Archive for January, 2010

Reforming the PCC – a Media Standards Trust submission

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Today we, the Media Standards Trust, made our submission to the Press Complaints Commission’s governance review.

I’ll have a go at summarizing the key bits of our submission, but I’d recommend you take a look at the real thing (I would wouldn’t I), which you can find at www.mediastandardstrust.org.

Integrated to the submission are the findings of an opinion survey, commissioned specially for this and conducted by Ipsos MORI. The survey results strongly support our belief that the public expect considerably more from press self-regulation than they are currently getting.

In essence, we’re saying that the PCC already performs a valuable function – of mediating complaints between a publication and a complainant. The problem is, the public expect more than this. People don’t just want a mediator, they want an independent self-regulator. The difference being that, in addition to mediating, an independent self-regulator would do things like monitor compliance with the code (i.e. keep a constant eye on newspapers) and conduct regular investigations into areas of public concern – without requiring a complaint.

Indeed this was one of the most interesting findings of the survey. When asked what the about the responsibilities of an independent regulator, 48% thought it should be obliged to investigate where there is evidence to suggest a newspaper article is inaccurate. At the other end of the spectrum only 5% thought it should wait for a complaint by someone directly referred to in an article before investigating.

So, in our submission, we do our best to outline how the PCC might move from where it is now – mediating – to where the public expects it to be – self-regulating, without requiring any recourse to statutory regulation.

How can it do this? Well, to pick out a few of the 28 recommendations in the submission, it could:

  • Become a membership organization and, as part of the terms of membership, set out clear rules and remedies. This way, if a member broke the rules the repercussions would be clearer and the commission would have more power to enforce them. Currently the PCC only has the power of adjudication and no way to enforce it – other than by re-issuing its findings
  • Be obliged to investigate breaches of the code where this is evidence of public concern – without requiring a complaint
  • Be able to accept complaints from any source – except where they run contrary to the interests of an individual in privacy and intrusion cases
  • Put a financial value on each adjudication which would be met by the newspaper publishing an apology to the equivalent advertising value
  • Comply with the principles of the Freedom of Information Act, particularly in terms of transparency of funding and decision-making processes

None of these, nor any of the other recommendations, require anything other than the agreement of the industry to draw up and put into practice.

We’re looking forward to discussing this with the PCC and the governance review over the next month or two.

If you’d like to be kept up to date with how the submission progresses please do get in touch (I’m at martin DOT moore AT mediastandardstrust DOT org.

Written by Martin Moore

January 25th, 2010 at 2:14 pm

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News linked data summit

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On Friday we co-hosted a news linked data summit, along with the BBC (and with some help from the Guardian).

The purpose of the day was to talk about linked data –what a linked data future might look like, what role linked data had for news organizations, and what news organizations should do about it. I’ll note down what I can remember from it in this blog, though given I was probably the least technical person there any tech references come with a big caveat (and I’d welcome being corrected on them).

The day was particularly opportune given that on Thursday Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt had launched data.gov.uk – a new site that provides a route into ‘a wealth of government data’.

Nigel Shadbolt was also at the news linked data summit, giving his vision of what a linked data future might look like – including examples of a ‘post code newspaper’, a mash-up of cycle route blackspots, and a clever illustration of how our income tax gets spent.

Martin Belam, of the Guardian and currybet.net, talked about the value of linked data to news organizations (which you can read on the Guardian blog here), and Richard Wallis, of Talis, gave an overview of where news organizations are now in terms of linked data and metadata standards (see Richard’s presentation here).

Those at the day included us (the Media Standards Trust), and people from the BBC, the Guardian, the Times, News International, the Telegraph, the Associated Press, Thomson Reuters, the Press Association, the New York Times, the FT, the Mail, the Newspaper Licensing Association (NLA), and the Association of Online Publishers (AOP).

The upshot was: everyone agreed that linked data could, potentially, be pretty exciting. It could enable much better and broader linking, it could help people discover the provenance of data, it could enable news to evolve much more dynamically than it does now, it could even do good things for SEO (though that’s a master art I won’t even try to figure out).

There was general agreement that the “One Ring To Rule Them All” approach doesn’t generally work on the web. In other words, you’ll never 100% agreement between organisations on which things are actually events or concepts, so the best you can do is to try and provide some mapping where sensible.

Therefore there would, inevitably, be multiple vocabularies and multiple places to link. Although one could imagine some sources being ‘canonical’, i.e. they become the default reference for most linked data. A good example of this would be the names of UK schools. One could imagine, for example, their being a list of these at the department of education website which would act as a sort of central repository.

There was also agreement that it would be a good thing if people started dipping their toe in the water. No-one is going to know how valuable – or not – linked data is without giving it a try.

For some of the news organizations the forthcoming general election seemed like a good place to start. There could be a lot of public value in linking, for example, parliamentary candidates.

If you want to know more about the day, or keep in touch with the progress of linked data and news, you can contact me at martin DOT moore AT mediastandardstrust DOT org.

Written by Martin Moore

January 25th, 2010 at 11:44 am

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The end of newspapers at Colindale

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Nostalgia makes conservatives of us all. Reading Katie Allen’s piece in the Media Guardian this week about the forthcoming closure of Colindale national newspaper library (‘British Library in Colindale: the final chapter‘) my immediate reaction was ‘No! They can’t do that, I spent many joyful months holed up in Colindale thumbing through newspapers and magazines of the 1940s.’

Sepia tinged images floated into my head of days poring over frayed copies of the News Chronicle, the Listener, and Time and Tide. Back in 2002-3 I spent months in the national newspaper library at Colindale reading the UK daily press from the 1930s through to the 1950s for my doctorate on the origins of modern spin.

Colindale will be closed, I read, and its holdings moved to Boston Spa in Yorkshire. There, public access to the print papers will be strictly limited. Instead people will have to use microfilm or view digital copies of the papers. “My vision for this [the national newspaper archive] is it will be a different kind of archive,” the head of the newspaper library, Ed King, told Katie Allen, “A binary archive”. Pragmatic, but decidedly unromantic.

How could you feel the same way as a contemporary felt without reading the paper as they did? Without turning the pages, seeing the news in the context? And how would digital navigation account for serendipity?

But if I take off my rose tinted spectacles and think back, Colindale wasn’t all sunshine and roses. For a start no-one has ever spent ‘long days’ at Colindale. The library doesn’t open until 10am and they started chivvying you out after 4.30pm. On top of which the process for calling up newspapers could take up to an hour, so by the time you’d been through a dozen or so papers it was often time to go.

Plus, many of the newspapers I needed to read had already been transferred to microfilm – a roll of celluloid that you stuck on a wheel beneath an illuminated screen and then unwound. Staring at the news pages spinning by was, though mesmerizing, almost predetermined to make me feel seasick. Feeling dizzy, every hour or so I’d bumble out of the darkened film room and down onto Colindale Avenue.

Colindale itself is perched in the nether regions of the Northern Line. The library sits squat between suburban semis and car showrooms. Window shopping at lunchtime was mostly limited to the newsagent at the tube station and the airfix model shop next door (a chance to revisit glue fingered school days).

Yet despite its downsides I still have reservations about the new digital library. The rationale makes sense – newspaper content continues to proliferate, print is terribly fragile and prone to disintegrate from over use, Colindale is no longer big enough nor does it have adequate facilities to keep the papers in good condition.

But still. My understanding of the post-war period would be stunted without my time at Colindale. Scanning the tiny type of The Times inside pages – articles pressed together because space was so tight (there was paper rationing in the 1940s). Being distracted by Beachcomber in the Express (when the Express was the highest selling daily paper and reported from ‘the sunny side of the street’ – how far away that seems). Following the daily progress of the 1945 general election campaign – where Clement Attlee achieved a remarkable upset unseating Winston Churchill. ‘It is the first election’ wrote a Times editorial, ‘in which the use of the wireless has been the outstanding feature of the campaign’ (wireless meaning rather a different thing back then).

All things must pass. Indeed there was a period when it looked as though the existing print papers at Colindale would be destroyed. The move to Boston Spa and digitization project has only been made possible by a £33m government grant. And at some point I’m sure I’ll find myself reading a newspaper from the early 19th century online and thinking, how remarkable that I can do this from the comfort of my own study. Still, nostalgia makes conservatives of us all.

Written by Martin Moore

January 12th, 2010 at 5:46 pm

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