Before I launched fully into addressing the concerns, criticisms and compliments in May’s monthly mailbag, I’d like firstly to apologise to the cruciverbalists among you (that’s crossword fanatics to the non-cruciverbalists out there). At the beginning of the month we received numerous complaints from regular users of our weekly crossword asking when a new one would be available. The content was static for a month due to technical issues, but the page has now been refreshed and I have been assured it will now be changed every week as its title suggests.
Now back to the mailbag. Having trawled through the month’s comments, one overriding question crops up: how much information is too much information? Our aim is to bring you the most up-to-the-minute news, features, videos and all sorts of other cool things we think you will like as soon as we get them. This goes for breaking news, movie reviews, downloads and news reaction pieces. However, in May a few of you thought we had been over-zealous in that regard, particularly when it came to entertainment.
“For Heaven’s sake – will you PLEASE STOP putting up the face and name of the person who has just been fired from the Apprentice!” raged one correspondent. “Some of us can’t watch it until the repeat next Tuesday.” We choose not to put any mention of the loser’s name on the site until 4.30pm the day after the show, by which time our celebrity editor has interviewed them. At this point the person’s name is generally widely known, having been featured in a BBC interview in the morning and elsewhere in the media. In this instance, we have to consider the interest of the Apprentice fans who are keen to read the fired candidate and those who have yet to see the recent show. On balance, we think the interest in the interview the next day is strong enough to warrant a picture of the person. However, we may review this approach if we receive more feedback to the contrary.
Another example we were alerted to was in a movie review. “Thanks for totally ruining 28 Weeks Later…” (SPOILER ALERT: do not read on if you have not yet seen this film) “…by telling me in the review that Robert Carlyle gets infected with The Rage virus.” Was this tidbit of plot detail entering too-much-information territory? Our movies team strives to get its reviews of the latest films up as soon as possible and generally gives readers ample spoiler warnings. In this case, perhaps the reviewer thought the fact more widely known than it was or an integral fact to include. Nevertheless, I have forwarded the comment on to the team.
The big news story of the month has undoubtedly been the disappearance of four-year-old Madeleine McCann. It has, and continues, to touch the nation like no other story this year, and we have endeavoured to cover developments as soon as they happen. Despite this, we did receive some criticism for not having a constant update of the story on the homepage. One user wrote: “I am very disappointed to note that you do not have any information on Madeleine McCann on your page today. At the very least I hope you will consider advertising her website dedicated to finding her for people to log into to contribute to the fund or download the poster. People need to be reminded on a daily basis that she is missing.”
Since the story broke we have featured daily updates in our news module on the search for Madeleine, only now – at the end of the month – is our coverage slowing down. We appreciate the huge public interest in the McCann case and I believe our articles have reflected this. What we on the homepage have been careful not to do is emulate the sensationalist story-chasing favoured by some British newspapers, which has eclipsed genuine developments in the search with rhetoric and speculation spun into news at the expense of fact and balance. Ian Jones addressed this point at length in his blog on May 17, which prompted the largest response of any of our homepage postings. The overwhelming majority of the 330 comments supported this view. “This article was perfectly on point. I pray that Maddy is found alive and well very soon. But what about all the other little ”Maddys” of recent times?” responded one user. Another agreed: “Thanks for a great article. I, too, am ashamed of the media coverage and the pathetic excuses used to justify it.”
It is refreshing and encouraging to know our approach to this case is supported by so many, however, we do still welcome your thoughts on the occasions where you feel we have been sensationalist. One example brought to our attention was the inclusion on the homepage of a video in which a 91-year-old pensioner was beaten by car-jackers. Footage of the attack featured in our video module as part of a news item, prompting this comment: “I had a look at (most of) the video of the carjack beating caught on tape and was horrified that this could be posted on the site for all to see. Shameful really! What is the point of this video?”
I personally agree that we should have exercised more caution with this. The inclusion of the violent act itself did nothing to add to the news story and, in the current climate where phone videos of real-life attacks are being spread virally, it could appeal to the wrong audience. The video team has confirmed the attacked man recovered fully, however the comments about this video have been passed on to them.
On a more positive note, I’d like to say thanks for all your comments on the site as a whole and on specific articles. We received many responses praising our informative approach to subjects, most notably a health article on how too much water can be bad for you. “Great subject and content,” enthused one happy reader; “I found this subject very interesting,” said another. Finally, just to reinforce the importance of feedback to us, we relayed one user’s idea for an article back to our health editor and this month he devoted a whole feature to it. The reader felt we focused too heavily on diet tips and how to lose weight and suggested we redress the balance by offering advice on what underweight people can do if they need to put on more weight. Read the outcome.
What subjects got you chatting during May?
The month’s top five most popular messageboard threads featured on the homepage: