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!
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.
Interestingly The Register also provide coverage, although if I were them, I’d check their headline with a good libel lawyer.
Normally I keep my political comments restricted to UK and US, but one of my e-mail alerts this morning drew my attention to a shocking video that’s starting to do the rounds about the views of young people in Israel about the recent speech given by President Obama on the Middle East.
I watch what is happening in the Middle East with utter dispair sometimes, it’s almost as if neither side wants to a budge an inch and that all the leaderships involved are quite happy for the fighting to continue because it’s become the only thing that defines their power.
In contrast then was Obama’s eagerly-anticipated speech in Cairo which basically said “the status quo is not acceptable, there must be change, but the only people that can make that change are the people of the Middle East themselves”.
Although the speech appeared to hit the mark with all concerned, especially both sides in the Israel-Palestine conflict, guaging the reaction of people on the ground was slower in coming, although when it did, the considered response was also welcoming.
One wonders though how much of the story we’re actually hearing, and when you hear the one of the vanguards of 21st Century news, The Huffington Post, is censoring content that runs counter to the preceived wisdom, one has to start questioning how the narrative is being constructed.
The piece that was removed from the HuffPo is a short video vox-pop of young people in Israel giving their views on the Obama speech – the views expressed, especially those from the young American Jews, and the language used are utterly shocking – YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED:
Even the people who produced it, Max Blumenthal and Joseph Dana were shocked at the views expressed, and the forcefulness with which they were made, but were further shocked when an administrator at the HuffPo removed the video from the site, claiming, according to Blumenthal that: “I don’t see that it has any real news value”.
So I suppose there was “no real news value” last year, when Al Jazeera English broadcast a vox-pop of people attanding a Sarah Palin rally in Ohio, and shocking the world with a similar level of ignorance:
Now I can see many reasons why an old media organisation might remove such a video from their site, or indeed, choose not to publish it at all – some of these, such as the question of taste and decency, are arguably legitimate, and indeed I myself thought long and hard about whether to embed the video or just link to it because of the foul language used.
For a premier blog to remove it because they consider is has no “real news value” is extremely dangerous; it’s exactly the kind of nebulous reason that would be used to justify censorship by an old media outlet like Fox News.
There’s no doubt The Huffington Post has made a massive contribution to the development of the interwebs as a space for news/information that engages with its audience rather than just preaching to them, but the kind of editorial arrogance they’ve displayed over the Blumenthal video will only serve to raise so much unnecessary speculation about their editorial credibility.
The problem is that its co-founder and editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington seems to spend more time getting her face on the old media with guest spots on MSNBC and guest hosting Squawk Box on CNBC, which only serves to make her look more and more old corporate and old media; a perception I would be running a mile from if I was running the best politics site on the planet.
The financial downturn, the difficulties faced by old media companies and the collapse of the newspaper industry is the time for organisations like the Huffington Post to be rising above the frey, consolidating and leading the way, not pracing around on TV while quietly adopting the same tired old editorial dogmas they claim to have moved on from.
As for the morons on the video their disgusting comments seem to show where the real oppositon to change in the Middle East lie, and that there is a bedrock of racism and bigotry both in Israel and among American Jews that is going to be Obama’s biggest and toughest obstacle.
These people, the same people who supported the killing of over 1,000 Palestinians in January in the most one-sided war in the history of mankind, all hide their hate behind the shield of victimhood, claiming that the world is against them.
Well here’s newsflash – it is, and on the basis of this kind of disgusting bigotry – is there any wonder why?
If I had a penny for every article I had read about the pros and cons of blogging and its effect on mainstream journalism, I would be a very rich man – I would probably have enough to be a full-time blogger, rather than writing my posts in my own time.
With so many blogs, some of which are becoming professional concerns, it was inevitable that the war of words between bloggers and journalists was never going to end, especially now that so many lazy mainstream journalists have learnt to feed off the blogs.
So it was with some interest that I read an article on TechCrunch this morning entitled “The Morality and Effectiveness of Process Journalism“, which came about as a result of this piece of angst-riddled insecurity from The New York Times.
I’m not going to go into the details of this particular example of “handbags at dawn”, although from the exhibits presented by both the plaintiff and the defence I can say that Mr Darlin of the NYT probably wouldn’t last five minutes in any newsroom run by me.
From where I’m sitting, TechCrunch reported a rumour as exactly that and published it with more caveats than a dossier on WMD:
Today, though, rumors popped up that Apple may be looking to buy Twitter. “Apple is in late stage negotiations to buy Twitter and is hoping to announce it at WWDC in June,” said a normally reliable source this evening, adding that the purchase price would be $700 million in cash. The trouble is we’ve checked with other sources who claim to know nothing about any Apple negotiations. If these discussions are happening, Twitter is keeping them very quiet indeed. We would have passed on reporting this rumor at all, but other press is now picking it up.
If only many mainstream journalists were as assiduous about highlighting so-called facts which are, in reality, rumours.
Eniment journalist and blogger Jeff Jarvis has also written about this, which he describes as Product vs Process journalism: The myth of perfection vs beta culture; I totally agree with his sentiments – the idea that a story is, once written, an entity which cannot be changed is a product of the old way of producing news, where you had a single product, be it a TV programme or a newspaper edition, into which the “finished” story was placed.
OK, stories might move over a period of time, and one only has to watch All the Presidents’ Men to see how that worked, but even then, the story presented in each edition is a complete, rounded item, drafted, edited, honed until it is as good as it could be.
Only with the advent of 24-hour news and, later, new media have we been able to see news as a constantly evolving activity, from ‘Breaking News’ to the retrospective documentary, a story moves, grows, evolves like a living being, often with just as much complexity, and to characterise a story only in terms of locked off “editions” makes about as much sense in the interweb age as carbon paper.
It’s also interesting to note that this was written for the NYT‘s Business section, and we all know how much esteem they’re held in after the recent meltdown in the world’s economy.
So what is the moral of this incompetant piece of naval gazing by the NYT? As Jeff Jarvis so eloquently puts it:
The problem with this tiresome, never-ending alleged war of blogs vs. MSM … is that it blinds each tribe from learning from the other. Yes, there are standards worth saluting from classical journalism. But there are also new methods and opportunities to be learned online. No one owns journalists or its methods or standards.
The upshot of this is that these days it doesn’t really matter what hacks like Damon Darlin churn out, if they get it wrong, they can be called out within minutes and the facts of what was really said and what was missed can be blogged and published for all to see faster than you can say “libel writ”.
And you know what? Mainstream journalists could do the same, if only they’d get their heads of the sand and their mindsets out of the past.
Sometimes the bare-faced bias of some so-called journalists takes some beating, but this headline in particular took the biscuit for me:
White House declines to say what NY trip cost
WASHINGTON (AP) — White House spokesman Robert Gibbs is declining to say what it cost for President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, to eat dinner and take in a play in New York over the weekend.
Asked if he would outline the costs, Gibbs said Monday the Obamas would have preferred using a commercial airline shuttle to New York and back but that the Secret Service would not allow such unprotected travel.
Just which idiot decided this was a story, or even a question worth asking at a White House press conference?
Didn’t somebody, somewhere stop and ask themselves some very simple questions before wasting everyone’s bandwidth with such obvious partisan reporting?
- How much more expensive would it have been for the US to have their President and his wife hop on a Ted flight and be DOA at La Guardia?
- Why can’t a President, who has a wife and family, have a night out and get out of the house occasionally?
- If you’re the leader of the free world, just how easy should it be to slip down to Moe’s Tavern for a couple of pints with your mates?
- It’s a four hour drive from Washington to NY, how much more expensive would it be to have to search the length of the New Jersey Turnpike when the President’s Smart Car went missing?
Sadly this half-baked bull excretia is what passes for serious journalism in America these days, and is being driven by the dinosaurs of the Republican party who time and again show that they have completely lost their grip on reality.
Seriously, if these are the questions currently coming out of the brightest and best of the US’s newsrooms, there’s no wonder nobody was asking some serious and searching questions about the economy this time last year.
Obama’s now in the Middle East, I wonder if he remembered to turn out the lights before he left?
I was going to entitle this post “When Social Media goes bad”, but decided against it because in this case, Social Media was very much the winner.
A few day’s ago The Guardian invited a London herbal remedy company, Neal’s Yard Remedies, to answer questions from readers, having already had successful discussions about other subjects, such as Fairtrade and food in a series of articles called “You ask, they answer”.
Only in this case, someone didn’t read the script – I urge you to go and read the ensuing comments thread, it’s funny, intelligent and challenging, and unfortunately for the company concerned, fairly unforgiving.
NYR ended up declining the invitation to answer any of the questions raised, much to the disgust of many of the contributors, some of whom are now demanding a follow up, but the best we’ve had so far is a lame article about the PR implications including an interview with Max Clifford.
More interesting is what this says about the power of Social Media, as well as not responding to the questions, many posters noted the company were removing comments from their own website and Facebook pages.
Not only that, but bloggers and tweeters have jumped on the story and it’s already going viral, making the PR situation for the company ever more difficult.
One also wonders whether business and political leaders would act in such a stupid and arrogant way if they had been forced to face this kind of fact-checking by their workers or their customers – would GM be going to the wall today if they had faced closer corporate and public scrutiny in the last decade?
It’s going to be interesting to see where this one goes…
Tiresome repetition of the bleeding obvious award today goes to the Strategic Advisory Board for Intellectual Property (SABIP) who are wasting hundreds of column inches in the newspapers with their claims about digital piracy in a new study.
The 85-page coffee-table leveller, with the snappy title Copycats? Digital Consumers in the Online Age, estimates that seven million people in the UK are involved in illegal downloading of music, movies, software and games, although they fail to provide much in the way of explanation about how they arrive at their conclusions regarding numbers.
Certainly when it comes to working out what the annual worth of downloaded material, they introduce the same specious statistical methods used by opponents of Jerry Spinger: The Opera that I commented on some years ago.* (I would link but those kind people at Google have responded to my attempt to reclaim my old Blogger blog by taking it down completely)
The authors say that UCL researchers found 1.3 million users sharing content on a single P2P network at noon on a specific day.
They then use some very unsubtle mathematics to arrive at a remarkable conclusion”
If each “peer” from this network (not the largest) downloaded one file per day the resulting number of downloads (music, film, television, e-books, software and games were all available) would be 4.73 billion items per year. This amounts to around £12 billion in content being consumed annually – for free.
Ooooooo look at that BIG number – something that’s sure to be seized upon by ignorant journalists and even more ignorant politicians everywhere, giving the politicos a nice little bandwagon to jump on to try and divert attention away from the expenses scandal which continues to claim careers at Westminster.
The fact that they have arrived at this number by a statistical sleight of hand, and that the real figure is probably only a fraction of that, has nothing to do with it – as the hacks say: “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story”.
Now in the interests of fairness, the UCL team did also look at other research and spoke to people in the entertainment industry and regulators, though they don’t look as if they’ve spoken to anyone who lives in the real world.
The problem is that the ignorant politicians will simply tell the ISPs to crackdown on file-sharing, even though the ISPs are, quite understandably, reluctant to become the policemen of the web.
The other issue that these dimwits choose to ignore is the cause of piracy – the backward and intransigent way in which the content creators fail to engage with their audience, preferring to treat everyone like criminals rather than providing them with good service.
That’s on top of the way in which content producers in the UK have been over-charging for their products for many years.
The newspaper industry is already reaping the whirwind of its digital denial, while the music industry only survived thanks to the intervention of Apple’s i-Tunes.
Television companies, Hollywood movie producers and book publishers are all desperately trying to avoid the on-coming train crash with the interwebs – one which they will surely lose unless they ignore specious reports from vested interest groups like SABIP and get their collective heads out of the sand.
[* The original post pointed out that opponents of Jerry Springer: The Opera being shown on the BBC claimed there were thousands of expletives used in the production, but that in reality there were much fewer; the protestors had arrived at their claim by taking the actual number of expletives used, and multiplied them by the number of people on-stage using that expletive, again producing a BIG number that the useless saps at The Daily Mail jumped on with avengeance as part of it’s ridiculous vendetta against the BBC]
Following my posting the other day about the less than credible media debate being conducted by Fox News in America, I tuned in eagerly to Al Jazeera‘s latest edition of Listening Post which focussed this week on the issue of media coverage of the torture debate in the US.
As ever, the reporting by Richard Gizbert pulled no punches:
“Weasel words and sophistry” was the famous description used by Alistair Campbell to deplore the BBC’s initial response to his complaints about the Gilligan report which asserted, quite truthfully as it turns out, that the British Government knew their own dossier on Iraq’s WMDs was largely fiction.
The problem was that Campbell succeeded in making the story about those words, rather than the issue itself, as a result of which a senior civil servant lost his life and the BBC’s editorial independence was damaged beyond repair.
Exactly the same in now happening in the US over the issue of the word “torture” and sadly the once great bastions of American journalism, such as The New York Times have allowed the debate to be shaped by the politicians rather than by common sense.
As Listening Post demonstrates, the NYT appears to be refusing to use the “T”-word, claiming there has been no legal judgement that waterboarding is torture; the problem is that everyone else, including the broadcasters, are following their lead, or should that be, lack of a lead.
So this journalist has a simple question: If it quacks and waddles, why does the NYT and every other spineless journalist in America need a Supreme Court ruling to tell them it’s a duck?