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Surviving the night shift...
Trial by Media
This is hilarious and sickening at the same time.
I'm sitting in the Telegaph newsroom, listening to an unnamed news channel gradually turning a half-Portuguese translator into a child abductor.
It started with Breaking News: Villa searched in hunt for Madeleine McCann
Nice and innocent and unspecific.
Within 15 minutes we had the poor guy's name being trumpeted aloud by triumphant newsreaders.
Another 10 minutes go by and one of his school 'friends' is saying something along the lines of 'Well, who'd have thought, and he seemed like such a nice guy. He does have a glass eye though...so, who knows?'
If it turns out that this poor man had nothing to do with it, that will no longer matter. His name (which i am purposefully omitting) will be ruined.
That's the problem with this particular channel, it is always so eager to be first that it tramples willy-nilly over acceptable standards of ethics
I'm predicting that their next report will begin with a photograph and the sombre voice-over:-
"This is the sick, twisted face of the as-yet completely innocent child molester...."
Will Google eat the news media? (Part 1)
(Reproduced from 'The End of Journalism?')
Man vs Machine
Ever since the Luddites began smashing the machines they feared would render their jobs unnecessary, man and machine have enjoyed a turbulent relationship, nowhere more so than in the workplace.
In the 20th century, as computers became better able to deal with ever more complex tasks, it often seemed as if we were heading inexorably towards the day when computers would no longer need us.
The wave of modernity crashed with explosive force onto the shores of the media in the 1980s, changing the face of the industry completely as money men slashed and burned, cutting back on centuries-old institutions with the enthusiasm of a gardener trimming a privet hedge.
Now, as the 20th century begins to fade into memory, journalists are facing the old enemy again: the machines are taking over.
With newspapers struggling to make sense of it all, everyone is beginning to feel the pinch. Experienced reporters and part-time editing staff alike are being politely shown the door, as the industry finds new ways to cut costs.
But for those who are still standing at the end of this great cull, what kind of industry will be left?
The pessimist’s scenario is easy to envisage: a press where stories are no longer unearthed but generated, where news is no longer investigated but aggregated, and where good writing follows the advertising money rather than vice versa.
In this imagined Apocalypse, the only reporter Joe Public needs is a Google-enabled cyber-journalist, spewing out automatically-generated information based on programmed knowledge of Mr. Public’s interests and concerns. The RSS feed already functions as a rude precursor of such a behemoth.
Indeed, the mechanisation of news is already well under way. I am not referring to the bevy of new web-based initiatives such as podcasts, blogs or automatic syndication, but to a far more sinister process; the industrialisation of our raw material – words themselves.
Creativity? No thanks
In the shiny new offices of a daily national newspaper in London, the phrase ‘Search Engine Orientation’ has been all but tattooed onto the heads of internet sub-editors.
Now, instead of writing headlines which not only inform but catch the eye or raise a laugh, subs are being told they must include as many Google search terms as possible in headlines and standfirsts. Even the alternative text for pictures – a service meant for the blind – is being appropriated to boost hit rates.
This may not sound like a dramatic turn of events, but it is sapping the last creative juices from a large section of the media workplace.
One of the greatest headlines of the last few years, possibly of all time, was the Daily Record’s take on footballing minnows Inverness Caledonian Thistle beating giants Celtic in the Scottish Cup. An enterprising sub, taking his inspiration from the film Mary Poppins, penned the immortal headline.
“Super Cally Go Ballistic Celtic Are Atrocious”
It was such a cleverly laid pun, and so popular among journalists in the UK, that it began to be reproduced on websites and in pub conversations up and down the country. Fast forward to the brave new world of ‘Search Engine Orientation’ and what do you get?
“Inverness Caledonian Thistle beat Celtic in Scottish Cup”
Somehow it doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Just as journalists feel themselves being synergised with machines, the tools of our trade – words – are suffering the same fate.
Does the blogosphere need a code of conduct?
A week on, and the fuss over the proposed Bloggers’ Code of Conduct seems to have died down. Oddly enough, Tim O’Reilly, despite admirable commitment to a cause, wasn’t able to win the massed millions of the blogosphere round to his side.
When I was about 11, I was completely suckered by an advert for a small handheld computer which you could use to send secret messages to your friends, a precursor to the SMS.
I resolved that by the time I went back to school on Monday, everyone would have one and I didn’t want be the only one to miss out. Of course, I blew all my pocket money on the things and was the only one who ever had one. I smashed it on purpose about six months later.
The Bloggers’ Code of Conduct looks to be suffering much the same fate. The idea is nice, but that’s all it is. There is something to be said for self-regulation, but not a lot. Against the benefit of cutting down on personal abuse, we must weigh the acceptability of attempting to curb the freest information exchange we have ever known.
The biggest problem is that it assumes that all newspaper columnists have, in and of themselves, a greater degree of integrity than bloggers. But lest we forget, there are newspaper columnists who produce the most bigoted vitriol each week – naming no names – albeit with a greater degree of penmanship than the average blogger.
So why should bloggers be treated any differently? The fact is, we already have a code of conduct. It is the same one that governs any form of journalism, and it is called the law.
Just wait for the first high-profile libel case against a blogger. Self-regulation will follow.