Archive for February, 2010

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Image by jlori via Flickr

This is interesting. I didn’t know much at all about Google’s tie up with the New York Times and the Washington Post, but apparently this little Living Stories project is going open source, which means all types of online publishers could be picking it up.

Don’t know where I’ve been to have missed it (not reading the Times or Post enough, I guess), but it looks pretty damn useful for tracking a story. I’ve become a real Google News user in the last few years – make that every day.

And while I’m not aware of many non-news/non-media people using it too much, it’s a great tool of the trade, for even casual news-observers. Think the same might become of Living Stories – just another part of a big Google finger in the news pie.

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The Sydney Morning Herald
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The Managing Director of the ABC, Mark Scott, recently gave a speech to the Melbourne Press Club in which he outlined his visions for ‘Aunty’ in the years to come.

There were anumber of interesting takes on major themes in journalism – the need to keep investigative journalism strong, using social-networks for promotional causes (‘reaching audiences’ etc), and the tabloidisation of trusted brands in the online space.

“I wonder sometimes if the instant metrics generated in the online world are increasing the temptation to be tabloid in choosing news, pictures and headlines – to draw the eyeballs and the click-through – just as a tabloid designs page one to drive response from the newsstand”, Scott said.

Coming from several years back in the UK, it’s fair to say that the leading broadsheets on the left and right, The Guardian and The Telegraph, have done reasonably well in avoiding this dumbing down. I carried out a dissertation for a masters around 18 months ago, and found despite the fact articles about popstars and football rated very well indeed – usually at the top – online editors still resisted putting them in the most prominent positions, more often than not. Search engines, in-bound links and general curiosity brought people to them. Leaving aside tabloids proper, the same could not be said of ‘midrange’ papers, namely the Daily Mail, which pursue far more celebrity based ‘news’ online than it does in print – and does well in the ratings because of it.

“There is nothing wrong with tabloids”, Scott went on. “I hasten to add, nodding in the direction of journalistic colleagues from the Herald Sun. But in great newspaper markets – like New York and London, Melbourne and Sydney – the tabs and the broadsheets have operated side by side, offering different content to different segments of the market. They expressed themselves differently in many ways.

“In the online space, however, that distinction blurs – tabloids and broadsheets tend to behave the same way, as if the online audience’s primary need is to be entertained. The result is the kind of editorial thinking that means we get far more coverage – as has been noted – of Paris Hilton than Paris, France. More Angelina and Brad than Angola and Chad.”

There’s a lot in this, especially, at first glance, in Australia. You only have to look at the Sydney Morning Herald and the distinctions one can draw between the broadsheet and smh.com.au. The paper has fallen a long way with Fairfax’s financial issues arguably at the core, but as for the online offering, it’s getting harder to brand the smh.com.au website a ‘serious’ news site. Visit the site every day for a week, and judging by the homepage, it would near impossible not to call it a tabloid.

As for Australia’s public service broadcasters, the ABC and the SBS, it will be an interesting challenge in the coming months and years to ensure the online offerings do not stray too far from what viewers and listeners honed on what can arguably called ‘broadsheet’ principles come to expect – the ABC and SBS do not create tabloid TV – even if online metrics are telling us to do something else.

After all, this is what state-funded journalism and ‘news’ is all about.

As

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I’ve been thinking a lot about using the wires lately, and the good and bad that come from them.

In my current role as an online news producer I use them a lot more than I did in my previous role with More4 News, where I worked on longer-form, longer lasting projects.

Since reading Flat Earth News, and having it change my whole outlook and all, I’ve been looking more critically at certain aspects of the modern news media that may have slipped my attention before.

The wires are a case in point. All news organisations rely too heavily on the ‘news’ as agencies such as Reuters and AP, and in Australia’s case, Australian Associated Press, deem fit to report it. This is obviously well documented, but in the online age it leads to cock ups, such as mine the other day.

This brings me to Twitter. I tend to use it as a kind of feed when I’m at work (@SBSNews) but I saw for myself the clear problem of relying on someone else’s reporting the other day, matched with the desire to be first (take that, ABC Online), only compounded by using Twitter.

The issue arose with the ‘abduction’ of children from Haiti last Sunday.

“Just in on the wires: Haitian police holding 10 US citizens on suspicion of trafficking children” I tweeted.  I absolved myself somewhat by crediting it to the agency at hand – but how foolish.

It was made quite clear to me a few minutes later I’d made a mistake.

“Update: The 10 US citizens held on suspicion of ‘trafficking’ children members of a charity called New Life Children’s Refuge”, I was forced to backtrack.

So clearly, no evil trafficking of children for the purpose of kidney harvesting.

More likely a bureaucratic cock-up.

More spurious news organisations (I’m thinking of Australia’s only 24 hour news channel) were quite happy to run with the misleading ‘trafficking’ tag for a few more hours, even once it was abundantly clear, but I’d learnt a lesson: Put your trust in the wires at your peril – Twitter won’t be your friend when you make a howler.

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A good response from the Australian Internet Blackout campaign on Australia Day (invasion day, for others) last week.

According to somebody think of the children, 455 websites took part in the campaign to stop the Federal Government helping Australia to join China, Iran and others that we tend to criticise relentlessly, in censoring and filtering the Internet, mostly to please paedophile obsessed hype-merchants.

I forgot to do it – so a good ten visitors to my blog missed out there – but thankfully some forward thinking souls at both The Greens and The Australian Democrats helped get the political message out.

As it stands, the plans are ill thought out, costly, and far from foolproof .

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