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Last Updated: Friday, 29 July 2005, 10:49 GMT 11:49 UK
From the editor's desktop
Pete Clifton
Pete Clifton, editor of the BBC News website, answers criticism of the call for readers' pictures, issues a ban, and ponders the end of this column as we know it.


One of the features of the appalling attacks in London this month has been the extraordinary range of material we have received from our readers.

Many of the defining images of the bombings on 7 July came originally from users of this site who were caught up in the incidents in some way. Some of them can be seen here.

In the weeks since then we have received tens of thousands of e-mails, bringing pictures, video, eye-witness accounts and sometimes valuable tip-offs about alerts in various parts of the capital.

The contributions of our readers have not been a sideshow, they have been at the heart of our coverage. It's hardly something to celebrate at a time of such alarm and uncertainty, but there has without question been another step change in the relationship we have with our readers, their comments and pictures.

And with that has come criticism. A number of you have written to say you are disgusted that we are openly asking for pictures from readers when bombs have gone off. We could be encouraging people to take undue risks to get the pictures, or to invade the privacy of the injured and traumatised. People sending pictures to us on mobiles could have helped clog up the network.

First of all, this isn't a new phenomenon. Any bystander with video or still pictures of a major event has been the target of descending journalists for decades, whether it's Concorde or Boscastle.

There are just many more people carrying with them a gadget that can take pictures or video these days, and a generation of younger people who instinctively take pictures on their mobile devices.

If these images exist and they illustrate the enormity of an event, should we use them? Should we ask for them? I believe we should. The images helped us give a clear and accurate overview of what happened. These pictures could not have come to us from picture agencies because they were not at the scenes, of course, and many of these areas were quickly cordoned and screened off.

We will apply the same editorial guidelines to these images as for any other, and if we feel they are too graphic or intrusive, we won't use them. I certainly don't want people taking risks or behaving insensitively to get the images on our behalf, but I believe the images we used show we can meet those guidelines and make sensible use of material the readers want to share with us.

So appeals for pictures will continue. If you have a counter view, drop me a line.

As I say, the July attacks have been an extreme example, but we've had at least two others this week of amateur pictures taking centre stage in a report. These were remarkable images from the Indian oil platform fire while the tornado that rocked Birmingham of all places brought with it video from a mobile phone.

You can see more discussion about the sensitivities of asking readers for pictures in this article by Mark Glaser from the Online Journalism Review.


Well done to Ed Moran for stepping into the breach and writing this column for the past two weeks. It's hard to imagine a more difficult fortnight to be penning some thoughts, and Ed did an impressive job. So I hadn't better ask him again in case somebody here notices.

Ed tells me the highlight was perusing the comments you sent in. "There are some seriously odd people in the world," he observes.

Well Ed, the comments looked pretty mild compared to the ones I get most weeks. If you haven't had an e-mail likening BBC News managers to the private parts of a former Prime Minister, you haven't really arrived.

Referring to Ed's rise to the top, Andrew from Sheffield wrote: "I see the guest columnist is white, middle class and 'a researcher from Oxford', ie probably a posh-educated mate of somebody in BBC News and likely to get a job there in due course. Could be interpreted as a classic example of how like recruits like and elites propagate elites and a pretty revealing failure of an attempt to pay lip service to open access and inclusively."

Well now. As someone whose further education consisted of a few months at Harlow College learning shorthand, and who has only been to Oxford to buy a shed, I'm not sure it would have been like recruiting like. You're reading far too much into it, Andrew. I asked people to send me a sample column beforehand. I had about 50 and I chose the best one. And when I first dropped a note to Ed, he could have been the Beast of Bodmin Moor for all I knew.

On a more upbeat note, Pancha Chandra from Brussels, Belgium, praised Ed's work and added: "When Pete comes back he will have a bottle of champagne and perhaps a well-deserved contract for you to work at the editorial department of the BBC." Much as I'd like to irritate Andrew a bit more, you're wrong on both counts Pancha...


For the past couple of months our Washington reporter Kevin Anderson has been in town, and amongst other things he's been putting together a report on what the BBC News site should do about blogs. Kevin knows stacks about them and even did something like a blog for us at the US election.

The site has called all manner of things blogs in recent months, even, briefly, this column. None of them have been blogs, and our publishing system does not currently have the tools to produce them properly. So we've looked pretty dumb.

Kevin's report helped those of limited understanding with a few introductory bullet points on what a blog had to do on our site. They seem fair enough:

  • Minimum duration, even for event-based blogs, of at least a week
  • Commitment from the author to engage and respond to the audience
  • Periodic short posts in reverse chronological order with permanent URLs
  • Ability to take and display comments
  • RSS feed users so our users can subscribe to them without coming to our site

So until our kit can produce a blog that behaves properly, I've banned us calling anything on the site a blog. And when we can do them technically, I have identified only one as a priority - this column.

It will turn into a daily exchange between us and the readers. We will explain some of our editorial decisions, our priorities, answer criticisms, highlight quality content on our site and elsewhere, and hopefully draw other parts of BBC News into the process as well.

Clearly a big commitment, but a good way to develop this column's push for a more open and accountable approach. It will take a full-time senior person to run it and I'm afraid (pulls out onion, weeps openly) it won't be me - so this column will be self-destructing before too long.


I don't want to go on about them too much, but those pasty-faced boffins on the Backstage beat never cease to amaze. For the uninitiated, Backstage is where bright sparks with weird t-shirts and unkempt hair go to do amazing things with BBC content.

And how about this one? For all those of you who wish there was an archive of BBC News front pages, here's an eye-popping rundown of every update throughout every day. Great stuff, maybe the design needs a bit of a tweak...


Not many comments to respond to this week because your bile was directed at Ed. So fire away - if you don't agree with anything I've said, got a question about the site you'd like answering, or just fancy some good old fashioned abuse - use 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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The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.



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