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Last Updated: Friday, 11 March, 2005, 11:58 GMT
From the editor's desktop
Pete Clifton, the editor of the BBC News website, takes a look back at the week and answers some of your friendly, upbeat, angry and downright rude responses.


So what can you put on the site, and what do you leave out? How grim can images be, and what kind of language should fall through the web?

Plenty of criticism this week of our decision to use an image of the body of Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov (Chechen leader Maskhadov killed) and some of the more graphic detail from the Michael Jackson trial (Boy's brother 'saw Jackson abuse').

No handy 9pm "watershed" on the web, so you have to make decisions on the fly. You don't want to offend people unduly, but nor do you want to sanitise stories for a grown-up audience - and if we had to keep in mind the "my nine-year-old daughter could have read that" lobby, we could turn into a poor relation of the excellent children's news site, CBBC Newsround.

If there are important, relevant but unpleasant pictures we should be prepared to use them. Sometimes we can place them behind a "launch box" that includes a warning, on other occasions we should be prepared to use them on our reports in the usual way. Images of Maskhadov's body were a vital part of the story, my judgment was that the cropped picture of his body was acceptable.

And the Jackson trial will present a few challenges over the coming weeks, no doubt. The story mentioned above is a case in point - my view was we should keep the really graphic detail out of the top four paragraphs - because these words appear on our Ceefax TV service and various other short text platforms.

We then deliberately included a seventh paragraph that made clear the evidence had been explicit, and then outlined some of it. A perfect solution? No chance. But it seemed like the best approach to me - tell me what you think.


We have our main editorial meeting at 0915 every day. Lots of people, lots of ideas, lots of stories to suggest, chase and promote on our various index pages.

On Wednesday, proceedings were brightened by the editor of our science and nature section, who asked if we'd seen "Europe by Satellite". We braced ourselves for another revelation about unparalleled pictures from Orbiter XIIb or something, but he sprang up and called up this on our jumbo meeting room screen: Europe by Satellite. (The BBC's not responsible for external websites.)

What a top job - audio, video, still pictures, translations - you name it, a fantastic resource for working journalists - and any other Euro watcher - tracking exactly what has been said at the European Commission.


Thursday afternoon is thrown upside down by mounting rumours that a General Election could be called in the UK at any moment. In the next couple of days, or failing that, after the Budget on 16 March. Soon denied, and it seems the favourite is still a call in early April and an election on 5 May.

But it was enough for us to take a look at how much of our whizzbang election website would be ready if the call was now... answer, not much. Probably a quick rebranding of our Road to the Election index, followed by a stupendous frenzy of activity. If it was after the Budget, we'd be better prepared, so can you just hold fire Mr Blair?


Another little experiment took place quietly this week. We tried asking what our users thought about our reporting of a story, rather than their view of the issue as a whole. Look at the bottom of this report: Syria to quit Lebanon before poll.

It's an interesting idea (not mine this time) though I'm not completely sure how well we can cope with it at present. We ended up with more than 500 comments - some of them predictably sounding off about the issue, but many of them asking useful questions about the situation in Lebanon, helping to highlight the places where we may have assumed too much knowledge.

We are spending a lot of money this year on new systems to deal with comments from the users, and it can't come too soon. We need to allow people to discuss freely the issues in the news, without so much intervention from us - in the meantime, we are left to read through 500 messages and decide what to make of them.

That way lies madness, and when I mentioned it to a friend she observed: "What are you doing that for? I expect you to sort out how a story is written." What do you think?


A bumper response this week. I've read them all, and sorry they can't all be included here.

Many of them responded to David Ward and his view that this column was a waste of time and a foul intrusion into the "blogosphere", whatever that is. Plenty did not agree, but this one caught my eye:

Henry Pfister, Bangkok: "David Ward is spot on. The BBC website's good reputation is a mystery to me. I use it occasionally to find reading text's [sic] for my intermediate level Englsih [sic] students, as the form and content of your articles are suitable for learners of this ability.

"I would never visit this site as a matter of personal choice. It [sic] very concept is amateurish when compared to diversified and niche marketed nature of the online independent media, and as broad based, news realted [sic] web pages go, even the santimonioius [sic] Guardian's effort kicks yours into touch, although I cannot give their articles to my students.

"I fear you're simply trading on an established brand name. boring."

Good luck to your students Henry.


Lots of thoughts from you on better use of still pictures on the site. Plenty in favour, but others rightly pointing out the needs of those without broadband. Using small pictures with the ability to launch much larger versions was a popular view.

Some places recommended by you included the CBC (thanks to Bill Talbot, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada), Astronomy Picture of the Day (Martin Chresta, Derbyshire), China View (Ann Kiepe, Missouri, US) and Ali travels the world (Kelly Smith, London).

Also Rob Kendrew, Wiltshire, UK: "Those of us who have eschewed Internet Explorer and gone for Firefox can zoom in and enlarge pics on websites with a right click of the mouse. "

Last week I was wondering how best to explain the issues to users in the UK when a General Election comes along (as long as it's not in the next couple of days).

Matt, Bristol: "I've tried to do this by drawing up the main issues and inviting the parties to respond. Take a look: Partypicker."

Interesting stuff. And I can only dream of the day I could get the "Picker-o-matic" past my chums in the BBC's editorial policy unit.


Anthony Ward, Bristol, UK: "Sometimes I have wanted to respond to a news article on the website, or perhaps point out typos or bad grammar, but I cannot work out where to e-mail my message to."

Kay, Fleet, UK: "Have you as the editor realised that your sub-editing and editing standards are slipping? The most ridiculous errors are getting through."

John McGhee, New York: "I understand tight deadlines, but a few proofreaders would help. On the evidence, you don't have employ any."

There have been quite a few like this. We are publishing hundreds of stories a day, and every one of them is seen by a "second pair of eyes" before it appears on the site. In the heat of battle there are obviously some errors slipping through. As a gnarled old sub with a blue pencil in his pocket, I also find this deeply irritating. I may give Henry a call.

Eradicating all spelling mistakes may be impossible, but we can clearly do better. I am aiming to start building a dedicated subbing team over the next few months - and in the meantime, Anthony, if you spot anything amiss there is a "contact us" button at the bottom of every page, or try this - BBC News website feedback page.

Finally, some upbeat comments about the site generally from Elly in Newbury, UK, whose message includes: "I enjoy this news chat or whatever you call it."

Well, it's not a blog is it, a column sounds a bit dull, and "from the editor's desktop" sounds like an online sleeping pill - so what on earth is it? Let me know...

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