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Last Updated: Friday, 9 September 2005, 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK
From the editor's desktop
Pete Clifton, editor of the BBC News website, ponders the place for opinion pieces, celebrates an ambitious and controversial project, and finds a couple of toe-curling pictures to brighten up the weekend.


It doesn't happen that often, but every now and again the heroic team that handles all our feedback looks up from the wave of grumbles and groans and points out a stack of praise for something we've done.

This week the upbeat messages were for this piece from Matt Wells, a freelance journalist who writes for us quite often. It picked up some 400,000 page impressions last weekend.

It was certainly strong stuff, but it struck the right note for many. One wrote: "I am so grateful to Matt Wells for writing his article 'New Orleans crisis shames Americans'. It is true to a depth that I can't begin to express."

The place that opinion pieces have on the site is a tricky one. Readers respect us for our impartiality and balance, but does that mean we should never carry more strident views?

We won't be foaming at the mouth and ranting just yet, because that would fox our audience, but as long as we properly signpost opinion pieces they have a place on this site.

The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that the piece originally went on the site with a straight headline. That was a mistake, and it was amended to make clear it was a "viewpoint". All of which set me thinking. We are now commissioning a set of other viewpoints from prominent figures in the US for next week, and to follow up we will be asking readers to submit their 400 word articles on what the hurricane tells us about the US.

So get ready to send those in; the best will appear in a couple of weeks. The site has long carried hundreds of comments from readers on the major issues of the day, but getting longer authored pieces will be an exciting step forward.


Hopefully some of you will have caught up with our Born Abroad special this week. We pulled together a mass of data from the 2001 census and presented for the first time a detailed migration map of Britain.

I thought it was also a triumph because many other parts of the BBC ran reports about the data and then promoted the website. So, a joined-up exercise, well-executed and with lots of cross promotion - not always the easiest trick to pull off in a place the size of the BBC.

I suspect some people were surprised we wanted to focus so clearly on looking at how many people born abroad are living in the UK, where they are based and how economically successful they have or haven't been.

To my mind it was a set of fascinating data that hadn't been compiled before, and whatever argument you want to launch about migration, it is surely better to do it on the basis of clear, accurate data. Some areas, mainly London, have large numbers of people who were born abroad, others have next to none. Some countries are more highly represented than you would expect - Germany and the US for instance - and there are clear gaps between the economic success of people from different parts of the world. What's wrong with knowing all that?

And, importantly, we also commissioned opinion pieces to go with the data, offering contrasting views here and here, some analysis and, of course, your thoughts.

I'm delighted we invested a large amount of time to present this data clearly. But you can always tell me what you think using the form below.


Thanks to all of you who responded to the appeal for pictures of gross spelling mistakes.

Station sign spelling mistake
Sub standard spelling
There was a bumper crop, and further evidence that London Underground is leading the way when it comes to typing with boxing gloves on to titillate passengers during miserable rush hours.

Keep them coming. And, as you know already (look, right-hand column for previous columns) we are in no position to throw stones when it comes to spelling mistakes. And this is the person who was editor of the TV text service Ceefax when it carried the unforgettable headline "Education authority tackles dylsexia".

Anyhow, the pictures of foul-ups are good value, so keep them coming to yourpics@bbc.co.uk.


Keeping the spotlight of shame on us for a moment longer, an unfortunate picture appeared on a story about drug use recently.

Screen grabs of articles
Wrong and right types of grass
Happily, this is all a bit of a mystery to me, living in a household where a bucket of Calpol for the junior Cliftons is the only significant medication. But I'm reliably informed it is the wrong type of illegal drug in the picture and those in the know have been snorting with laughter.

Speaking of grass, which I suppose we were in a roundabout way, you can't fault this picture for giving a detailed look at the subject of the story. Yes, that's grass all right.


Thanks for the biggest postbag the column has ever received this week. More than 1,000 e-mails, the vast majority contributing to the debate about whether people overseas should have to pay for the BBC News site. You can see some of the comments here.

It looks as though about 70% of you were against any commercialisation of the site for overseas users. Not surprisingly, readers abroad were the most anti, while in the UK it was a livelier debate. The "it's our gift to the world camp" came out ahead of the "if they want it, they can pay for it brigade", but a slightly closer-run thing.


Back to the theme of hurricane coverage for a moment, we had another excellent piece on how the rescue effort failed by our World Affairs correspondent Paul Reynolds.

Another important part of the discussion following the disaster, and if you look carefully you will see how Paul has been responding to the comments e-mailed in to him by amending the article in two places.

We're feeling our way a bit with this direct e-mail address to Paul, and how to incorporate informative amendments, but it feels like a great way to work more closely with our readers.


User-generated content went a bit bonkers this week, as we pondered the best way to mark the final commentary on a cricket Test match in the UK by the irreplaceable Richie Benaud.

Delighted to carry this considered profile of the great man, and we managed to cast off our serious side for a moment by launching an unusual tribute to him - your Richie impressions. We got loads, all proving that Rory Bremner can still sleep peacefully in his bed. The audio file is in the profile.


It is pretty hard to imagine many positive things coming from the events of 7 July, but we've had a heartening note from Rachel, the author of a "survivor's diary" that appeared on the site after the bombings.

The diary was a remarkable piece of work and we were privileged to publish it. And now Rachel tells us: "I'm still writing so cheers for that, you and your colleagues have really got me up and running as a writer, and it helps me a lot.

"And even better, it helps others too. Kings Cross United is a group of people from the train who found each other through my diary and urban 75. We're going out to the pub, two months on. If you hadn't put my diary up, and the links, then we would not have found each other and been able to help each other. It was a good thing that we did, and that's because of the BBC website! We will drink to it."


Those of you who don't get out very often will know that I am off to a "retreat" next week to discuss the creative future of journalism at the BBC. Honest. In fact "retreat" has now been scratched as the name, and it is now referred to as a "Deep Dive", which is even more worrying.

Many of you have sent thoughts on this in previous weeks, and I will be factoring a lot of that in to the three-day discussion.

I'll let you know how it goes and some of the conclusions as soon as I can. Unfortunately, the prolonged bout of thinking at a mystery location means I won't be around to write the column next week.

So to fill this minuscule gap I've had another wheeze. There are several editors that work with me, covering all aspects of the site, and I'm going to ask each of them to contribute something to a joint column next week - from the editors' desktops...


Two things to keep an eye out for. Following our successful One Day in Iraq, we will be launching our One Day in Afghanistan very soon. And some of you may have seen an interview in the Guardian (registration required) this week where the BBC's new political editor Nick Robinson revealed his plans to write for this website. Well, we are meeting up with him next week, and have an ambitious scheme that will be unlike anything we've tried before.

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