this business it's sometimes possible to get details wrong when you're on deadline, so I take no offence at the Telegraph calling me Hill rather than Hillman.

Crisis ban? What crisis ban?

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 11:52 UK time, Thursday, 23 October 2008

There's an old joke about the difference between a recession and a depression. A recession is when your neighbour loses his job, a depression is when you lose yours. A depression is also what I sometimes feel when I read what some newspapers say about the BBC's reporting of the financial crisis and the language we choose to use.

Firstly, it's reported today that the BBC has banned any reference to the term "crisis". Er, no, we haven't. It's true that tomorrow we're having a day devoted to taking the temperature of the economy around the UK and how it's affecting people, which we're calling "The Downturn". But that doesn't mean we're losing our financial crisis branding when we cover further bank or financial shocks and indeed we'll be using it even tomorrow on our international coverage.

Secondly, it's suggested we're using Downturn in place of the word "recession". Luckily anyone who has watched any of our output this week will know that one's wrong too. Both the prime minister and the governor of the Bank of England have said it's likely we're heading in to a recession and we're saying that in our reports too. In fact we've been reporting the possibility of a recession for months. So, why don't we label our day tomorrow "The Recession" and be done with it? Simply because we may well be in a recession but we won't get any official confirmation of that for a while yet. A recession is two quarters of negative growth and as soon as we're in one you'll hear it from us.

The criticism we're not being gloomy enough about the economy is well balanced by other criticism we've been getting that we're talking down the economy and being too pessimistic. I suppose we should comfort ourselves that we're getting criticism both ways which must put us in about the right place. What I do know for a fact is that our audiences to our radio, TV and online coverage have all grown significantly during this financial crisis (oops, banned word!) and I'd like to thank so many of you for turning to our coverage at this very unsettling time.

Meanwhile if you have a story to tell us about how the economy is affecting you please e-mail us at: bbc.co.uk/haveyoursay

Only one conclusion

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 10:00 UK time, Friday, 10 October 2008

Along with the praise we've been getting a number of e-mails criticising our business editor Robert Peston's coverage of the financial crisis over the last week, particularly focusing on his blog breaking the news of the £50bn financial package on offer for British banks.

Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling The case for the prosecution seems to be that our reporting is irresponsible, scaremongering and is inflaming the situation by causing volatile share price movements. Additionally some believe Robert's reporting has been inaccurate based on the evidence that several banks denied formally applying to the Bank of England for cash.

Allow me to make the case for the defence. We have one primary responsibility and that is to you, our audience. Our decision to run a story is based on simple criteria. Is it accurate and would it be of significant interest and relevance to our audience? If the answer is yes then our presumption is to be publish unless there is a huge overriding interest not to.

We understand that our journalism does not exist in a vacuum, and that what we say may have consequences but it is not for us to sit in judgement and second guess those.

Of course, there are occasions when we do withold information. We are given some formal financial notifications early for logistical reasons with an agreed embargo time. When covering conflicts we will not give troop locations and movements which would put lives in danger. When we hear news of casualties in Iraq or Afghanistan we will hold the news until the next of kin have been informed.

Those life and death situations are the exception. The financial health of our banks do not fall into that category, indeed there is immense public interest in the free flow of information about them.

On the question of accuracy, I would ask you to read the words that Robert published which do not say the banks made a formal approach for cash. In the light of the announcement made by the government 24 hours later I believe there is only one conclusion.

Covering all the angles

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 11:00 UK time, Wednesday, 8 October 2008

The news of today's banking rescue by Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown has produced near meltdown in one place - the BBC's business and economics unit.

Alistair Darling and Gordon BrownThe number of angles on this story from a business and economic perspective are huge and we're scrabbling to try and unscramble what it all means.

It's also triggered a huge inflow of e-mails asking what it means for you? Should you buy/sell/hold bank shares? Should you move money between accounts? Will this mean it's easier to get a mortgage or loan now? What about your pensions?

Your questions are really helping us to focus our coverage and pointing us in some interesting directions. We'll be trying to answer some of your questions in a special edition of Working Lunch on BBC2 at 1.30pm today presented by Declan Curry and Naga Munchetty.

If you can't catch it live please do watch it later on the iPlayer or log onto Declan's Working lunch blog. But above all please keep your questions and points coming and we'll do our best to investigate and answer them.

What a week

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 19:03 UK time, Friday, 19 September 2008

HBOSAs the editor of the BBC's Economics and Business Unit, on a week like this I seem to keep being asked, or rather told, one thing: "You must be enjoying all this chaos".

At one editorial meeting a programme editor joked we in the business unit were like undertakers at a funeral.

The truth is that this has been a dramatic, historic week for the global economy and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't enjoying the challenge and the adrenalin rush of covering these fast moving events.

At 9am on Wednesday I got a call from our business editor Robert Peston. He told me that Lloyds and HBOS were in advanced merger talks and he was going to break the story on the news channel as soon as possible.

It was dynamite information and only known by a handful of people intimately involved in the talks.

I broke the news to a hushed morning editorial meeting attended each day by all the BBC news editors at 9am.

Moments later Robert broke the news to the country and as he spoke live we could immediately see the markets move and HBOS shares start to climb.

It was an exhilarating feeling to be such a close bystander to such a unique and surprising event.

But whilst I will admit to enjoying the drama of rare moments like those, I'd like to think that none of us in the business unit ever lose sight of the real impact this economic story is having on people's lives.

That same day we covered widely the depressing news of rising unemployment in the UK.

The moment any of us stop doing that is the moment we're getting it wrong for our audiences.

Box update

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 09:45 UK time, Wednesday, 17 September 2008

A quick update from me on the overwhelming response we've had to the BBC Box project we launched last week.

The BoxFor those who've missed it this is our year long project tracking a BBC branded shipping container around the world to see how international trade is shaping our global economy in these uncertain times.

We've had a lot of interest in the technical details of how we're tracking the container and doing the mapping. Hopefully most of those are answered on our Have Your Say site.

There's also been a huge amount of interest from schools and teachers and we're now working with the BBC School Report project to see what we can do there. And one Box fan, David Hathaway from Cambridge, has sent us a fantastic template so online readers can cut out and build their very own BBC container. You can download that from the site. Please keep your ideas and feedback coming.

Following The Box

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 08:24 UK time, Monday, 8 September 2008

Today we're starting a major editorial project which I am very excited about, and I hope many of you will be too. A few months ago, we in the Business and Economics Unit were set the challenge to come up with a way of telling the real story of what's happening in the global economy in a tangible, challenging and ambitious way that worked for television, online and radio.

BBC's The BoxWhat we came up with was the idea of following a shipping container around the world for a year, as it criss-crosses the globe with its various cargoes and telling the stories behind those goods, those who make them and those who consume them. So, we've painted and branded a BBC container and bolted on a GPS transmitter so its progress can be followed here on the webpage all year round.

We're calling the project The Box from a fantastic book of the same name by Marc Levinson which tells the story of how the humble shipping container changed the face of world trade. Lots of people have worked hard to make this idea happen and I'm very grateful to the CSIS who represent the container shipping industry and have helped hugely with the logistics and planning along with shipping company NYK.

The container starts its journey in Southampton today and you'll be able to see it on Breakfast and the News Channel with Declan Curry. The journey this container follows over the next few months will be a real one, and whilst we will control some aspects of the process for logistical reasons, the story it tells will be a truly representative one, painting a picture of what globalisation really means.

And, if anyone is wondering, that means it won't be costing the BBC much over and above the coverage costs for the editorial content. Whilst we have paid a little for the branding of the box and some technical costs, the fact this is a working container means it will be earning its own keep! I am keeping my fingers crossed the Box doesn't fall overboard (it happens!) and would love to hear your thoughts as it progresses on its journey around the globe.

Investing in business

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 13:58 UK time, Thursday, 4 September 2008

There's been some reaction to reports about changes to the Money Programme, a long established and very effective part of the BBC's business offering.

Whilst I am not responsible for that particular programme, or the changes being made by BBC Current Affairs, I understand there's no intention to reduce the impact or volume of the Money Programme despite some of the reporting.

What is also true is that there has never been a higher level of commitment or dedication to business and economics coverage on BBC News. My department produces 11 hours of broadcast business output every single weekday across various BBC outlets and channels, as well as a constantly updated website for UK and global business news.

We have teams of business journalists based in the US, Asia, India and the Middle East who contribute to our domestic and international coverage. In October we are re-launching Working Lunch, our daily business and finance programme on BBC2, with a new format and extra audience interactivity. It's a project which we are incredibly excited about and which we know will meet a real desire from the audience to know more about the economy and what affects the pound in our pockets.

In addition, our team of specialists including Business Editor Robert Peston and Economics Editor Hugh Pym continue to provide exclusive stories and strong analysis. Robert's current series of 30 minute interviews with top CEO's called Leading Questions has been a real investment in serious business news for BBC News.

Next week we have a fantastic and ambitious project launching which I'll be blogging about on Monday. There's never been a more importan time to tell the economic story and it's something we are very focused on.

Apple backlash?

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 12:58 UK time, Monday, 28 July 2008

At the risk of igniting yet another flurry of Apple v PC fervour, and with a heavy heart at returning to the subject so soon, Stephen Fry, who we love and admire, took a pop at the BBC over the weekend for not doing enough stories about Apple products.

It's a criticism I haven't heard before. He feels we are running scared of an anti-Apple community backlash. My colleague, online technology editor Darren Waters, has written this heartfelt response to Stephen who's clearly now a signed up member of the anti-anti Apple Community (if that's possible).

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By Darren Waters

3G iPhoneI feel a little uneasy disagreeing with a national treasure, but I must take issue with Stephen Fry's comments about the BBC technology site in his latest Guardian Dork Talk column.

Stephen's an educated and interesting columnist on technology, but unless he's been popping into our editorial meetings each morning without my knowledge, I don't see how he would know how we decide which stories to cover.

As editor of the technology section, it is my job, with the help of my colleagues, to decide which stories we write about.

And even if Stephen had popped in to see us - and by the way, he's welcome any time - he wouldn't have seen or heard us discuss, debate, or even mention not doing any legitimate stories about Apple because we fear an anti-Apple community backlash.

The reality of writing about any subject which engenders passions - and technology is definitely one of those - is that no matter what one writes about, there is always someone who believes we should have written about something else, or written it differently. But this issue is not about Apple; it is about the editorial process itself. Every day, my colleagues and I on the technology section spend time questioning ourselves about the legitimacy of any story.

All serious journalists ask that question, each and every day. Sometimes that debate about legitimacy lasts a micro-second, sometimes it lasts a lot longer.

We are juggling finite resources covering a subject area with almost infinite scope and complexity. Sometimes I am asked why we haven't written about Subject A, and why we have written about Subject B. The answer most of the time is that we did not have enough resources to write about A and felt B was a more relevant story to the majority of our readers. A backlash from any quarter never enters into the discussion.

I sadly predict such a mundane answer wouldn't qualify as interesting enough to earn maximum points on Stephen's BBC Two show QI, but there we are.

The R-word

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 16:15 UK time, Tuesday, 8 July 2008

There's lots of talk in the air right now about recession, what it is and how will we know we're in one?

Ten pound notesPart of my job is to try and steer coverage of the subject across the BBC in the right direction and to make sure we're being as precise as possible.

To that end I sent out an advisory note to all non-business specialists working on TV, radio and online today about how a recession can be defined, and how we should think about using the word in our coverage.

I've been asked to make that note public via this blog so here it is - with a couple of caveats. For economists and others experts out there I realise that this is a simplified view of the definitions and that there are many arguments to be voiced around the subject.

And for those of you who may already be struggling in the downturn this editorial advice may seem completely esoteric and as far as you're concerned a recession is probably already underway.

What is a recession? There's no completely straightforward answer!

A technical recession is defined as two consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth (GDP being the total production of goods and services). That, for instance, is what the British Chambers of Commerce say we're in serious risk of in their survey today.

Sale sign in shopBut - it's perfectly possible to have two quarters of negative growth and another couple of quarters of decent growth meaning the economy actually grows year on year even though it's been through a technical recession.

So, a full blown or severe recession is when there is an absolute decline in the economy year on year. That's what happened in the early 80's and early 90's.

But, there's an obvious complication here. It's impossible to call a recession officially until the numbers are in...In other words, until you're looking back at what has happened over the past couple of quarters (in a technical recession) or the past year (in the case of a full blown recession) we can't officially confirm we've had a recession.

So, how should the BBC report things if the point is reached when it feels as if the country is in the middle of a recession, eg if unemployment is rising and all the statistics and good sense suggest the economy is shrinking?

The answer is that we just have to be careful with our language. While we wouldn't be in a position to say we are officially in recession (as per above) we don't have to shy away from using the 'r' word when good sense suggests we should be.

For instance, if the figures are looking terrible we'd be able to say they suggest we're in the middle of a recession. But we should think about the wording of captions over TV pictures eg. "Recessionary Chill" might be better than saying definitively "Britain in Recession".

Finally, for international coverage it's worth noting that in the United States there is a quasi-official definition of recession which is different. And in the US the official decision about whether the country's had a recession can only be made by a committee of economists long afterwards. Defining a world recession...I'll leave that for another time.

Balanced, calm and fair

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 14:30 UK time, Thursday, 19 June 2008

There's been some criticism lately, and some internal discussion, about whether the BBC is in any danger of talking down the economy.

Essentially, the question seems to be whether our reporting is adding to - or even creating - gloom and pessimism around the economy. I don't believe it is.

Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn KingIn a week when the Governor of the Bank of England has said that the British economy is facing its most difficult challenge for 20 years it seems to me the tone of our coverage has been balanced, calm and fair.

Firstly, we don't generally produce our own figures, statistics and surveys. We rely on and interpret a range of information - from official government figures to reports and indices from organisations such as banks, estate agents and other bodies. In reporting those figures we try hard to put them in context and accord them the weight of coverage we think they deserve.

Secondly, and most importantly, we try to make the best use of what we hear from you, our audiences across the platforms. From the picture we get reporting around the UK, and what we see online, it's clear that many people are feeling a serious squeeze right now from higher food, energy and other prices. I'd urge you to take at look at our inflation "mood map" and read some of the comments there. So do we emphasise the gloomy picture by ignoring any good news? Again, I don't believe we do.

Terraced houses in North LondonIt's clear that some sectors of the economy are doing pretty well and we report that. If you're a company which exports then the weak pound is a positive boon right now. Likewise, falling house prices are quite good news for potential first-time buyers, though arguably the disappearance of many cheap mortgage deals and high loan-to-value mortgages has more than offset that.

Just today, we're reporting a surge in retail sales. We also regularly point out the reasons to have some faith in the robustness of the UK economy - high employment being chief among them. But, as the Bank of England and many others believe, the big picture remains a more worrying one and it's our job and our duty to reflect that.

PS. You might have spotted that Hugh Pym has taken over as Economics Editor. For those wondering, Stephanie Flanders has now started her maternity leave and I'm delighted Hugh has agreed to step into her shoes. As a reward he gets a tiny office and will probably work even longer hours than he has up till now as our economics correspondent. Stephanie has said she'll be calling me any time she sees something on the output she doesn't like, probably starting with this blog!

Mad About Mac?

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 16:45 UK time, Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Blogs can be very frustrating sometimes. I've just read one which claims the BBC gave a staggering amount of publicity to Apple's new iPhone...err...I don't think so. I'm always ready to put my hand up when we get it wrong but as our technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones points out I don't think we did this time.

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By Rory Cellan-Jones

Steve Jobs and iPhoneSome of you thought we went over the top in our coverage of the 3G iPhone. The accusation is that we are Macheads who are totally obsessed with Apple's every move and give it coverage which any other company would not receive. Really? I took a call from a colleague last week who was planning coverage for Monday's main news bulletins on television and radio. "What should we do about the Apple event on Monday?" she asked. I said we should not cover the event, because this was just an incremental change rather than the ground-breaking event that the original iPhone announcement had been last year.

In the event, while there was a bit of coverage on specialist business radio coverage on Monday morning, the 3G iPhone did not feature on television or radio news bulletins. There was coverage on the technology pages of the website - one news story and one blog entry. I think that the people who do follow technology closely would have found it bizarre if the BBC website had not mentioned a story which was the talk of the tech blogs for days on end. In the event, the story proved hugely popular, and was the most-read article on the site on Monday.

I have restrained myself to such an extent that I have not uttered a single word about the new iPhone in the last 36 hours, on TV, on radio or online. So, while I'm here, wasn't it just a little disappointing? Still no video, the camera stays at the original 2mp, and no ability to cut and paste. And isn't the price cut proof enough that Apple misjudged the European market, and needed to kick-start sales? There, I'll stop now.

Blog on blogging

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 08:30 UK time, Wednesday, 16 April 2008

We do a lot of blogging these days in the Business and Economics unit. Peston's Picks, Evanomics, now replaced by our new Economics Editor Stephanie Flanders (we'll need a catchy name for her new blog if you have any ideas please…) But our technology correspondent and multi-media blogger Rory Cellan-Jones has reminded us that the act of blogging wasn't, and still isn’t, entirely uncontroversial even here at the BBC. This is his blog on blogging...

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By Rory Cellan-Jones

"Should the BBC encourage its correspondents to blog? What should its attitude be to controversial posts on staff's personal blogs? And does too much blogging give you a heart attack? Three questions I've been pondering lately.

Rory Cellan-JonesThe first comes as a result of reading a piece of academic research written by a former colleague, Alf Hermida, who has now gone to a better place as a journalism professor at the University of British Columbia. Alf's paper is called The BBC goes blogging: Is ‘Auntie’ finally listening? (pdf link). It documents an extraordinary change of heart by BBC managers about the idea of blogging, from suspicion and scorn - in 2003 one website editor argued "They are an interesting phenomenon, but I don't think they will be as talked about in a year's time” - to enthusiastic embrace.

It strikes me the initial concerns were twofold - that nobody would be interested in our blogs so they would be a waste of a correspondent's effort, and that they would threaten our impartiality. But the blogs have attracted plenty of readers - Robert Peston's Peston's Picks gets a million page views a month - and they've done that without descending to the opinionated, loudmouthed knockabout which was previously seen as the prerequisite for success in this arena.

What blogging does allow a broadcaster to do is to cover stories that would never make it onto the airwaves, and, in my case, to engage with a different and very knowledgeable audience. Mind you, that's bound to be a minority audience and the danger is they become a distraction from the job of reaching the mass of licence-fee payers. Alf Hermida suggests that the BBC bloggers need to do even more to have a conversation with these people - I think there are risks in getting too involved.

And what about the blogs that some BBC staff write in their own time but where they identify their employer? At a recent internal seminar on this subject, I was taken aback at how wide the gap was between the different views on controversial posts on personal blogs. One group that I would characterise as the digital libertarians felt that just about anything was permissible in the interests of openness - including one blog post that informed readers of an easy way to hack the iPlayer. Another more conservative group – mainly like me from a news background – was aghast at this willingness to flout every BBC code, from impartiality to commercial confidentiality.

And as for those health risks, a recent article in the New York Times has reverberated around the blogosphere after it chronicled the sad plight of a number of technology bloggers who have become addicted to posting at all hours of night and day. Three had suffered heart attacks, two of them fatal. I read this article at 0730 GMT on a Sunday morning, then noticed a new development in the Microsoft story, and fired off a quick blog post before breakfast.

So yes, blogging can be a rewarding activity, both professionally and personally. But beware of the threat it can pose to your health and to the BBC’s reputation."

This article first appeared in the BBC's in-house magazine, Ariel.

Business matters

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 15:25 UK time, Friday, 4 April 2008

Today we launched internally a fantastic new section on our College of Journalism website supporting all journalists who cover business and economics. It follows a report last year by Sir Alan Budd monitoring the quantity, quality and impartiality of our business coverage (which you can read here in pdf). He found there was no systematic bias but that sometimes we lacked balance and too often stressed the consumer perspective.

Robert Peston and Evan DavisOf course, that was all before the credit crunch and Northern Rock. What a difference a year makes. It seems hardly a day goes by without Robert Peston or Evan Davis (now replaced by Stephanie Flanders) analysing and explaining the latest twist and turns of the global economy and using terms in their blogs that would give hedge fund managers a headache. I actually overheard a conversation at the tea bar the other day where the term 'de-leveraging’ was being bandied about.

Sir Alan commented in his report that there was a lack of commercial awareness in some parts of the BBC. I'd love to get him back in for another look, but he'd better be ready for a decent debate.

Journalists and PR

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 11:28 UK time, Wednesday, 27 February 2008

I've just had an interesting day at a one day conference for PR and the media. There was quite a buzz about the book Flat Earth News by Nick Davies which looks at the relationship between journalists and the public relations world and draws some not so positive conclusions.

One of my fellow panellists duly quoted the line “news is what they don't want you print, everything else is PR” (I'm paraphrasing but please do let me know the full quote if you know it). Another mentioned the number of journalists who now move over to the 'dark side'.

But it was something else that struck me more than this uneasy relationship. As I explained how we're restructuring BBC News to meet the challenges of an online, non-linear world I suddenly realised what a challenging and difficult job PR can be these days and how much we have in common.

If you're in PR you now have the opportunity to take your message direct to the public in a hundred new ways, at least if you understand the technology well enough. Blogs, vodcasts, podcasts, Twitter streams and social networking are all there to exploit and there's more every day. And you've got to be brave enough to let your content be shared and messed around with. With all this happening, we 'traditional media' are still too important to ignore, though, as Nick Davies points out in his book, we're often too busy to take the call or read the e-mail.

It seems to me effective PR isn't about flogging a ropey product launch. It comes from a deep understanding and mastery of the issues around the industry and business you represent and the ability to express those powerfully and honestly. And that, like good journalism, takes time.

Speeded up news

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 14:32 UK time, Wednesday, 29 August 2007

President Bush makes a bellicose speech about Iran, President Ahmadinejad reacts, within hours US troops arrest Iranians in Baghdad, and then they are released.

BBC World logoIt sometimes seems when covering events between Baghdad, Tehran and Washington that normal news timeframes are compressed as news and information fly between capitals with instant action and reaction.

The days of governments and leaders sitting there waiting for despatches from ambassadors and officials to filter through and then slowly and carefully preparing responses which take another age to find their way back again are over.

With 24 hour news you can cut out the middleman as stories whizz around the globe. We've done a decent job of covering this story on BBC World, including the first reaction from the Americans acknowledging their error in making the arrests.

But the challenge in this speeded up news environment is to keep analysing what's happening behind these events - President Bush's words spoken, no doubt, with one eye on the upcoming Petraeus report, Iran watching a potential vacuum develop and paying close attention to talk of British withdrawal from southern Iraq. It all links together and sometimes the speed of it takes your breath away.

Going Greek

Jeremy Hillman Jeremy Hillman | 11:36 UK time, Thursday, 29 March 2007

Our commercial 24-hour global news channel is now available in over 280 million homes with a weekly audience of 65 million. But it's nearly all been for an English-speaking audience, up till now.

BBC World logoI've just spent a couple of days in Athens promoting a new deal between World and SKAI, a major broadcaster in Greece which reaches every home in the country. It's an amazing arrangement.

They take two World bulletins everyday and have a team of producers, editors and translators to dub our bulletins into Greek and re-broadcast them within three hours.

They have a state of the art newsroom, plush editing suites and frankly, studio facilities we would kill for.

Best of all, SKAI is anxious to practice the BBC's journalistic values which are well known in the country thanks to the World Service radio's Greek Service which closed a few years ago.

It's fair to say that Greek broadcast media has played by 'Australian rules' up till now, ie anything goes. Legal and editorial guidelines are something for academic study only. SKAI want to change that.

They do occasionally have problems with the translation though. Last week they spotted at the last minute that 'tourist' attacks in Iraq should have been 'terrorist' attacks.

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