Upcoming paper on the BBC’s coverage of the Mumbai attacks

September 1, 2010

Just a note to let you know that later this month I’ll be speaking about the BBC’s coverage of the Mumbai attacks in 2008.

The paper is a case study of the BBC’s adoption of live text commentary to report breaking news. Indeed, Mumbai was the first time the BBC had used a ‘live-blogging’ format to cover a major terror attack.

I’ll be giving the talk at Westminster University’s ‘Global Media and the "War on Terror"’ conference on 14th September.

Abstract

The emergence of instant global communication technology has placed pressure on competing media organisations to publish news information at great speed (Gowing, 2009). In the event of an ongoing breaking news crisis, online journalists have begun to adopt live updates or live blogs as a way of disseminating news information quickly from a variety of sources (Newman, 2009).   

The BBC’s use of this format during the Mumbai attacks in 2008 was the first time the organisation had used live updates to cover a major terror attack. The BBC’s coverage won an Online News Association award and appeared popular with the online audience. The live update pages, however, raised a number of editorial questions both within (Herrmann, 2008) and outside the Corporation (Sutcliffe, 2008).

The inclusion of audience material from Twitter was a particular concern. Based on a content analysis of the BBC’s Mumbai live update pages, interviews with journalists who worked on the story and internal documents, this paper considers the impact that ‘live blogging’ a terror attack has on the BBC’s editorial process and journalism. 

The paper demonstrates that the imperative of ‘getting news out there’ meant BBC journalists often published news material on the live update pages on the basis of a single source using attribution to distance the BBC from the accuracy of the information.  

It also argues that the concept of ‘news as conversation’ is limited by the context of a breaking news security story where a serious tone is expected and careless reporting might jeopardise human life. Although the ‘live blog’ format did facilitate the inclusion of audience comment, the extent to which it should be included was contested both on practical and editorial grounds.