Archive for the ‘BBC’ tag
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.
The interview starts very low key. Owen Bennett-Jones asks US pastor Terry Jones, the Christian pastor who threatened to burn 200 copies of the Koran, how he feels about the episode now. The pastor replies he has no regrets and that he believes the escalation of the episode was simply an indication of its importance.
Bennett-Jones moves gently on to ask the Pastor about his congregation in Florida (previously 50-strong, now down to about 30), his small town background, his conservative Christian upbringing and the development of his faith. By the time the World Service interviewer has begun asking about his religious qualifications I was wondering where it was all going and was about to switch over.
But then the tone of the interview starts to change and, over the next 20 minutes, Bennett-Jones brilliantly exposes the Pastor as unrepresentative, uninformed, and entirely unqualified to make any substantive comments about Christianity, let alone Islam. In doing so the World Service journalist also shows up the absurdity of elevating such a shallow bigot to the international stage.
The slow opening turns out to be a platform on which Bennett-Jones can show the Pastor’s astonishingly limited exposure to other faiths and lack of qualifications. It means the interviewer can then ask Terry Jones how he has come to his views on homosexuality (that ‘it is not right’ and ‘leads to death’). The Pastor cites the Bible and confirms that Leviticus is one of his sources.
“I notice you have a trimmed neat beard” Bennett-Jones then says. Yet “Leviticus states that you shouldn’t cut the hair at the sides of your head. Why are you in breach of Leviticus?”. The Pastor pleads ignorance; ‘I am not a theologian’. Bennett-Jones persists: “Do you ever wear garments of mixed fibres?” The Pastor tries to laugh this one off. But Bennett-Jones does not let go. If you do these things, he asks, “On what basis do you choose various bits of Leviticus [e.g. to condemn homosexuality] and not others?”
From the superficiality of his knowledge of the Bible, the interviewer moves on to his knowledge of Islam. On this subject you would have thought Terry Jones would be quite well-versed. He has written a book called ‘Islam is of the devil’ (2010), and he has threatened to burn 200 copies of it publicly. Yet, when Bennett-Jones asks him if he has read the Koran the Pastor confesses that he has not (“I do not need to read the Koran” he says, since all he needs to know is in the Bible). He cannot explain Ramadan. He cannot even say how many times a day a Muslim prays. He has not tried to speak to Muslims, and the only country he has been to with a Muslim majority is Egypt.
Therefore, Bennett-Jones shows, the Pastor’s ideas about Islam are based on nothing but his own prejudices. So why on earth did the world media (with notable exceptions) focus so much attention on him ? Why did it get to the point that the US Secretary of State and President had to intervene?
Trying to be very charitable one could say the media believed Terry Jones’ threats highlighted broader US public concerns, animated by plans to build a mosque near the 9/11 site in New York.
But why the poverty of journalistic scrutiny? Bennett-Jones may have provided a masterclass in interview technique, but where was the journalism three weeks before? Did anyone spend the time to work out that there was no reason to focus on Terry Jones’ threat since he was almost entirely unrepresentative?
This interview is a terrific justification of good journalism. It’s just a shame no-one did it three weeks ago.
‘The Interview: Pastor Terry Jones‘ – was first broadcast on the BBC World Service on 2nd October 2010
[A version of this article was first published at PBS MediaShift IdeasLab]
On a news organization’s list of priorities, publishing articles as ‘linked data’ probably comes slightly above remembering to turn the computer monitors off in the evening and slightly below getting a new coffee machine.
It shouldn’t, and I’ll list 10 reasons why.
Before I do I should briefly explain what I mean by ‘linked data’. Linked data is a way of publishing information so that it can easily – and automatically – be linked to other, similar data on the web. For example, if I refer to ‘Paris’ in a news article it’s not immediately apparent to search engines whether that is Paris – France, Paris – Texas, or Paris Hilton (or indeed another Paris entirely). If published in linked data Paris would be linked to another reference point that would make clear which one it referred to (e.g. to the entry for Paris, France on dbpedia – the structured data version of wikipedia).
Until a short while ago I was reasonably clueless as to both the meaning and the value of linked data. I’m still far from being an expert, but enough people who are far smarter than me have convinced me that it’s worth trying. This was especially the case a couple of months back, at a News Linked Data Summit that we (the Media Standards Trust) organized with the BBC (which you can read about on a previous blog).
So, 10 reasons why news organizations should bump linked data up their priority list:
1. Linked data can boost SEO (search engine optimization)
People who tell you they can boost your SEO usually sound like witch doctors, telling you to tag all sorts of hocus pocus that doesn’t make rational sense or just seems like cynical populism. But at its simplest, SEO works through links. The more something is linked to, the higher it will come in people’s search results. So publishing content as linked data should, quite naturally, increase its SEO. A great example of this is the BBC’s natural history output. Type ‘Lion’ into Google and, chances are, a BBC linked data page will come in the first 10 results. This never used to happen until the BBC started tagging their natural history content as linked data.
2. Linked data allows others to link to your site much more easily
The world wide web is, more and more, being powered by algorithms; the Google search algorithm is perhaps the most obvious. But most sites now take advantage of some mechanized intelligence. ‘If you liked reading this, you might enjoy this…’ sort of thing. Problem is, algorithms – though intelligent – aren’t that intelligent. They have trouble telling the difference between, for example, Martin Moore (me), Martin Moore (kitchens), and Daniel Martin Moore (the Kentucky singer songwriter). But use linked data and they can. And once they can, sites like the BBC can link externally much more easily and intelligently.
3. Helps you build services based on your content
As it becomes increasingly difficult to get people to pay for news, so news organizations will need to build services based on their news – and other content – that people will pay for. You could, for example, provide a service that enabled people to compare schools in different areas, based on inspection reports, league tables, news reports, and parents’ stories. Creating services to do this is lots and lots easier if content is already made machine-readable through linked data.
4. Enables other people to build services based on your content – that you could profit from
Other people often have ideas you haven’t thought of. Other people also often have the space and time to experiment that you don’t have. Give them the opportunity to build stuff through linked data and they might come up with ‘killer apps’ that make you money. iphone apps anyone?
5. Allows you to link direct to source
You’re a news organization. Your brand is based partly on how much people trust the stuff you publish. Publish stuff in linked data and it enables you to link directly back to the report / research or statistics on which it was based – especially if that source is itself linked data (like http://data.gov.uk). That way, if you cite a crime statistic, say, you can link it directly back to the original source.
6. Helps journalists with their work
As a news organisation publishes more of its news content in linked data, so it can start providing its journalists with more helpful information to inform the articles they’re writing, and to make suggestions as to what else to link to when it’s published.
7. Throws bait over the paywall
Once content is behind a paywall it becomes invisible – unless you pay (that’s sort of the point). This is the same for joe public as for a search engine. But how are you, joe public, supposed to work out whether you want to pay for something if it’s invisible? Publish in linked data and there will be enough visible bits of information to help people work out if they want to pay for it. [This will probably be less of a deal with big search engines like Google, but more relevant to other search engines and third party services. Mind you, one of these bit players will, most likely, be the next Google or Facebook].
8. Makes data associated with your content dynamic
There is an ever growing mountain of information on the net that never gets updated. Pages devoted to football teams whose last score was added in 2006. Topic pages about political issues that haven’t seen a new story in months. But if those pages were filled with linked data, and linked to others that were too, they’d be automatically updated – rising from the dead like Frankenstein without you having to do diddly squat.
9. Start defining news events in linked data now and you could become a ‘canonical reference point’ (CRP)
What the heck is a canonical reference point, I hear you ask. Well, it’s a little like a virtual Grand Central Station. It’s a junction point for linked data; a hub which hundreds or even thousands of other sites link to as a way of helping to define their references. Examples of such hubs include: http://musicbrainz.org for music and musicians, data.gov.uk for UK gov stuff, http://dbpedia.org for almost anything. If you’re a news organization, why would you not want to be a hub?
10. Raises the platform for all
A web of linked data is a more intelligent web. A more mature and less superficial web. Not quite a semantic web, but getting there.
Of course, some of these benefits will come disproportionately to first movers (as with the BBC’s natural history pages). Which is exactly why news organizations, who have previously been pretty slow when it comes to web innovation, need to get their skates on.
More on linked data:
‘Linked data is blooming – why you should care’ on the ever readable Read Write Web, May 2009 (325 retweets to date)
A graphic of the linked data web: http://linkeddat
Tim Berners-Lee talking about linked data at TED 2009
My blog about our linked data summit
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.