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Last Updated: Friday, 6 May, 2005, 22:36 GMT 23:36 UK
From the editor's desktop

Pete Clifton, editor of the BBC News website, endures some of the most spectacular abuse to date, and finds time to ponder all the anticipation leading up to the "big result".


It's the end of a long campaign, the nation has been on the edge of its seat waiting for the all important result - a result that could crush all the dreams, or open up a glorious avenue of opportunity.

Yes, will Northampton beat Kidderminster to secure a place in the Division Two play-offs?

Less interesting for many people has been the general election campaign. I've been asked to do a review for members of the team here in a couple of weeks - but I think you should have a sneak preview and help me out a bit.

The campaign
Election site
The Election 2005 site
Hard to recall one quite so dull, not even the benefit of John Prescott lamping someone with a dodgy haircut in Rhyl. A bit of a flurry about the Iraq legal advice, the re-emergence of Gordon Brown as the trusty, almost inseparable sidekick, endless treacle to wade through over tax and spending, lots of debate about marginals, and er, well... As a result the traffic to our election site took a while to GET GOING. But in the final week we were clocking 640,000 unique users a day, and by 3 May the site had registered 33.3 million page impressions in total.

The night
We changed the look of our front page more dramatically than ever, with a lot of space handed over to live results and the map. I like this approach for really big stories, so you can expect more of these "splash front pages" in the future.

And that focus on results paid off. When it all suddenly got interesting with some wildly varying swings, our postcode results search was handling 1,700 requests a minute - at three in the morning! Who said no-one cares any more?

Site highlights
Apart from the quality reporting and analysis, I was chuffed with the "fact check" idea. It became a daily feature, and I plan to keep using this post-election to keep the politicians on their toes.

The polltracker was picking up more than 200,000 accesses a day this week, and, along with the results service, really led the way with our interactive applications.

Our election blog was a good way to mix observations from correspondents with users' comments, though we have some way to go before we crack the technology and present these in a proper blog form. The 3G voters' panel was a bold step forward on the interactivity front, and the issues grid a perfect way to help make sense of all the party pronouncements.

And we mustn't forget video - our first genuine broadband election, and there was a fantastic array of content in the election news player - latest reports, background pieces and even party election broadcasts if you could face watching them again.

Not so good
The things we didn't do and others did.

I was keen to offer an interactive element for the campaign that would allow people to answer a set of questions and get an idea in return of which party they were nearest to.

This is difficult territory for the BBC when it strives for impartiality and avoids influencing people's voting decisions. The policy brigade were not keen this time round, but I still believe it is an acceptable service to offer, it's perfect for the web, and I'll be pushing for it again next time.

Several other sites added to my irritation by doing this well, including FT.com's Political profiler and the Times' "Mussolini or Mandela".

We also decided against providing a mobile phone alerts service. Lots of concern that our rivals would kick up because we'd mess up an established commercial market. Big shame, especially when we could have delivered personalised results on the night. Another thing to campaign for next time.

And the beta site They Work For You.com is a superb resource linked to from various sites. An impressive low down on all your MP does, what they say, how they vote, appearances in Parliament, expenses etc. There are some very clever minds behind this, it's exactly the information that should be easily available to the public in a democracy, and we should be doing more of it.

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

If only we could do that...
Hats off again to Channel 4 News for the three spoof party election broadcasts they commissioned from the Quiet Storm ad agency. And the C4 site generally had a nice line in lighter stuff, including cartoons and doctored posters from readers.

Our biggest cock-up
Sending out a set of "results" from our election database to our results pages on May 4. Only for about five minutes after a slip-up during one of many rehearsals. And, yes, you noticed - Leeds North West, Preseli Pembrokeshire, to name but two.

Otherwise, we were braced for closer scrutiny than ever before. We logged every report we wrote to ensure balance across the campaign, and I think the level of care paid off. The odd grumble from the Tories about pictures of Michael Howard with old glasses on, SNP and Plaid Cymru unhappy about the issues grid being too UK focused, but hardly earth-shattering.

Your verdict
Never mind the election result, what did you think of our coverage? What should we do next time to be more engaging? Who can we learn from? Please let me know and I'll use it in my report back to the team.


An enormous e-mail box bulging with more abuse from photographers angry at my request for users to send in stock pictures of animals to help us out.

The vote on the column last week showed 71% of 5,700 voters in favour of the site asking for users' pictures.

It's about people taking part, not saving money - and the idea of people posting their own news sounds very interesting
Some of the e-mails were also in favour, including James Fletcher from London, UK: "I am a photographer... and love seeing people learn more about photography and improving their skills. The only way this happens is through practice and setting a goal. What better recognition than to be chosen for the BBC. For any whinging pros... grow up!"

But they were outweighed by the anti-camp, accusing me variously of stealing, taking the food from photographers' mouths, spiralling into disrespect, cutting costs and exploitation.

Gene Martin from New York, USA: "From a well-known photographer to you... how would you like it if the BBC had a direct news link where people just posted their own news and someone senior to you edited it and you were out of a job? My industry has been hurt by the likes of you. Luckily, as the majority of my work comes from the record industry, I'm still working because of the need for new and creative images of these artists... obviously, stock images won't do.

"Many of my colleagues have been hurt. Now with the niceties out of the way... you're a f****** balding moron."

You can vote on this one.

The editor is a balding moron...
Don't care
2193 Votes Cast
Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion
Well, I can agree with at least a part of the final paragraph, though more bald than balding. I still want users to send pictures if they wish, if they don't like the terms and conditions they don't have to send them, and we will continue to support the photographic profession with the fees we pay.

One will not be eclipsed by the other. It's about people taking part, not saving money. And the idea of people posting their own news sounds very interesting. And if it ended up being better than we could provide, it would be time for me to move on for sure.

Anyhow, despite all the rage and bile, we received some excellent animal pictures this week! Hundreds and hundreds of them, in fact. The best of them can be seen here. Hopefully enough to ensure we don't see that labrador again.

This week, how about modes of transport? Details of how to send them are here.


Mentioned this idea last week, and we've had our first meeting to map it out. Looks like we will choose a day early in June. Thank you to Diarmid Mogg of Edinburgh, UK, for sending a couple of blogs worth looking at. Baghdad Burning and Raed in the Middle. While Steve B from Sheffield, UK, suggested Chrenkoff for a different view. Feel free to send some more.


A few glasses were raised this week when the BBC News website picked up two Webbys.

Picking up two News awards is a big deal for us, particularly the "People's Voice" category. I can hear plenty of people, including some rivals, saying we ought to be winning awards with hundreds of staff, the licence fee and the BBC's worldwide newsgathering behind us. I couldn't agree more.

Well done too, to the UK's Guardian for picking up the Best Newspaper category, and to Boing Boing for best blog

And it looks as though, after a few quiet years, the Webbys are having a fully fledged awards do in New York in June. Sigh, someone will have to go. Any photographers fancy coming with me?


David Smith, California, USA: "'User' is a derogatory term to most people. Not a good idea to classify your audience as 'users'".

Gwyneth Paltrow
"I just want to say thank you to the... web developers"
Well that's a new one on me. It is something we debated on the site some years ago, and held an ad-hoc poll. The consensus then was "surfer". But I'm open to suggestions. Over to the users.

Blog roll
Ray Girvan, from Exeter, UK: "It's probably been said before, but when you have external links for news stories, how about including personal and/or unofficial sites such as weblogs? These often have high-quality analysis that you miss by sticking to links to 'official' sources."

Nice idea. I think our project to develop a proper approach to blogs this year should also include a strategy for linking out to other people's work in the way you describe. Now we just have to work out how.

Mark from London, UK, thinks the popularity of RSS feeds will hit a plateau because they are too hard to use. "It should be "Really Simple" and the BBC could take the opportunity to take a lead in making things really simple for readers to use this rather useful technology."

Completely agree. Still expect to relaunch our RSS services next week, and with it will come a redesigned help page and a really neat interface when you first click on an RSS feed. I think it makes things a lot easier, but let me know.

Column confusion
Jenny, New York, US: "Found you again by accident. Monumentally boring today!"

Jenny, I'm going to find you when I come to the Webbys. Boring? And to everyone else still sounding off about not being able to find the column, it should always be promoted on the front page of our two sites on a Friday. Maybe over the weekend too, but if not, go to the search box and search for "From the Editor's Desktop".

Mixing a pomposity tablet into his humble pie, Timon from Bath, UK, writes again: "Against my better judgement I plugged in my PC again. And your column is showing signs of improvement. Thank you for pulling yourself together."

Geoffrey Negus, Solihull, UK: "Your editor's comment column is mostly egotistical waffle. He could make the points twice as effectively with half the words. Why should we care that he was born in Northampton? Hasn't he anything better to do?"

No, sorry. So best avoid the front page on Fridays.

Siobhan, Stroud, UK: "Pete Clifton you are my hope and my aspiration! This column is the best read I know about on the web!"

I've walked the Cotswold Way, I know Stroud, I'm on my way round.

Jarrod from Hobart, Australia, continued the wave of fan mail from blokes, with a message I am too embarrassed to repeat, but I think what you suggest I'd have to do to get a story from you is a bit much.

And thanks to Andy from Derbyshire, UK, for tempering the Hobart euphoria. "Well 'Pete', you smug little oik, you're very, very pleased with yourself, are you not? Let me take this opportunity to warn you that those who dump, get dumped on. What goes round, comes round etc."

Shaking in my boots. Will ponder on the flight to New York.

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