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Monday, May 26, 2008

If you could only keep one news source, what would it be?

Gulp. In the, not-very-good-news-for-newspapers category comes a survey from Denmark which was picked up by the E-Media Tidbits bloggers on the Poynter Institute site.

The survey found that Danes aren't too bothered about the long-term survival of newspapers, as the response to the following statement demonstrates:

"Today it's possible to stay informed without subscription to a daily paper:"
  • Agree/mostly agree: 79 percent
  • Disagree/mostly disagree: 16 percent
  • Neither/don't know: 5 percent

Analyse Danmark asked 2800 people: If you could only access daily news through one type of media, which would you prefer to keep? Newspapers lost by a large margin. Half of respondents preferred to keep their TV, and 27 percent would keep their Internet access. Only 23 percent would keep their daily newspaper (national, regional, niche, or tabloid).

Sunday, May 25, 2008 claims top spot in UK

My former colleague at the Telegraph in London, communities editor Shane Richmond, writes a surprisingly restrained blog post noting that the Telegraph overtook the mighty Guardian in the April ABCe audience figures.

This is truly an achievement, given how far behind the Telegraph was lagging just a couple of years ago when we began a change programme to revitalise the website with the help of newsroom staff who were previously tied solely to the group's newspapers.

Shane wrote:

"There's not much in it, so the lead may well change hands several times in the coming months, not only between us and the Guardian but perhaps also between us and the relaunched Mail. However, the field has changed and it will be that way for some time to come.

"'s unique users increased by almost 10 per cent between March and April, and 153 per cent year-on-year, to 18,646,112. The Guardian dropped almost one per cent to 18,546,017 and slightly behind both of us are the Mail on 18,039,943.

"The credit crunch, the US election and the climax of the football season all helped to broaden our audience last month.

"However, the real achievement is to have closed the gap that existed this time last year. In the ABCe figures for April 2007, the Guardian were almost eight million unique users ahead of us, with 15.17 million uniques compared to our 7.35 million, and just over six million uniques ahead of Times Online, who were then in second place with 8.9 million."
On the other hand, here's what the Guardian had to say:
"The web measurement standards for the UK's national newspaper websites are to be reviewed after rival publishers questioned's dramatic recent traffic growth, adding 6.3 million unique users in two months.

"This meteoric unique-user growth culminated in overtaking as the UK's most popular national newspaper website in figures for April released today by the web traffic measurement body ABCe.

"Prompted by concerns raised by rival newspaper groups the Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards, which advises ABCe on its measurement methods, has today agreed to a review of the tools and standards that publishers use to record web traffic."

The cuts go on

It seems almost a daily occurrence and perhaps not noteworthy anymore, but here's a round-up of a few job cut announcements made by big news companies in recent days:

US journalism union threatens action over Reuters decision to increase its outsourcing of financial reporting to Bangalore, India.

At first, the Bangalore bureau reported on earnings of small and medium-sized companies that usually were not covered by Reuters' U.S. journalists. The new plans call for Bangalore workers to cover larger companies' earnings, press releases and filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and analysts' stock alerts. Reuters also has sent some U.K.-based non-editorial jobs to Bangalore.

Thomson Reuters is cutting 140 journalist jobs, mostly from Europe.
In an internal email to staff, the editor-in-chief of Reuters News, David Schlesinger, said having looked into areas of "natural overlap and duplication in coverage" between Thomson and Reuters the newly merged company had decided more than half of the cuts would be in Europe.

More than half the cuts will occur in Europe, the area of most duplication; the rest will be scattered. Thomson Financial News will be totally absorbed into Reuters News by end of 2008, and sooner if possible.

Schlesinger said cuts in the news department would be offset by "hiring into new projects". "I anticipate that over the coming months we will add some 50 new jobs in key areas that are central to my strategy of making us the best news service for the 21st century," he added.

Interestingly, the company is creating web video roles. Video is most definitely flavour of the month:

Thomson Reuters told staff last week that it would be creating new web video roles and offering its readers more commentary and analysis.

100 editorial staff at Washington Post accept early retirement package.

The Post will take the opportunity to restructure its newsroom in ways that may not be apparent to readers.

There is no plan right now to eliminate sections of the paper" or to reduce the frequency of their publication, Managing Editor Philip Bennett said yesterday. The buyouts will affect "chiefly how we organize our coverage -- more how we do things than what we do," he said. Bennett called the buyouts a "very, very difficult and painful process."

Steadily declining circulation and advertising revenue over the past two decades have led newspapers to reduce staff sizes through buyouts and layoffs, the latter of which The Post has avoided.

In 1999, for instance, the newspaper division of The Post Co. reported $157 million in operating income. By 2007, that number had fallen to $66 million. Daily average circulation of The Post peaked at 832,232 in 1993. It stands at 638,300."

The moral of this *fake* story is: check your sources

A story did the rounds earlier this month of a Texan teenager who was convicted of fraud after stealing his father's credit card and using it to buy an X-box and the services of two prostitutes.

The source was a UK news site called The story was posted on news sites all around the world, including here in NZ.

It was 'dugg' 2,494 times on the social news aggregation site, Digg, it was plugged 200+ times on the website sharing service StumbleUpon, and it sparked blog posts and comments everywhere (see screengrab of Google news listings yesterday).

Only trouble is, the story was a hoax.

The original story on now carries a disclaimer - in red at the top of the story - which says 'this story is a parody and is not intended to be taken seriously'. The site has issued an apology for the ruse.

It was written by a marketer to help promote the site by generating links back to it (I'll let others debate the ethics and likely consequences of this kind of marketing, known as linkbait) - it was apparently intended to be so far-fetched that everyone would realise it was a fake. Clearly, there's not much left under the sun that shocks us anymore because newsroom editors, bloggers and readers didn't bat an eyelid. They just read it, published it and republished it.

Worryingly, the story was still live on TV3's website at the time of this blog post's writing, and a story on Stuff suggested it 'might' be a hoax but didn't say it definitely was. At least they - or their supplier - had taken the time to check the story with police in the US who said it 'didn't stack up'. On the other hand, it's a news site - they should know whether or not it's fake and not leave it kicking around for the sole purpose of drawing comments and generating traffic.

Two points here. One, some newsrooms clearly do not have robust enough systems for checking online news sources. Newsrooms take note: this should be a priority. Do some research, come up with a set of guidelines for your reporters, editors, web editors and sub-editors. Something along the lines of: read the story, check all the sources given with the story; run the headline/keywords through at least two search engines etc. And maybe make a diary note to revisit the story or return to the original source after a certain number of days. What else should we be looking for? I'd be interested to hear your ideas on checking validity of stories online.

Two, shouldn't news websites start listing some or all of their sources alongside stories? Something along the lines of: our sources for this story included x,y,z with links to any reports and websites used. (Without, of course, identifying sources who would be endangered.) It would be a step towards greater transparency; just maybe consumers of news have the right to be able to satisfy themselves that what they're reading is for real.

For the record, then: I heard about this via DigiDave on Twitter, who was retweeting a tweet from 0boy, aka JD Rucker, a search marketer and blogger who posted this story about the fake on the 'crowd powered' site From there I followed the links in his story, then checked them by searching for the keywords 'Texas' 'fraud' 'prostitute' in Google, Yahoo and Mahalo. Then I read Jonathan Crossfield's excellent blog post about it and some of the comments running about that he linked to.

So if I've made a mistake, you'll be able to spot it. And please, if you do find a mistake, let me know.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

This whole internet thing hasn't caught on as much as we think

Lee LeFever, he who makes those wonderful 'in Plain English' videos, posted a reality check recently about how those of us who spend a lot of time online forget that most people don't.

"We make videos, we put them on the Web, people watch them. We track our views, our Technorati links, our mentions in Twitter, our blog comments. A good percentage of people we see in social situations in Seattle are aware of our work.

"Viewed from the comfort of our living room, bookmarked pages and social circles, the Web looks pretty small and awareness looks pretty big. It's too easy to assume that people have heard about the tools and sites we use everyday. But they haven't.

"I sat back [at a conference] and asked myself - forgetting Common Craft - do these people know about Twitter? Has Flickr become part of their world? What about wikis, do they care? Are they using RSS readers? My completely anecdotal evidence says the answer is no. In our own little online world, it's too easy to assume they do."
I agree. Another assumption is that young people 'get' the web and know all about it. But I've been consistently surprised this year when I've asked students about their online lives.

Very few blog, most don't know what RSS is, almost none have heard of Twitter and few are using Flickr. Say Seesmic, Pownce, Twine, Friendfeed to them and you get a blank stare back. This is as true of degree-level students as it is of of the Waikato 15- to-17-year-olds I spent the day with yesterday (giving them a taste of journalism). It's also true of adults; I'm pretty sure some of my friends think I'm making this stuff up.

Their experience mostly boils down to Bebo, MySpace or Facebook, Google, Yahoo and YouTube. Aside from that, the only difference between these kids and me growing up is that boys these days can type.

Rant about my digital home invasion

Earlier this week someone borrowed my gmail address and sent a spam email to all my gmail contacts at around 5 in the morning. It made me pretty upset, I can tell you, not to mention embarrassed. Bad enough that someone 'broke in' while I was sleeping, as it were, worse to spam my contacts. Hrrmph.

The first I knew of it was when a friend tweeted to tell me they'd just had a spam email from me. I had to go to work that morning, so I had just enough time to send a follow-up email explaining the situation to my contacts and shut down and disconnect my computers before heading out the door. It wasn't until hours later that I could start dealing with it.

The question was, where to start? This sort of thing, as I said in my email, is outside my skillset. I had virus and spyware checkers running on both machines, with automatic updates enabled - the same thing I've used without incident for 18 months. I log into gmail here there and everywhere - that's the point of webmail - but always log out (at least I think I do, maybe I didn't once or twice and remained logged in on foreign computers).

On the upside, I got almost 100 emails that day and in the following few days. Some from friends commiserating, some from friends I hadn't heard from for aeons, one from someone I don't know and who doesn't know me but who was kind enough to offer commiseration anyway, a few perplexed responses from various support services, and several from people who'd had a similar experience. Judging by the number of disgruntled entries in Google groups about the subject, so have thousands of others.

One, who works on ships, wrote politely but firmly asking me to remove the ships' email addresses from my contacts because one ship's computers had crashed. A potential disaster.

A good number of people emailed me with advice. To you all, my sincere thanks. On the strength of advice received, and without being able to pinpoint the actual problem, I did much of what was suggested:

Changed my password on another known-to-be-safe computer
Restored my systems to a restore point before the attack
Ran full scans on both machines (nothing found)
Checked the virus checker updates were up to date (they were)
Checked the firewalls were on (one wasn't, gulp, don't ask me why or how - maybe when I was faffing around setting up my new desktop in the past week or so but I certainly didn't consciously turn it off.)
Downloaded and ran a registry cleaner on both machines (lots of issues found) and set it to run overnight from now on
Changed a few more passwords from other computers, just to be safe
So what's the moral of the story? Ach, I don't know. Maybe that computers are too complicated for ordinary mortals. I'm an average Jo trying to establish a small business. I work long hours and have to do most things myself.

I take time to read up on a lot of things I buy/use, but when it comes to computer security, the reading doesn't necessarily help. I can look at comparison websites till I'm blue in the face but if I don't understand what I'm comparing it's of little use. I don't know what the registry does, I don't know how viruses and malware work, I don't know which virus and spyware checkers work best or whether I need more than one.

In a similar vein, the advice I got from friends was contradictory. And as much as I'd like to hire someone to come in and give me some IT advice, I wouldn't know what kind of service to look for, or whether one outfit was better than another. Maybe I'll find a spare week some time to read up on that, maybe I won't.

What I do know is that there wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for the toejams who write the viruses in the first place.

In the end, though, I think I made a mistake one day and plowed on without realising it. So, sincere apologies for being a weak link in the chain. And, again, thanks for your help.

For the record, the details are below if you fancy figuring out what happened and how.


The email went to all my gmail contacts (not that I'd added most of them as contacts, they are just people I've had email contact with through that address over the past few years).
It was sent at 21 May 2008 5:11:57 AM.
The sender was: my gmail address.
I can't see it in my gmail Sent folder.
Only one was sent and I've had no trouble since (fingers crossed).
None were sent from my domain email account (which I run in Outlook)
No problems with any other website accounts (passwords now changed)
My virus/spyware checker (Windows Live One Care) ran at 11pm the night before
Both computers were in sleep mode, wifi button was ''on''

The email text was:
Dear Madam/sir,
We are a wholesaler which deal with all kinds of such electronic products as motorcycles, TV, Notebooks, Phones, Psp, Projectors, GPS, DVD, DV, DC, MP3/4, musical instruments, toys, watches and so on. We can offer quality goods with reasonable price. We deliver our items by EMS to our customers around the world,
When you have time, welcome to visit our website and contact us. Thanks.
If you have any question, please don't hesitate to let us know. We will glad to help you.
Welcome to our website and enjoy your purchasing.
Our website: <>
MSN: <>
I hope to hear from you soon.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Bring back Dougal Stevenson

Every now and then I get an urge to create a Facebook group or something to campaign to bring back Dougal Stevenson. He was a TV newsreader in my youth, one of several with similar qualities.

Dougal Stevenson didn't smile and joke with an attractive sidekick to let me know when the story was light, or grimace to let me know the story was serious, or banter with a cheeky weather presenter or get matey with the sports guy (and pretend to know about sport).

He just read the news, dispassionately, from a piece of paper while two or three images were displayed behind him. More please.

Here he is:

Thanks to CedricRusty for bringing Dougal Stevenson to YouTube.

RSS is great - if you speak English

I got a bit of a reality check at the GIMD journalism conference I attended recently, in several ways.

The conference was held in Bali and its scope included ethics, minorities and reporting in conflict zones. I spoke, briefly, about how the internet is profoundly changing the delivery of news, how people find and keep up to date with news, who gathers news and how.

Among other things, I touched on how much information is available online, how we can download Google Earth for free, check out Wikipedia (and contribute to it), ask questions of Yahoo Answers and Google, get news alerts from Twitter, blogs, Facebook, RSS feeds and email, how free blogs and cheap mobile phones seriously lower the entry barrier to publishing. And how news companies, faced with declining audiences, have little option but to jump into this new reality.

I acknowledged how poor infrastructure and censored internet access limit this explosion of new communication pathways in many countries. But I was grateful to have a few more home truths illuminated for me.

For a start, an Eastern European journalist made a point of taking me aside and saying, in essence: 'You know, all those RSS feeds are fine, but they're not much use if you only speak, say, Slovenian. In my country I can count on two hands the number of RSS feeds in my language that are worth subscribing to.'

I can't help but think that an explosion of output from individuals in such countries will only be a matter of time - as the price of entry falls (cheap desktop computers and mobile phones) and connectivity increases with the spread of broadband infrastructure. But it's a fair point.

As I've mentioned before, it was sobering to hear people talk about having their lives threatened, of having sources imprisoned for talking to them, and learning that 172 journalists and media staff died in the course of their work last year, according to the International Federation of Journalists.

It was maddening to hear a journalist joke about how his company had created a blog without his knowing and published his columns on it - given this was a conference that dealt with ethics it struck me as of considerable concern if it were true and in poor taste if it were a stretched truth, which I suspect it was. (I am in the camp who see a ghost-written blog as a pointless fraud and a blog that simply republishes a newspaper column as, well, simply pointless.)

On the upside I heard about a family under house arrest who used a smuggled mobile phone and Twitter to keep in touch with the outside world. And I met someone who works with a group that excels at hiding internet connections from snooping oppressors.

I learned that in parts of rural China the availability of cheap mobile phones with cheap data plans is combining with growing use of wi-max to bring connectivity to communities who might otherwise have waited their lifetime for hard-wired infrastructure to reach them.

I read while I was in Bali about an environmental protest in Chengdu, the capital of China's Sichuan province, that had been organised through blogs, websites and text messages. The protesters 'walked peacefully' through the city to 'criticise the building of an ethylene plant and oil refinery in Pengzhou, a few minutes' drive outside the city.'

The earthquake now dominating news headlines struck Sichuan a few days later.

Today I read about an initiative started on Facebook in Egypt (where only 8pc of the population have internet access), which its young organisers had hoped would launch a passive protest but which waned as group members lost interest, confidence or heart. Later, some told of seizures and beatings received because of their involvement.

It's an uneven world.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Washington Post signs syndication deal with TechCrunch

This is interesting. The Washington Post is going to run stories from popular technology blogging site TechCrunch (#1 in the world according to BloggerBoard) in its Technology section.

"TechCrunch will provide readers concentrated and continuously updated insights into cutting-edge start-ups, products and other online ventures," the Washington Post says in a press release.
"This addition rounds out the Technology section, which already provides in-depth reporting on the latest news and trends affecting every aspect of the technology industry, from medical innovations to the evolutions in global media policy, personal technology to issues of security."
It's only a matter of time before content deals between established niche blogging sites and mainstream news providers become commonplace, surely.

Link via (via Twitter).

Twitter moves news faster than ever - earthquake ripples

I heard about the 7.8 earthquake in China's Sichuan province about five hours ago via a colleague on Twitter and retweeted it immediately. Little was known then.

I went out for a few hours and when I got back it was being tweeted by BreakingNewsOn with the news that 900 children were reported buried and at least 109 people killed.

Then I noticed Paul Bradshaw keeping a close eye on the story's Twitter progress on OnlineJournalismBlog.

Extraordinary how far round the world this story went in such a short time and how much detail and information was added to it along the way.

All the gear, no idea (but it's probably just as well)

I should be ashamed. Here's me with a laptop, digital sound recorder and a phone and camera that take perfectly good pictures and video. And what did I manage to record and post from the conference I've just been to? Nothing.

Then again, there are good reasons for that, and bad.

On the one hand, I was defeated by technological challenges and tropical inertia. The Global Inter-Media Dialogue conference, on ethical journalism and diversity in reporting, was held in Bali where the temperature is reliably warm day and night with humidity to match. Its electricity is slightly less reliable, however.

I went to sleep the first night believing my laptop was plugged in and charging, only to wake to a laptop on its last legs. I found another power point that worked fine provided I unplugged the kettle, sprawled aross a bed and worked offline since it was on the other side of the room from the internet cable. In the conference room, meanwhile, there was wifi but no power. It took the best part of the two-day conference to get a system going.

Then there was my presentation (an overview of changes the internet is bringing to news delivery). It got cut from 20 minutes to 10mins, of which around 2mins passed with the technician struggling to get my PowerPoint slides up on screen and me yabbering away in a room that had inexplicably been plunged into near-darkness and at one point resorting to dancing as a means of distracting my hungry pre-lunch audience. Finally the slides appeared, albeit the wrong ones, which made for a fairly interesting ad-lib exercise and meant I forgot most of the more important points I set out to make. Serves me right for relying on technology. Should have brought my notes with me, like everyone else did.

As the conference went on, I forgot to turn on my voice recorder and missed the beginning of speakers. I didn't notice when the battery ran out so sometimes missed the middle and end as well. I missed some speakers entirely because I got caught up in corridor conversations, the kind that make conferences so worthwhile. And I took intermittent notes which, frankly, would not hold up should I publish something and be damned.

Just as well no one was paying me to cover this thing. As it was, whenever I thought to myself, 'That's interesting, I must blog about that,'" it always seemed to be nap time, cocktail hour or dinner time. One day blurred into another and before I knew it I was homeward bound.

On the other hand, I had good reason to sit back and reflect rather than covering the conference as it unfolded - namely that a number of attendees could be endangered if an indiscreet comment or photograph were to be published.

Some of the conference was held under the Chatham House Rule, which permits the reporting of content but without identifying the speaker or his/her associations. While this didn't prevent me reporting from the conference, it certainly gave me pause for thought.

Having grown up and practised most of my journalism in safe, stable countries, it came as something of a jolt to hear men and women on stage talking about reporting in conflict zones, of intractable problems in long-term conflicts and of being ill prepared for conflicts that arose in previously peaceful areas.

It was sobering to hear journalists talk about how sources for their stories had been imprisoned, even more so to hear journalists talk about having their life and their families' lives threatened.

Life, but not as I know it.

On a more positive note, there were some hearty discussions held, useful networks forged over morning coffee, lunches, dinners and karaoke, and I will no doubt share a few stories in the coming days.

If I had to quickly sum up the messages of the conference, I would say that journalism is still too dangerous in too many places, that mainstream media still lacks diversity in its reporting voice but that the internet is giving more people a voice than ever before. I would say that the internet is having a big effect on newsgathering and delivery, but only where there is adequate infrastructure and unfettered access - in other words these changes are by no means universal.

I would add that journalists appear somewhat divided on what their role is in society - some clearly want to change the world and feel they have the right and responsibility to do so; others steer clear of agenda-setting.

A case in point would be climate change, which some journalists at the conference felt a responsibility to educate their public about and asked how journalists could best be taught to understand this complex issue (erm, read books and talk to experts?). Others, myself included, lean more toward the journalist's responsibility being to understand the issue and reliably report on what communities, authorities and experts have to say on it - when they have something to say on it.

Either way, it's good to have your views challenged now and then and you can't beat a gathering of international journalists to do just that.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

In ten years newspapers will be a quarter of what they are now, says Blodget

I can never resist a bit of doomsaying from Silicon Alley Insider's Henry Blodget. This time he's arguing that within ten years newspaper circulation and advertising revenue will be a quarter what it is now:

Why? Because:

  • As circulations and ad revenue continue to fall, print economies-of-scale will reverse, cutting further into already shrinking print margins.
  • As "green business" practices take hold, a new generation of consumers will come to view the newspaper industry as a horrifically wasteful polluter that eats forests, gobbles fuel and electricity, and farts untold amounts of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere--all to deliver information that might have been interesting yesterday.
  • A generation of newspaper ad salespeople and ad sales buyers will gradually retire or quit, and advertisers will increasingly ask themselves why they are spending billions on ads they have no idea whether anyone looks at.
  • As financial and environmental pressures increase and a better grasp of reality sets in, more papers will opt to do what the Capital Times of Madison, Wisconsin, did last weekend: Shut down their print businesses, fire a third of their staff, and put what's left online.
As ever, Blodget sparks some lively debate and the comments are worth a read.