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14 posts categorized "Media"

31 March 2016

Nobody knows anything

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The screenwriter William Goldman (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, All the President's Men, The Princess Bride) wrote one of the essential books on Hollywood, Adventures in the Screen Trade. Among its many words of wisdom about how movies actually work, the most celebrated are those that express what he calls "the single most important fact, perhaps, of the entire movie industry" -

NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING

Attending a debate on the future of newspapers at City University yesterday, Goldman's words came to me. In the world of digital news that now faces us, nobody knows anything.

Newindy

Independent Digital front pages, from http://edition.independent.co.uk

Now this isn't necessarily a bad thing. Hollywood may lurch from triumph to disaster to further disaster with little idea of what is going to succeed, yet it continues to produce the occasional great or commercially successful film, and it has not collapsed as a business. But it lives in a constant state of anxiety, because its hopes are all based around the whims of a mercurial audience. After centuries of producing news in a form that people would regularly buy into, the news industry is now facing a world in which it cannot say from one year to the next what model is going to work, or whether there ever will be the same stability on which the newspaper business subsisted for so long.

The debate was entitled "Newsprint - it ain't over yet!" (originally it was billed as the less confident "Is print dead?")  and was organised by City University and the Media Society. Chaired by Professor Roy Greenslade of City University and Guardian Media, the guest speakers were Sarah Baxter, Deputy Editor of the Sunday Times, Christian Broughton, Editor of the Independent Digital and Jane Singer, Professor of Journalism Innovation at City University. Sadly, Alison Phillips, editor of the UK's latest national newspaper, The New Day, was advertised but not available on the day.

It was an interesting debate, if somewhat skewed towards the view of journalists rather than readers, inevitably given the speakers and the audience of journalism students and media professionals. The current crises were all addressed - the challenges of making digital pay, the supposed threat of the BBC towards regional newspapers, the challenge of ad-blocking software to business models, what jobs are there for today's journalism students? - and the generally expressed fears of who will hold governments to account in a world without newspapers and traditional investigative journalism.

The two speakers from news organisations spoke confidently about their latest business models. The Independent closed its print edition on 26 March, but has strongly asserted the power of its digital, with a website that is profitable, and the newly-launched daily digital edition with front-page layout looking for all the world like the print edition still existed (no doubt to comfort former subscribers to the print version who they hope will move over to the digital). The Times and Sunday Times have announced that they are moving away from a rolling digital news model (the "flim-flam of passing news" in Baxter's words) to offer a joint digital news package in timed editions (9am, midday and 5pm), just like a print newspaper.

Newsprint

The debate at City University, with (L-R) Christian Broughton, Jane Singer, Roy Greenslade and Sarah Baxter

So the latest digital news models are looking towards mimicking the solidity of print. This may comfort the traditionalist buyers, and is an acknowledgment of the power of brand and the strength of print in making a news story part of the public agenda. But that's just today's strategy. Who can say if they will still be operational five years from now, or even a year from now? Other great ideas for ensuring long-term stability will follow soon enough, while others will pursue their own plans. Perhaps the Blendle model of pay-per-article, as developed in the Netherlands, will prove successful. Perhaps philanthropic funding models that work in the USA can be transported here. Perhaps the paid-for model adopted by The Times offers the only security. Perhaps going free but reaching out to as many millions as possible is what will work. Perhaps print will endure far longer than we expect, valued by an 'elite' audience if not the majority.

The truth is, nobody knows. This is a huge challenge for the British Library, which has a mission to preserve the UK's news. Such archiving thrives on consistency of output, something which print newspapers have long provided, with their uniformity of format and regularity of publication. The days of certainty are over for news archiving as they are for news publication. We will have to keep reinventing policies and procedures, just to keep up. It certainly seems unlikely that we will ever return to the reliability of the past. Sarah Baxter said that we are in a transitional phase of news production, but perhaps it is always going to be a transitional phase.

News publication in the future looks to be condemned to uncertainty, flitting from one platform to another, from one business model to the next - because that is how the digital world works, with its continual need to keep re-inventing itself. News publication will nevertheless thrive, however, in one form or another, because we will always thirst for news. It will continue to hit the occasional heights, keeping us informed and creating essential talking points. But, like the movies, it is doomed to a constant state of anxiety, for as long into the future as anyone can see.

 

 

19 December 2014

2014 - the year's news about news

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2014 has been an extraordinary, sometimes harrowing, year for news. It has also been a highly significant year for the production and use of news itself - hot topics have included the hacking trial, IPSO, Buzzfeed, data journalism, Google and the right to be forgotten, Brown Moses, Ezra Klein, and the New York Times's leaked Innovation report. It's also been a major year for the British Library's news collection, with the opening of our Newsroom and the successful conclusion of our newspaper digitisation programme. Here are some of the highlights from the year's news about news.

NYT

January

The re-design of the New York Times website was much discussed. Telegraph editor Tony Gallagher was sacked. The Birmingham Post's Business Daily Tablet edition, designed to  “reinvent business journalism within the regional press,” closed after seven months. Also owned by Trinity Mirror was The People, a Buzzfeed-style site populated with "native content". It lasted three months.  But Trinity enjoyed rather more success with viral news site UsVsTh3m. Charley Miller at Medium wondered if in the future we might all become personal broadcasters. News UK launched The Academy, to train teenagers to become journalists. James Harding of BBC News gave a key speech, 'Journalism Today' at the British Library (the first of our three WT Stead lectures). Philosopher Alan de Botton's book The News was not reviewed kindly. Facebook announced Paper. Kola Dumor, the BBC World News presenter, and Chris Chataway, athlete, politicians and news reporter for BBC and ITN, died.

Liberation

February

The staff of French left-wing journal Libération took over the front page to protest at the paper's shareholder group's plans to turn it into a social and cultural hub. Richard Sambrook and Sean McGuire argued that 24-hour news has had its day - and got an angry response from Sky News's Adam Boulton. London news radio station LBC went national. Marc Andreessen's optimistic piece, 'The Future of the News Business', was much shared and debated. 

538

March

American data guru Nate Silver launched data journalism site FiveThirtyEight. Getty made 35 million images freely available.  The New York Times issued a correction for an article written 20 January 1853. The Sun's Page 3 v Breast Cancer campaign did not impress the campaign site No More Page 3Susanna Reid left BBC Breakfast for ITV's planned Good Morning Britain programme. Are robots the future of news? Andrew Pettegree's book The Invention of News, on the early history of newspapers, was greatly admired. The Evening Standard-backed London TV Channel, London Live, went live.

Newsroom

April

The British Library opened its new reading room for news, the Newsroom. Emly Bell lectured at the Library on Journalism in the Age of Automation and Big Data. Celebrity news blogger Ezra Klein launched Vox.com, with its user-friendly 'cards' giving background information to stories. News headlines from UK regional newspapers became an Internet cult. Are automated breaking news stories the future of news? But what about how the news archives of tomorrow will look, asked Adrienne LaFrance. 26 searching questions for news organisations from Raju Narisetti about the move to digital. The Mirror's 'crying child' front cover (which turned out to be a stock photo, not a British child in need of food parcels) caused controversy. British Pathé released 85,000 historic newsreels on YouTube. The New York Times joined the explanatory journalism craze with offshoot The Upshot. Dutch government-funded news site Blendle asked you to pay for stories, giving you your money back if you were not completely satisfied

Innovation

May

Most discussed news-about-news subject of the year was probably the leaked copy of the New York Times's 'Innovation' report, making many - and not just in the newspaper world - think if they were doing enough about digital. But just why was the NYT's executive editor Jill Abramson fired? The British Library published a news content strategy (and not a newspaper strategy). Facebook and Storyful launched FB Newswire. London Live's chief programmer quit after terrible audience figures. Nate Silver's advice to young journalists - learn to code. Good Morning Britain launched (to a mixed reception). Max Clifford was found guilty. Journalist of the year? - quite possibly citizen journalist and social media sleuth Eliot Higgins aka Brown Moses. Immersive narratives became all the rage, led by BBC News's The Reykjavik Confessions. The British Newspaper Archive reached 8 million historic newspaper pages online. And the Duchess of Cambridge's rear became front page viewing (elsewhere).

Miliband

June

Ed Miliband's interview for Buzzfeed saw his comments on reading the news being analysed a great deal (he uses RealClearPolitics). Also much devoured was the Reuters Institute's annual Digital News Report. As was Robert Peston's speech on threats to journalism.  Benedict Cumberbatch helped bring BBC radio news scripts of D-Day (from the British Library's collection) back to life. Are drones the future of news? The Sun tried to give a free copy of a version of the paper backing the England football team at the World Cup, which didn't impress everyone. Ed Miliband then apologised for endorsing it. An Egyptian court sentenced two Al Jazeera journalists to seven years in jail and one to ten years in jail. Jeremy Paxman stood down from Newsnight. At the end of the phone hacking trial, News of the World editor Andy Coulson was found guilty of a conspiracy to intercept voicemails, while former News International chief executive Mrs Brooks was found not guilty. Is Fox News more dangerous than ISIS? So Russell Brand claimed in a YouTube video. And the dream headline occured - Man Bites Dog

Ukraine

July

Social sleuthing from Storyful uncovered evidence of surface-to-air missiles in eastern Ukraine following the shooting down of airliner MH17, as verification of online information became the topic of the hour. Sky News' Colin Brazier was condemned for a live news broadcast when he briefly looked through the content of the luggage of one of the victims of MH17, and produced a thoughtful apology. Ian Burrell at The Independent said poor news coverage was exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan. A European court decision allowed individuals to request that Google remove links to historical articles which has personal information that they would rather was forgotten. George Clooney forced Mail Online to apologise. Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow's heartfelt video account of the child victims in Gaza went viral. There was a timely and useful report on the state of hyperlocal community news in the UK. The Independent launched i100. Brown Moses launched the Bellingcat site to train others in crowdsourced reporting. The 'Fake Sheikh' was himself entrapped. Sarah Palin launched a news channel. There was plagiarism at BuzzfeedThe Sun said farewell to Wapping.

Vice

August

Medyan Dairieh of Vice News scooped the world with his insider video report on the Islamic State. Is virtual reality the future of news? Chapman Pincher died, aged 100. Nick Davies published Hack Attack, on the phone hacking saga. Newspapers marked the centenary of the First World War with solemnity. American started to get alarmed about ebola. David Carr pronounced on the imminent death of the print newspaper.  So did Clay Shirky. 4,000 Buzzfeed posts disappeared. The sound of typewriters returned to the newsroom of The Times. American journalist James Foley was murdered in Syria.

Scotland

September

According to Twitter, Scotland won its independence. Alan Rusbridger spoke at the British Library on the urgent need to protect journalists' sources. The Guardian announced the building of Guardian Space (in King's Cross). Do people remember news better if they read it in print? The dizzying decline of Britain's local newspapers. Newsnight's Ian Katz on the death of the political interview. Hannah Storm on how journalists are becoming propaganda. Independent press regulator IPSO was launched - Hacked Off was hacked off about it.

Bradlee

October

Legendary Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee died, aged 93. Ebola coverage - there was the good, the bad and the ugly. Among the good was much-praised single issue site Ebola Deeply. Among the ugly were fake news sites spreading ebola panic. Is Emergent the future of news? We considered how Edward Snowden changed journalism. Was Krishnan Guru-Murthy's interview with Richard Ayoade the greatest ever? Time travel was offered with the New York Times's TimesMachine archive service.

Getreading

November

Many saw the end of times with the news that Trinity Mirror was closing of seven regional print titles, including The Reading Post, and replacing them with a single website (GetReading). But Tien Tzuo said newspapers are not dying (at least, not some of them). The Newspaper Society and the Newspaper Publishers' Association merged to form the News Media Association. The British Newspaper Archive reached 9 million pages online. Print newspapers became available once more to British Library users, after a year's absence. Professor Aled Jones lectured at the BL on newspaper reading rooms and civic engagement.

Syrian

December

The 'Syrian Hero Boy' video (after being seen by millions) was revealed to be a sham. A new national newspaper was launched, the pro-independence Scottish title The National. Emily Bell's lecture 'Silicon Valley and journalism: make up or break up?' led to much thinking about the future of news. Andrew Norfolk was named journalist of the year at the British Journalism Awards for his investigations into child abuse for The Times. The archive of The Independent is to be digitised. A Wikipedia for news? Google News withdrew its service from Spain after a law was passed saying it had to pay royalties on use of news snippets. Now Spanish newspapers are complaining of loss of traffic. There was an Early Day Motion in the UK parliament against the closure of local newspapers. Alan Rusbridger announced he was standing down as Guardian editor-in-chief. Did Al-Jazeera's hackathon uncover the future of news? And finally, why it is bad news to publish only good news.

This blog is one year old today, by the way. See you next year.

18 November 2014

They are a-changin'

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Two recent news stories from the world of news have given indication of how time may eventually run out for print newspapers. On the other hand, strong arguments have also been made recently for the sturdy nature of the medium, which suggest that the British Library will be continuing to collect newpapers for a good while yet.

Nma

http://www.newsmediauk.org

Firstly, it was announced last week that two august newspaper institutions, the Newspaper Society and the Newspaper Publishers' Association have merged to form the News Media Association, saying goodbye in name to the medium to which they have been associated for over a century in the case of the latter, and nearly two hundred years in the case of the former. The Newspaper Society was founded in 1836 and has served as the industry body for regional and local newspapers in the UK.. The Newspaper Publishers' Association was founded in 1906 (as the Newspaper Proprietors' Association) and has served as the trade association of the UK's national papers.

Collectively the two organisations - which were already sharing the same offices - now represent the national, regional and local newspapers of the UK, and exist to promote the interest of what the NMA describes as "£6 billion sector read by 42 million adults every month in print and online". But the NMA's strapline is "the voice of national, regional and local newsbrands", and that's the heart of the matter. Their business is news, and newspapers are merely one means to that end. Most of our newsbrands originate in newspaper titles, but The Guardian, The Times and the Mail are no longer newspapers - they are news publishing hubs, distributing news through multiple channels, digital and print. 

Getreading

http://www.getreading.co.uk

Print newspapers have remained powerful even in an encroaching digital world in large part because they attract the greater part of the advertising market. But news from publishers Trinity Mirror last week indicates that change is on its way. Tales of regional papers closing or dailies converting into weeklies have been common over the past few years, but Trinity Mirror's closure of seven regional print titles - The Reading Post (a former daily title), its free sister title GetReadingWokingham Times, Bracknell Times, Surrey Herald, Woking Informer and Harrow Observer - is particularly dramatic. It will replace these with the GetReading website in what they are calling "a bold, digital only approach", driven by an increased digital market penetration in the area, with the number of unique users of the GetReading site having grown over the past year by 68%. Fifty posts will be lost, with twelve new ones created in the fields of digital editorial and digital commercial.

This could be the tipping point - where anticipated digital exposure starts to outweigh the lingering advantages of staying with print. Of course it is not a like-for-like transfer from print world to digital world, and has been greeted with dismay by champions of regional journalism as we have known it. But it indicates a greater certainly from some of those in the newspaper publishing business as to where they feel confident about going next. It indicates how groups of titles linked together by a common website may be more likely to disappear rather than the individual titles that we have seen so far. Some think it could be the end of local newspapers as we have known them.

But others see strong signs that the print newspaper may yet survive for a good while yet, or at least some print newspapers will. Tien Tzuo, founder and chief-executive of business management software company Zuora, wrote a defiant piece recently, reproduced by The Guardian, 'Let’s get over the whole 'newspapers are dying' thing'. he writes:

There are two prevailing narratives in print-to-digital media right now: the unstoppable VC-fuelled ascent of digital publishers like BuzzFeed and the inevitable decline of ink-stained legacy publishers like the New York Times. Both stories are wrong.

They assume digital media companies operate in some magical overhead-free universe with infinitely ascending online advertising rates, and that newspapers are permanently anchored to declining print revenues.

They also conflate content with form. Newspapers are intellectual assets, not physical ones. Their core product consists of making smart editorial decisions and publishing sharp voices. Whether you choose to read those voices on a phone or on a broadsheet makes no difference.

Tien Tzuo's confidence in the 'creative entrepreneurialism' of some of the UK's national newspapers (or companies "formerly known as newspapers" shows how a strong business model for print newspapers still exists. But it seems to be a national newspaper model, not necessarily one for regional titles, which must be more likely to contract and end up sharing centralised, digital newsrooms with web platforms. Digital first will inexorably turn into digital only.

It's a news media world now, and at the British Library we need to be alert to these changes as we work to archive the UK's published news as comprehensively as we can. The chances are that there will be far fewer print titles over the next few years, but that some strong newspapers will survive, as part of a multi-format news publishing strategy on the part of their owners. We archive both newspapers in print and newspaper websites, and if one of the former disappears we will be collecting its web successor. In whatever forms news is published, we should be ready for it.

 

24 September 2014

News from the community

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Over the past few years a quiet revolution has been taking place in the production of news in the UK. The people are making the news for themselves. Inspired by blogging platforms, forums, Facebook and other social media, and the rise in mobile devices, but all the more by an urge to report on local issues that matter to them, people have been producing news-based online services - occasionally in print form as well - that operate on a local level. They have been given the name hyperlocal media, and there are hundreds of them out there. Many are reading them, some academics are studying them, and here at the British Library we want to archive them.

Porttalbotmagnet

Port Talbot Magnet, http://www.lnpt.org

The term 'hyperlocal' comes from the USA and in general means local news and information sources online which are not produced by traditional media owners, but are instead created by communities themselves. As a phenomenon in the UK it seems to date back to 2007, though with some roots stretching back further than that. Just how many hyperlocal sites are out there in the UK no one knows. In 2012 the Openly Local site attempted to list them all and found 700 of them, but the data has not been updated for some while now, and without a system of registration it is hard to see how it would be possible ever to document them all with any certainty.

Part of the challenge lies in definition - some of the sites cover villages or corners of one town, others stretch over a whole city. Some are news sites, some information or arts and culture sites. Some are simply message forums; others look just like online newspapers from traditional media owners. Here is a selection of titles to demonstrate the range:

There has been growing interest from policy makers and academics in the hyperlocal phenomenon. in 2012 NESTA ( National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) produced a report, Here and Now: UK hyperlocal media today which looked at the growth of the media, their sustainability, funding and visibility. Two AHRC-funded projects at Cardiff, Birmingham and Westminster universities have been studying hyperlocal media and combined this year to produce  a report: The State of Hyperlocal Community News in the UK.

The report finds that three-quarters of hyperlocal producers have been producing news for over three years and nearly a third for more than five years. Intriguingly, almost half of those surveyed had some sort of journalistic training or media experience, much higher than one might have suspected.

The connection with habitual news media practice is shown by three-quarters of respondents having covered local campaigns instigated by others, with well over a third have instigated their own. Most of those behind such sites work part-time on them: 57% work up to 10 hours per week, 26% work between 11 and 30 hours per week. The impact generated by all this effort is relatively low, as one would expect for local sites: a small group of high-performing community news sites reach audiences between 10,000 and 100,000 unique visits per month but most reach quite modest audiences of around 5,000 per month.

Community news producers tend do it for love and dedication to the cause. Most fund the running costs from their own pockets, but around one in four raise enough money to cover their costs, with advertising being the dominant form of income generation. 12% make less than £100 a month; 13% generate more than £500 per month. Yet nine out of ten believe they can sustain, or increase, current levels of output for the coming year, and eight out of then have ambitions to expand their sites. Hyperlocals may eventually fall in number as some lose the drive to continue what they have started up, but a core looks like to become a fixed part of the news media landscape.

Peckham

The Peckham Peculiar, http://peckhampeculiar.tumblr.com

Hyperlocalism is turning anyone who wants to be into a journalist or a media producer. Fancy having a go for yourself? Cardiff University's Centre for Community Journalism has produced a handy guide: Community Engagement and Hyperlocal News: a practical guide. This provides instruction on how to identify, listen to and engage with the community you wish to serve, how to make best use of social media, what online tools can help you, how to produce engaging content, how to cover local causes and campaigns, how to manage your time most effectively (a key issue mentioned by practitioners is how they never seem to have enough time achieve what they want to achieve) and how to monitor your impact.

We are witnessing a grassroots news revolution, and it is instructive to look at the parallels with the early history of newspaper production in this country. Newspapers and newsbooks arose in Britain from the early seventeenth century. Building on what had previously been private news services or occasional leaflets and broadsides, newspapers grew rapidly to serve an audience thirst for current information and the exercise of opinion. The civil war encouraged this demand to know, and though news production was constrained for a time by censorship and licensing restrictions, and then taxation, titles spread across the country until by the mid-eighteenth century few corners of the country were without a newspaper of some kind. Newspapers became a signifier of local identity. Their variousness demonstrated that news changes according to the needs of its consumers. What is news to someone in one area is not news to another. News is made by its communities. This is what the hyperlocal revolution has rediscovered.

Cybermoor

Alston Moor, http://www.cybermoor.org

Another parallel with early newspapers needs to halted. Thousands of newspaper issues produced in Britain from the 17th to the mid-19th century have been lost because there was no system in place for collecting them and no library to hold them. It is only thanks to collectors such as George Thomason and Charles Burney that we have the early British newspaper collection that we do, now part of the British Library's collection (since 1869 a copy of every newspaper published in Britain and Ireland has been acquired under legal deposit, originally by the British Museum and now by the British Library).

We do not intend to lose this new flowering of news production in the same way. In April 2013 non-print legal deposit legislation was passed which has enabled the Library to capture electronic publications on top of the print publications traditionally collected under legal deposit. We began by crawling the entire .uk domain (some 3.5 million websites); subsequent crawls will cover all websites published in the United Kingdom, so far as we are able to identify them. Eventually all British hyperlocal sites will be included, but how to find them thereafter, and what about those who currently may be slipping through the net?

So it is that we have a tool which enables curators to identify particular sites for retention, and to tag these so that they can be gathered into collections. In September we identified an initial 500 news websites - mostly newspaper sites - which we would archive on a regular and frequent basis, some weekly, some daily (the main web archiving crawl is annual). We will now be adding a further 500 or so sites for regular web archiving, most of them hyperlocal news sites, largely based on a list kindly provided by Dave Harte of Birmingham City University, one of the collaborators behind the Cardiff/Birmingham 'Media, Community and the Creative Citizen' project.

Some of these sites will be short-lived. Some will change their name, or web address. Who knows, some may merge or otherwise morph, as the community news sector matures. The important thing is that we capture what we can now. We need also to do more to acquire the print versions of hyperlocals, where these exist, only a few of which are currently being picked up through legal deposit. Then we need to keep a watchful eye on what new sites emerge, and which ones die, and review our selection on an annual basis at least. It's important to note that the Legal Deposit UK Web Archive may only be accessed onsite via Reading Room computers at the British Library and other legal deposit libraries (i.e. the national libraries of Scotland and Wales, the Bodleian, Cambridge University library and Trinity College Dublin). Interested researchers can come to the British Library's Newsroom, and any search result on the Web Archive can be filtered by the term 'news'. We haven't started archiving the hyperlocals yet, but plan to start doing so within the next few weeks.

Last week the Royal College of Art hosted the Creative Citizens conference, on creative citizenship and its value to the community. There was a panel on hyperlocal news media, at which I was fortunate to speak, demonstrating the links between news media of the past and this emerging news medium, and calling for the sites to be identified, archived, and then used. We need researchers to start using this new research resource, as part of the broadening news media world of which newspapers, television and radio news now form only a part. Most of these sites are still findable online, of course, but that's unlikely always to be the case, and being able to search across them all (or at least a good many of them) will tell us a lot about what this new world of community news is telling us about our communities. It will also show how news power is changing. Anyone can be a journalist. Anyone can be a media producer. So could you.

  • The Centre for Community Journalism has resources and training events for those interested in community journalism, and a directory of hyperlocal sites
  • Openly Local is a resource for accessing local government information, with a directory of hyperlocal sites
  • Talk About Local is an organisation supporting the online connecting up of communities
  • Anyone interested in researching hyperlocal news media, or who wants to check if their hyperlocal site is included on our archiving list should please get in touch

01 August 2014

St Pancras Intelligencer no. 29

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Welcome to the latest edition of the St Pancras Intelligencer, our weekly round-up of news about news - stories about news production, publications, apps, digitised resources, events and what is happening with the newspaper collection (and other news collections) at the British Library.

 

Jon Snow has opinions, and they’re fit for TV: Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow's heartfelt account of the child victims in Gaza went viral this week. James Ball at The Guardian praises its sentiments, notes that such partiality would have probably breached Ofcom guidelines (the video was not shown on Channel 4 News itself, only its YouTube channel), and calls for more opinion to be allowed for broadcast journalists:

What then is gained by making people who have opinions withhold them? Journalists’ views shape the questions they ask, the people they interview, the images they choose to show, and more. The current system requires those judgments, and the reasons behind them, to be hidden from the audience in a pretence of impartiality.

The conflict in Gaza has generated impassionated debate among academics and media practitioners around questions of bias, partiality and media control. Among these are Michael Chanan's Behind the news at Gaza at his Putney Debater blog, Justin Schlosberg's Media wars over Gaza at Open Democracy.net, Paul Mason's Why Israel is losing the social media war over Gaza for Channel 4 News, Surabhi Vaya at First Post, Gaza: How bias affects coverage of Israel-Palestine conflict, and Glenn Greenwald at Intercept, Terrorism in the Israeli Attack on Gaza. Some of the fiercest debate has been around the perceived role of the BBC. Ian Burrell at The Independent surveys this in With Charter Renewal on the horizon, complaints over Gaza are dangerous for BBC.

Net roots of BuzzFeed plagiarism: BuzzFeed apologised this week that one of its writers, Benny Johnson (now sacked) had been guilty of plagiarism - and provided links to all the affected stories. Dylan Byers at POLITICO puts the blame on the Internet, presssure of production and lack of journalism training (though in the same week The Times's tennis correspondent has been suspended after plagiarising work for a tennis yearbook and a reporter at the New York Times accused of copying from Wikipedia).

MH17: how Storyful’s ‘social sleuthing’ helped verify evidence: Ben Carter at The Guardian on how News Corp-owned Storyful has been verifying content from Twitter and YouTube to get to the truth behind the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17.

Social media has changed the way that war reporting works - and that's a good thing: Mathew Ingram at Gigaom finds that the influence of social media on war reporting has made the news more personal, more chaotic, and more democratic.

Spain likely to pass 'Google Tax': Spain has approved a bill giving newspaper publishers the right to seek payment from any site that links to their content. TechDirt is sceptical, pointing out that a similar case in Belgium led to Google simply removing the affected newspapers from the local Google news, the result of which was the newspapers ended up asking to be let back in after they suffered a drop in revenue.

Palin

sarahpalinchannel.com

Sarah Palin's low-budget TV channel is pricier than Netflix: Sarah Palin has launched an online news channel, to widespread mockery. "We'll go beyond the sound bites and the media's politically correct filter to get to the truth," she promises. 

The newsonomics of how and why: Ken Doctor at Nieman Journalism Lab asks whether explanatory or data journalism (exciting much interest in the USA) can expand to cover news on a more local level.

Welcome to Storyline: Talking of which, though we're a bit late in reporting this, Washington Post has launched its own explanatory journalism site, Storyline.

At front lines, bearing witness in real time: David Carr at New York Times ponders what the impact is on us now that we can follow wars in real time, and the impact that it is having on journalists (including Anne Barnard at the New York Times, criticised by some for not tweeting from Gaza.

Drama in Crimea: From the days when war reports would take weeks to reach their public, but had a seismic effect once they did so, Roy Greenslade reviews a new collection, Battles in the Crimea, which gathers together William H. Russell's renowned reports for The Times on the Crimean war of 1854.

In 1858, people said the telegraph was 'too fast for the truth': Also on the theme of the speed by which information reaches us, Adrienne LaFrance at The Atlantic uncovers an 1858 New York Times article which complained that the telegraph brought the news too quickly too it public.

Superficial, sudden, unsifted, too fast for the truth, must be all telegraphic intelligence. Does it not render the popular mind too fast for the truth? Ten days bring us the mails from Europe. What need is there for the scraps of news in ten minutes? How trivial and paltry is the telegraphic column?

LaFrance points out how new technologies invariably upset our sense of time and control.

Boy, 4, has mark of devil: The Sun's bizarre choice of a front page story for 29 July 1914 ("A sinister Satan sign that mysteriously appeared on a four-year-old boy is proving a devil to explain") has generated reactions from bafflement to rage.

02 July 2014

Why is this lying bastard lying to me?

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Jeremy Paxman, who recently hosted the BBC's Newsnight for the last time, has cited the words attributed to Times foreign correspondent Louis Heren that make up the title of this post as inspiration for his method as an interviewer. It says a great deal about the news interview as it is now understood, and the function of the news producer. News may in part be about holding those in power to account, but should its starting point be the belief that its subjects are liars? How did the news interview become so inquisitorial, and will it remain so?

 Newsnight

Jeremy Paxman interviewing Michael Howard, Newsnight, tx. 13 May 1997

It is interesting that in the same week Paxman stood down, with many commentators discussing his contribution to the art of interviewing, some of the first ever filmed interviews were honoured with an inscription on the UNESCO UK Memory of the World Register. The Hepworth Cinema Interviews are a series of 36 filmed interviews with UK public figures (Lloyd George, Herbert Asquith, Bonar Law and others) made by film producer Cecil Hepworth in 1916. The subjects were invited to give comments on the war and what would follow after it. This was the era of silent films, so the subjects mouth their answers to the camera, with their words being reproduced through intertitles. There is no onscreen interviewer - these are just statements made to the camera. Rather than being any sort of radical development, they are interviews in the tradition of nineteenth century newspaper interviews - pronouncements from the elite, with the media serving as the willing vehicles for such pronouncements.

Lloydgeorgewords

Lloyd George's words as intertitles from the Hepworth Cinema Interviews, courtesy of National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales

Interviews in newspapers are generally accepted to have appeared in the USA in the 1860s and in the UK in the 1880s, where they were often viewed - often with suspicion - as an American innovation. The American journalist James Gordon Bennett is credited in some quarters with having 'invented' the newspaper interview in 1836 with his verbatim transcript of a conversation he allegedly had with Rosina Townsend, a witness in the trial of the murderer of a New York prostitute Helen Jewett, which was published in the New York Herald. Other cite the interview conducted by Horace Greeley with Brigham Young, leader of the Mormon religion, and published in the New York Daily Tribune of 20 August 1859 as being the first interview as we would now recognise it.

NYtribune

Part of Horace Greeley's interview with Brigham Young, New York Daily Tribune, 20 August 1859, p. 5, from Chronicling America

But newspaper interviews were not 'invented' - they grew out particular changes to the medium. The process of interviewing is as old as journalism itself, so one can trace it back to the 17th century at least. Journalists find the information they require often by asking someone questions, and then using the replies they receive as the substance of their report. That is interviewing, and Daniel Defoe employed it as a news reporter for his Weekly Review much as today's journalists do 400 years later. Interviewing is integral to how news is understood - see how often news readers on TV and radio ask questions of reporters, experts and other interviewees, extracting what we need to know through that dialogue.

The interview as a formal newspaper feature emerged in the mid-19th century, as newspapers turned from being vehicles for partisan standpoints to broadly factual reporting. This included the use of direct quotation. The evidence became all the more important, and what better evidence could there be than the words spoken by the subjects themselves, in answer to the questions put by trustworthy journalists? Of course, it was also part of that process by which "news gathering turned into news making", as Daniel Boorstin writes in The Image, where he labels the interview as one of his 'pseudo-events' - events artificially created in order that they may be reported. The interview is not what happened but rather what the media has caused to happen.

Lily_langtry

Interview with Lily Langtry (in which she complains about being interviewed so often), Pall Mall Gazette, 29 October 1892 p. 3. Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

However, the nineteenth century newspaper interview was a far cry from the investigative and combative interviews of today. The interviews that British journalists such as William Howard Russell (The Times), George Augustus Sala (Daily Telegraph) and W.T. Stead (Pall Mall Gazette) produced were the pronouncements of the great and the celebrated who had reason to use the press for self-promotion. Stead undoubtedly helped establish the interview as a standard newspaper device by his enthusiastic adoption of the form, part of the 'New Journalism' revolution of the 1880s which placed great emphasis on the personal, through devices such as the interview. As well as his own interviews with figures such as Tsar Alexander III and Pope Leo XIII, Stead employed Hulda Friederichs as 'chief interviewer' at the Pall Mall Gazette from 1882 (women journalists were considered to have a particular aptitude for interviewing). Unfortunately interviewers are seldom named in newspapers from this period, making it difficult to trace the work of particular reporters.

Interviewing

The subjects of late nineteenth century newspaper interviews give their opinion on the experience in this piece from Pall Mall Gazette, 31 December 1890, p. 3. Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

Interviews in newspapers in the late 19th century tended towards celebrities from the world of entertainment. Politicians were wary of the practice, and saw little advantage in indulging requests to give interviews, when what they had to say could be heard on public platforms or read in Hansard. As A.J. Balfour says in the quote above, "this channel of communication must be rarely required by English politicians considering the great increase in platform speaking which has taken place during the last twenty years." Instead the interview became primarily the feature of journals such as the 'Illustrated Interviews' in George Newnes' Strand Magazine - light reading for those who wanted some personal insights into the lives of the famous. Interviews in newspapers were to become more searching as the new century began, particularly in America, but it would be new technologies that would help transform them.

Phonograph

The first sound interview (probably). Interview by Phonograph with Edison agent Colonel George Gouraud, as recorded by the Pall Mall Gazette, 24 July 1888, p. 1. Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

A startlingly early intimation of how thing could change occured in July 1888 when the UK agent for Thomas Edison's Phonograph sound recording machine was 'interviewed' by the Pall Mall Gazette, boasting of how a sound recording would provide a 'faithful report of the conversation' (intimating that not all newspaper interviews were so faithful to the words spoken). This was in all probablity the first sound interview, but although the Phonograph and later technologies such as the Dictaphone were used to record famous voices and as dictation devices in the early 1900s, it would be decades before they were adopted for news reporting.

Gouraud

Colonel Gouraud (left) being interviewed by an unidentified journalist from the Pall Mall Gazette, with the Phonograph recording the meeting, July 1888. From British Library Sound Archive collection.

Projected film appeared in 1896, but it proved a medium ill-suited to interviews. Attempts were rare and seldom successful, even after films gained sound in the late 1920s, with the few efforts from the cinema newsreels being short statements delivered in stilted fashion that offered little advance on the Hepworth interviews of 1916. What gave the news interview new life was radio, which began in the early 1920s. This gave the interview greater credibility, through the chance it gave the public to hear the subject's voice, through the live nature of radio, and because the interviewer's questions gave the sense of a process of interrogation, a driving towards the truth. BBC radio interviews of the 1920s-50s were seldom adversarial, being more in the way of civilised conversations, but the greater power had now been offered to the public to judge what was delivered to them, be it the words spoken or the ways in which those words were spoken. 

It took live television to make the news interview come into its own, a process not for delivering statements but instead a contest for the truth. 

 

Leslie Mitchell interviewing Anthony Eden for a Conservative party political broadcast, BBC tx. 16 October 1951. From University of Sheffield's Department of Journalism Studies' YouTube channel

Television's first news-related interviews were a disappointment. The BBC's Leslie Mitchell's pre-planned interview with prime minister Anthony Eden for a Conservative party election broadcast in 1951 has become notorious for its stilted obsequiousness, even if it was viewed as a technical success at the time. Mitchell asks:

Good evening. I would just like to say that, as an interviewer, and as I what I hope you will believe to be an unbiased member of the electorate, I'm most grateful to Mr Anthony Eden for inviting me to cross-question him on the present political issues ... Well now, Mr Eden, with your very considerable experience of foreign affairs, it's quite obvious that I should start by asking you something about the international situation today, or perhaps you would prefer to talk about home. Which is it to be?

Supine as this was, it did show at least an understanding of how television was ideally suited to the question-and-answer format, counterbalancing formality with informality. The first step on the road from here to Paxman came in 1955, when Robin Day brought a new forthrightness to television interviewing at ITN, two notable highlights being his sharp questioning of President Nasser in 1955 and his interview with prime minister Harold Macmillan in 1958, where what might now seem a fairly tame question asking about criticism that had been made of the foreign secretary Selwyn Lloyd was seen by some as shockingly intrusive, not least because you could see Macmillan thinking about his answer before delivering it. The interview was letting the viewer be the judge, exposing what might be the truth between the lines.

The adversarial quality of the television news interview grew throughout the 60s and 70s, in tandem with the emergence of a less deferential, more determinedly democratic society. Television was becoming the forum for public debate. The medium delighted in getting the upper hand, as demonstrated by David Frost's interrogation of the fraudster Emil Savundra and the revelations that he coaxed out of Richard Nixon. The goal of the interview came to be the revelation of the truth, hoping by a process of seeking out weak points to lead the subject into revealing something they would rather not have made public. The interviewee was no longer someone who had deigned to share some selected information with us all. They were now lying bastards, and their lies had to be exposed.

Interviews on radio likewise became less polite and increasingly forensic. BBC programmes launched in late 1960s/early 70s such as The World at One, Analysis and It's Your Line (a programme hosted by Robin Day, in which the public phoned in questions to ask of the interviewee) made the interview central to a process of burrowing beneath the headlines to uncover what was really happening. The Today programme moved away from its cosy beginnings to become the programme opinion makers had to listen to and had to appear on. This was particularly on account of presenter Brian Redhead's refusal to doff his hat to anyone in power, as in his famous response  (in a 1987 interview) to  Chancellor of the Exchequer Nigel Lawson accusing him of bias through being a supporter of the Labour party:

Do you think we should have a one-minute silence now in this interview, one for you to apologise for daring to suggest that you know how I vote, and secondly perhaps in memory of monetarism, which you've now discarded?

Politicians accountable to an electorate had little choice but to appear before the cameras and microphones, but as television became bolder so they responded through increasingly sophisticated media training. The art of not answering, or of turning the interview to your advantage arose. Margaret Thatcher was well trained in interviewing techniques and image management, through the guidance of former TV producer Gordon Reece, but it was the Labour government of 1997 that turned control of message into an artform (guided by another former TV producer, Peter Mandelson).

A power game arose between politicians and the news media over the communication and interpretation of the message, with the interview as the battleground. There was an increased desire on the part of the media to use the interview to extract revelations, matched by an increased determination from their subjects to reveal no more than they had been instructed to reveal. Sharp interviewers such as Paxman for Newsnight and John Humphrys for Today gained praise for their tough questioning and refusal to be hoodwinked, but the praise was sometimes more for the stance than any illumination obtained about the subject discussed. Paxman's celebrated 1997 interview with Michael Howard in which the interviewer asked the same question twelve times did little to inform its audience, for whom the point that the subject was not going to answer the question could have been made after two or three attempts.

Campbell_v_snow

Jon Snow and Alastair Campbell, Channel 4 News tx. 27 June 2003

Interviews turned into theatre, perhaps most famously when Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's Director of Communications, turned up unannounced at Channel 4 News on 27 June 2003 and was interviewed by Jon Snow on the Iraq 'dodgy dossier'. The result was a tour de force on both sides, a great interview of sorts but primarily a startling display of political passion. Politicians understandably prefer softer rides  - Margaret Thatcher's interviewer of choice was Radio 2's Jimmy Young, for example. Equally, one of the marks of a successful politician has come to be how well they can deal with the toughest interviews. It is a trial of strength, as much as anything.

Interviews on television and radio flourish on non-news programmes of course. From Face to Face to Parkinson, to Piers Morgan's Life Stories there has been a consistent focus on celebrity and the personal revelation, teased out through a bonding between interviewer and subject. Interviews continue to be a mainstay of newspapers, or their associated magazines, where some of the dangers inherent in a live interview are lost and both sides have greater control over what is said. The interviewee will have their press adviser by their side, determining what can or cannot be covered; the interviewer can fill out the verbal testimony with background impressions, barbed or otherwise. Both sides have control, though it is still a battlefield, a game of attack and defence.

Hardtalk

HARDtalk interviews, from http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/n13xtmdc/clips

A good example of the news interview programme of today is the BBC World series HARDtalk, first broadcast in 1997 with Tim Sebastian as the interviewer and now Stephen Sackur asking the questions, is a model of how two intelligent minds, with good preparation, can discuss issues of the day in a form that is a genuine questing for the truth. This is not news manufactured as pseudo-event - it is rational and vital extension of what is news. Nor is it a question of exposing liars (usually) - it is using the time-honoured process of question and answer to come to an understanding. 

Biden

Tweets from a Twitter interview with US Vice President Joe Biden, 26 January 2012

Where next for the news interview? HARDtalk is a good programme, but quite traditional in format. Newspaper interviews continue, but seem more about drawing out character than setting the news agenda. The online world is developing new ways in which subjects can be interviewed, which involved the general public much more, such as Twitter discussions, while BuzzFeed's interview of 29 May 2014 with Ed Miliband (the one in which he said it was a good idea not to read the newspapers) transfers the magazine-style interview with illustrations to a web format in a way that resfreshes the interview form. Al Jazeera's web/TV programme hybrid The Stream is an example of how engagement through interviews is being adapted for a multi-platform world, and television interviews can feature questions posted by social media (see, for example, Glenn Greenwald's interview for NBC on 18 May 2014). The growth of citizen journalism may make anyone into a potential interviewer, with all of the hazards as well as the advantages that suggests.

In such a world, the traditional confrontation between interviewer and interviewee begins to look like it belongs to another age, an age when current affairs television (and radio) served as the forum for public engagement with the issues of the hour. That forum is increasingly located elsewhere, and the interview will have to adapt accordingly if it is to continue to be meaningful. It may not be so combative or theatrical as it has been in the past; it will undoubtedly be more social. It will be less constrained by space (as is the case with newspapers) or time (as is the case with television and radio). Consequently it may either be freer in form or hampered by a lack of discipline. The questions demanding answers remain the same; just who will be asking them looks certain to change.

More information

  • The Hepworth Cinema Interviews are held by the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales - a press release on the UNESCO recognition is here, and a catalogue record for the films is here
  • Michael Cockerell's Live from Number 10: The Inside Story of Prime Ministers and Television (1988) is insightful and full of great anecdotes and quotations (such as the Eden-Mitchell interview quoted above)
  • On interviewing in Victorian newspapers, see Lucy Brown, Victorian News and Newspapers (1985) and Laurel Brake, Marysa Demoor (eds.), Dictionary of Nineteenth Century Journalism (Gent/London: Academia Press, British Library, 2009)
  • The Pall Mall Gazette for the period 1865-1900 has been digitised and is available online via the British Newspaper Archive
  • On Hulda Friedrichs and other women journalists of the nineteenth century, see F. Elizabeth Grey (ed.), Women in Journalism at the Fin de Siècle: 'Making a Name for Herself' (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012)
  • On the technique of modern interviews, see Steven Clayman and John Heritage, The News Interview: Journalists and Public Figures on the Air (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002)
  • The Radio Times has a list with links of 'the greatest broadcast interviews of all time', including Campbell v Snow, Paxman v Howard, Frost v Nixon, and John Nott walking out on Robin Day

27 June 2014

St Pancras Intelligencer no. 24

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Welcome to the latest edition of the St Pancras Intelligencer, our weekly round-up of news about news - stories about news production, publications, apps, digitised resources, events and what is happening with the newspaper collection (and other news collections) at the British Library.  

Jonsnow

Jon Snow silenced. Screengrab from Channel 4 News tx 23/6/2014

Outrage as Egypt jails Al Jazeera staff: On Monday an Egyptian court sentence two Al Jazeera journalists to seven years in jail and one to ten years in jail for supposedly aiding the Muslim Brotherhood and producing false news reports of the situation in Egypt. Protests against the sentences handed down to Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy, and Baher Mohamed have been made worldwide, with journalists in many newsrooms taking part in a symbolic taping-up of mouths (as demonstrated by Channel 4 News) and the hashtags  and .

Inside the Rebekah Brooks and Andy Coulson Trial: At the end of the epic phone hacking trial former News of the World editor Andy Coulson was found guilty of a conspiracy to intercept voicemails, while former News International chief executive Mrs Brooks was found not guilty of conspiracy to hack voicemails, two counts of conspiracy to pay public officials and two counts of conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. The Drum's coverage of the phone hacking trial has been particularly interesting and clear in how it has presented the unfolding story.

Hacking trial verdict: Coulson guilty and Brooks cleared, but end of an era for the red tops: George Brocks' piece for Contributoria views the phone hacking trial verdict from an historical perspective and sees as marking the end of an era for the British tabloid press. From the same source, Steven Barnett says that the hacking trial was just round one in the fight to rescue journalism, while Richard Sambrook writes on how the hacking trial highlighted the cosy relationship between politicians and the press.

No ordinary newspaper: A good overview of the News of the World and how the hacking trial came about and unfolded from Dominic Casciani for BBC News Magazine. 

Everything You Need To Know About The Phone Hacking Trial: Or else sample Patrick Smith's handy Buzzfeed guide.

How many media academics does it take to work out what's going on?: A pithy analysis from David Hepworth on why reading news on a screen is not the same as reading as newspaper, and how we are never going to go back to such habits:

It's no longer anything to do with the news the papers happen to provide, which is what the world of media academics spends its time fretting about. It's entirely a question of how users behave. Tech understands this, which is why it changes its products all the time in response to the way they're used. No wonder it's stolen the media's lunch.

Digital news as popular as newspapers for first time: So here's the tipping point - 41% of people in the UK are using online news sources while 40% use newspapers, according to Ofcom's News Consumption in the UK report. But TV news remains by far and away the most used (75%).

CNN to study drone use in newsgathering: Are drones the future of newsgathering? CNN is investigating its further use and regulation, while concerns remain in the US over its legality.

Robot

Kodomoroid (she's the one on the left), from Sky News

Android Anchorman: robot newsreader unveiled: More from the world of robot journalism, and Sky News reports on Kodomoroid, a Japanese invention claimed to be the world's first newsreading android (does no one remember Ananova?).

Who will produce stories for the Mail to copy if it drives its rivals to the wall?: News Corp has been protesting at the Mail Online's launch in Australia, with its practice of reusing others' news stories ('churnalism'). Roy Greenslade points out that 'copy theft' is nothing new in newspaper journalism, but wonders if the logical extension to the culture of re-use is ultimately self-defating, as the title of his piece indicates.

Mail Online stays top with 11m daily browsers: Meanwhile, Mail Online remains far and away the most popular UK news site, with just over 11m daily global browsers per day. Press Gazette's report on the latest ABC figures shows that all national newspaper websites which had figures available showed strong year on year growth in May, with Metro the fastest growing newspaper website audited by ABC.

Newsnight really doesn't make the weather any more: A sharp piece from Peter Preston at The Observer on how too much of current affairs television is failing to reinvent itself for the digital world.

No, the media didn’t ignore your anti-austerity march – it just wasn’t that interesting: There was much disappointment - and suspicion - among those involved in the anti-austerity march in London that it was little reported, despite going past the BBC on the march route. Some interesting questions arise about who decides what the news is, but The New Statesman isn't too impressed by the conspiracy theories.

 

Is Fox News more dangerous thatn ISIS?: Russell Brand was a speaker at the anti-austerity march. What has gained rather more attention has been this impassioned tirade on his YouTube account against Fox News commentator Judge Jeanine Pirro who called for the bombing of the ISIS insurgency in Syria and Iraq. Polemic of the week.

James Harding: BBC wants to work with regional press to 'drive the revival of local journalism': BBC news head James Harding, speaking at the Revival of Local Journalism conference in Salford, outs out the olive branch.

Guardian for Glass: The Guardian has been quick off the mark in providing an offering for the wearable technology. Guardian for Glass will provide headline news stories from its various international editions and breaking news notifications. Oh brave new world.

13 June 2014

St Pancras Intelligencer no. 22

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Welcome to the latest edition of the St Pancras Intelligencer, our weekly round-up of news about news - stories about news production, publications, apps, digitised resources, events and what is happening with the newspaper collection (and other news collections) at the British Library.

Antisocial

Stop sharing this photograph of antisocial newspaper readers: This much retweeted and shared photograph of a train carriage full of newspaper readers has been viewed by many as a comment on an anti-social past age. Medium makes a strong argument why this is a complete misunderstanding of how a newspaper is consumed.

... what you are seeing in that picture of “antisocial” people reading newspapers is actually an eminently social activity: citizens keeping themselves informed so they can participate in the civic discourse of their community.

Enabling access to digitised historic newspapers: We held a Europeana Newspapers event here at the British Library, on assorted issues relating to the digitisation of newspapers, with interesting contrasts between traditional browsing and big data analytical approaches, and between free and paid access services. The link is to a Storify collection of tweets, links and slideshows from the day (fun to put together - will be doing more of these).

Broadcasting D-Day: The BBC's recreation of radio broadcasts from D-Day by using digitised scripts and actors (Benedict Cumberbatch, Toby Jones, Patrick Stewart) made a powerful impact and was a fitting tribute on the 70th anniversary of the landings. The BBC radio scripts come from the British Library, and this post gives the background.

 

Digital News Report 2014: Eagerly devoured and much commented upon has been the latest annual Reuters Institute Digital News Report, the result of a survey of digital news consumption in UK, US, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Japan, Denmark and Finland. Among the key findings are:

  • The use of smartphones and tablets has jumped significantly in the past year, with fewer people using their computers for news
  • More than a third of online news users across all countries (39%) use two or more digital devices each week for news and a fifth (20%) now say their mobile phone is their primary access point
  • US social sharing news sites like Huffington Post and Buzzfeed are beginning to make inroads around the world, with new formats and a fresh tone of voice aimed at younger people
  • Even so, traditional brands remain strong in most markets, with cross-platform newspaper reach averaging 75% in most countries
  • The number of people paying for digital news (11% average) has remained stable over the past 12 months, although there is a significant switch to more valuable ongoing digital subscription in most countries 
  • Of those paying for news in all countries, 59% are paying for an ongoing subscription (43% 2013). Of those who are not paying, 15% say they are likely to pay in the future
  • Facebook is by far the most important network for news everywhere
  • Although Twitter is widely used in the US, Spain, and the UK, it is far less influential in many other European countries. Google+ is emerging as increasingly important for news, along with messaging application WhatsApp

Robert Peston’s speech: Hotly discussed all week has been Robert Peston's British Journalism Review Charles Wheeler lecture, where he queries James Harding's statement (given in his WT Stead lecture at the British Library), "I think this is the most exciting time to be a journalist since the advent of television". Peston is not so sanguine, seeing threats in online culture, reader power, and the power of the public relations industry. He concludes:

...we don’t yet have what you might call a stable ecosystem in news. The poll-tax funded BBC is one kind of news-media model. The loss-making Guardian, funded by vast private-equity capital gains, is another. The Daily Mail another still. And Quartz, Huffington Post and BuzzFeed something different again. There is diversity – which all ecologists would tell you is vital to long-term survival. But there is also pollution, from a dangerous elision between news that pays and news that matters.

Why would anyone want to be a journalist?: But then there's Sarah Hartley at Contributoria, who speaks to several journalists about the hazards and frustrations of their occupation, and finds the answer to her question in these words from photographer Giles Duley (a triple-amputee after stepping on an IED in Afghanistan):

It’s about storytelling for me. There are these incredible stories out there and I think I follow a tradition that started around camp fires, in caves around ten thousands of years ago and there’s an innate need for people to tell stories and to hear stories and I just love being part of that tradition and so I’ll carry on doing it.

The Sun Launches A £4.2 Billion Marketing Campaign?: The Sun is delivering a free special World Cup issue to 22 million UK homes over a 48-hour period (avoiding Hillsborough). Chris Brace at the Brown Moses blog notes that the giveway lacks the imprint that identifies the publication as a newspaper. The fine for breaching this legal requirement can be up to £200 per copy. 200 x 22M = £4.4Bn. That's a quite fine...

Not Everyone Is Happy About The Sun’s “This Is Our England” Front Page: Patrick Smith at Buzzfeed rounds up some less than complimentary reactions to the great free Sun giveaway. There's even a @PostTheSunBack campaign.

Internet not responsible for dying newspapers, new study finds: Riding against the general trend of argument is a paper by University of Chicago Booth School of Business Professor Matthew Gentzkow, which says that comparisons between the internet and newspaper are based on some false assumptions. ScienceDaily summarises these.

A year on Guardian continues to face derision from Fleet Street rivals over Edward Snowden revelations: Press Gazette reviews the opinions expressed about Edward Snowden in other British newspapers, which are distinctly unimpressed.

Time Inc. Has a Big Problem - So Does Digital Journalism: Derek Thompson at The Atlantic feels that the future looks bright for digital journalism as a product, but dim for large-scale digital journalism as a business.

 

Victorian Meme Machine: Bob Nicholson of Edge Hill University is one of two winners of our BL Labs competition for innovative ideas to use digital collections. His Victorian Meme Machine will create an extensive database of Victorian jokes, drawn from newspapers etc, and pair them with an appropriate image drawn from BL and other digital collections. 

Annotating the news: Intriguing piece by Jihii Jolly for Columbia Journalism Review on student news literacy and annotation tools.

The BBC was impervious to the launch of Sky News. Now they have to take notice: Ian Burrell at The Independent interviews Sky News editor John Ryley, who is full of plans, is disparagaing of ITV's attitude towards news, and states firmly: “The future for news is on mobile.”

European newspapers search for ways to survive digital revolution: A Guardian survey of how newspapers in Spain, France and Germany are struggling (belatedly) to find ways to make money as print sales plummet.

16 Pictures Of Beyoncé Where She’s Not Sinking In Quicksand: The Onion has launched Clickhole, its parody site for 'clickbait' viral sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy. Not super-funny yet, but we have hope.

Why banish words from the front page?: The sharply opinionated Grey Cardigan on The Spin Alley blog is critical of sloppy front page design in some UK regional newspapers, and thoughtful on the reasons why.

Newspaper printed with ink that repels mosquitoes: This is such a heartening story - a Sri Lankan newspaper has come up with Mawbima Mosquito Repellent Paper, printed using bug-repelling ink, as part of campaign to help prevent the spread of Dengue fever. Probably a bit of a preservation challenge though...

Chatting with bots: How Slack is changing how newsrooms talk amongst themselves: Nieman Journalism Lab on Slack, a chat application being used in the newsrooms of  The Times, BuzzFeed, The Atlantic, Quartz, Slate, NBC News, The Guardian and more.

Kevin Turvey investigates ... the media: RIP Kevin Turvey, peerless investigative reporter from Reddtich, aka Rik Mayall.

18 April 2014

St Pancras Intelligencer no. 14

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Welcome to the latest edition of the St Pancras Intelligencer, our weekly round-up of news about news - stories about news production, publications, apps, digitised resources, events and what is happening with the newspaper collection (and other news collections) at the British Library.   

Dailymirror

Daily Mirror, 16 April 2014

The Mirror’s Crying Child Photo – Not All That it Seems: Ethical conumdrum and news image of the week was the Daily Mirror's hotly debated selection of an image of a crying child for a front page story on food parcels in Britain.  Blogger Dan Barker points out that the children isn't hungry (she was crying over an earthworm), she's American, and it was taken in 2009.

Pulitzer Prizes Awarded for Coverage of N.S.A. Secrets and Boston Bombing: Some would imprison them; others hand them garlands - The Washington Post and The Guardian have been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for public service for their reports based on the National Security Agency documents leaked by Edward Snowden. The Boston Globe won the breaking news prize for coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing, a year ago this week.

To the Snowden story system a crowning Pulitzer might have gone: No prizes should be awarded for the grammar in the title of Jay Rosen's article for his PressThink blog, but he argues that how the Snowden story was developed and shared internationally, outflanking national attempts to prevents its publication, is what merits a Pulitzer prize.

Tusrkey is a case study in the value of citizen journalists, thanks to the ones behind @140journos: Fascinating account by Mathew Ingram on how journalists use social media  in some countries when the traditional news media are perceieved to have failed - here the example of a citizien journalism initative in Turkey, crowdsourcing verification of poll results.

Appeals court says blogs are not only media, they're an important source of news and commentary: Mathew Ingram again, on the implications of a legal decision from a Florida court case on the status of blogs in a defamation case.

Digital journalism: we're still waiting for the third model of news publishing: Emily Bell asks what the recent launches in America of news sites such as Vox.com and the FiveThirtyEight mean for the development of the news media. 

Vox.com 's Melissa Bell: 'This is a chance to do journalism differently': Talking of which, Vox's co-founder Melissa Bell explains what the sites aims are, and what explanatory news (its special selling point) aims to achieve.

The IMPRESS Project's plans for press regulation: Journalism.co.uk reports on a crowdfunding initative to create a regulator for small regional and hyperlocal publishers.

 

Pathe Gazette's report on the evacuation from Dunkirk (1940), filmed by Charles Martin

British Pathé releases 85,000 film on YouTube: The British Pathé newsreel has released its entire archive of 3,500 hours of newsfilms 1896-1970 on YouTube. The films have all been available on the site www.britishpathe.com for twelve years, but this bold gesture should greatly increase their reach and profile.

A ... is for Advertising: The Newsroom blog gets its scond contributor, Jaimee McRoberts from the British Library's newspaper reference team, who kicks off an A-Z series on newspapers with Advertising.

The only way is ethics: Will Gore at The Independent is very interesting on the reporting of the Oscar Pistorious trial by the South African media, with its more permissive approach to what gets reported - and the different news imperatives between print and web news outlets.

Data journalism in Venezuela: Philip Smith at Media Shift tells how data journalism is developing in Venezuela, despite all of the hurdles:

... a visual history of violence in Venezuela; the relationship between Venezuela and Columbia in the trafficking of cocaine; analysis of various epidemics and outbreaks; live-tracking of how long ships sit in ports waiting to be unloaded of much-needed staples like sugar; an investigation into the paper shortage facing newspapers; a Twitter analysis of candidates in a recent election; and deep search into the network behind several Venezuelans who were charged in the U.S. for finance-related crimes, which was not well reported in Venezuela itself.

An enthusiastic, engrossing account.

Pickles pursues the wrong policy as people reject local newspapers: Thought-provoking piece from Roy Greenslade on the closure of a local paper (the Fulham & Hammersmith Chronicle), the supposed competition from the local council's free paper, and how demographics are as much of a theatre to local newspapers as rival news sources.

BBC is the most-shared news brand on Twitter: 96 million unique users in March 2014;  user figures up 26 per cent on the monthly average of 76 million; news stories shared 2.71 million times across the month on Twitter - the BBC website marches on, having celebrated its 20th anniversary last week. The Drum reports.

A print newspaper generated by robots: The Guardian has been experimenting with a limited edition printed newspaper - called #Open001 - that is produced by algorithms based on social-sharing activity. So the robots are gathering the stories, not writing them. Yet.

Well, this is hawkward: Hmm, how good are robots at spotting humour? Press Gazette gleefully reports how The Guardian was fooled by a Vatican April Fool's Day story (about hiring a hawk to protect the Pope's doves).

19 March 2014

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There are many books on news and current affairs, but most are aimed at an academic or professional audiences. There has been a notable lack in the past few years of books aimed at a general readership on news and news history. Recently, however, three significant titles have appeared which each touch on the fundamental role news plays in society. Each is highly readable, and each is a reflection of the current turmoil in news production worldwide.

Inventionofnews Andrew Pettegree's The Invention of News: How the World Came to Know About Itself (Yale University Press, 2014) is a history of how the thirst for news developed and was commercialised from 1400 to 1800. It shows how in the pre-industrial era news was shared orally, then through handwritten texts delivered by messengers in the service of church, state or business, then how it was radically transformed in its audience, content and impact through the introduction of print, starting with news-sheets before gradually evolving into the newspaper form that remains with us today.

What is paticularly refreshing about this history is its focus on those for whom the news was produced. News histories have a tendency to take the consumers of that news for granted. Here there is a vivid understanding of who wanted news, the ways in which they were prepared to pay for it, the degree of trust they placed in it, and how their world was changed by exposure to news. The background to this is clearly laid out, so one sees a modern Europe emerging, bound together by networks of information and with a public that gained greater power the more it became informed of the world about it. News is both a by-product of, and the catalyst for profound changes in society. 

All of this gives Pettegree's history a real relevance to news and communication today. News exists because of our great desire to belong. The communication revolution of 1400 to 1800 feels very much like the communication revolution we are going through today, not least because we can recognise ourselves in those times. It is a particularly enjoyable and well-written history.

ThenewsAlain de Botton's The News: A User's Manual (Hamish Hamilton, 2014) is the popular philosopher's attempt to question why we have the news that we do have, and what impact it has upon society. It is quite unlike the usual books on news or current affairs, in its elegant design quite as in its approach. De Botton's critique of news as presently constituted, and how it fails to find space for consideration of underlying causes or a more positive view of human activity, has been greeted with much scorn among news professionals and academics, not least for this lyrical call for a different definition of news:

"It is also the cloud floating right now unattended over the church spire, the gentle thought in the doctor's mind as he approaches the patient's bare arm with a needle, the field mice by the hedgerow,  the small child tapping on the surface of a newly hard-boiled egg while her mother looks on lovingly, the nuclear submarine patrolling the maritime borders with efficiency and courage..."

De Botton's call for a different kind of news is likely to find greater favour among some readers and viewers of news who are repelled, distressed or even simply bored by the common round of news stories. In doing so he may be tapping into a reluctance to engage with the news that has more to do with world-weariness and angst, a wish that the world were other than it is. He wants a form of news that will help make us better people, which is a dubious  - not to say improbable - goal. His understanding of news itself is unclear, sometimes seeming to be triggered by newspaper headlines, sometimes by TV news highlights, sometimes by web news sites, but with criticisms directed hapazardly at all three. Many news services are very good at providing the background context that he craves, and the diversity of news stories that he would like to see already exists: it just requires an active engagement with the different news sources available. But if news services end up serving themselves more than they serve their audiences, then there is a case to be answered. 

OutofprintOur third title, George Brock's Out of Print: Newspapers, Journalism and the Business of News in the Digital Age (Kogan Page, 2013) is written by a former journalist turned journalism professor, but it is written in a very accessible way that should appeal equally to a public readership as to the student. It certainly touches on themes that are relevant to all of us. This is a guidebook for the world of news as we now have it, and for what it may be turning into.

As all will be aware, newspapers face an uncertain future, as the internet and digital technologies have completely overturned how news is distributed and consumed. This demands a complete rethink on what journalism is, what value it holds, and how it can be maintained. Brock provides a handy historical summary of news production in Britain from the Middle Ages to the present day, then introduces the reader to a clear and stimulating overview of the new world of social media, citizen journalism, news aggregators, pay walls, and information overload.

We have no inalienable right to good journalism. As Brock observes, in his introduction: "Journalists in the 21st century rarely stop to recall that 'mainstream' journalism has only been a short period in the history of public information. The supply of information to democratic societies only matured as a mass-market industry in the 20th century, allowing journalism to be practiced and controlled in more concentrated and organized ways. Journalism of an earlier era was smaller scale, more intimate, opinionated and much of it resembled the social networks now carried out by the internet."

Is news production as we have understood it, as something composed by journalists and transmitted by news organisations, only a phase in how public information is communicated? What connection is there between the world of the Internet and the social networks of earlier centuries that Andrew Pettegree describes? Do news organisations ignore the troubled thoughts about engagement with the news as we now have it that Alain de Botton identifies, or have they discovered the key to their future in socially-driven news aimed at young audiences, as exemplified by such vogue-ish services as Buzzfeed, Upworthy, Now this News and Reddit? If the latter, then who generates the news that gets shared, and if we want journalists to do so, then who will pay for them if the advertising revenues fall and too many expect to find their news for free?

The answers - whatever they may be - lie in best understanding our enduring "hunger for information" (in Andrew Pettegree's phrase), something that all three books address in different, but complementary ways. There is no more important debate than the one we are now having about news. It is what binds us together.