26
Sep 13

Buzzfeed is more likely to regenerate journalism than any number of anxious conferences

This post opens with a hat-tip to Martin Moore, who pointed out to me the other day what a remarkable document is the message recently sent to the staff of the viral video site Buzzfeed by its founder Jonah Peretti. I’d seen mention of it, but failed to see its importance.

It is fascinating and well worth a read. Peretti’s start-of-term pep talk is both new – digitally aware, thinking ahead and celebrating innovation both editorial and technical – and at the same time old. Improbable, even shocking, innovation to grab an audience and income which can later fund journalism has happened before. In fact it’s happened throughout most of journalism’s history with the exception of the late 20th century.

What Peretti’s memo describes is the compressed history of a site begun to make it easy for bored people at work to swop silly videos and lists is now hiring foreign correspondents and investigative reporters, often the two most important and expensive tribes of journalists found in any newsroom. Peretti did not reach this position by waking up one morning and deciding to help democracy be better informed; he put together a team of alpha geeks who built a site which was unbeatable for sharing video of skateboarding cats on smartphones and social media. With that foundation, he can now go out and compete for high-prestige journalism prizes.

Many experiments fail; Buzzfeed might. It uses its not inconsiderable creative skill to make fluent, clever semi-disguised ads for companies which pay for the service. Critics allege that this will blunt the site’s reportorial edge; we’ll see. (In my book Out of Print just published, I record a senior Buzzfeed person who seems to admit this: page 221). The giggling frivolity might simply overwhelm trying to explain what’s happening in Nairobi or Nablus.

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Buzzfeed is more likely to regenerate journalism than any number of anxious conferencesBuzzfeed is more likely to regenerate journalism than any number of anxious conferencesBuzzfeed is more likely to regenerate journalism than any number of anxious conferencesBuzzfeed is more likely to regenerate journalism than any number of anxious conferencesBuzzfeed is more likely to regenerate journalism than any number of anxious conferencesShare This Post

24
Jun 13

How many royal charters does it take to fix press regulation? Six, at least

Any time from this week, we may hear news from the government ministers assigned to solve the conundrum of press regulation. Consultation on one of the many royal charters which have been written since the Leveson Report was published more than six months ago has finished and we may hear how the government hopes to get out of the deep doo-doo it’s walked into.

Or possibly not. Lord Leveson remarks more than once in his report that press regulation is a subject about which politicians may have, or even voice, opinions. When in office, they rapidly conclude that they are determined to do as little as possible. The toughness of the present dilemmas isn’t going to change that.

Any system of press regulation which is “independent” of the state and politicians can’t, by definition, be compulsory and even if it were, news publishing groups increasingly pivoting to become global online publishers could operate from outside British legal jurisdiction. Yet a cross-party majority of MPs want, and have voted for, a tougher system of accountability than the three largest national newspaper publishers will accept.

There are now six versions of Royal Charters in play, all claiming to be to be the best balance between freedom and restraint. These six versions have all been generated despite the claim made for Royal Charters – that they protect the independence of a press regulation system from future political interference – having been strongly challenged. Six charters may just be the start.

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04
Oct 11

Media regulation: heat and light

Debates about the state of journalism “post phone-hacking” occur almost nightly in London. The Leveson inquiry into, among other things, press regulation has begun work. Are any new ideas being generated?

Newspaper editors, when they have been audible at all, have cautioned about any form of tougher regulation than the discredited self-regulation which exists now. But they have been less voluble about what might work better than the Press Complaints Commission which Prime Minister David Cameron appeared to pronounce dead when the phone-hacking storm was at its height in the summer. Editors appear nervous that to discuss possible future regulation systems in any detail increases the risk that any new system or laws will err on the side of strangling free journalistic inquiry. The PCC, apparently considering reports of its death to be premature, is advertising for a new chairman and revamping its procedures.

The risk of over-regulation exists for sure. But an intellectual vacuum also has dangers. If you assume that the PCC self-regulation system won’t survive intact, something has to replace it. Alternatives need to be sketched out and tested. Some of this thinking is happening. The rest of this post is a quick tour of the ideas being lined up.

A recent discussion at the Reuters Institute in Oxford looked at seven regulation options pulled together by Martin Moore of the Media Standards Trust.

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24
Feb 11

Dr Moore’s churnalism-spotting machine

Martin Moore of the Media Standards Trust has just launched an amusing – if slightly terrifying – device which matches the words of a news story with the text of the relevant press release. Lo and behold, there is often a large overlap. “Churnalism” can be seen and measured.

Any reservations I might have about this aren’t about the idea of churnalism. Over a long period, many news journalists came to be expected to turn out more and more pieces or writing or broadcasting per day and the growing pressures have been particularly felt in regional media. Less research went into the journalism and more and more reporting was the same, often the very same words. The journalism’s quality fell. Audiences noted the fall in the value of what they were getting.

I’ve got two quibbles with the current software that the MST has now launched. First, it’s bit crude. It determines matching text overlap (between story and press release) and christens the result churnalism. OK, that will often reveal lazy reporting. But the fact that much news reporting is routine (and it always has been) doesn’t mean that it is badly done or valueless to the reader.

Number 99 in the current list of top press release for the past three months happens to concern driver insurance. Not very surprisingly the numerous papers which report this (Telegraph, Scotsman, Financial Times) use quite a few words from the wording of the government press release. In this case, the reporters had been doing their job – a modest one – of relaying public service information in pretty much the words that government officials had chosen. As Dan Sabbagh says here, journalism includes summarising.

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28
Sep 10

The meaning of local

Martin Moore reflects on what “local” means when we’re talking about news media, concluding that if new start-ups replace the news organisations of the past they will have be grown from ground-level communities. Carving out a piece of territory, sending news to it and then hoping that you create a community as a result doesn’t work.

Everything in that post makes sense and I’d just add this perspective. Present-day local news media may look like businesses aiming at slices of physical territory or at selected “demographics”. But that isn’t how most local news began life. A community already existed and wanted to improve its common life: knowing things quicker, knowing where to shop for stuff, the tide tables or the football team’s score.

In the 19th century, the great growth era of local papers, cities were forging new identities and creating new bonds with new civic institutions whose doings made material for editors and publishers whose ambitions went beyond the parish. Cities in the 21st century, for dozens of reasons, aren’t the same places as they were then. The era when papers could be the romantic chroniclers of new urban life has gone. (For a taste of this in an American context see this Q&A with the writer Richard Rodriguez about San Francisco).

Town and cities made economic sense as well. Any city of 100,000 inhabitants or more could sustain an evening paper and usually did so for more than a century. Not any longer. Classified ads for houses, jobs and cars – once the bread and butter income for regional papers – moved faster than any advertising to the internet.

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23
Jul 10

Weekend miscellany: Wales, bogus trends, death knocks and Google skewering the FTC

What follows belows is a collection of links worth reading which I’ve rounded up as the weekend approaches.

  • The well-worn rhetoric of the “crisis” in journalism tends to focus on national newspapers, distorting perspective a little. The most serious financial position of all is in the regional papers; television news outside London isn’t in good shape either. That’s the significance of the argument that has been pinging back and forth this week about Wales. Thankfully, I can put it all in one link to Martin Moore’s blog because he’s very kindly summarised it in a single post.
  • More Jack Shafer skewering bogus trends.
  • Journalist Chris Wheal has blogged this week and appeared on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on the ethics and practice of interviewing the bereaved. He suddenly found himself on the other side of the fence, handling reporters on behalf of close relatives. His fierce distinction between the behaviour of the local and national media echoes the Cumbrian MPs who made the same distinction after the recent Lake District shootings. Some reflection and more links on this conversation from Dominic Ponsford.
  • There’s been an American debate running about possible government subsidy for printed news media mostly around a discussion document favouring this produced by the Federal Trade Commission. Google has now replied, reading – to judge by the Buzzmachine post – the FTC a lesson in both economics and history.

22
Jun 10

Read and enjoyed: Naughton, Moore and two rig-disaster reconstructions

A miscellany of links. This is a clear and knowledgeable piece of sense about the internet and the future by John Naughton, which gives wider currency to his celebrated image of the imaginary opinion pollster in Mainz 18 years after the invention of printing. And he extends the image underlining how uncertain the future is to St Petersburg in 1917. Literate futurology with a hinterland.

Martin Moore  has been at a Knight Foundation conference in the US and summarises what he learnt about the latest local news initiatives there.

The first long-form investigative reconstructions of the rig disaster are starting to appear. Two of the best have been in magazines and not newspapers. This is from GQ and this from Rolling Stone. The latter (“The Spill, the Scandal and the President”) is notably more critical of Obama than most other media, blaming him for the failure to clean up the oil regulators.


08
Jun 10

Moore of MST: this sounds about right

This piece by Martin Moore of the Media Standards Trust in London cropped up in my Delicious clips (which appear just to the right of this post in “what I’m reading“), but it’s so judicious that it deserves more prominence.

What I like here is the rigorous separation of the fate of journalism from that of individual journalists, the stress on the experimental mixture of things which are going to have to be tried to rebuild and sustain journalism on a useful scale and the mention of Roman Gallo’s Nase Adresa initiative in the Czech Republic (background from this blog here). Above all what’s appealing is the lack of dogmatism and admission of uncertainty.