Archive for the ‘transparency’ tag

Editors exposed – shedding a little light on UK national newspaper editors

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This post was first published on mediastandardstrust.org on 6th December 2010

It is a curious thing. British national newspaper editors have the power to choose what should be read by over 10 million people in Britain everyday (in print, many more eyeballs online), have the ability to influence public policy, and are regularly invited to meetings at Downing Street and Chequers.

Yet we know very little about them. If you Google the names of the editors of the Daily Telegraph (Tony Gallagher), the Daily Mirror (Richard Wallace), the Daily Star (Dawn Neesom) and the Sunday Times (John Witherow), you will find hardly any information online. Tony Gallagher is remarkably invisible on the net given that over 600,000 people rely on his editorial judgment every weekday morning.

This relative invisibility seems inconsistent with the power these editors wield. So journalisted.com thought it would have a go at making them a little less invisible.

From today www.journalisted.com (run by the Media Standards Trust) is publishing profiles of each of the national newspaper editors. These profiles contain basic biographical details like education and employment (where they are available), articles and books written by the editor, awards won, and professional contact details. The profiles also link to other sites that have biographical information, interviews or speeches given by the editor.

These are works-in-progress, and as you’ll see from some of the profiles, the information in the public domain is very sparse. So we’ll keep adding to them, and appealing to people to send us more information to fill in the many gaps (if you know of any please email us). Equally, if you are a national newspaper editor and you’re reading this, you’re welcome to claim your profile and add further information to it.

A few interesting things we’ve uncovered to date:

  • Dominic Mohan (The Sun), Gareth Morgan (Daily Star Sunday), Martin Townsend (Sunday Express), and Richard Wallace (Daily Mirror) were all showbiz/celeb gossip editors at one stage in their careers before becoming editors
  • Tina Weaver, Ian MacGregor, Dominic Mohan, and John Witherow have no publicly available email address where their readers can contact them, not even ‘editor@sunday-times.co.uk’ or equivalent
  • Gareth Morgan (Daily Star Sunday) studied physics and used to be a rocket scientist for British Aerospace
  • Colin Myler (News of the World) changed career in 1996-8 by becoming Chief Executive of the Super League Europe
  • Lionel Barber is fluent in French, German and Russian
  • Alan Rusbridger is, in addition to being editor of The Guardian, chairman of the National Youth Orchestra, visiting Professor of history at Queen Mary (despite having studied English at university) and writes children’s books
  • James Harding (The Times) has lived in Japan as a speechwriter for politician Koichi Kato (Democratic Party of Japan), and also in China as a correspondent

There is still lots more to add. We plan to put up a list of the awards won by each newspaper under the editor, and the formal complaints made about each newspaper while under the current editor (i.e. via the PCC).

Written by Martin Moore

December 17th, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Google’s new news tagging scheme fails to give credit where credit is due

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Far be it for me to question the brilliance of Google, but in the case of its new news meta tagging scheme, I’m struggling to work out why it is brilliant or how it will be successful.

First, we should applaud the sentiment. Most of us would agree that it is A Good Thing that we should be able to distinguish between syndicated and non-syndicated content, and that we should be able to link back to original sources. So it is important to recognize that both of these are – in theory – important steps forward both from the perspective of news and the public.

But there are a number of problems with the meta tag scheme that Google proposes.

Problems With Google’s Approach

Meta tags are clunky and likely to be gamed. They are clunky because they cover the whole page, not just the article. As such, if the page contains more than one article or, more likely, contains lots of other content besides the article (e.g. links, promos, ads), the meta tag will not distinguish between them. More important is that meta tags are, traditionally, what many people have used to game the web. Put in lots of meta tags about your content, the theory goes, and you will get bumped up the search engine results. Rather than address this problem, the new Google system is likely to make it worse, since there will be assumed to be a material value to adding the “original source” meta tag.

Though there is a clear value in being able to identify sources, distinguishing between an “original source” as opposed to a source is fraught with complications. This is something that those of us working on hNews, a microformat for news, have found when talking with news organizations. For example, if a journalist attends a press conference then writes up that press conference, is that the original source? Or is it the press release from the conference with a transcript of what was said? Or is it the report written by another journalist in the room published the following day etc.? Google appears to suggest they could all be “original sources”, but if this extends too far then it is hard to see what use it is.

Even when there is an obvious original source, like a scientific paper, news organizations rarely link back to it (even though it’s easy using a hyperlink). The BBC – which is generally more willing to source than most – has, historically, tended to link to the front page of a scientific publication or website rather than to the scientific paper itself (something the Corporation has sought to address in its more recent editorial guidelines). It is not even clear, in the Google meta-tagging scheme, whether a scientific paper is an original source, or the news article based on it is an original source.

And what about original additions to existing news stories? As Tom Krazit wrote on CNET news,

… the notion of “original source” doesn’t take into account incremental advances in news reporting, such as when one publication advances a story originally broken by another publication with new important details. In other words, if one publication broke the news of Prince William’s engagement while another (hypothetically) later revealed exactly how he proposed, who is the “original source” for stories related to “Prince William engagement,” a hot search term on Google today?

Something else Google’s scheme does not acknowledge is that there are already methodologies out there that do much of what it is proposing, and are in widespread use (ironic given Google’s launch title “Credit where credit is due”). For example, our News Challenge-funded project, hNews addresses the question of syndicated/non-syndicated, and in a much simpler and more effective way. Google’s meta tags do not clash with hNews (both conventions can be used together), but neither do they build on its elements or work in concert with them.

One of the key elements of hNews is “source-org” or the source organization from which the article came. Not only does this go part-way towards the “original source” second tag Google suggests, it also cleverly avoids the difficult question of how to credit a news article that may be based on wire copy but has been adapted since — a frequent occurence in journalism. The Google syndication method does not capture this important difference. hNews is also already the standard used by the U.S.’s biggest syndicator of content, the Associated Press, and is also used by more than 500 professional U.S. news organizations.

It’s also not clear if Google has thought about how this will fit into the workflow of journalists. Every journalist we spoke to when developing hNews said they did not want to have to do things that would add time and effort to what they already do to gather, write up, edit and publish a story. It was partly for this reason that hNews was made easy to integrate to publishing systems; it’s also why hNews marks information up automatically.

Finally, the new Google tags only give certain aspects of credit. They give credit to the news agency and the original source but not to the author, or to when the piece was first published, or how it was changed and updated. As such, they are a poor cousin to methodologies like hNews and linked data/RDFa.

Ways to Improve

In theory Google’s initiative could be, as this post started by saying, a good thing. But there are a number of things Google should do if it is serious about encouraging better sourcing and wants to create a system that works and is sustainable. It should:

  • Work out how to link its scheme to existing methodologies — not just hNews but linked data and other meta tagging methods.
  • Start a dialogue with news organizations about sourcing information in a more consistent and helpful way
  • Clarify what it means by original source and how it will deal with different types of sources
  • Explain how it will prevent its meta tagging system from being misused such that the term “original source” fast becomes useless
  • Use its enormous power to encourage news organizations to include sources, authors, etc. by ranking properly marked-up news items over plain-text ones

It is not clear whether the Google scheme – as currently designed – is more focused on helping Google with some of its own problems sorting news or with nurturing a broader ecology of good practice.

One cheer for intention, none yet for collaboration or execution.

This article was first posted at PBS MediaShift Ideas Lab on Thursday 18th November.

Written by Martin Moore

November 19th, 2010 at 4:42 pm

Posted in hNews

Tagged with , , , ,

577 US sites publishing hNews news

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The San Francisco Chronicle was founded in 1865. It is the only daily broadsheet newspaper in San Francisco – and is published online at SFgate.com. In the 1960s Paul Avery was a police reporter at the Chronicle when he started investigating the so-called ‘Zodiac Killer’. And, earlier this year Mark Fiore won a Pulitzer Prize for his animated online cartoons for the paper (well worth watching his cartoon with Snuggly the security beardemonstrating how to make the internet ‘wire tap friendly’).

The Chronicle is also one of 577 US news sites now publishing articles with hNews(full list here).

hNews is the news microformat we developed with the Associated Press that makes the provenance of news articles clear, consistent and machine readable. A news article with hNews will – by definition – identify its author, its source organisation, its title, when it was published and – in most cases – the license associated with its use and a link to the principles to which it adheres (e.g. see AP essential news). It could also have where it was written, when it was updated, and a bunch of other useful stuff.

Essentially, hNews makes the provenance of a news article a lot more transparent – which is good news for whoever produces the article (gains credit, creates potential revenue models etc.), and good news for the end user (better able to assess its provenance, greater credibility etc.).

Up to now, though we have been aware that many sites have been integrating hNews, there has not been a published list of these sites. This seemed to us a little unsatisfactory. So we went out and found as many of them as we could and have now published them on a list as an open Google doc.

There are, I understand, a few hundred more sites that have either already integrated hNews or are in the process of integrating it. We haven’t found them yet but will add them when we do. If you know of one (or if you are one) please let us know and we’ll add it.

If you’re interested in integrating hNews and are wondering why you would, you can read a piece I wrote for PBS MediaShift (‘How metadata can eliminate the need for paywalls’), see the official specification at hNews microformats wiki, watch an hNews presentation by Stuart Myles, view a (slightly dated) slideshow on why it creates ‘Value Added News’, or see how to add hNews to WordPress.

hNews was developed as part of the transparency initiative of the Media Standards Trust, which aims to make news on the web more transparent. The initiative has been funded by the MacArthur Foundation and the Knight Foundation. You can read more about the transparency initiative elsewhere on this site.

This post was first published on the Media Standards Trust site on Tuesday 12th October, 2010

Update: I’m grateful to Max Cutler for spotting a number of duplicate entries in the original list which have now been cleaned up. It’s still 577 sites since in the process of cleaning we found a few more. And, as I wrote in my original post, this number is by no means final. There are almost certainly a lot more sites publishing with hNews, it’s just a matter of finding them (through sweat and scrapers). So if you spot any that aren’t on the list, please let me know

Written by Martin Moore

October 15th, 2010 at 3:10 pm

Posted in hNews

Tagged with , , , , , ,

A defence of phone hacking, from ex-NotW journalist

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Paul McMullan is probably not the best defender of press freedom. His arguments are muddled and contradictory. He puts forward moral arguments for privacy intrusion, but then confesses to having no moral sense. Yet he is worth listening to, partly because his arguments clearly reflect the views of others working in newspapers, and partly because – as Nick Davies said at the City University debate on phone hacking last night – he is the one of the only ones “who had the bollocks to speak on the record” about phone hacking and other ‘dark arts’ practiced at the News of the World.

McMullan was a features executive and member of the News of the World’s investigations team. He now runs a pub in Dover. He told Nick Davies at the Guardian that “Getting information from confidential records, we did that regularly, time and time again. I always hid behind the journalist’s fundamental get-out clause that, if it’s in the public interest, you can do what you like. Some of what Steve [Whittamore] did was legal, like using the electoral register, but if he went a step further, I would not have given a second thought to whether that was illegal, because that’s part of your job.”

McMullan was one of six panellists debating how far a journalist should go, to a packed auditorium of 400+ students and journalists at City. Also on the panel were Guardian journalist Nick Davies, solicitor Mark Lewis, Professor Roy Greenslade, Max Mosley and Lord (Ken) MacDonald (former DPP), chaired by Andrew Caldecott QC.

For McMullan journalism pursues noble ends by ignoble means. It exposes corruption, hypocrisy, misbehaviour and moral transgressions. This is his justification not just for phone hacking but for delving deep into the private lives of public figures. If they hold themselves up as figures of public virtue, he argued, then the press should be able to show people when that is not true. We have a right to expose “dirty little sinners… breaking their marriage vows”, McMullan said.

Nor is it just public figures, but anyone who might have done something wrong. McMullan was particularly proud of a News of the World splash he worked on that ‘named and shamed’ 50 peadophiles in the UK, publishing their names, photographs and addresses in the paper. Unfortunately, as Roy Greenslade pointed out, not all of those named were paedophiles and a number later successfully sued the paper for defamation.

Privacy, for McMullan, is just another word for secrecy, and secrecy should be exposed. “Privacy is the place where we do bad things” McMullan said. “In order to have a free and open society, you must treat privacy as the demon”. Though the former NotW journalist may have been exaggerating for the sake of effect, the idea that journalists should have a right to invade people’s privacy for the greater benefit of society is shared by others. Paul Dacre, the editor-in-chief of Mail Group Newspapers, made a similar argument in one of his rare public outings in November 2008:

“if mass-circulation newspapers, which also devote considerable space to reporting and analysis of public affairs, don’t have the freedom to write about scandal, I doubt whether they will retain their mass circulations with the obvious worrying implications for the democratic process” (Paul Dacre, Society of Editors, 9 November 2008).

Yet there are many contradictions inherent in McMullan’s argument. He does not indicate whether there should be different rules for ‘public figures’ as against ‘ordinary people’. Channel 4’s Dispatches programme on Monday night, ‘Tabloids, Tories and Telephone Hacking’, interviewed a woman who had been the victim of a sexual assault by a celebrity. She was not herself a celebrity. She had not chosen to be assaulted. She had asked for, and been granted, legal anonymity by the court. Yet she was traced, pursued and harassed by journalists and photographers because – it would appear – her personal details were hacked.

Nor is it clear what constitutes ‘a public figure’ and whether public figures deserve some privacy protection as well. Politicians are public figures but are those that head the Federation International de l’Automobile (as Mosley did)? Mr Dacre is a public figure, yet he is highly protective of his own privacy, as are other newspaper editors, owners and executives like Richard Desmond and Rebekah Brooks (of News International). And we read very little about Dacre, Desmond or Brooks in the press. Only The Independent, for example, published the news that Richard Desmond’s divorce went through this week.

Celebrities are clearly public figures, but less clear is whether exposing their private lives is in the public interest. But, the argument goes, they are role models, and often deliberately expose their private lives for their own benefit; therefore the press are justified in publishing stories that appear to contradict a celebrity’s public persona. Yet, as Max Mosley pointed out, people do not go to watch John Terry because he is a good family man, they go to see him play football. On top of which, there is something sinister about the fact that the News of the World, we learn, keeps ‘dossiers’ on public figures and celebrities.

Eventually McMullan’s defence defaulted to the public. “The bigger jury is the readership” he said. If people do not approve of the stories than they will stop buying the paper, and then the paper will have to publish less intrusive stories.

This argument falls down on many fronts. People used to flock to public executions, but that was not used as a justification to maintain the death penalty. In addition to which, people did not know how the News of the World, and other newspapers, were finding their stories until the Guardian and the New York Times started investigating it.

Which brings us to the final irony in McMullan’s argument. If transparency is such a public good, why has News International reportedly paid out almost £2 million already to prevent files held by the police coming into the public domain? Wouldn’t it be to the benefit of everyone if these files – which purportedly have details of thousands of examples of privacy intrusion by the press – were opened up so we could judge for ourselves whether they were done in the public interest?

Other blogs about the City University #phonehacking debate:

Phone hacking: ex-News of the World journalist ‘tapped up’ by police‘ Josh Halliday

Mosley and McMullan ‘star’ in News of the World phone-hacking debate‘ Roy Greenslade

Nick Davies apologises to the News of the World‘ Jon Slattery

Privacy or press freedom? journalism needs to juggle both‘ Wannabe Hacks

Written by Martin Moore

October 6th, 2010 at 1:07 pm