Archive for the ‘Daily Mail’ tag
This post was originally published at PBS IdeasLab on July 8th 2010.
People in news don’t generally think of innovation as their job. It’s that old CP Snow thing of the two cultures, where innovation sits on the science not the arts side. I had my own experience of this at the American Society of Newspaper Editors conference in Washington a couple of months ago.
After one of the sessions I spotted an editor whose newspaper had adopted hNews (the Knight-funded news metadata standard we developed with the AP). “How’s it going?” I asked him. “Is it helping your online search? Are you using it to mark up your archive?”
Before I had even finished the editor was jotting something down on his notepad. “Here,” he said, “Call this guy. He’s our technical director — he’ll be able to help you out.”
Technology and innovation still remain, for most editors, something the techies do.
So it’s not that surprising that over much of the last decade, innovation in news has been happening outside the news industry. In news aggregation, the work of filtering and providing context has been done by Google News, YouTube, Digg, Reddit, NowPublic, Demotix and Wikipedia…I could go on. In community engagement, Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter led the way. In news-related services (the ones that tend to earn money) it has been Craigslist, Google AdWords and now mobile services like Foursquare.
Rather than trying to innovate themselves, many news organisations have chosen instead to gripe from the sidelines. Rupert Murdoch called Google a “thief” and a “parasite.” The U.K.’s Daily Mail has published stories about how using Facebook could raise your risk of cancer,, referred to someone as a “Facebook killer” (as in murderer), and runs scare stories about Facebook and child safety. And let’s not even start to take apart various news commentators’ dismissive attitude towards Twitter.
When they have seen the value of innovation, news organizations have tended to try and buy it in rather than do it themselves, with decidedly mixed results. Murdoch’s purchase of MySpace initially looked very smart, but now, as John Naughton wrote over the weekend, it “is beginning to look like a liability.” The AOL /Time Warner mashup never worked. Associated Newspapers in the U.K. have done slightly better by making smaller investments in classified sites.
Most news organisations do not see innovation as a critical element of what they do. This is not that unexpected since they spend their day jobs gathering and publishing news. Unfortunately for them, if it doesn’t become more central to their DNA they are liable to become extinct.
Speed and Unpredictability of Innovation
At last week’s Guardian Activate Summit, Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO, was asked what kept him awake at nights. “Almost all deaths in the IT industry are self-inflicted,” Schmidt said. “Large-scale companies make mistakes because they don’t continue to innovate.”
Schmidt does not need to look far to see how quickly startups can rise and fall. Bebo was started in 2005, was bought by AOL in 2008 for $850 million, and then was sold again this month to Criterion Capital for a fee reported to be under $10 million.
The problem for Schmidt — and one that is even more acute for news organizations — is the increasing speed and unpredictability of innovation. “I’m surprised at how random the future has become,” Clay Shirky said at the same Activate summit, meaning that the breadth of participation in the digital economy is now so wide that innovation can come from almost anyone, anywhere.
As an example he cited Ushahidi, a service built by two young guys in Kenya to map violence following the election in early 2008 that has now become a platform that “allows anyone to gather distributed data via SMS, email or web and visualize it on a map or timeline.” It has been used in South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, Pakistan, Gaza, Haiti and in the U.S.
He might also have cited Mendeley, a company which aims to organize the world’s academic research papers online. Though only 16 months old, the service already has over 29 million documents in its library, and is used by over 10,000 institutions and over 400,000 people. It won a prize at Activate for the startup “most likely to change the world for the better.”
The tools to innovate are much more widely available than they were. Meaning a good idea could be conceived in Nairobi, Bangalore or Vilnius, and also developed and launched there too, and then spread across the world. “The future is harder to predict,” Shirky said, “but easier to see.”
That’s why Google gives one day a week to its employees to work on an innovation of their choice (Google News famously emerged from one employee’s hobby project). It is why foundations like Knight have recognized the value of competition to innovation. And it’s why Facebook will only enjoy a spell at the peak.
There are exceptions in the news industry. The New York Times now has an R&D department, has taken the leap towards linked data, and published its whole archive in reusable RDF. The Guardian innovated with Comment is Free, its Open platform, and the Guardian Data Store. The BBC developed the iPlayer.
The Daily Telegraph had a go, setting up “Euston Partners” under then editor Will Lewis. (Although setting up an innovation center three miles away from the main office did not suggest it was seen as central to the future of the business.) The project was brought back in-house shortly after Lewis left the Telegraph in May 2010 and has been renamed the “Digital Futures Divisio
But mostly people in news don’t really do innovation. They’re too focused on generating content. But as the Knight Foundation has recognized, doing news in the same old way not only doesn’t pay — it doesn’t even solve the democratic problems many of those in news are so rightly concerned about. For some people FixMyStreet.com or its U.S. equivalent SeeClickFix is now more likely to give them a direct relationship with their council than the local newspaper.
News and media organizations have to realize that they are in the communications business, and being in that business means helping people to communicate. Giving them news to talk about is a big part of this, but it’s not the only part. The sooner they realize this and start to innovate, the better chance they have of surviving the next couple of decades.
The Daily Mail is suffering yet another public backlash – this time over the Triesman affair. Following an unprecedented response to Jan Moir’s piece about Stephen Gately the Mail now finds many people were not impressed by its publication of the ‘Triesman tapes’ that led to the FA Chairman’s resignation and has – by many accounts – significantly damaged the chances of England’s 2018 World Cup Bid.
- There are 1,427 comments beneath the Mail’s story ‘The woman who could cost England the 2018 World Cup: FA chief quits after ‘mistress’ tapes him accusing Spain and Russia of trying to bribe referees’ (accessed 19/5/2010, comments now closed) – many of them not complimentary:
‘Dear Editor of The Mail, Congratulations, your paper is about to be as popular as The Sun is in Merseyside’ RKiran, London, 19/5/2010
‘Can’t believe your stupidity! Thanks for loosing us the world cup. Why would anybody from the birthplace of the game want to take it away from us in one quick blow! Just because you choose to print the actions of one man, didn’t you think about the hundreds of people working flat out to get us the world cup. Or the millions of people you have just broken the hearts of?’ Baxter, Swadlincote, Derbyshire, 19/5/2010
‘So who exactly is helped by this “expose”? What higher purpose is served by publishing it? Millions of pounds and thousands of hours of effort, plus the chance of a £3bn boost to the British economy, ruined by your insatiable desire for xenophobic tittle-tattle. What a vile, pointless hack-rag yours is’ Gary, Exeter, 16/5/2010
- There are 1,027 members of the Facebook group ‘Boycott the Daily Mail and Mail On Sunday – Protect our World Cup bid’
- By Tuesday 55 people had complained to the Press Complaints Commission
- 84% of Talksport listeners who responded to an online poll believed the Mail on Sunday had been wrong to publish (according to Cahal Milmo)
- Gary Lineker quit his weekly column in the Mail on Sunday saying:
‘I think it’s a real shame the newspaper made the judgment that they did for short term gain in the sales of newspapers because it’s hard to see that there was any other positive from it… I think this story goes against the national interest… [and] There’s absolutely no question our chances have been damaged’ (Lineker writing in the Independent)
The Mail apparently has a second batch of Triesman tapes (according to the Independent) but given that he is now gone and the paper presumably does not want to rub salt into the public’s outrage, perhaps the paper will choose not to publish these.
The publication of secretly recorded conversations is far from new. The News of the World’s Mazher Mahmood (the ‘fake Sheikh’) has engineered dozens if not hundreds of secret recordings of public figures – particularly footballers and football managers. People may still remember how he taped then England coach Sven Goran Eriksson, prior to the 2006 World Cup, saying that he would step down after the World Cup to manage Aston Villa.
The difference now is the ease with which anyone can record and store audio, video, photographs and text. Almost the only constraint on what you can record of our own – or someone else’s – life is your own inclination.
The choice therefore becomes whether to publish. Such a choice is particularly acute for a newspaper that publishes to a mass audience, since publication is likely to have implications. It therefore has to base its decision to publish on:
- What interests the public – unsurprisingly, the primary driver for many news/media outlets
- What is within the law – a practical, if shortsighted, policy since the law can then be extended with potentially negative consequences for free speech (see UK privacy law)
- How it conforms to the paper’s own principles – as outlined by the newspaper or a body like the Press Complaints Commission (the Mail says it adheres to the Editors Code of Practice)
- The public interest – open to many interpretations, but defined on Wikipedia as “common well-being” or “general welfare”
The Mail wants to infuriate people and stir up trouble. That’s fine – more power to its sharp elbows. But it also wants to topple public figures – what one might call its ‘Saddam Hussein strategy’. Virtually every week one or more of its columnists calls for someone’s resignation (see previous post). The problem is, as we know from the UK’s experience in Iraq, toppling a public figure just because you can is not much of a strategy. Plus, without thinking about the consequences you can find it doesn’t do much good for the “common well-being” or “general welfare”.
In the case of Triesman, for example, the Mail’s defenestration has done more than derail one man’s career. The 2018 World Cup bid is, by many people’s reckoning, now looking decidedly shakey. Is this the sort of trouble the Mail wants to stir up?
Perhaps the public response to the Triesman affair, coupled with other recent responses, may make it rethink its Saddam Hussein approach. Or perhaps people will just stop buying the paper.
Also worth reading -
David Bond (BBC Sports Editor): ‘Triesman affair leaves sour taste‘
Roy Greenslade (Media Guardian): ‘Mail suffers, rightly, for its Triesman story‘
This is a piece I wrote this week for the Guardian’s Comment is Free (published under the title, ‘Between the lawyers and the mob‘):
Last week was a good week for those of us who support press freedom and at the same time believe the press should be made more accountable. But it also raised difficult and rather disturbing questions about free speech and the future of press self-regulation.
The Guardian’s courageous decision to challenge the remit of the Trafigura super-injunction sparked justified outrage in the blogosphere and “Twitterverse” and led to a climbdown by Trafigura’s lawyers, Carter-Ruck. Meanwhile, Jan Moir’s deeply offensive piece about the death of Stephen Gately, which alleged – with no evidence – that there was “nothing ‘natural’ about Stephen Gately’s death” – provoked an even greater response on Twitter. Many of those offended (more than 22,000 of them by Tuesday morning) then complained to the Press Complaints Commission, in part prompted by Stephen Fry, Derren Brown and Charlie Brooker.
The Daily Mail did not apologise, though it changed the title, and removed advertising from around the piece. Moir did not apologise either, but after the unprecedented public reaction released a disgruntled statement suggesting her piece had been misinterpreted and that the public response to it was orchestrated (which raises the question, was the public response to the Jonathan Ross/Russell Brand episode not orchestrated?). The Mail also then published a follow-up piece by Janet Street-Porter that was critical of Moir. The case is now being looked at by the PCC.
Hooray, you say. Two victories in a week – one for press freedom and another for press accountability – what a result. Yet both episodes also raise worrying questions about press freedom, the current state of newspaper accountability, and the threat of mob justice.
In the Trafigura affair, it was striking that almost no newspapers (with the exception of the Guardian) spoke out strongly, despite the danger super-injunctions represent to press freedom. Indeed many newspapers remained strangely silent even after Carter-Ruck relaxed Trafigura’s super-injunction. Nor was there a substantial reaction from formal bodies. The PCC did not say anything, despite in the past promoting itself as a defender of press freedom (even though, unlike its predecessor, it is not constituted to do this). Nor, outside Index on Censorship, were other industry bodies vocal.
The outrage at the Guardian gagging came from individuals, and was remarkably spontaneous and disorganised. Twitter provided the platform for people with common views to come together. This was exciting and tremendously heartening, but showed how few formal institutions there are to protect press freedom despite the significant and growing threats it faces.
The Moir case, on the other hand, illustrates how little accountability there is at some newspapers. If you were offended and wanted to complain, what options did you have? The Daily Mail has no readers’ editor, and no formal complaints process that is publicly accessible in the newspaper or on its website. The only reference to the PCC on Mail Online is not linked to from any other page on the site and is therefore, to all intents and purposes, invisible. This is a newspaper whose editor is the chair of the PCC’s editorial code committee and who sits on the PCC’s appointments and funding body, Pressbof. Yet his newspaper lacks the most basic public accountability mechanisms.
And, if you escalated your complaint to the PCC, as thousands did, you would probably find yourself equally dissatisfied at the outcome. This is not the fault of the PCC’s secretariat, who are diligently working their way through the largest number of complaints over one article in their history. Rather it is due to the rules that artificially limit the complaints they can accept, and the limited sanctions available to them. All 22,000 of these complaints can, according to the rules laid down by the industry, be rejected – since they are considered “third party complaints” (complaints not made by someone directly referenced in the article). In this case, the PCC has said it will consider the complaints and write to the Daily Mail for a response. However, when that response is a small apology tucked inside the paper, many will feel the Daily Mail has got off considerably more lightly than, say, the BBC after the Ross/Brand affair.
This means you are left with the wisdom of the crowd – also known as mob justice. It seem appropriate and proportionate when you happen to agree with it, as in this case, but will seem decidedly unjust if you disagree.
Unless newspapers take more responsibility for their own content, give people the opportunity to complain and respond adequately to those complaints, then they – and their journalists – will come under increasing criticism and attack from the blogosphere, the Twitterverse and other social media. Similarly, unless news organisations protest about the misuse of injunctions, actions such as Trafigura’s will become even more difficult to prevent. We do not want to find ourselves in a situation where free speech is constrained by expensive lawyers, nor one where it is dictated by the mob.