Thursday, December 10, 2009

And now for something completely different....

The BBC website used to be my main port of call for information about breaking news, and for background information on news stories. Indeed, when I first came online in 1998, they were about the only source of information in the UK - nearly all the other websites used to be American.

It saddens me that the news service seems to be going rapidly downhill... I am noticing more and more grammatical and spelling errors on the site. OK, I know, pot calling kettle black, but a) my keyboard is demonstrably the worst in the world (as shown by consumer polls/scientific testing) and b) This is a private website, not a professionally written and produced one.

Most worryingly, I see things which I think are of national importance, and require national debate, and they barely warrant a mention on the BBC site. They seem to be content to stick a few headline stories on the front page, and never to mention others at all.

The recent publicity over the family in Scotland who lost custody of their newborn baby - and all their children - allegedly due to a weight problem in the family, warranted no reporting at all. The many cases of Social Workers stepping into cases where any reasonable person would not, or conversely not intervening in cases where the man on the Clapham omnibus would have done, (which have been thoroughly reported by that bastion of news reporting, The Daily Mail) have not rippled the surface of the BBC website at all.

Their perverted sense of "balance" seems to mean that they are driven to offer balance where no balance is required. To me, balance implies a fair, non-subjective reporting of a case. It doesn't mean that if you wheel out a creationist to comment on something, you have to drag out Richard Dawkins at the same time. There are many circumstances in which no balance is the balanced way to report. It's hardly likely that a report on an anti-racism initiative would need a racist to balance it, for example.

A story I noticed this morning which seemed to offer promise of being interesting, about an apparent window of opportunity to deal with distressing memories, was grammatically incoherent in places, for example: "In the study, the volunteers were wired up to electrodes and given a shock each time they were shown a picture of differently coloured squares to make them fearful of the image - which they did." Which they did? Which they did...what? Argh. It puts me into grumpy old woman mode.

I think the editorial policy is changing to introduce more and more entertainment stories, and their editorial values seem to be dropping rapidly in inverse proportion to the sensationalism of the stories. There was a non-story on Tuesday about how David Furnish (partner of Elton John, popular singer/songwriter) was worried about George Michael (popular singer) and how unnamed mutual friends were asking John to intervene in some unspecified way. It was the most ridiculous non-story I have ever read, and it's barely even gossip, let alone news. Oh look! It's still there!

Then again, suddenly you find something wonderful on the BBC website: this is a slideshow with a voice over about the XMM-Newton observatory's first ten years. This is where I find it hard to remain grumpy. Perhaps it's rather English to have such an eclectic and eccentric mix of the amazing and the awful, on one site. I'd happily give up the awful in favour of a properly editorial approach to the news, however. Bring back the BBC news site! I miss it.


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