Reporting The Apocalypse

December 17th, 2013

Buzzfeed's predictions of How The Media Will Report The Apocalypse is gets so much right:

The Grauniad is on the case...

Their version of the Daily Mail's response to the bad news is also pretty much spot on, but it's way too long to fit here. Go and see.

[Via More Words, Deeper Hole]

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The Future of Publishing v5.0 beta 1

May 7th, 2012

Technology Review publisher Jason Pontin learned the hard way that Apps weren't the future of publishing after all:

[…] Tablets and smart phones seemed to promise a return to simpler days. Digital replicas of print newspapers and magazines (which could be read inside Web browsers or proprietary software like Adobe PDF readers) had never been popular with readers; but publishers reasoned that replicas were unpleasant to read on desktop computers and laptops.

The forms of tablets and smart phones were a little like a magazine or newspaper. Couldn't publishers delight readers by delivering something similar to existing digital replicas, suitably enhanced with interactive features, which would run in applications on tablets and smart phones? […]

Here's hoping that the magazine's solution – transitioning to an enhanced web site built to accommodate all sorts of screen sizes, complete with an RSS feed to let users keep track of all the content they publish – ends up netting them enough income to keep publishing.

[Via Scripting News]

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A gathering of narcissists

December 6th, 2011

Sometimes a picture truly is worth a thousand words.

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Readability improved

February 1st, 2011

From time to time1 I've been known to rant about how I wish the newspaper and magazine publishing industry would stop distracting itself with visions of paywalls and iPad apps and find a way to let me make a single payment that will be shared out in proportion to the number of times I read their various publications. Now the creators of the Readability bookmarklet have gone several steps further than just decluttering the reading experience: they're out to ease the process of paying publishers for their work along the way.

Readability is now an online service that both stores details of stories you want to read later but also divides up the monthly subscription you pay – a minimum of US$5.00 per month – between the various publishers according to how often you've read them each month. Several very smart people are advising them on this, and I really think this could be the start of something huge.

I've just signed up2 and installed the Safari extension, and am looking forward to playing with my new toy over the next couple of days.

  1. You'll note that at one or two points the punctuation in older posts has been corrupted, a consequence of my carelessness when I restored the sight after last year's hack attack. I'm going to spend some time this weekend cleaning all that crud out and restoring proper punctuation to my archives.
  2. One quibble: at the moment you can only pay your subscription via Amazon. I trust that they're going to offer a range of payment methods: I hadn't used my Amazon account in so long that I had to go in and set up a new card.

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October 1st, 2010


I will light a fire that spreads beyond your fences and into your house. I will set ablaze your dormant minds. I will turn your preconceptions to smoldering ash. I am the arsonist that will wake you the fuck up.

I will do this by creating a more visually interesting vehicle for the news, use a credible news source (BBC), and promote, market, and network. I will design a poster a day for 365 days in reaction to a headline on the BBC news website and update this website everyday with the poster and the accompanying news story.

[Via The Hickensian]

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"A huge opportunity to bring lefties into the mainstream as idealistic and principled independent agents gets stomped for the sake of making the heroes acceptable to the audience. It's sickening."

August 18th, 2010

Sixwing is right: Scissors for Hitler (and the ensuing comment thread) wins the internet today.

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Version 1.0

July 21st, 2010

Inspired by yet another controversy over news web sites surreptitiously editing their articles, Salon co-founder Scott Rosenberg offers a simple solution, as practised by Wikipedia and computer programmers everywhere:

Versioning should be the model for how we present the evolution of news stories on the Web. In fact, it makes so much sense that, even though right now no one is using it, I'm convinced it will become the norm over the next decade.

Today it might seem like overkill, but that's how all new Web phenomena present themselves to us. It might sound like a lot of work, but once it's incorporated into a newsroom's content management software, it's probably going to save time presently wasted on posting jerry-rigged correction notices. It can be presented unobtrusively, so that the vast majority of readers who don't care will never need to see it – but the bloggers, pundits and critics who do care can feast.

Given that the typical newsroom's content management system probably already does version control for internal use, this sort of thing should be a no-brainer. I'm guessing the barriers to rolling out versioning where the readers can see it is far more cultural than technical. As people who grew up with Wikipedia move up in the hierarchy of the typical newsroom, perhaps this sort of thing will become second nature. Or will it take the widespread adoption of user-accessible version control features in everyone's weblog content management software to make this approach seem like the right thing to do?

For all that, I suppose that you have to take into account the legal issues that will occasionally come into play – not least in the Libel Capital Of The World. If your newspaper has published a story on their web site and agreed to withdraw or correct the story in the face of a threat of a libel action, what would be the status of the copy of version 1.0 of the story, no longer visible via the site's default article view but readily available to those who chose to view the story's earlier version? I am not a lawyer, but I'd imagine that our learned friends would argue that the only acceptable solution would be to completely wipe out the original, offending version of the story, rather than just push it behind a 'View previous versions' link.1

  1. Note to self: find out how Wikipedia handles this sort of issue.

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True crime

July 8th, 2010

How can you resist a news story that includes this comment from the German police?

"What motivated him to throw a puppy at the Hell's Angels is currently unclear," a police spokesman said.

[Via The Law West of Ealing Broadway]

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News of news

March 28th, 2010

The impending arrival of both the iPad and News Corporation's Great Paywall has prompted a number of interesting posts about the past and future of print media.

The reception the iPad is getting reminds Scott Rosenberg of the CD-ROM years:

[These…] flashbacks I'm getting as I read about the media business's iPad excitement – man, they're intense. Stories like this and this, about the magazine industry's excitement over the iPad, or videos like these Wired iPad demos, take me back to the early '90s – when media companies saw their future on a shiny aluminum disc.

I thought that CD-ROMs were a pain: you had to have the disk to hand to access the content, it was a hopeless format for frequently-updated content1, and you might have to add a CD-ROM drive to your PC before you could even get started. A web-based publication is a very different proposition: all you need is a deceny web browser and an internet connection. That said, Rosenberg's thoughts elsewhere in his post about the propensity for media companies to imagine that all that's required to succeed is to distribute existing content via a new medium are entirely valid.

John Naughton is just glad someone is finally going to put newspaper paywalls to a proper test:

This is the kind of large-scale controlled experiment that we’ve needed for ages to determine whether there is, in fact, a real market for online news – in the sense of a market in which readers will pay real money for access. Whether the Digger's experiment succeeds or fails we will all have learned something useful.

Rafe Colburn reckons that the price of an iPad newspaper subscription is a bit steep:

Gadget afficionados are licking their chops, but what shocks me is the degree to which media businesses are head over heels over the iPad, thinking that somehow a new form factor is going to reinvigorate their business. News Corp is going to charge more for an iPad subscription to the Wall Street Journal than they charge for a Web-only subscription, more than they charge to deliver the paper to your house, and even more than a subscription that includes both.

It's the debacle that was the music industry's pricing policy for downloads all over again. The WSJ iPad app is going to have to be something special to make that look like a good deal.

Ian Mansfield sees a flaw in the notion of subscribing to a single news source:

[…] I don't methodically visit a news website and work my way through each story in turn. I don't have time for that. I gather the news I want to read, largely via RSS feeds, then I read the stories that capture my attention – regardless of the supplier.

In such a situation, am I going to pay £2 a week to The Times in order to read 2-4 stories per week? Not a hope!

I would however tolerate paying £2 a week to have the ability to read, for example 100 stories per week from a range of newspapers. The news needs to be quality writing though – and there is surprisingly little of that out there.

I'm the same: I follow individual journalists2 and get my news from a mix of newspapers and specialist sites. There's absolutely no chance I'd subscribe to umpteen different publications for the sake of following the odd columnist or specialist correspondent here or there.

It'll be interesting to see whether journalists take the approach of the likes of Ben Goldacre and Johann Hari and publish their work on their own site as well as that of the article's parent publication. It'd be one way to enhance their visibility to those of us who have yet to pay up.

If we must live in a future where most newspaper content sits behind a paywall – for what it's worth, I'm not convinced that the paywall experiment will work out well for readers or publishers, but let's assume for the sake of argument that it does turn out to be the way forward – then I'd much prefer that the various media companies pool their resources and enable me to pay a single subscription that allows me to access a reasonable number of articles across various publications.

As with online music, I'm quite willing to pay for convenient access to a decent range of content: I just want the industry to hurry up and understand the need to change their business model to reflect the strengths of a new medium and the demands of an audience that has grown up consuming their print media online, as opposed to adopting the music industry model of frittering away a decade wishing the future would go away.

  1. Especially given that home internet usage was by no means commonplace in the early/mid 1990s, so downloading updated supplementary content wasn't terribly practical.
  2. I find Journalisted immensely useful.

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Of course, you realise this means war…

February 23rd, 2010

War! What is it good for?


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Finishing, versus Marking As Read

December 20th, 2009

Phil Gyford, inspired by the concept video for Mag+,1 picked up on what he sees as a big advantage of the Mag+ concept:

Something that emerged in the research that was really interesting was that [magazines] can be completed, that they’re very knowable, that one can read through it, and finish it, and have a sense that they’ve consumed an editorial package, without necessarily the endless, infinitely expanding RSS feed, for example, where there really is no end.

This idea – that you can finish reading a magazine – is such a fundamental and obvious one that I suspect it's taken entirely for granted. And, because of that, it's all too easily thrown out when thinking about electronic magazines and newspapers etc.

Maybe it's spending so long consuming news and current affairs coverage via RSS feeds, but I think I've trained myself out of the expectation that news is delivered in a discrete bundle that I need to get to the end of. I no longer feel guilty about marking bunches of old news items as Read instead of ploughing through them.2

  1. A digital magazine, destined to show up in the real world just as soon as we get truly lightweight, thin cheap tablet computers with touchscreens that ordinary people will be willing to spend money on. In other words, maybe a decade from now.
  2. Google Reader's Mark Items Older Than [A Day|A Week|A Month] As Read command is a huge help here: I can leave some folders for a few days, then decide during a weekend news catch-up session whether to focus on the last 24 hours of news of a particular set of feeds.

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Sources of subsidy

November 28th, 2009

Jay Rosen has a few thoughts about funding journalism:

I was asked to speak recently at a conference organized by Yale University with the title "Journalism & The New Media Ecology: Who Will Pay The Messenger?" This irritated me. The question should have been "who will subsidize news production?" because news production has always been subsidized by someone or something. Very rarely have users paid directly the costs of editorial production. […]

Rosen goes on to list a total of 19 sources of subsidy. There's no single source of funding that'll fix the problems of the newspaper business – not that those problems are entirely financial in nature anyway – but there are a lot of ideas out there that need to be tested to destruction, preferably before we resort to item #1 of Rosen's list.1

[Via Memex 1.1]

  1. Government subsidy.

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Scare stories

August 15th, 2009

A timeline of global media scare stories. Judging by that chart, we're living in the Decade of Diseases.

I wonder why the chart doesn't show the numbers for stories about 'terrorism'.1 Isn't that truly the 'scare story' of the last decade by a country mile?


  1. Be that articles about actual terrorist acts, or stories using the prospect of terrorist acts as a justification for whatever course of action the author advocates.

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Because editing robots.txt is just too difficult

July 25th, 2009

A lot of people are distinctly sceptical about the announcement that Associated Press plans to crack down on unpaid use of articles on the web:

Each article – and, in the future, each picture and video – would go out with what The A.P. called a digital "wrapper," data invisible to the ordinary consumer that is intended, among other things, to maximize its ranking in Internet searches. The software would also send signals back to The A.P., letting it track use of the article across the Web.

AP are keeping quiet about how this can be done, but perhaps it's a simple four-step process.

  1. Update their robots.txt file.
  2. Build a proprietary, DRM-laden news client that runs over the internet but bypasses the web entirely.
  3. ?
  4. Profit!

It worked for Apple with the iTunes Store. Why not for AP?

"If someone can build multibillion-dollar businesses out of keywords, we can build multihundred-million businesses out of headlines, and we're going to do that," [A.P. president and CEO] Mr. Curley said.

I think Mr Curley is underestimating the size of the business opportunity that presents itself. If AP's techies have really come up with a bulletproof way to let your content out on the web and have people link to and embed it whilst ensuring that you can track its use and demand that they pay for it1 then AP can make billions out of licensing their wondrous new technology to the music industry, the film industry, the book publishing business and the games industry. C'mon guys, think big!

On the other hand, it could turn out that within an week of AP releasing their new toy into the wild there'll be a Firefox add-in to unravel their 'wrapper', then within a month there will be plugins and bookmarklets to do the same for any modern web browser.

[NYT story via Fimoculous]

  1. Leaving to one side, for the time being, the question of how this proposition interacts with the concept of fair use.

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Kill or cure?

July 23rd, 2009

Kill or cure?

Help to make sense of the Daily Mail’s ongoing effort to classify every inanimate object into those that cause cancer and those that prevent it.

[Via Ben Goldacre]

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The Future of Feed Readers

July 21st, 2009

Alex Payne bemoans the state of the current crop of feed readers:

[…] Feed readers as we've known them are dying, but it's as yet unclear what will take their place. Filtering feeds for relevance algorithmically seems all but fruitless; filtering through the social graph is only a slight improvement, but misses the rare content that may only strike a chord with a small audience.

I don't think using the social graph to filter or rate content adds very much to the feed reading experience. In the end, I pick the feeds I read because I've seen something in a site that tells me that I want to keep track of what that person posts. Whether one of a pool of 'friends' agrees that any given site or post is interesting is beside the point, particularly since any given 'friend' may well share only some of my interests. Maintaining a sufficiently large pool of online 'friends' to cover all my interests is a lot more work than just selecting the Mark Feed As Read menu option every once in a while to clear a backlog.

Sometimes you just can't read everything, any more than you can commit to always reading every section of your chosen Sunday paper from cover to cover by the end of Sunday evening.

[Via Daring Fireball]

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July 18th, 2009

Reading the MetaFilter thread about the death of Walter Cronkite, a.k.a. "The Most Trusted Man in America", I wondered who would hold the title in the UK.

I'm not sure any of our TV journalists, current or retired, would take the title; there are several who had a good run as the face of the news on the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 – Trevor McDonald, Jon Snow, Robin Day, Richard Dimbleby1, Jeremy Paxman – but I don't think there's one pre-eminent personality who the nation 'trusted' the way a lot of Americans of a certain age did Cronkite.2

Looking beyond the world of news and current affairs programming, it struck me that (for anyone born in the last fifty years or so) there's really only one candidate for the title of "Most Trusted [Man|Woman] on British TV": the one, the only David Attenborough.3

  1. He was before my time, but they named a whole lecture series after him so someone clearly thought he'd set a high standard.
  2. There are plenty of other trustworthy TV journalists I'd add to the list – the likes of Kate Adie, Charles Wheeler, Tim Sebastian – but they were more roving reporters who'd spend a couple of years covering a particular beat than personalities who would come into your house every weekday evening to bring you the day's news.
  3. The evidence is mixed as to whether anyone would agree with me. The Daily Telegraph reported earlier this year that the Queen was the most trusted Briton, whereas the most highly-trusted media figures included Stephen Fry and Jamie Oliver with no mention made of Attenborough. By contrast, the Sun reported in 2006 that a survey for Readers Digest had found that David Attenborough was our most trusted public figure, with Trevor McDonald second and Rolf Harris – Rolf Harris! – third.


Ad evolution

June 24th, 2009

The Evolution of Online Journalism.

(Alternative title: Why I Love Privoxy and ClickToFlash.)

[Via currybetdotnet]

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Does a bear scat in the woods?

June 20th, 2009

Is this the most amateurish local TV news report ever broadcast?

[Via MetaFilter]

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A firestorm in 140 characters

April 14th, 2009

Meg Pickard's post about AmazonFAIL is far and away the sanest, most balanced account I've read of the whole sorry affair.

There's a great deal to be learned from this fiasco; not just for Amazon, but also by users1 of social media.

  1. Where 'users' means both those posting messages and those reading and reacting to them.

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