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Last Updated: Friday, 5 August 2005, 10:45 GMT 11:45 UK
From the editor's desktop
Sylvia Sim
Pete Clifton, editor of the BBC News website, takes some flak for not paying for citizen journalism, and gets worryingly excited about great aunt Sylvia.


A bumper post bag this week about the merits of the content from readers we used following the London attacks in July. The overwhelming majority supported the move to embrace what "citizen journalists" have to offer, but plenty also asked - "Why aren't you paying for it?"

Andro Linklater of Kent, said: "What is utterly objectionable is that by following the BBC's policy of acquiring potentially valuable images royalty-free for perpetual use, you are cheating the very people you purport to serve."

And Anthony Singer, from Brussels added: "I think the real issue here is that, given that this material has proved to be such a mainstay of coverage of recent major events, why aren't these people being paid for them?" Helen Lowe from London felt the BBC was "using people's goodwill", and pointed out: "People taking these photographs could indeed sell them to a picture agency which could then sell them to the BBC for the going rate."

As I said last week, using people as eye witnesses on TV, radio and online is nothing new, but the technology available now means they are also taking a volume of still and moving pictures we have never experienced before.

Does the best of this material have a market value? Of course. This site, Scoopt certainly thinks so (and you can read more about the site in this story). And you can be sure that the person who shot the video of the balcony arrests of two suspects in London recently has rather more in the bank than previously.

But will be BBC News site be splashing out? No. People can send us images if they want to, and our experience recently has been that the vast majority of readers simply wanted to share their images and had no interest in making money. Others were very clear that the images were only to be used by us.

We were also besieged by calls from national newspapers asking to use the images. We got in touch with the amateur photographers and asked if they wanted to speak to the newspapers. If they did, we gave them the paper's details and they were free to get on with it. As a public service organisation we do not syndicate for commercial gain - it was not a money-making exercise for us.

If people prefer to look around and see if there is money to be made elsewhere, that's fine by me. We are very clear about the rights we have if images are sent to us at the bottom of this page and the photographer retains the copyright. If people want to be part of the BBC News coverage, and they accept the rights we outline, that is equally fine.

I may be misreading the spirit of all this, but so far it seems that our readers are keen to be involved and to contribute to our newsgathering if they can, and money is not the driver. I don't intend to set up a fund from licence fee payers' money to turn this into a commercial exercise. That's my position; we will see how the market develops.


Hats off this week to our colleagues in Scotland for another innovative approach to citizen journalism ( Society's final frontier of superiority). They are looking for a 400-word article each week, and they report an excellent response - and a stack of replies to the article.

We have regularly absorbed people's words, pictures and video into our coverage of events, and carry shorter comments in our many Have Your Say (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/talking_point/default.stm ) debates, but getting readers to write longer, considered, articles is a very strong development. We'll do more of this.


At the risk of attracting a heap of ridicule from you, I have to admit I was at an awayday last Friday. We were pondering the Creative Future for the BBC's journalism (I can hear those e-mails being typed already), and I was running a group looking at, you guessed it, Participation.

After a day of thinking, the group came up with three ideas to throw into the mix.

  • i-Journo (working title, thank goodness) - giving our readers/viewers/listeners a much clearer idea of how best to contribute. How to construct a written piece, how to take good pictures, how to shoot video, our editorial guidelines explained, how to send material to us, all that kind of thing.
  • School Pod Network - bringing schools across the country together with a virtual space provided by the BBC for them to unleash their podcasts (Wikipedia on Podcasts)
  • My BBC Comment - a way to personalise, initially online, the thousands of comments coming in to the BBC. You could access comments by country, by point of view, most recent, most popular etc.

Those ideas and many others will go into the pot, and the Creative Futures team will agree the priorities by the end of the year. So watch this space. But I think there is real mileage in the idea of giving people more tools and guidance on how to get involved.


Many of you will still remember our science and technology writer Ivan Noble and his remarkable Tumour Diary. Following his death a book was published collating his diaries - Like a Hole in the Head - and now I'm delighted we are pushing on with our Ivan Noble bursary for a bright, talented writer. We're gathering applications and will have a name in the autumn.


Lots of people to salute for original journalism this week. As mentioned previously, our department has a monthly competition - lots of work is nominated and everyone gets to have a vote.

The June team winners were One Day in Iraq, a fantastic collaboration between the News site, 5Live, and the World Service, particularly the Arabic Service.

The individual prize went to Ian Youngs from our Entertainment team for his professional, detailed and lively coverage from Glastonbury.

Earlier in the year, I also launched a competition for staff to come up with ideas for original journalism projects. Two of the winners have made it onto the site. Julian Knight and Ollie Stone-Lee have put together this excellent series on Breadline Britain to mark 60 years of the Welfare State, and Heather Sharp has produced this fascinating set of pieces on the young in the Middle East. Heather was our overall winner, and it is great to see such an interesting and different take on the region make it to the site.

And finally, amid all this self congratulation, I also had to tell the rest of the BBC News what my highlight was for July.

There have been numerous candidates in such a busy month, not least this telling piece from Niger which featured the horrors of famine and drought in the country a long time before many other media outlets, inside and outside the BBC.

But I chose this series of diary entries from "Rachel", who was on the train at Kings Cross when a bomb went off on 7 July. Brave, honest, revealing and inspiring. Citizen journalism at its best.


Plenty of people writing about my decision to ban things that think they are "blogs" on the site when they are not. Some people, amazingly, were also disturbed at my intention to stop writing this column later in the year.

Jake from London, observed: "The whole point of a blog is that it is scurrilous, ill-informed, opinionated and cool - all the things the BBC can't be. Blogs have their place, so does the BBC, which is to be the harbour of sanity and trust to return to after journeying in the stormy seas of blogdom. The BBC should not do blogs, for the same reason my great aunt Sylvia should not booty bounce - it doesn't look good, it's out of place and it could all get very messy."

This is quite offensive Jake. Have you read this column before? I can do ill-informed as well as anybody. I certainly intend to ensure the site remains that harbour of sanity and trust, but if we can crack the presentation of a blog I still think it would be a good place to have an open, interactive approach to this column, for example.

And, I'm feeling my age, because I am strangely attracted to the image of your great aunt Sylvia.

Sarah from Nottingham, wrote: "I love your column and was really disappointed to hear it's going to come to an end. I think it's great - every time I read it I want to invite you for dinner! (Don't worry, I'm happily married and not some crazy stalker)."

That's a pity, but I'm on my way round anyway. And don't worry too much about the column. It'll be around for a while yet, and I'm sure I'll be a regular contributor to whatever replaces it.

Just in case I am too upbeat after Sarah's invite, Jamie Dowley from Shrewsbury said: "I always read your column to see if it is any less boring than the previous one. It rarely is. Your articles are so dry they make the Gobi desert look positively damp. They are far too long and are of no interest, please stop them.

Jamie, why do you always read them?

And the leading contender for a visit to this site: http://www.nhs.uk/England/Opticians/Default.aspx is Richard Davison from, Dunedin, New Zealand, responding to the information I gave last week about where I was taught shorthand.

He wrote: "Oh, so you went to Harrow to study shorthand did you? Elitist."

Take another look Richard. I said Harlow. Feel free to compare and contrast.

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