Hull Daily Mail reaps its whirlwind

March 8, 2010 Leave a comment

According to a friend who lived in Hull it was known universally as the Dull Daily Mail – the newspaper that served the readers of Hull and East Yorkshire was never known for its journalistic prowess and from all accounts spent most of its time rehashing the day’s breakfast headlines from BBC Radio Humberside.

In the last 24 hours though the Hull Daily Mail has put itself right on the map as the local paper that completely lost the plot, embedded its foot firmly in its mouth and reaped a whirlwind of 21st century feedback that will serve as an object lesson in social media that will be repeated by journalism teachers around the world for years to come.

A few days ago the HDM led its tatty tabloid edition with an exposé of a local website producer, Paul Smith, who also happened to be the mind behind a hyper-local news site HU17.net, which covers the town of Beverley and surrounding areas.

Much to the HDM’s disgust, Mr Smith had, in the past, built the infrastructure for various porn websites, so they mounted an ‘elaborate’ sting operation involving a reporter posing as an escort (complete with fake Facebook site), and lined up various clueless local councillors to heap on the moral approbium, then produced an article which stayed just the right side of the defamation laws but still managed to suggest the Mr Smith was responsible for the content of hundreds of porn sites, and using inneundo even suggested paedophilia!

Hull Daily Mail - Classified Ads example

Hull Daily Mail

Of course they failed to point out a few salient facts, like the fact that Mr Smith’s site was a direct competitor to their monopolistic presence, was a better and more popular website than theirs (those in the know say the HDM’s coverage of Beverley was always woeful and doesn’t seem to have improved much), and that the HDM is financed by large number of ads, many of which offer escort and massage services (see the screenshot to the right).

They also only just managed to point out that Mr Smith’s business is entirely legal, and while I leave it up to you to judge the morality, it is a fact that one of the few business sectors making a resounding profit out of the interwebs these days is the pornography industry, so they, along with the online bookies, tend to pay website builders pretty well compared to most other clients.

Mr Smith’s response to the ‘sting’ operation was to pose for a picture and invite the hapless reporter in for a cup of tea so they could see for themselves the purely business relationship he had with the website owners in question, and he himself posted a rebuttal on his own website outlining the facts for his readers.

What the HDM didn’t point out was that there is a world of difference between building the infrastructure for a website and providing the content, they also failed to make any inquiries about domain name ownership, which would have shown that website contractors usually own the domain names on behalf of their clients because the clients don’t usully have the experience or training to secure and manage these themselves.

So that fact that Mr Smith “owned” these websites was, in their view, proof positive of their case, and of course, they’re not going to let the facts get in the way of a good story, and the HDM has, in its zeal, posted some follow-ups to their story which, of course, they claim are all in the public interest. So, no self-interest there then.

Aside from the fact that this is a deeply distasteful article and a great example of truly appalling journalism, what’s been interesting is the huge backlash that the HDM has reaped from the online community, where hundreds of posts have appeared in the last 24-48 hours supporting Mr Smith.

Even on the HDM’s own site comments have been suspended after hundreds of people took them to task for running the article, only a handful were on their side; John Meehan, the HDM’s editor, then tried to defend his mistake with weasel words and sophistry … and then made things worse by suggesting that those whose criticised the HDM were “misinformed”, and claimed the comments facility was still open (it’s not).

Whatever your views on the story itself, this is a perfect example of the fights to come, as the old media press barons struggle to hold onto their readership and their incomes in the face of growing competition from smaller, leaner and more agile publishers who know their community way better than the press barons’ lackeys could ever do.

The bottom line is that in this age of media literacy and instant interactivity, misguided old farts like John Meehan (and his head-in-the-sand overseers at DMGT) insult the intelligence of their audience at their own peril.

Further coverage at Journalism.co.uk, Virtual Review and Journopig, who pull out some of the unnecessary and unsupported paedophile-innuendo running through the story.

Interestingly The Register also provide coverage, although if I were them, I’d check their headline with a good libel lawyer.

Essential learning for new journalists

January 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Charlie Brooker has always been a bit hit-or-miss for me, but his new BBC series, Newsswipe, really has hit the mark – here’s an example which will probably become essential viewing in every journalism school across the UK:

Headliner headline

January 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Quick posting on a potential headline of the year, courtesy of News.com in Australia:

Dead fox terrier prompts ‘bloody rifle frenzy’ revenge attack

Hats off to the sub who came up with that gem, the only thing it’s missing is the word “shocker”!

Plaudits also to the twit who came up with the pay-off line.

Categories: Journalism Tags: , , ,

News shortchanged

October 15, 2009 Leave a comment

A friend of mine twittered enthusiastically from Malta today:

NewsXchange conference session on political news for a younger audience. Great title: “Are we boring you?”

Yes, I had to agree, a great title, so I headed over to the NewsXchange website to see if I could find out more. Nice blurb there on the agenda, so I wanted to know more – ah, it’s happening right now, so is there a stream I could subscribe to?

No.

Maybe it’ll be available online later?

A brief look at the previous conference agendas soon put me straight.

No.

Then I saw the tag-line: “for broadcasters by broadcasters” and the penny dropped with a resounding thud.

Here we have a large room in a nice hotel in Malta filled with some of the best TV news folk in the business, but because they still have their collective old media heads stuck up their old media proverbials, the NewsXchange is reduced to being nothing more than a bunch of self-serving hot-air producers pontificating about the future of their industry behind closed doors.

No social media, no streaming, no podcasts, no blog, no tweets (bar the teaser above) – just the same old, same old.

What an opportunity missed.

Bye bye, broadcast news, it was nice knowing you.

Also behind the curve…

October 14, 2009 Leave a comment

After yesterday’s post it was interesting to see that Al Jazeera English are not the only ones who are behind the curve on new media – Sky News, no less, have been trumpeting their latest innovation: Sky News being streamed for free on their website.

Good Lord, how have I struggled through the past few years only being able to watch BBC, ITN, CNN, MSNBC, Russia Today and Al Jazeera English, all of whom have been streaming their live output for free for years?

Cue chest thumping from the Sky News bunker:

With Sky News now available on more platforms than ever – on TV, online, on mobiles, through iphone and ipod touch apps, at train stations and on planes – there’s barely a screen in Britain now where you can’t access Sky News.

I’m always reminded at this point of the creatures Douglas Adams once described in The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who had 50 arms each and so invented the under-arm deodorant before the wheel – one wonders how Sky News could ever have thought it was more important to have an iPhone application BEFORE a live free stream.

Maybe the answer can be found in Michael Woolf’s excellent takedown of old Digger Murdoch in a recent edition of Vanity Fair, which sums up everything you ever need to know about the sad attitude of old media execs to the future of media.

As for Sky News, I guess someone there is feeling really pleased with themselves this morning, and wondering whether they should go one step further, and put Sky News content into print…

Got the blog on

October 13, 2009 Leave a comment

So I heard through the grapevine today that those clueless wonks at Al Jazeera English had launched a new blog section on their website. Obviously “new” is a relative term for them because the “blog” is a product of Web 2.0 and therefore already well past its sell-by date (and yes, I am aware of the irony of saying that in my own… blog).

Still, the BBC have had blogs for years, as have CNN, so I guess it was only a matter of time before Al Jazeera English copied them; which is a shame because to date, the Al Jazeera website had stood firm against the stereotypical “blog” and focused on its excellent feature writing instead, often bringing these together under a single subject or reporter name, rather than just giving them their own blog-branded new media ghetto.

One hopes that these one-day-wonders won’t replace the well-written and truly original journalism that Al Jazeera regularly put onto its website’s Focus section, but I’ll bet they do, and then try to pass it off as “convergence”.

(You can always tell when a Newspaper or a TV executive is lying about convergence, and using it to cover up cuts in spending – their lips move.)

Obviously whoever is in charge of innovation there must be on long-term sick leave because the blogs are now “the in thing” while elsewhere on the site all of their excellent comments have been shut down on both the website and their YouTube channel – so much for being the “voice of the voiceless”.

The head of common sense must also have been having an off-day because while the new blogs have been mentioned fleetingly on-air, there’s absolutely no mention of them at all on the Al Jazeera English front page to date.

Come on Al Jazeera, you can do better than this.

(Oh yes, if you want to see these wonders of the new media era, they can be found languishing at their own site – and one further observation: Why didn’t the Asia-Pacific region qualify for its own blog?)

Total waste of time

June 17, 2009 Leave a comment

There’s revolution formenting in Iran and outrage among the people of Britain, so what does our beleaguered and spineless Government go and do? It releases Lord Carter’s report on Digital Britain, yes, all 245 pages of it.

The introduction started thus:

On 26 August 1768, when Captain James Cook set sail for Australia, it took 2 years and 320 days before he returned to describe what he found there.

and that’s where I gave up, because that told me everything I needed to know about Lord Carter’s report.

First of all, Captain James Cook did not set sail for Australia (which at that time was almost unknown, and the bits that were known of had been named New Holland by the Dutch), the Admiralty (at the behest of the Royal Society) ordered him to travel to the Pacific so that astronomer Charles Green could observe and record the transit of Venus across the sun.

It was only when this part of the voyage was complete that Cook opened sealed orders instructing him to search for the southern continent of Terra Australis, which the Royal Society were convinced was somewhere in the southern Pacific, and that the voyage to Tahiti would be an inconspicuous cover for a voyage of colonial expansion.

So off he went, eventually visiting and mapping New Zealand, Tasmania and Australia, and claiming them for the British Empire.

He got back to England in 1771 but it was months before accounts of his voyage were published, and the Royal Society weren’t happy because the land mass Cook found (known today as Australia) didn’t meet their expectations, so they sent Cook off again in 1772 to search for Terra Australis, which Cook found – we know it today as Antarctica.

So here we have a modern day report on the state of Digital Britain which contains, in the very first sentence, a dumbed down statement of remarkable inaccuracy, and which was confirmed as such in seconds with a Google search.

In the time is has taken for this report to be drawn up, the world has already changed, politicians have been discredited, the credibility of government is in tatters and anyone who’s ever used the interwebs knows that any government attempt to stop downloading simply won’t stop people getting hold of free content.

It’s also interesting about the “basic level” of broadband being described at 2mbps, on which even YouTube struggles, and this also conveniently ignores another ignaminious bit of British history.

The newly formed British Telecom had a plan to run optical fibre to every home in Britain in the early 1980s; the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher decided instead to privatise BT to raise money for tax cuts and to pay-off government debt, so the whole project was cancelled, and 20 years on we’re still paying for the lack of investment.

Lord Carter has wasted a massive opportunity to announce some real changes, instead what we have is the same tired old debate about top slicing the licence fee to shore up failing businesses and a stealth tax on landline telephones – which guarantees to penalise the poor and the elderly and force them to pay for services they don’t use.

How ironic then that Lord Carter evokes the name of the great Captain Cook to launch such a pitiful report – in the 18th Century Cook risked life and limb several times for the glory of his country, advancing science and understanding and making history.

Meanwhile here in the 21st Century Lord Carter spinelessly fleeces the poor, ignores the country, dithers and disappoints and all of this while trying to re-write history.

It’s all just too pathetic for words.

Categories: Internet, Politics Tags: , ,