Tuesday, September 04, 2007

This blog has been put on the back burner while i work on a new project called 'The End of Journalism?', a discussion forum dedicated to understanding the current period of flux in the news media.

Please check it out at www.eofj.org



Your contribution would be much appreciated.

Monday, May 14, 2007

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...."

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Monday, May 07, 2007

Will Google eat the news media (Part 2)

(Reproduced from 'The End of Journalism?')

Redundant - in more ways than one

The end result of this period of flux in the media workplace is a long way off yet, but already, nightmare scenarios are being bandied about with a heavy sense of foreboding.

The general assumption amongst the more sceptical members of the press, is that the industry is heading downhill at a rate of knots. As citizens become journalists and computers become sub-editors, they say, we are being squeezed out.

The logical conclusion of such a process is the behemoth mentioned in Part 1. According to this Doomsday scenario, each person would be served by a news aggregator. The aggregator, familiar with the interests of the user, would be able to cherry-pick features, interviews, hard news, or indeed new books, films and music, from an inexhaustible online supply.

This, cry the pessimists, is truly the end of journalism, for the user no longer needs mediation – he/she can go straight to the source.

But the logical conclusion of any process is rarely the one arrived at. Nuclear technology inspired visions of apocalyptic destruction such as that portrayed in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. In the 1960s, advances in computer technology led hundreds of thousands of people to believe that by 2007, the average person would be having their tea brewed and served by a robot.

Although it could be argued that we have been close to both at times, neither situation materialised.

Keeping the faith

The same may be true of our journalistic Apocalypse. There are certainly rough times ahead. As media groups recalibrate their operations gradually in an effort to find the right balance between all of these exciting new technologies available, employees are going to suffer; there is no question about that.

But there ought to be light at the end of the tunnel. The reason that man has not destroyed itself in a nuclear holocaust, or that very few of us have a robot in the house, is that human nature changes much more slowly than the technology we invent.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

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.

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

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.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Pamplona bull run? Who needs it

The first great picture story of the year burst onto the scene today, as slathering shoppers trampled over each other to get into Primark's new Oxford Street store.

Stomach-turning as the unmitigated materialism of it all is, you have to chuckle at the idea of thousands of people risking life and limb to visit a shop which already has several outlets in London.

Some of the baying hordes seemed to have gone out of their way to make trouble for themselves: why go to the Primark down the road when the Oxford Street branch offers a facial tattoo of the sole of someone's shoe with every purchase?

This picture reminds me eerily of a budget disaster movie i once saw, called The Rats. As the mutant rodents bred like, well, rats, they became so many that they began to shoot out of every manhole like little furry projectiles.

In the end, New York has no choice but to blow them to bits with high explosives.

Perhaps that's a little too heavy-handed for Primark shoppers, so here's an alternative solution:-

Shop Idol: Shoppers battle each other on live TV for possession of 6-packs of underwear, polo shirts and frilly blouses. The pushiest contestant walks away with a £10 Primark voucher and a set of riot gear.

I hear the BBC is looking to dumb down...i'm expecting their call.

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

End of Journalism?

Trial By Shorthand has had to take a back seat recently as i've been working on a new project.

In partnership with the IJP, an organisation who sponsored my sojourn with the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung, I have been working on a website intended to promote and facilitate debate on the future of journalism.

The site is called 'End of Journalism?' and the top article at the moment is a piece written by me, entitled 'Apocalypse Now? The Googlisation of News'.

Happy browsing and spread the word: The End of Journalism is upon us.

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