Matt Jones

BBC News Online and the UK Floods

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Earlier this year, the BBC changed the way they present some news items on the news homepage. Items classed as ‘major’ started to get greater prominence, with the enlarged headline text and summary spanning the 3 columns to indicate that some serious shit is happening right now; after all, it's hardly ever good news that gets this kind of treatment.

As an editor, it must be a tough decision over which items get this level of prominence and which don't. Some recent ones I recall are the coverage of Tony Blair standing down as Prime Minister, and the pathetic attempts at terrorism in London and Glasgow.

It's a strange - and somewhat stupid - method of indicating that a news item is major and significant. Why should this be indicated at all? Why not present the item normally and let the reader decide on its significance? Why do the work of the terrorists by making stories seem more ‘major’ than they really are?

Furthermore, its usage seems to have revealed the Beeb's southern England bias - something that Humphries and the Today Programme team are accused of when they absent-mindedly give the weather forecast for London on a national radio programme.

At the beginning of July, major flooding in Yorkshire lead to the loss of life, the displacement of 35,000 people in Hull, and according to Hull City Council, a “humanitarian disaster”. While the news was covered by the BBC, they didn't give it the homepage treatment that the flooding of Middle England is now getting. As a result the British public, the Government, and The Queen didn't seem quite so concerned.

Granted, the numbers affected by the latest floods are greater than those in Yorkshire. But when news about bottled water being distributed to those affected gets the major news alert treatment, how do you make more serious news look more serious? Expect full page breaking news items with red flashing lights soon.