Archive for the ‘The Times’ tag

An unnecessary unmasking that does more than just damage The Times’ reputation

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Anonymity in reporting did not start with blogging. But anonymous writing has exploded since the arrival of the web. Whether it is blogs, comments below blogs, comments beneath comment pieces or articles, or indeed articles themselves, anonymity – or in most cases pseudonyms – has characterized much of this first phase of democratic self-publishing.

There are certainly downsides to anonymity. Not knowing who has written something deprives comments and blogs of context. It creates another hurdle for the reader to climb to establish a piece’s credibility. It can relieve the author of feelings of responsibility. This can make the writer feel freer to write whatever they want, which can also lead him/her to extend their language or their accusations further than they might were their identity known.

There are also some big upsides to anonymity. One of these is the remarkable flowering of many new voices on the internet. This explosion of new, previously unheard voices is not only a good thing for political writing – as recognised by this year’s special Orwell Prize for blogging – but a good thing for society and for public understanding. It is part of the reinvention of journalism. Previously, people had to take their stories to a professional journalist and rely on that journalist, and his/her publication, to publish. This is no longer the case. They can publish it themselves.

Enormous numbers of people have taken up this opportunity. At BlogPulse’s last count there were 110,175,548 blogs published on the net. In the UK, there are blogs about care working (like Tanya Corbett’s), about magistrates (like The law West of Ealing Broadway), about local politics (like Bob Piper’s), and about driving an ambulance (like Random Acts of Reality).

But we are still at the very early stages of this reinvention. As the Media Standards Trust discovered with the 87 entries to this year’s Orwell Prize for Blogging (we, the Media Standards Trust – run the Orwell Prize with Political Quarterly and the Orwell Trust, but have no role in the judging), some blogs have a way to go before they could be said to have achieved Orwell’s aim of making political writing into an art. And there are clearly many unanswered questions about the responsibilities of bloggers to their work, to their colleagues, to those they work with and to the public.

Night Jack’s blog about his experiences as a policeman, which he submitted to this year’s special Orwell Prize for Blogging, was – the judges unanimously agreed – ‘wonderful’ and a clear winner. In their judgment ‘’The insight into the everyday life of the police that Jack Night’s wonderful blog offered was – everybody felt – something which only a blog could deliver, and he delivered it brilliantly’. Their decision was subsequently welcomed by many others. In an editorial The Guardian wrote that although Night Jack had stopped blogging after receiving the prize, ‘what is already there should be read by anyone who has a view on policing… This is life as the police see it. Read it’. His blogs not only illuminated the daily grind of a policeman, but shed light on the legal and judical process – something that has sadly disappeared from most newspapers with the decline of court reporting.

Night Jack was careful to disguise his own identity, and that of the people and cases he blogged about. He even stopped blogging having won the prize, conscious that his increased profile would make it impossible to continue. He did not seek to make any money from his blogs – then or since. He did not come to the awards ceremony. He donated his £3,000 prize money to the Police Benevolent Fund.

Then this week, more than two months after Night Jack stopped blogging, The Times published his real name, his picture, the police force in which he worked, and the name of one of the people in a case about which he wrote.

The Times justified its actions by suggesting that it was exposing the malpractice of a police officer. It did not say anything he had written was inaccurate, nor did it explain the public interest in publishing his real name – as opposed simply to telling the police force for which he worked (which it did) and letting them take disciplinary action (which they are). Why did it then need to publish it to an audience of millions? By publishing his identity the paper has not only prevented the continuation of the Night Jack blog (in its previous form), but significantly raised the risks of others who may be writing, or thinking about writing, from the frontline of public life.

By taking the decision to expose Night Jack The Times has almost certainly deprived us of voices that would otherwise have spoken out. It will probably have made whistleblowers and anonymous sources think twice before releasing information. It has, in other words, done a good job of suppressing free speech and freedom of expression.

In 1984 George Orwell wrote “If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.” It appears that The Times has, in this instance, taken on the role of a large boot, stamping on a little but important voice. Is this something for which a venerable 225-year-old newspaper would like to be remembered?

Written by Martin Moore

June 18th, 2009 at 10:44 am

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How will newspapers make money in future? Shopping? Travel? Sponsored editorial?

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As circulations fall, advertising revenues decline and recruitment advertising plummets, there continues to be much talk about how newspapers will make money in future.

Many of them are, and have been for some time, looking for ways to ‘monetize’ their reading public (i.e. milk readers for more cash).
You can get a pretty good idea of what this means by reading todays Times. I counted 21 ads for ways in which the paper could make additional revenue (not including encouraging people to buy the paper tomorrow or Saturday or one just promoting the brand).
These included:
Times shopping for… boots (‘Put your best boot forward’), foldaway buffet tables, Swiss Army Saturn messenger bags, 37 Shakespeare plays on DVD, jumbo storage bags, the world’s smallest x18 magnification binoculars and sustainable beech wood coathangers
Times Travel to Lake Garda, Venice, Verona, Prague, Rome, and other city breaks.
Times ticket packages to… the Royal Windsor Tattoo, Jersey boys
Times conferences / events like… the Times Bar conference or the London Film Festival in association with The Times,
Times offers for… half price books, magical evenings on ice, free hotel stays
Times subscriptions ‘freeze’
And, one of the strangest, an ad for a weekly Times online ‘streamlined’ series with Tony Hawks – sponsored by VW Passat C (see ‘A Life More Streamlined‘). The remarkable thing about this is the deliberate melding of editorial and advertising – the tagline for the VW Passat is ‘See the new streamlined coupe’.
All of which presumably necessary to make up for the shortfall in revenue from circulation and advertising. And most done by other newspapers (although perhaps not quite so voluminously).
Still, should we be concerned about the melding of advertising and editorial? Imagine extending the Tony Hawks model to other journalists or parts of the paper. This is your domestic news section brought to you by XYZ Security Contractors? Or, Dr Thomas Stuttaford’s column, in association with AXA Healthcare? Wait, I’ve just had a look, and many of  Dr Stuttaford’s columns are in association with AXA! Conflict of interest anyone?

Written by Martin Moore

October 23rd, 2008 at 11:16 am

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Selling politics

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Does politics sell? Few editors or politicians are confident it does. This is perfectly illustrated by today’s Times, whose front page typifies the insecurity both share about the public’s interest in politics.

Headlined ‘A Hollywood ending‘ the page is dominated by a picture of Arnold Schwarzennegger talking to Tony Blair outside Number 10. Beneath the picture the paper promotes ‘Ben Schott’s Prime Minister’s miscellany’. The lead story itself then focuses on the defection of a little known Tory MP. Blair’s departure and Brown’s arrival sold by celebrity and trivia.

But the editors’ insecurity is matched by that of the politicians. Blair knew the photo-op with Arnie would earn him a few front pages. Equally, did Brown need to pump up his arrival with news of a Tory defection? Is this a ‘huge coup for Brown’ as Philip Webster writes? Or, as Alice Miles describes it a few pages on; ‘A decision of no consequence to the country whatsoever, based probably on some fit of pique and personal vanity’, that simply re-emphasises the idea that politics is a big game?

I was talking yesterday to an all party parliamentary media group. A number of the politicians were despairing about their inability to communicate serious issues to the broader public (sound familiar?). But is it any wonder that much of the public is turned off when media and senior politicians collude in selling politics this way?

And is it any surprise that The Times feels insecure when its News Corp colleague, The Sun, takes time out from reporting on Big Brother and Paris Hilton to headline with a world exclusive interview‘ with George Bush? This is accompanied by a 16 page Sun pull-out of ‘The Tony Blair I Know’, peppered with quotes from Bill Clinton, Anthony Giddens and Bill Gates. This is Hello! meets Newsweek. Personality driven, populist, and devoid of political substance, it makes a curious, if fitting, end to the Blair era.

Written by Martin Moore

June 27th, 2007 at 7:16 am

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