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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