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Wordblog revived

incorporating New Life


Media behaving badly

“Rogue journalists” seeking more information on the five women murdered in Ipswich have been trying to get into the town’s hospital mortuary, according to a report in the local Evening Star.

The paper quotes a hospital spokeswoman saying people found in inappropriate areas were believed to be from the foreign media and not from any UK organisations.

And British media have been ignoring requests not to use pictures of the two arrested men who are being questioned by police about the murder of five prostitutes.

Yet the Evening Star, which probably has a stronger interest than most in publishing the pictures, decided against.

The Star’s editor, Nigel Pickover, says in his blog: “There are questions about whether identity of the suspects will be an issue – in which case publication of photographs of them could lead to a charge of contempt of court.”

He points out that the chief constable of Suffolk has written to the media twice on the subject and says his paper’s legal team has also strongly advised against publication of the pictures.

At the Press Gazette today, Mike Dodd, the Press Association’s media law expert, takes a different approach. “Has anyone said that he’s guilty? In what way is the reporting prejudicial? At the moment all they [newspapers] are doing is creating background,” he says.

And he calls for a change in the current law in which a case becomes “active” at the point of an arrest. “The law is too strict. With the Suffolk murders, this is something of great public interest and the great British public have a right to know,” he said.

Pausing for thought about media development

This year there has been almost a frenzy as mainstream media websites bring on the latest technology with video, podcasts, more blogs with talk of social media, conversations and communities.

Could this rush be a mistake. Two items in yesterday’s Guardian suggest it might be. First on the business pages, Richard Wray reports that the Upload 2007 conference on social networking has been cancelled because there was not enough interest to make it viable. He wrote:

Fashions change fast on the internet and the latest “new new” thing – online social networks – has already become passé if the surprise cancellation of a conference early next year is any indication.

In Media Guardian, Kim Fletcher reviews the year for newspapers, writing that while a digital strategy might not guarantee success, not having one is to look like a failure. But the race may not go to the first. He writes:

There is still time to get involved, for Associated is proving that you can build an audience even if you start late. The success of the expanded Mail website suggests that there is no overwhelming advantage in being first mover. The Mail’s online audience is growing fast, and management calculates that it can catch up with any rival initiative that is shown to work. It is not a bold or imaginative strategy, but promises a safe return at low risk.

There is a lot to be said for that approach. By watching the “beta phase” for new ideas in journalism many of the mistakes can be avoided. As I have remarked before there are some terrible newspaper blogs out there and others have made similar comments about some of the video newspapers have been putting up.

The Christmas holiday is a good time to pause and think about where we are heading as the inevitable development of MSM websites and media convergence continues at a bewildering pace.

The language of reporting the Ipswich murders

Use of the word “prostitute” in coverage of the Ipswich murders has come in for predictable complaints from those who felt that “sex workers” was the more appropriate term. Prostitute is an uncomfortable description to apply to any woman but in context of events in the Suffolk town it had a necessary precision.

Not only does sex worker seem to sanitise the work, it is an all encompassing term for escorts and massage parlour workers as well as those vulnerable on the streets.

But there is something else here. The murdered women were local girls, daughters, school friends, former girl friends; they belonged to the community. They have been seen locally not only as victims of the sex trade but as victims of drugs. Parents have talked to the media of daughters “lost to them” because of drugs.
Unusually, for this kind of case the local media, day-after-day, has talked to people who knew the women and spoke about them in very human terms. BBC journalist Tim Fenton who still lives close to the town where he was brought up, wrote on the corporation’s Suffolk website:

With a population of about 140,000, Ipswich is big enough to be a proper town but not so big as to feel impersonal. It’s noticeable that the TV crews have had little problem finding people who knew and will talk about the murdered women.
Many remember them as schoolgirls or neighbours and offer the cameras personal recollections. There’s ready sympathy for the addictions that drove them to sell their bodies and risk their lives. I wonder if that would be true in a big city.
Everyone is affected.

The women killed in Ipswich have not been traded around the world for sex nor have they fled from their homes for the anonymity of a big city: they are “the girl next door”.

I live about 12 miles from Ipswich. All I hear is sympathy for the dead girls and their families. The people round here see an inextricable link between drugs and prostitution. There are drugs in our village, and with them the recognition that every family is vulnerable.

In this context the word prostitute is a recognition of reality and not “dehumanising” or implying a “value judgement” about the lives of the women, as readers of the Guardian have suggested to Ian Mayes, the readers’ editor.

Writing on the use of the terms “prostitute” and “sex worker”, he says: “The terms will probably continue to co-exist, carefully one hopes. Once again context is all-important and indicative.”

Newspaper owners rationalise industry bodies

The announcement that the Newspaper Society and the Newspaper Publishers Society are to come together under one director in the same building leaves two questions. Why has it taken so long? And when will they merge?

The logic for a merger is in the joint statement of Murdoch MacLennan, chairman of the NPA, and Paul Davidson, president of the NS. They say: “There are significant public policy and external challenges which national and regional newspaper businesses face in common. It is increasingly important that the NS and NPA – representing the regional and national press – build on their work for the entire industry.”

From February 1 next year NS director David Newell will be wearing a second hat, marked NPA. That would be mighty confusing if the continued autonomy of the organisations resulted in differing policies.
(via Roy Greenslade)

Offer for Mirror ‘undervalued’ it says board

Trinity Mirror’s decision to put only a part of its regional papers empire on the market confirms the feeling that newspapers are not attractive to investors. The board review published today says it will sell the Racing Post and regional titles in the Midlands, London and the South East, subject to “full and attractive offers”.

The review says several expressions of interest in buying parts of the business had been considered. These included an expression of interest in the national papers — the Daily and Sunday Mirrors and the People — which the board felt “substantially undervalued” them. Demerger of the national and regional businesses was also ruled out.

In March, the Daily Mail and General Trust announced that it would not continue with attempts to sell its Northcliffe regional business because “the three offers received did not reflect the long term value of the business”. Only the Aberdeen Journals business was sold.

Northcliffe announced a cost-cutting programme. Today, Trinity Mirror announces cost-cutting.

It says the weekly papers in London and the South East and the Midland papers including the Birmingham Post and Evening Mail and the Coventry Telegraph were “likely to be more attractive to other owners”.

And their vision for the future of the retained business is as “a multi-platform publishing and advertising business based on a combination of market leading newspaper titles and digital assets offering best-in-class margin potential and significant growth potential once advertising market conditions improve.”

But the separately released trading update expects advertising revenue, down 9.6% in the past 11 months, stabilise next year with the rate of decline slowing. Two days ago, Johnston Press with print advertising revenue down by 8% in the past five months, saw no sign of improvement.

Later addition While my post reflects a feeling that the board review is too little, too late, Roy Greenslade says it all questioning whether the plans will “stave off complete collapse”.

An idea which threatens trust in MSM

The idea that mainstream media sites sites covering breaking news should report not only the conventional edited stories but unconfirmed information, possibly in a blog, has been doing the rounds recently.

It has been suggested that it would add transparency to the to the reporting process. It seemed to me to be a wrong-headed idea and dangerous: it would amount to the publishing of unconfirmed rumour.

I held off posting on the subject because I feared I was missing something: there must have been something I had misunderstood.

When JD Lasica, one of the biggest thinkers on media changes who describes himself as “one of the world’s leading authorities on citizens media and the revolution in user-created media” posted on the subject, I decided to respond.

He had written at his New Media Musings blog:

For years, mostly in talks at conferences, I’ve been suggesting that when news organizations cover breaking news stories, reporters and editors post updates with categories such as “what we know” and “what we don’t know at this time.” Dan Gillmor expressed support for such a new media convention when we chatted about breaking news a couple of months ago.

He then quoted a letter in the New York Times which said:

Why doesn’t The Times set up a special section online, perhaps called “New York Times Online Raw” to present breaking news that has not yet been formalized for the print edition? Provide a link to these stories on the Times home page, with a disclaimer at the top of the “Raw” page explaining that the stories are breaking news and have not yet been thoroughly fact-checked and edited.

Still not wanting to get the wrong end of the stick, I posted a questioning comment on Lasica’s blog last night:

I am puzzled. You seem to be approving of the NYT letter but in 2002 you wrote in the Online Journalism Review: “But the underlying ethical considerations of journalism transcend the medium. In other words, journalism demands high standards, no matter the medium.

For online journalism today, the ethical bottom line is this: I don’t know of a single online news publication that believes a story unfit for print is fair game for the Web.”

Have you changed your mind?

This morning he has responded with this:

Interesting that you’d cite that long-ago article. It’s somewhat related, but I was really talking about something else back then – the printing of rumor and gossip. I think a breaking news story in the online medium is a different animal. Rather than withhold information that a newsroom obtains but can’t immediately verify, it would be a service to provide the information but in the proper context, saying here’s what we’ve been able to verify, here’s what we’ve heard but can’t yet verify, and here is what others are reporting. I think it goes to the immediacy of the medium, so it’s really not about lowering standards.

It has always been an editorial function, in the UK at least, to examine unconfirmed information and consider whether it should be printed or broadcast. A reputation for reliability depends, in a large part, on how carefully these decisions are made, especially in the heat of a breaking story.

To loosen these controls on information, however it is labelled, would inevitably lead to inaccurate and sensational information being published. And this would damage the credibility of the publisher.

Does anyone really believe that readers would pass the information on with all the caveats? In breaking news the dangers would be at their greatest.

Managing old and new media together

While much of the talk is about how traditional media can adopt elements of new participatory media, John Battelle at Searchblog has been looking at the way big media businesses are managing their digital assets.

He sees a fundamental conflict, heading his post “Packaged Goods Media v Conversational Media” and suggesting that the corporate urge of the old media businesses is to preserve their existing model.

Battelle, a visiting professor of journalism at Berkley, cites recent senior management changes at Time Warner, News Corporation and CBS and “thinks out loud” about what they mean. He writes:

There are two major forms of media these days. There is Packaged Goods Media, in which “content” is produced and packaged, then sent through traditional distribution channels like cable, newsstand, mail, and even the Internet. Remember when nearly every major media mogul claimed that the Internet was simply one more media distribution channel? They were right, but only in so far as it pertains to Packaged Goods Media. Over the past few decades, massive media conglomerates have built on the deep DNA of Packaged Goods Media.

The second major form of media, is far newer, and far less established. I’ve come to call it Conversational Media, though I also like to call it Performance Media. This is the kind of media that has been labeled, somewhat hastily and often derisively, as “User Generated Content,” “Social Media,” or “Consumer Content.” And while the major media companies are unparalleled when it comes to running companies that live in the Packaged Goods Media world, running major companies in the Conversational Media field require quite a different set of skills, and consideration of radically different economic and business models – models which, to be perfectly frank, conflict directly with the models which support and protect Packaged Goods Media-based companies.

He does not produce any conclusions and promises to do some more thinking out loud soon. It is a train of thought well worth following.

A newspaper with passion…

The London evening newspapers war gets more bizarre. This evening the Standard seller outside Liverpool Street station pushes a litre of fruit juice into my hand along with the paper as he takes my 50p. “It’s getting more like running a supermarket every day,” he says. The pineapple and passionfruit will help me “maintain a strong body”, according to the packet. Not sure it is going to do much to help the Standard whose price rise looks more and more like a mistake, as circulation tumbles.

A large trolley loaded with discarded copies of thelondonpaper and London Lite is being pushed along the pavement. At Canary Wharf the newly installed “recycle your newspaper” bins are full of the spent pages of this futile war between News International and Associated Newspapers.

The latest circulation figures tell us that thelondonpaper is managing to distribute more copies than London Lite while the Standard struggles to give away umbrellas and whatever else some Arthur Dailey can off-load on Lord Rothermere.

50p dollar could make sense of Newsquest sale

Reports that the Newsquest group of nearly 300 newspapers including 17 dailies might to be put up for sale makes more sense if you look at a statistical report issued by its US parent, Gannett, last week. This shows the impact the weakness of the dollar is having on the group’s performance.

It says that if the exchange rate had remained constant year-over-year, operating revenues in November would have been 2.3% higher.

On the face of it, this is not a good time to sell British regional newspapers. Northcliffe has failed to find a buyer at the right price, and Trinity Mirror’s board is to consider the future both of its regional and national titles on Wednesday.

But faced with falling circulation and advertising volumes and the dollar worth little more than 50p, it might be a good time for Gannett to retrench on its home territory.

A Reuters report that Gannett is to review the future of Newsquest was based on a report in the Sunday Express. Gannett has made no comment so far.
(via Roy Greenslade)

UPDATE, Dec 12. Gannett has issued a statement saying there is no truth in reports that they are considering selling Newsquest.

BBC women reporters earn £6,500 less than men

The BBC is paying women reporters on its TV news bulletins an average of £6,500 a year less than their male colleagues. The data has been obtained by the National Union of Journalists under the Freedom of Information Act.

The Independent reports that the disclosure will support claims of a glass ceiling and raise questions about the fairness of the pay structure. In response the BBC said: “To help put the information in context, it is worth noting that the relative experience of specialist correspondents is likely to be reflected in their salaries. Therefore, we have also included the average ages of and lengths of service for the sample group, as they may be an indicator of relative levels of experience.”

And it turns out that the average age of female correspondents is 41 while the figure for men is 46. That raises another question: why the age differential?