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BBC’s #BringBackOurGirls photo error causes newsroom ‘anxiety’

The corporation’s news chief says its use of an image of a girl who was not Nigerian and not kidnapped has caused “a great deal of strain”.

The BBC’s news chief has said an incident in which the corporation used a photo of a girl who was not Nigerian that was trending on Twitter as part of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign caused “a great deal of strain and anxiety in the newsroom”.

Questioned about the difficulties in verifying stories and images from the internet at the London Social Media Summit on Friday, BBC director of news and current affairs James Harding said that when it came to “verification – I don’t take that issue lightly at all”.

He said that the use of an image of a woman from Guinea-Bissau taken in 2011, published on the BBC Trending blog and also on Canada’s CBC News, caused “a great deal of strain and anxiety in the newsroom that prides itself on its accuracy. Of course we make mistakes and we work extremely hard not to.”

Harding added: “The world has turned into a giant fact-checking machine. You get something wrong, you can hear about it pretty quickly. That can be painful and as you can imagine quite annoying when you hear about it but it’s extremely healthy for journalists.”

At the event organsied by the New York Times and the BBC Academy of Journalism, Harding also talked about the challenges facing the BBC in a social media world and said the corporation was trying to be more open and open itself up to new technology and ways of distributing news via Instagram, Twitter and other outlets. He said the BBC is “working with Twitter on a number of new projects” but did not give details.

Harding also said the BBC is asking how you tell a news story with an “image and a number [and] we’ve got a group of people who’ve been looking at you tell long-form stories. There are amazing opportunities in storytelling. There is a rise in appetite for news around the world.”

‘Most exciting time to be a journalist’
Harding said he thought, “we’ve moved from a world in which news was like a concert” and the BBC sat on stage and the audience sat in rows watching, to “being something closer to a music festival”.

But he said that although “I genuinely think it’s the most exciting time to be a journalist” with the new outlets available, “the most important thing is people trust and respect what we do in BBC news.”

And one of the fundamental questions when the corporation discusses social media use is: “How do you actually harness all the people who work at the BBC and the people who listen to and watch and use the BBC and do that in a way that you’re maniacal about accuracy and diversity of voice, impartiality?”

When asked about what the BBC could learn from rivals Buzzfeed and Vice, Harding said: “You take them extremely seriously and you spend a lot of time watching a studying them and learning … we’ve a great deal to learn from our competitors.” – © Guardian News and Media 2014

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