Posted by Ian
A note about the homepage’s handling of the alleged plot to blow up a number of planes leaving from British airports.
Very quickly on Thursday morning it became obvious that this was a story that demanded far greater coverage and recognition than a mere link at the top of our news headlines section. Shortly after 9am we replaced the main homepage feature (a piece, for the record, on the most common everyday financial mistakes and how to avoid them) with a direct link to the latest we had from our three news providers (ITN, Reuters and the Press Association). The main image on the homepage was changed accordingly, with the caption ‘UK Bomb Plot Foiled’.
We were soon able to link straight through to a special report prepared by our news editor, and this remained the principal homepage destination right through Thursday, into the night and all the way up until Friday afternoon.
En route we held a number of discussions as to when and whether this should change, but each time we concluded the nature of the story, the tone of events, and the mood elsewhere online, on TV and the radio, would have meant any reduction in the status of our coverage would have been at the least unhelpful, in part disingenuous, and at the most irresponsible.
What did change, however, was the specific image and text on the homepage. This mutated from ‘UK Bomb Plot Foiled’ to ‘Bomb Plot Disrupted’ for a chunk of the middle part of Thursday, to reflect the official line initially being put out by Scotland Yard and picked up by other broadcasters. This then changed back in early afternoon. In our judgement, the word ‘Disrupted’ didn’t quite convey the scope of the operation which was now being outlined via by police and government briefings, although notably the BBC continued to use this word throughout the day.
Late Thursday afternoon we amended the homepage again to focus specifically on the impact the alleged plot was having upon Britain’s transport system (you can see all these different images and captions in Megan’s post below). Here there was further discussion as to whether this didn’t, in fact, portray an image of the country which those responsible for the supposed plot might actually welcome – in other words, acknowledging that even though there had been no attacks or destruction of any kind, the "bombers" had scored some success merely through the consequences of their ostensible intentions.
In this instance we concluded it was right to lead with the disruption, for this was how ordinary people were most experiencing the events of the day, and in the main we were only giving explosure to a possible plot that had failed, not – in the case of 7th July 2005, say – succeeded.
Friday’s coverage, meanwhile, focused first on developments in the police investigation, and later on help and advice for those whose travel plans had been affected.
A famous BBC presenter was once so bemused and flustered by the contrary results flooding in during a General Election results programme that he was reduced to repeatedly muttering "the situation is, as you know, a developing situation" – a potent reminder that, at some times, it’s best to say nothing at all rather than something that means nothing.
Handling breaking news of the kind that has unfolded over the last 48 hours involved making a series of value judgements on the homepage which may, or may not, have been right. It also required gestures of clarity and level-headedness, qualities which can desert all of us at times.
We hope you, our users, largely agreed with the decisions summarised above, and also appreciated the depth and nature of our coverage. We’re more than happy to receive any comments and criticisms you have about what you might have seen on the homepage over the last two days, all of which we read and all of which help to inform our approach to tackling this kind of story were it to ever happen again.