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Last Updated: Friday, 14 October 2005, 10:43 GMT 11:43 UK
From the editor's desktop
Another of Pete's doubles, a young Francis Rossi
Pete Clifton, editor of the BBC News website, unveils an upcoming feature on the site, endures shouting in capital letters from one unhappy reader, highlights another remarkable laptop excursion, and launches a vote to solve the picture poser once and for all.


It feels like we are on a bit of a roll giving you an early insight into new developments on the site.

Last week there was a look at our new splash front page, and the following day we put it into live action to bring greater impact to our coverage of the South Asia earthquake.

There was also a bumper reaction to our plan to launch a more open and dynamic approach to handling your comments to our Have Your Say debates. More of which later, and the first debate in this form should be on the site on Monday, 17 October.

Now, it's time for a sneaky peep at our new, personalisable desktop ticker, now being given a final polish, followed by testing and a launch at the end of November.

Readers will be able to select the local, national and international news headlines they are interested in, plus sport news, weather and business data if they wish, and the ticker will then run along with the relevant headlines on your desktop. It will look like this...

And if a reader spots a headline they particularly like, they can hover over the headline and a four paragraph version of the story will appear. If they want more, they can click into the site.

I think it will prove a winner, and provides a lot of pointers to the future - readers choosing the headlines they are interested in and making do with a four paragraph version if they wish. Offering different cuts of our news service to cater for different audiences is definitely one to develop next year.


Plenty of e-mails following the appearance of our splash front page for the first time last Saturday.

Some of the most intriguing feedback, highlighting how change can polarise opinion, came from two former leaders of the News website. Breaking off from the bowls, one wrote to say: "Liked the new front page. Don't use it too often." The other observed: "I thought it was great. Use it all the time."

Your reaction was generally positive, though some of you thought the main headline was a bit too big.

Linn from the US used a clever mix of upper and lower case and bellowing capitals to make her point. "Oh, myyy. Unfortunately your NEW NEW NEW "splash" headline is TOO TOO COMMERCIALISTIC. As a devoted BBC online reader who is interested in both high-quality news content and non-contrived webpage structure, these 'aesthetically-minded' eyes had settled upon the BBC page for its clarity of both clean reporting and visual appearance. I HOPE that I WILL NOT have to seek ELSEWHERE to find WHAT I would like to SEE!!! (sigh)."

Charles Thompson from Belfast, UK, spoke more quietly. "The splash front page is excellent. Viewers know at a glance that a major story is being highlighted even before they start to read. Please continue."

Overall, Linn, we were pretty pleased with how it turned out. We will learn a few lessons about how the splash front page could have changed to highlight more related pieces as the story developed. We are also looking for a way to reflect a major story really well, and at the same time find some space for other unrelated news stories as well.

So, work in progress, and as for how often we use it - that will depend a bit on how many truly massive stories come along, but my instinct is that we should avoid using it too often because that could lessen the impact it has.


Still with the quake, we put our new "reporter with a laptop and a satellite dish" project to good use on Thursday, linking up people from around the world with survivors of the disaster.

This was without doubt the best thing on the site that day, with some extraordinary, moving responses to your questions. Ghulam Fatima, an elderly housewife, asked about how cold it was at night, responded: "I am a sturdy village woman. I used to tease my children about the cold. I used to tell them that they are too soft. But now, without my family, I feel that I also may not be able to live with the cold. Every single man, woman and child in my family has died."

Earlier in the week, we also had an excellent laptop link-up with Joe Winter in Liberia giving a fascinating insight into life there.

As my regular reader will know, I am very keen on this format. It's a great way to join people together around the world. We need to do a bit more work on it though - figure out a design and the best way to present the questions and answers, and think of a name for it. I seem to have started, in the last minute or so, calling it a laptop link-up. But maybe you have a better idea? Drop me a line using the form at the bottom.


Sticking with this orgy of back-slapping, the August winners of our original journalism award were announced this week - the winners voted for by other members of the News website team.

The individual winner was Justin Pearce for his exclusive and dramatic stories from an undercover reporting trip in Zimbabwe. And the team award went to our UK journalists for the unusual jobs series. Some more unusual than others - our reporter apparently declined to help with the housework, made his excuses and left.


Interesting to see Yahoo giving a higher profile to blogs in its news search system. As you'll see, our writer was clearly short of people to interview about it.

This is an interesting one for us to ponder too. Getting the balance right between our reporting on the site and what other people are saying is one for us to crack. The new approach to debates on the site is one move, but we will also be looking at ways for us to link out to the best of the blogs.


I've just seen some stats for the bbc.co.uk homepage. I don't suppose these are in the public domain, so keep them under your hat. In the last week of September, the top link on the homepage was the basic "News" link with 4,039,409 click-throughs to this site - 18.6% of all click-throughs from the page. And the News RSS link on the page was a creditable 246,270 click-throughs, number 13 overall.

Some of you have written to question the value of RSS feeds to us. They will be increasingly important. It is another way to customise what you get from us, if you wish, and it allows people to link into our material more easily. Last month RSS feeds delivered about 3% of our total traffic, or 26.7m. Small so far, but a rising force.


Several hundred e-mails about our plan to introduce a new approach to our Have Your Say debates. If you missed the details, they were in last week's column.

I'd say about 80% were in favour, many hoping that their comments would start appearing after months or years of trying unsuccessfully with the old manual system.

Jane from UK was rather put out. "With the changes to Have Your Say, will you next be applying this to news stories? Just publish any old rubbish and rely on the readers to let you know what's worth reading? I use the BBC because I can rely on it to publish interesting, good-quality pieces. Sadly, this looks like a cost-saving measure to me, which will deprive your readers of the opportunity to see informed comment without ploughing through thousands of meaningless responses."

But Borhan Younus from Kabul, Afghanistan, was more upbeat. "Aha, great! It is a good initiative to attract more readers with deeper concentration. You know the web world is getting into a more competitive nature day by day, by providing a chance for readers to comment and have their say. The BBC's step will be a move forward to match other sites which provide open options for the readers to express their words. Good luck!"

First, I can assure Jane it isn't a cost-cutting measure. The new software is not cheap, and we have invested a lot of time making it right for the site. I'm hoping it will lead to a much greater debate and a wider range of opinions, and that must be a good thing.

Hey, we could even use it on this column, and then you'd see far more of the interesting observations I receive.

Oh, and to answer those who wanted to know why we weren't introducing the new system for debates in other languages, that's the next step.


Many of the remaining e-mails were directing abuse at me, one of the column's primary objectives. Mark Ziemba from Hampshire, UK, said the image claiming to be me was nothing of the sort. "The photograph must definitely be of a very young Francis Rossi." Mark, there was never such a thing.

Sam Goose from East Sussex, UK, commented: "The knot in your tie is disgraceful, Mr Clifton. You should learn how to tie a Windsor knot - it really is rewarding." Perhaps you should get out a little more, Sam, though if you are indoors you would no doubt enjoy this site recommended by Dwight Doyley of Wiltshire, UK.

The editor's picture should...
Who cares?
3507 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion
And to stop the constant sniping about my picture occasionally appearing on the column, Jon Harris of London has the solution. "Surely if democracy is a core value of BBC News Online, we should be able to vote on whether the editor's photo should stay or go?"

So go ahead, and we will act accordingly.

And thank you for the many comments about the hotel bedroom in New York with the extraordinary painting. Many of you correctly identified the hotel, many of you had stayed there and recalled the challenging size of the rooms, and the enormous pictures.

Hotel bedroom
Many of you grumbled that the bed wasn't made in the picture, but you don't expect to do that sort of thing when you are an editor, of course. Kevin Waite of Ayrshire, Scotland, suggested it was a Turner Prize entry.

And there was one e-mail I was grateful that I read after staying in the room.

Graham from Dunfermline, Scotland, wrote: "My wife and I were given that very room to stay in for our honeymoon. Who said Americans don't have a sense of humour? We had to ask for the very small table and chair to be removed so we could both stand on the available floor space."

Little did I know what had happened on that rumpled bed before. Goodness knows what the long-suffering Lacemaker made of it all as she wrestled with her bobbins.

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