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Last Updated: Friday, 21 October 2005, 14:51 GMT 15:51 UK
From the editor's desktop
Another of Pete's doubles
In a year which has seen a new 007 and a new Doctor Who, there's change afoot at the BBC news website - editor Pete Clifton is moving on and up.

Click here to use the new Have Your Say system to add your comments.

A fatal flaw has opened up in the concept underpinning this column. I'm not the editor any more.

The eagle-eyed and idle amongst you will have had time to spot a small piece on the site about my sudden change in circumstances.

As my ever-loyal deputy observed when the news was announced: "Everyone gets over-promoted once in their career." Nice one. And as I pointed out to him, lots of people get dismissed once in their career.

So change is afoot. One of my first tasks will be to appoint a new editor for BBC News Interactive, which includes day-to-day responsibility for this site, and, er, maybe writing this column. And as the new editor almost certainly won't look like me, or anybody in Status Quo, this has to be a good thing.

And what's the difference between the editor and the head? Well, I'm about to find out. But in basic terms the editor is controlling our news content day-to-day, while the head is steering the department, battling over budgets, taking a more strategic view and representing the department inside and outside the BBC.

So it seems like a sensible time to take another look at this column. I still think it would be a much more interesting place to visit if it featured editors from across BBC News, updated on a daily basis to give an insight into decisions being taken in our newsrooms.

And it should be properly interspersed with comments and questions from the audience - surely, a much better way to be accountable than these weekly ramblings. An editors' blog, no less.

It's time to take action on this. I'll be finding a senior member of the editorial team in the next week or so to take a proper look at how we can make this work. So watch this space, if I'm still filling it in the meantime...


Yes, but how did you get the job, I hear you cry. Well, there was a proper interview process, honest.

Lots of the things I talked about were internal-facing things - working more closely with the rest of BBC News, investing in the right technical infrastructure to deliver text and video content to many platforms, that kind of stuff. So maybe I bored them into submission.

But if you wanted a few steers on more obvious things we'll be focusing on, the things I mentioned included:

  • a higher profile for video on the news site and better ways to promote BBC programmes
  • more personalisation
  • better, more dynamic ways to display user generated content on all our platforms
  • the editors' blog
  • exciting ways to build on the success of Backstage
  • better use of BBC correspondents on the site
Oh, and a few other things I'd better keep under my hat.

All that aside, I will make sure the department continues to strive for, and celebrate, original and distinctive journalism. Without that, we might as well give up.

In the BBC, these interviews for jobs are known as "boards", maybe going back to the days (quite recent) when you sat on a very small chair in front of a very large desk with a board of at least eight people staring down at you.

Awaiting my interview, I cheered myself up by remembering some of the interviews I have conducted down the years. It has often been apparent that people have applied for a job with little or no knowledge of the operation they want to work for. So always keep that in mind.

You can always try to cover for that though. My favourite? The candidate who wrapped up a bumpy interview with: "I'm sorry if some of my answers weren't that clear. I fell down the stairs this morning and bumped my head."

And the BBC board story of legend, maybe even true, of the man, who after giving a series of increasingly incoherent answers, said: "I'm sorry I'm not the person you think you are interviewing. I'm his brother. He's not well, so I thought I'd come along on his behalf."

Of course, if you have any humorous recollections of interviews you have taken part in, I'd be delighted to hear from you.


After much previewing (by me), our new system for handling comments to Have Your Say got off to an excellent start on Monday. This was the historic first debate.

This opening discussion was kept at pre-moderation, though we have the ability to switch to post-moderation on any debate if we wish. As the system beds in we will start to push this. Vicky Taylor, our editor of interactivity, explained more here.

The system allows us to publish many more comments, more quickly, even if we are pre-moderating. On Monday, for example, this debate received about 480 emails and we published all but about 15 mad rants. Back in the old days, when it was a much harder manual process, we would probably have published 50. So many, many more comments appearing, and readers able to help us grade them as well. Real progress.

The reaction from our readers was overwhelmingly positive, which is just as well because all our debates are gradually moving over to this format. And if you click on the link at the top of the page to give reaction to this column, you will find it has switched over to the new approach.

That means you will see many more of the comments I receive each week. Though I think I will still keep the ones from various members of the gay community to myself.


Two people write to ask about a familiar phrase on the site. Nigel Baker from East Sussex, UK, and John Richards from Cambridge, UK, both wanted to know why votes on the site always carry the phrase "results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion".

John wrote: "Surely the results DO reflect public opinion - at least the opinion of that subset of the public that bothers to vote."

Well, we are just making it clear that we cannot make any scientific claims about the votes. This is not a survey of a carefully selected, representative group of people across the UK or the world. It is an unscientific, elementary vote by people who use our site. And although you are all thoroughly decent, intelligent types, we can't claim you are a completely accurate cross-section of the community at large.

And last week's vote, by the way, on whether the (former) editor's picture should be appearing on the site had 33% in favour of it, 7% against, and a refreshing 60% who couldn't care less. (Look, previous columns are up there on the right-hand side.)


Quite a few grumbles about the seven days seven questions UK quiz now requiring a flash plug-in. Dave Stratford from High Wycombe, UK, said: "I read the BBC website from my desk at work, in gaps between real work. I would get the sack, and deservedly so, if I was to download the flash reader onto my PC, as flash is one of the ways in which viruses can get into a Windows system."

We certainly wouldn't expect people to require flash to access any core news content, but I think we are right to experiment with new approaches with things like the quiz. It is clearly a richer experience this way and allows us to try many different approaches than the basic multi-choice scenario.

Sarah Wood from the centre of the universe, Northampton, wrote: "Can I ask where the 'Today's headlines' section has gone? I used to enjoy having a daily overview of all the newspaper front pages but this facility now seems to have disappeared."

Well Sarah, my fellow Northamptonian, we had to change it a bit when we withdrew the images from the front pages, for reasons outlined in a previous column. But the review of the newspapers still appears every day on the UK index. Here is Friday's. Up the Cobblers.


A fair bit of flak this week for the prominence we gave to the new James Bond. Rob L from London, UK, said: "Now the choice has finally been made, you've put the story on the front page and produced the sort of collection of special reports that usually accompanies a major news event, not the announcement of the casting of one tired old film role."

BBC News spends a long time agonising about how much it should cover entertainment stories. Plenty of concerns about the stories you should cover, dangers of dumbing down etc. It has always seemed more straightforward to me on the site. We have an entertainment section and we should cover entertainment well.

It fits well with many of our readers and is one of our most popular sections. That doesn't mean it's more important than the major news stories of the day, but what's wrong with a bit of light and shade on our front page and beyond? If you venture into the James Bond story because you are interested, why not have a few more related backgrounders and picture galleries to look at? And if you weren't interested in Bond, there were dozens of other links to click off to from the front page instead.

The main James Bond story picked up more than 800,000 page impressions on the day, making it one of our top 10 reports of the year. I stress again that this isn't the start of some big move towards an entertainment takeover, but it's a popular part of what we do and that won't be changing.


For all those who took the time to write to say the picture used at the top of the column last week made me look like Francis Rossi. All 38 of you. Look, it's a joke. A running joke. It is Francis Rossi.

But the debate went off in another direction, courtesy of Mrs America, sensibly opting for anonymity. "Your picture bears a certain resemblance to that man from the American CSI/Law and Order/Police Crime Show... I don't know his name but he was the one buried in the coffin last season - you know the guy. Kind of. Not a bad person to resemble I should add."

Not convinced. Anybody have any idea who she's referring to?

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