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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 March, 2005, 19:52 GMT
From the editor's desktop
Pete Clifton, editor of the BBC News website, takes a look back at a difficult week in the newsroom.

TOUGH TIMES

There's no point embarking on a column like this without taking the rough with the smooth, and this week has been dominated by the latest announcement from director general Mark Thompson on job cuts.

A fair bit of the detail was covered by us here - BBC to cut 2,000 programme jobs and here - BBC job cuts at a glance, followed by union anger: BBC faces strike ballot deadline.

Several of you have written to ask what it means for this website.

The 15% cuts proposed over three years apply to most areas of the BBC, including BBC News Interactive - which includes this site, the Ceefax and digital text service and interactive TV news.

For us it means a proposal to close about 12 journalism posts directly related to this website in the coming year. We have yet to finalise our plans for years two and three, but by the end of that period we are planning to have trimmed 4.3m from News Interactive's total annual budget.

TV Centre
A tough week for many at TV Centre
Will you notice? Probably. Areas on the site where effort is expected to be reduced to varying extents in the coming year include On This Day, Programmes, Business and Entertainment, which are all reached via links on the left hand navigation.

It will mean reducing the amount of work produced in those areas, and our focus across the department will be fast, well-written news, background and analysis, and original journalism (more about this later).

For these reasons my other principal decision has been to maintain the level of effort on the World and UK news teams, which I think provide the engine room for the site.

Adding to the complexity is that the money saved in year one is aimed at balancing the BBC's books, but in years two and three money will start to be reinvested in new services.

Interactive and on demand services have been identified as priorities, so while we brace ourselves for sorting out a three-year-plan for budget reductions, we can also start working out our bids for additional money.

Quite a difficult message to put across when good people face such an uncertain future, but, personally I think it is right that we take a close look at what our priorities are and where we might be able to reduce our costs. But I would say that, wouldn't I?

Our reason for optimism in the longer term is based in part on director general Mark Thompson's references to additional money earmarked for what he termed "My News Now".

I hadn't heard this specific tag before, but it sounds like something we can really get our teeth into. If it means delivering news on demand to people wherever they are, and whatever device they are using, in whatever form they want, I'm up for it.

DECISIONS DECISIONS

Biting grab

If you'd asked me on Wednesday evening what story I would be approving for publication on Thursday morning, I wouldn't have come up with this one: BBC playing down biting incident.

In the interest of self preservation, the early team had held fire and waited for my verdict, so if this is my farewell column, thanks for reading.

ORIGINAL THINKING

I got a bit of stick last week for talking about rewards for good work, as you will see in the spectacular comment from David further down the page.

Undeterred, we had the result of our monthly original journalism competition this week. Each month, every section in our department has the chance to nominate the best piece of original journalism on the site. Everyone here then votes for their favourite, and the winners get a bottle of cheap bubbly, and their work displayed in a showcase just outside our newsroom.

This month we had two winners. Firstly Denise Winterman from our Magazine team for Canapes and Cocaine, 10 February. We wanted a piece to bring to life the various reports about increasing cocaine use among the middle classes, and this did the job really well. And the comments at the bottom helped balance things nicely.

The other winner was Tory Milne from our Audio/Video team for A day at Great Ormond Street. We are still feeling our way a bit with these audio galleries, but I think they are a fantastic way to tell stories. And they don't have to be stories of death and destruction to make them moving and compelling.

So that's what the team here made of the recent highlights. If you've seen anything that has impressed - or irritated - on the site, let me know.

STAT ATTACK

Next month, one of these columns will take a closer look at the working day here at the website - after several of you wrote to ask what we get up to.

One of the early tasks here is to take a look at the previous day's page impressions and try to draw a few conclusions from them. Not quite sure what Monday's figures told us, with a range of serious stories infiltrated at No 2 on the chart by Pork-loving couple say 'pie do' with 255,000 clicks from users, and straight in at No 5 with 192,000: Chewing gum can 'enhance breasts'.

Popular, but should we be covering them? You tell me.

Before we get too hot and bothered, two picture galleries have done really well this week, and deservedly so. This one put together by Anna Borzello - Africa Fishing Festival - told a fascinating story with words and excellent pictures, and picked up well over a million page impressions. And this preview of a new exhibition - The Coast Exposed - had some lovely images and also topped the million mark.

SIMPSON STARTS

Among the hundreds of e-mails from you last week, there was a widespread welcome for John Simpson's new Monday column.

I think it got off to a fine start: No 'Vietnam' but much to be done, a measured, thoughtful piece on the situation in Iraq.

It picked up 160,000 page impressions, and 800 e-mails in 24 hours. John tells me he is delighted to be writing at length again, and expresses amazement at the response. More on Monday.

YOU WERE SAYING...

Plenty of comments this week about the dangers of hyperlinks in stories. Few, if any, in favour.

Dan, New York, wrote: "I write in reference to the question posed by Robert Lawrence about links within the body of stories. In addition to being a distraction to the subject matter within the story itself, there are two other reasons why they're a bad idea.

"They create 'leaky' articles. The chances of someone reading to the end of an article littered with opportunities to pop elsewhere are small, thus detracting from the article itself.

"They go against accessiblity standards. Many visually-impaired people rely on screen-readers to navigate through your site. For them, stumbling upon a hyperlink mid-paragraph is both irritating and potentially confusing."

I agree with these thoughts. I think they are a distraction in our day-to-day news reporting and we won't be doing it. I think there is an argument for having them within the text when it is a conversational column like this and they are part of the narrative.

SPILL CHUCKER II

Some top notch responses from you in my quest to find good examples of when the computer fails to spot a howler, or introduces one courtesy of spell check.

George Garnett, Doncaster, wrote: "In the Cabinet Office where I used to work, the name of the 'Drugs Tsar', Keith Hellawell, always caused problems. Many a minute ended up referring to him as Keith Hellhole."

Heidi Topman, Teddington, UK, said: "I hadn't been using Microsoft Word for very long, when I had to quickly type up a CV for distribution to a selection of local employers. Aware of the fact that I usually make loads of typing errors, I approved every alteration that the spellcheck suggested. Imagine my acute embarrassment when I realised I'd sent out my CVs in the name of Heidi Tampon!"

And thanks to Jennifer Jones, London, for recounting the teacher's story of a student who, in an architectural paper, wrote about the concept of rooms being arranged "enchilada", instead of "en fillade". Yes, that one's a bit clever for me too.

On a more serious note, several of you wrote to point out that spelling or grammatical errors in reports were not only irritating, there was also a danger they could undermine a reader's faith in the accuracy of the facts as well.

PERSONALISED PLEA

Graham Nelson, Oxford, writes: "You mentioned that you're considering customising the news page to a 'My BBC News' kind of effect. Please don't! I don't want a news service which guesses what I might be interested in. One of the biggest services BBC News provides is to assess what events are important. It would be a pity to compromise that."

I agree. As I mentioned last week, we really want to look at personalisation in the coming year. But I realise that a lot of people like the assessments we make - to my mind, if we go down this personalisation route it would be an option you could choose to make use of, and even when engaged it would not be a device to turn our front page on its head.

That's a rather traditional view of course. Any other thoughts on this? Any other news sites or aggregators you go to where personalisation works, or doesn't. Let me know.

WHERE'S THIS COLUMN GONE?

Several of you wrote this week, surprisingly, to ask why this column was not promoted on the site more widely, and why it was so hard to find previous versions.

It's not promoted more widely because there are many better things to showcase on the site (as Chris will point out later). But as a general rule it should appear on the site on a Friday, and also be promoted on Saturdays and Sundays. It's up a bit earlier this week ahead of Easter, and the next one will be on 8 April.

You'll notice there is now a "drop-down" link on this page to previous columns, and you can also use the search box at the top of the page. Type in "From the Editor's Desktop" and you'll be overwhelmed by a torrent of tosh.

RADIO MAKES WAVES

Jamie Holden, Oxford, writes: "I know this might not be in your remit, but why can I not listen to all the football matches that Radio Five Live have commentary on and is there any chance that I will be able to in the future?"

Good news! Users accessing the BBC Sport site in the UK can listen to Five Live commentaries on all Premiership games. The BBC does not have the rights to make these commentaries available abroad. BBC commentaries from some other competitions, like the Champions' League, are not available online at all, again for rights reasons.

PICTURE THIS

Daniel Shaw, Cambridge, UK writes to praise the pictures of the front pages of the UK's morning newspapers - you can launch Thursday's pages from the feature inside this review page.

Daniel asks why it is not promoted better. We often do use a promotional box for this on the front page of the site or the UK index, but sometimes we decide there are other priorities. But you can always find the newspaper review, and the accompanying pictures, under "UK Newspapers" lower down the left hand side of the UK index. A link for the front pages can also be found within the Magazine Monitor column each morning.

PC PS

On the day the first of these columns was published, I headed over eagerly to the person watching the e-mail inbox to see what feedback we'd had. Was it hundreds, thousands, had the e-mail server collapsed?

The reply: "Well only one so far. It says 'Amazing, the editor is Francis Rossi'."

For the remainder of the week, members of staff here would respond to any request from me by suppressing giggles and blurting out "Whatever You Want", a song by Rossi, Rick Parfitt and Status Quo from the late 1970s.

This week, Steve Hawkins, Waltham Abbey, UK, observes: "I really did think it was a photo of Rick Parfitt at the top there. Are you trying to look like him or vice versa?"

All three of us are old, but they have loads of hair and I've got none. OK? And there's another helpful suggestion later...

And to kick a man when he is down, a couple more jolly asides.

David McDowell, UK, referring to my comments in last week's column says: "'I see [bylines] as a reward for special pieces of work'. Spare us from arseholes like you who think workers need 'rewards'. Thank God I don't need to work for you."

Well at least I whole-heartedly support your final observation.

Peter McCormick, New York, says: "It's depressing to read commentary from a powerful BBC editor who expresses himself in the style of corporate happy talk. I hope Simpson takes him to task for it."

Chris, Leeds, UK, adds: "I have rarely come across anything more boring than above. I hope John Simpson does better."

He did.

But in case it all gets too depressing...

Angus, London, UK, writes: "My only quibble with the website is that Pete Clifton's picture is nowhere big enough. Can't you make it a clickable thumbnail leading to a bigger image, or, better yet, a gallery? He's pretty hot."

Jack, London, UK, adds: "I'm a frequent user and great fan of the BBC News website - especially the rolling online video reports - as I'm never at home when the news is on. And now I notice that not only is there a picture of the editor - but he's a handsome bugger too... any chance of a drink sometime?"

Angus and Jack, thanks very much. In the first instance, your best option could be here: http://www.nhs.uk/England/Opticians/Default.aspx.

And maybe Steve could take a look too.


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