Wise after the event

Posted by Ian
There was a lengthy post-mortem in the office this morning concerning our coverage of the weekend’s flash floods.
On the MSN homepage we lagged behind the rest of the national media in elevating the story from headline news to the most important feature on the website. We didn’t make it our lead item, replete with full-size image, until Sunday morning. Until then it had remained the top story in the news headlines section of the page.
It was decided that this was wrong, and that we should have run the story as the lead from a much earlier point in the weekend. It was also decided that the story had merited what we call a ‘special report’ (a customised page full of stories, links, images and the like) on Friday, when news first began to arrive of the consequences of that day’s heavy rainfall.
For those of you visiting the site over the weekend and who might have expected to find a lot more coverage of the floods, apologies. Saturday was rather dominated by Harry Potter, to the detriment of much else (although we did run updates on the latest flood-related developments right through the day). 
The nature and scope of our flood coverage, however, touches on a wider issue concerning what the MSN homepage is for. Is it a site that should try to compete with the likes of BBC News, or one that should compete with similar portals such as Yahoo and Virgin Media? Would you like us to try and outgun the BBC in terms of the depth and speed of our reporting, or would you prefer us to leave that to professional news organisations and concentrate on being a diverse online one-stop-shop?
For us to take on the BBC would, at present, require a resource and commitment we just don’t have. It would be a fight we would lose.
Should that stop us from devoting serious attention to events of national importance? Of course not.
But I wonder if, in times of real dramatic rolling news, there’s presently a gap between what we think we, MSN, can provide and what we think our users want us to provide. I also wonder if this perception of a gap is informing some of our decisions concerning how to treat major news stories – the upshot being, as with this weekend, a holding back when we might have been pushing forward.
I confess some of my own thinking about this weekend’s weather disruption was conditioned by the way the last round of floods was treated by the media. It was all-too evident, at least to me, the difference between the tone and quantity of coverage regarding floods in south and central England compared to those in the north. The latter took a while to work itself into the national consciousness. The former was headline news the moment the first drops of rain began to fall on Friday morning. Indeed, I recall at one point on Friday News 24 cutting to a picture of rain falling on a pavement somewhere in London with all the implied urgency of, say, a Prime Minister resigning.
Granted this was on the media’s doorstep. Granted there was always going to be more interest in a "return of the floods" angle. But did there really need to be such a somewhat undignified stampede to trumpet the more hysterical elements of the story? And so soon? Much of the reporting in evidence on Friday afternoon made out that London itself was in danger of being cut off from the rest of the UK. Only on Saturday, in my opinion, did both facts and opinion become more weighted towards what was really going on in the whole of the country.
Anyway, it’s easy to be wise after the event.
For the 350,000 people in Gloucestershire about to lose their supply of drinking water, or those living in the Thames and Severn valleys fearful of what tomorrow’s skies might bring, what’s more important is the issue of why enough people weren’t wise before the event.
As for our coverage, we can dissect and discuss what we think was right and wrong and try to learn from our successes and failures, but ultimately we’re only as good as our next headline. And that’s a headline for you to judge.
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5 Responses to Wise after the event

  1. ian says:

     My comment on the rain we have been having, Given that we have just come out of one of the driest years on record (we still had hose pipe bans in the winter) we have just had all of that rain in one hit, the problem is two fold, 1 The ground being so dry for so long will take forever to soak away the amount of rain, 2 We are never ready for any disaster ? we all live in the world ? it will never happen here, it\’s time for the stuffed shirts that run our councils and environment agencies to step down and let the people that deal with these problems run the show, close down the weather HQ they are next to useless, it\’s better to look out the window to see what the weather is going to be like, than rely on them, Stop building on flood plains ? this hasn\’t helped the problem at all, get our rivers cleaned out and back into useable order, they are there for a reason, build up flood defences ? this should have happened when the thames barrier was built ? thats how long ago this should have been done around the country, and the reason for building the thames barrier had nothing to do with global warming, that\’s just a new way of getting extra tax from us, if the goverments had acted when they should have done this would not be a problem today.

  2. Unknown says:

    From my point on all on all these floods am glad because least this might make the people in uk start to think and take into consideration the other countrys around world were things have been like this along time it might start to make people think more now for others and not there selfs  

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