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Last Updated: Friday, 15 April, 2005, 10:07 GMT 11:07 UK
From the editor's desktop
Francis Rossi

Pete Clifton, editor (for now) of the BBC News website, takes a look back at a week in the newsroom - and to some unusual days ahead.

IN THE PICTURE

It's great to be part of a high-profile site, and with it comes a lot of scrutiny. This week, our pictures are under the microscope - the quality of some "stock" pictures and the captions we use.

Steve Grindle, from London, UK, observes: "While the pictures do a good job of illustrating the stories, the captions that accompany them often bear little link to the picture, are just lines paraphrased from the news story. They provide no extra information to the reader and are noticeably not of the same quality as the accompanying story."

We have a style guide, running to several hundred pages, and this is what it says about captions.

Not sure about the style guru's obsession with the Simpsons, but you, well, get the picture. The captions should give you a guide to the picture and should not be totally unrelated, of course. Time to amend the guide a bit.

Stressed bloke
Health chiefs have warned about a spate of over-sized tooth picks
Meanwhile, this site puts our pictures under the spotlight for a different reason. A selection of the toe-curling stock pictures we use, again and again, for particular reports. Hats off, it's a very amusing proposition.

We do paint ourselves into a bit of a corner on this. The reports that appear near the top of our indices require a picture, and that is where the avalanche of police car doors, scales of justice, unhappy children sitting on doorsteps, cow looking over fence, anonymous gay couple holding hands etc etc etc really kick in.

It shouldn't be such a problem on the major stories of the day, when agencies are filing pictures we can use, but on our more local indices it's a struggle. Maps can be used where possible, and on stories themselves we can manage without a picture, like here.

In the longer term, how about getting users to send in the pictures? There are more cameras out there than we have at our disposal.


In the meantime we should try harder on some of these stock shockers. And do I mind sites that take a pop at us like this? No - we strive for excellence, we should be on our toes and ready to accept constructive criticism.

If you have any, click here.

We can always find the odd howler of our own, of course. This (above, right) was an interesting one sent to me by a colleague recently.

(The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites.)

ED IN BED

Good news. The first person invited to come along and be this website's editor for the day has agreed.

David McDowell, from Lockerbie in Scotland, has written in a couple of times to suggest I'm a bit of a chump. Few would argue.

He likened me to a particularly private part of the anatomy over my approach to "by-lines" on the site, and observed last week that David Brent and I had a fair bit in common.

But to his great credit he has agreed to come down on 20 April and help run the site - make suggestions in the editorial meetings, join in the day-to-day decision making and put together an alternative view of what our front page could have looked like that day.

David writes: "I was strongly critical of one aspect of Pete Clifton's management style: using reporters' by-lines as rewards for good work. His bold response was to invite me to try doing his job for a day! Who could resist?

"I'm accepting, not because I can do as good a job as Pete, but because there are millions of BBC News fans out there that would kill for the chance to edit this site for a day. I'm expecting a furious whirlwind of non-stop activity, but I'll be giving it my best shot and, whatever happens, you'll hear exactly how it felt."

I didn't know at the time of the invite, but it turns out David was a journalist for a number of years before becoming disillusioned with the business.

This experience raises some very real concerns, and well done to Mike Hughes of Houston, USA for spotting it. On the subject of having a guest editor for the day, he writes: "Good thinking keeping it to just a day - any longer and your job would be in genuine jeopardy."

Nice one. Anyhow, watch out next week for David's unedited view of what it was like here, plus the front page he put together. And there will be more invitations to come, maybe overseas next time.

All this can only add to an identity crisis that has been building up since this column began. This week, Ronan McGuinness, from Singapore, adds to the confusion. "Rossi, Parfitt? Looks more like Clive James to me."

UK ELECTION FEVER...

...hasn't kicked in yet. More like a slight snuffle and a tickly throat.

Labour manifesto
Labour's manifesto: Gripping, but no rival for The Big Story
On Wednesday, with Labour launching its manifesto Blair makes manifesto tax pledge, labs destroying a killer flu virus and a poison conspiracy our top story was, oh just click here if you must know.

That report claimed 277,000 page views, while Blair was 273,000. So there seems a clear interest in the main election story of the day, but getting users to dig further remains a big challenge.

Not too many complaints to the site yet, though getting the constituency profiles into some sort of order has been quite a task. Users have written in to point out various local details that are incorrect - my solution for next time? Get the users to write the profiles.

And thanks to the, anonymous, e-mailer who suggested: "The only way to increase traffic to Election 2005 is to change one of the letters in the title." I suspect our editorial policy department will intervene on that one.

There is life beyond the election, of course, and last week the News website recorded its second best week in its seven year history, with 145 million page impressions, including 28.5 million on the day of the Pope's funeral.

ALTERNATIVE VIEW

Plenty reported about that poison conspiracy on Wednesday and Thursday. And any number of siren headlines about the scale of the plot and what might have happened. I think our coverage was more measured than some, and I was very pleased to have this comment piece from legal affairs analyst Jon Silverman

MONITOR AND CAPTION FURY

Numerous e-mails about the loss of the Magazine's Monitor, and no picture caption competition last week.

Martin Willoughby, of Stevenage, UK, writes: "The only voice of sanity on the BBC, the Magazine Monitor, is turned into an Election Monitor. Is there no escape from this madness?"

Well, there is one particular fellow looking after the Monitor, and I have asked him to do the Election Monitor instead for a few weeks.

It seemed sensible to focus on one monitor and I think the election version is a great read. I know many of you are unhappy, but the Monitor will return when we've hosed down the particular fellow. As for the caption competition... in a rare moment of sober thought, we decided against publishing one and promoting it prominently on the day of the Pope's funeral.

Fear not, it has returned now, though it will also have an election hat on for a few weeks.

THAT'S WHAT EDITORS ARE FOR

I was disturbed from a late afternoon nap by the sound of giggling on the main news desk. The reason? One of our journalists had suggested a headline for a promotional box - "Grandmother Flash". It was promoting a story about a break-dancing grandmother in China.

Her note to the newsdesk, emphasising that this play on words was OK, said: "Have checked this with Pete Clifton. He knows who Grandmaster Flash is. He is my old man test."

YOU WERE ALSO SAYING

Barrie Williams, Ontario, Canada: "Regarding the availability of the News ticker for those of us using XP at home. We have been told for almost a year that you guys are working on it? How is it going? Will we ever get News Ticker?

Work is due to start this month (honest) on a new, state-of-the-art version of our desktop ticker. The plan is for it to bring in more headlines that a particular user wants (it's the P word again), and with a couple more features I'm keeping quiet about for now. But I think it will prove a new and exciting way to keep an eye on the site. When will it be ready? I'll keep you posted, we're working as fast as we can, and this year for sure.

SOAPBOX

Another stack of comments about the merits, or not, of contributions from users. Some feel it is a waste of time, others that this kind of interaction is central to what we are up to on the web. I agree with the latter, so carry on commenting.

Nick, from London, UK, said: "What I think would be a really useful addition is if the user could choose to see all the user comments that have been made rather than just those selected by a set of editors."

As I have mentioned before, we are planning a completely new approach to e-mail comments later in the year. It will allow us to publish a vastly increased range of e-mails from users, and we'll also be asking users to help lift the best ones to the top of the pile. Watch this space.

BUT. FINALLY.

Andy Mabbett, Birmingham, UK: "Stop. Using. The. Word. 'But'. To. Start. New. Sentences.

Or. Paragraphs."

Get. Help.


You can send me your comments using the form below. Don't forget, though, that if you want to point out an error or have a complaint you want dealt with, the best place to go will normally be our Feedback page.

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