Archive for October, 2010
Links to stuff I’ve read this week about where news may – or may not – be going:
‘Biggest document leak in history’ – The Iraq War Logs
- More bigger leaks (as previously suggested on this blog). This time The Bureau for Investigative Journalism helped Wikileaks work with more news organisations to ‘mediate’ the nearly 400,000 Iraq War Logs. In addition to hooking Assange & Co up with Channel 4′s Dispatches the Bureau for Investigate Journalism (TBIJ) also launched the Iraq War Logs website, with its own stories from the files, and links to original documents.
Google invests $5 million in news, sort of – ‘Google to give $5million to journalism non-profits‘
- Google announced it would be putting $2 million towards news innovation in the US and $3 million internationally. In the US Google has given the Knight Foundation charge of directing the money. Internationally… we don’t know yet.
- Knight launched its fifth – and final? – Knight News Challenge, with different parameters than previous competitions. This time it called for entries in four specific categories: mobile, sustainability, community, and authenticity. The Media Standards Trust was very pleased to be cited as one of Knight’s previous winners along with Spot.us, Document Cloud, and Patchwork Nation.
von Ahn and Castells at the Royal Society – Web Science Conference 2010
- The future of the web – web science – talks are now available online at the Royal Society. I would highly recommend Luis von Ahn’s lecture explaining how he has used mass collective intelligence to digitise millions of books, and Manuel Castells strong defence of the web as a source of happiness
- MediaBugs, an ingenious online service for capturing mistakes in news and alerting news organisations, announced it was expanding across the US (having previously been based in San Francisco). Next stop the UK?
Ali Abdulemam is a blogger. He has blogged for Global Voices Advocacy and elsewhere. He created, managed and maintained www.bahrainonline.org (from Global Voices). He is an advocate of free speech and human rights.
He is also unlucky enough to live in Bahrain. Unlucky because Bahrain has decided that Abdulemam should not be allowed to blog. Specifically, the Bahrain government is today (Thursday 28th October) putting Abdulemam on trial for:
‘diffusing fabricated and malicious news on Bahrain’s internal situation to spread rumours and subvert the Kingdom’s security and stability’ (from Bahrain News Agency).
This is the same ‘business friendly’ Bahrain that appeared to be making an effort to open up over the last decade and allow greater freedom of speech.
Abdulemam’s case has been written about in The Atlantic (‘In Bahrain, a vital moment for liberal Arab grassroots‘), and the Wall Street Journal (‘The Real Bahrain‘). In the WSJ Joshua Colangelo-Bryan writes that Abdulemam has not been allowed to speak to lawyers and, when his family tried to visit him they were told there was no record of his arrest. After the intervention of Human Rights Watch Abdulemam’s family were subsequently allowed to visit him, with security personnel present.
The Wall Street Journal and Al Jazeera set Abdulemam’s arrest and trial in the wider context of a crackdown on dissent within Bahrain.
I’m grateful to Adrian Monck for alerting me to Abdulemam’s case and trial today.
Links to stuff I’ve read this week about where news may – or may not – be going:
The AP’s new ecosystem for news distribution (from Nieman Lab)
- Martin Langeveld explains – better than I did in my PBS blog in August – how metadata can create new business models for news on the web. The AP is setting up a B2B independent rights clearing house for news, built on its news registry which is itself based on the hNews microformat we developed with the AP (thanks to grants from the Knight and MacArthur foundations)
Editorial guidelines for linking and commenting
- The Guardian released guidelines for its journalists on commenting and blogging, hot on the heels of the BBC’s new editorial guidelines – that include (rather complicated) guidance on linking. The Washington Post also published bizarrely censorious rules constraining its journalists from engaging in discussions on twitter
- Guardian’s 8 blogging & commenting guidelines, BBC’s new editorial guidelines, Washington Post memo (on TBD)
Why journalists should be aiming for 100%
- Jay Rosen proposed a 100% solution for gathering news which was as much about the journey as the destination. Paul Bradshaw then built on this with a template outlining how Rosen’s plan might work
- PressThink, The 100% solution: for innovation in news. Online Journalism Blog, A template for 100% reporting
A mega organogram – the one that keeps Cameron up at night
- A mash-up of organizational charts from all across government, put together by Conrad Quilty-Harper (@connee) for Telegraph.co.uk
Crowdsourcing news on the spending cuts – Wherearethecuts.org
- The Open Knowledge Foundation started crowdsourcing information about where the cuts are happening in the week of the UK spending review – powered by the mapping platform recently made famous by Clay Shirky – Ushahidi
Proposal to open up council budgets for comparison
- Chris Taggart, of Openly Local, proposed making council budgets – that are currently difficult to access and a nightmare to compare – openly available in a re-usable format on the web
- Opening up councils… and open procurement
- Great post by Judith Townend about how only if it stops being so introverted can journalism reinvent itself
Words & phrases I learnt this week:
Bloviator (Rupert Murdoch): someone who speaks pompously
Google surge: buying up all ads on all Google products in a specific geographical area on a specific date (e.g. election day)
Facebook social power play: the same thing but on Facebook
Imaginary cosmopolitanism: Ethan Zuckerman’s phrase to describe our shallow knowledge of world affairs
The Chilean miners story is already being talked about as a one of the biggest international stories of 2010. An audience of a billion worldwide. 4.6m live video streams. 82.5 million page views on CNN. 2000 journalists on the ground (from Rory Carroll).
Yet it is also, from the perspective of journalism, a tremendous missed opportunity to experiment with doing foreign reporting on the cheap. Here’s why:
International news is expensive. A foreign bureau costs about £200-300k per year (according to a 2007 Harvard report by Jill Carroll). Even to send a crew of three costs thousands in travel and expenses (particularly if it is remote and requires special equipment – like tents in the Atacama desert).
International news is more difficult to make directly relevant to a domestic audience. It was hard to excite public interest in the US sub-prime market prior to the international financial crisis. And many news organisations have struggled to find a simple and convenient prism through which to frame the world since the Cold War ended.
The days of plush foreign bureaux have passed. Lots of commercial news organisations have cut back on their foreign reporting. Only 4 US newspapers still invest in sustained international reporting (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, LA Times). Many other US news organisations have also reduced the amount of time and money they spend (see State of the News Media reports since 2004). There have also been cuts in the international reporting of UK news organisations – though these are much less well recorded (to be partially redressed by a report we’re publishing in two weeks’ time – see bottom of this post).
Those who want to sustain quality foreign reporting have been wracking their brains trying to work out how do international journalism of the same – or higher – quality but at lower cost. Solana Larsen, in a fascinating recent essay for Nieman Reports, imagines a world without foreign correspondents, where news is ‘told by reporters who are native to the country where events happen’. This would, Larsen argues, provide a more authentic picture from the inside out, a ‘citizen’s perspective’.
Whatever happens, foreign reporting has to change to survive. It has to cost less to collect. News organisations have to be much more flexible and nimble than they have been in the past. They have to be creative about how they source different types of content and access different voices. They need to collaborate with local news organisations, as well as non-news organisations like NGOs. And then they need to convince people of the importance of the news they are reporting.
Which is why the Chilean miners story was a tremendous opportunity to try doing foreign news on the cheap. A chance for news organisations to experiment with new methods and models.
Here was a fantastically compelling human drama that did not need contextualisation for people to understand what was going on. Here was a story with the narrative arc of a reality documentary (lasting 10 weeks – only slightly less than a series of Big Brother). It even had a carefully prepared and choreographed finale where people’s lives really did hang in the balance.
Yet, at the same time, it was a story without much broader public impact (except for the people of Chile). What I mean by that is that, apart from the emotional engagement, this story did not have much in the way of political, economic or social implications for people outside Chile.
Which meant that for news organisations whose central purpose is reporting in the public interest, and who – like everyone else right now – are desperate to work out ways to save money, this story was a great opportunity to try new, less expensive approaches.
So what happened? The opposite. Instead of spending less they spent more, much more. The BBC so overspent on its coverage that it is now considering reducing its reporting budget on events that really are in the public interest and do require lots of contextualisation – like the G20, the Cancun Climate Change conference in December, the Nato summit in Lisbon and the World Economic Forum (see Guardian leaked memo story).
And it wasn’t just about the money. This was also, for the most part, conservative journalism that hugged close to audience expectations and demand. Much of the mainstream coverage wouldn’t have looked out of place a couple of decades ago. There were close knit professional teams (in the BBC’s case 26 people strong), doing much talking to camera, with frequent two-ways updating the audience.
Where were the local reporters? Where were the voices of the Chilean people? Where were the collaborations with other news organisations and with NGOs? Where was the creative use of all the content that was being streamed from the mine and elsewhere?
The result? News organisations have less money to spend on stuff that needs more explanation. They have less to spend on difficult investigations (like Lindsay Hilsum’s recent reporting from the Congo). They have less to spend on other trapped miners.
Organisations like the BBC will be able to ice over the spending in time. But neither they, nor the others who failed to cover the story differently, will find a better opportunity to get experience of doing international reporting in new ways for a good long while.
The Media Standards Trust is publishing a report – a “Shrinking World: the decline of international reporting in the UK press” – in November. If you would like a copy of the report email me and I’ll put you on our list.