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Court rules “headlines are literary works”

July 28, 2011 4 comments

In a judgment which will warm every sub’s cockles, the Court of Appeal yesterday confirmed an earlier ruling that headlines are “separate literary works” that, for purposes of copyright etc, should be considered independent of the story they sit on.

The court threw out an appeal by news parasite Meltwater, which provided a paid-for headline-scraping service to clients in the PR industry. The original action against the company had been brought by all the main Fleet Street newspaper groups, except News International, under the aegis of the Newspaper Licensing Agency, who successfully argued last year that Meltwater required a Web Database Licence (WDL) to aggregate and sell the list of  spider-grabbed headlines, and that its customers required a Web End User Licence (WEUL) to use that information for commercial purposes.

Meltwater and the Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA), a conglomeration of Meltwater subscribers, appealed against the original ruling by Proudman J. Meltwater at first contended it did not need a WDL to carry on its business, though it later relented and got one. One of the conditions of the WDL requires that the holding company’s customers each need a WEUL. The PRCA argued that no, they didn’t. Mrs Justice Proudman found against them, saying:

“The headlines are often striking and substantial, both in terms of content and in terms of length.   They are not usually written by the journalists who write the underlying articles but by editorial staff whose specific functions include the composition of headlines.  The ability to compose a headline is a valuable and discrete skill and courses exist to teach it. Headlines require skill in order to fulfil the objective of capturing the reader’s attention and inducing them to read the article. Thus a headline frequently has some emotional or sentimental ‘hook’, it may contain a pun, it may summarise the content of the article to which it relates. The process of final selection of a headline is separate from the selection of the article. Often a number of options will be proposed and the decision will be taken by a senior editor. Occasionally the article will be tailored to fit the headline.”

She also noted:

“…headlines involve considerable skill in devising and they are specifically designed to entice by informing the reader of the content of the article in an entertaining manner.”

These views were yesterday upheld by the Chancellor of the High Court, Sir Andrew Morritt, with Lord Justice Jackson and Lord Justice Evans. Rejecting the PRCA’s argument that Meltwater customers fell into the category of those exempt from needing a WEUL – a group exempt for purposes of criticism – they said no such exemption applied, because Meltwater made no attempt to analyse or interpret the headlines it sent out.

The copies created on the end-user’s computer are the consequence of the end-user opening the email containing Meltwater News, searching the Meltwater website or accessing the Publisher’s website by clicking on the link provided by Meltwater.

The Lord Chancellor went on to praise Proudman J’s “clear, careful and comprehensive judgment”. Hear-hear!

It’s certainly cheering to know we subs have friends in high places in the judiciary. Just wish we had more of them in the newsrooms.

The full ruling is here. Note the ruling only applies to commercial users. It doesn’t apply to us impecunious amateur bloggers.

PJ O’Rourke on blogging, the internet and journalism

July 3, 2011 3 comments

I came across this fascinating interview with the always excellent P J O’Rourke, recently broadcast on Radio Free Europe – something I don’t listen to much. In fact, it’s something I don’t listen to at all, since I’m not an oppressed coolie of Kyrgyzstan or wherever, and besides my useless DAB radio doesn’t pick up shortwave (or much else for that matter).

In it, PJ saunters across a whole range of topics including journalism, mobile phones, Murdoch’s paywalls

“I do think it’s the way forward. Something that you get for free is usually worth exactly that”

Twitter

“There’s small talk, and then there’s very very small talk, and then there’s Twitter”

blogging

“[It’s] very self-indulgent. It’s all about “me”. It isn’t about the person who is reading the blog…There’s a great deal of people sitting around in pyjamas giving each other their opinions”

and, a subject close to my heart, news-blogging 

“It is our job to filter, organise, make sense of, edit all this information and now there is more information coming in. I think that the general fact of more information coming in is not a bad thing by any means. It’s a positive good. But does it guarantee that the information coming in will necessarily be more accurate? Not perfectly sure on that”

Definitely worth taking a minute or two to read and/or a listen (there are some video excerpts of the interview, as below).


Vodpod videos no longer available.

Wikipedia’s war over Pippa Middleton and Dreadful Americanisms

May 11, 2011 Leave a comment
Pippa Middleton

Pippa Middleton: Many Wiki-munchkins don't want to give her one (her own page on Wikipedia, that is)

Behind the scenes, there is currently an intense debate going on at Wikipedia over whether Pippa Middleton deserves a page entry on the all-for-one encyclopedia as “Notable”.

A page dedicated to her which went up on the site was subsequently deleted by an over-enthusiastic wiki-munchkin of a republican bent who obviously thought that being the sister of a future Queen was no justification for making Pippa a Notable. Cue outrage from those – presumably mostly from this side of the pond, though you can’t tell unless you sat there doing pingbacks on each commentator – who think that relationship, plus the fact that over week after That Wedding, Miss Middleton continues to fill the news pages, airwaves and social media bandwidth.

The whole debate is quite smirkily amusing in a geeky, look-how-the-saddo-half-live sort of way, though I did find the following exchange funny:

Edit request from Lelegirli, 30 April 2011

the word organize is misspelled.

Lelegirli (talk) 19:24, 30 April 2011 (UTC)

No its not, in British English, organise is spelt with an s–Jac16888 Talk 19:39, 30 April 2011 (UTC)

Some popular forms of British English do use an -s- instead of a -z- in “organize”, but more traditional British English (including Oxford English) uses a -z-. I am old-fashioned English and always use a -z- for “organize”, “realize”, “antagonize”, etc. Moonraker2 (talk) 22:57, 30 April 2011 (UTC)

Lelegirli, you started your sentence with a lower case letter, which is incorrect. You also spelt mispelt as “misspelled” which is the American spelling, so I assume you are from the USA and probably unaware that anything else exists beyond that country. But just to let you know that there are differences between American and British spellings, and both are acceptable on Wikipedia. See here: WP:AmE. Childrens do learn. 82.152.209.221 (talk) 14:03, 1 May 2011 (UTC)

As Wikipedia was originally an American initiative, U.S. English is preferred, but there is an exception for specifically British topics.95.49.244.248 (talk) 13:11, 6 May 2011 (UTC)

You might as well argue that as the US was originally a UK initiative, UK spelling is to be preferred. Ericoides (talk) 21:10, 7 May 2011 (UTC)

And answer to that came there none…

Error at Regrettheerror.com

March 7, 2011 1 comment

Trying to access Craig Silverman’s always entertaining regrettheerror.com blog (“Reports on corrections, retractions, clarifications and trends regarding accuracy and honesty in the media”) resulted in this warning this morning:

May contain malware message for regrettheerror.com

The Google diagnostic page is here.

Ooo-er. Has some aggrieved target of Craig’s eagle eye decided that rather than regretting their error, they’ll bomb him with malware?

How Twitter medownlets

March 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Telegraphese meets Twitter

One of my greatest disappointments with Twitter, as used by media-types when tweeting other media-types, is that it has utterly failed to revive the great legacy of telegraphese when it comes to news alerts.

On the face of it, it is the ideal modern communication mode to do so. The 140-letter limit forces you to be brief, concise and clear, just as the financial restraints did with the telegram. Twitter actively reins in prolixity, unlike emails and blogs. And unlike textspeak, there’s enough room within 140 characters to be inventive, clever and occasionally funny in formulating words.

Alas, that’s not the way media-type Tweetspeak has evolved. Instead, it’s either merely a subset of textspeak, complete with OMGs, LOLs and other abominations, or it’s little more than a cut’n’paste job of prosaic web headlines, complete with the ever-essential keywords all lined up “like cavalry horses answering a bugle”, as Orwell had it in another context.

Of course, media outlets using Twitter to inform their twittering public of the latest headlines have to use concise language which those readers can understand. That’s not what I’m on about. But I think journalists and media commentators whose audience is primarily other journalists and media-types are missing the opportunity to revive a great journalistic telegraphese tradition. And we’re missing out on a great opportunity to add to the gaiety of our profession which, let’s face it could do with as much gaiety it can get these days.

Consider the recent example of Daily Star reporter Richard Peppiatt’s melodramatic “open” resignation letter to Richard Desmond.

Read more…

All of a-Twitter: Henry Kissinger and Bart Simpson

March 4, 2011 Leave a comment

 

Henry Kissinger and Bart Simpson

Henry & Bart: Together in the twittersphere

What do Henry Kissinger and Bart Simspon have in common?

 

I thought this as I read Fleet Street Blues’ intriguing story about this Independent article by Christina Patterson.

In this Viewspaper article about Said Gaddafi’s appearance on Libyan State TV, Patterson ponders the likely reaction of Peter Mandelson, Tony Blair, Prince Andrew and divers other great and good who have sucked up to Mad Dog & Son, but then says:

But Henry Kissinger, or at least someone calling himself Henry Kissinger, tweeted that Saif Gaddafi was his godson and that he believed him “to be sincere”.

Well, at least she, or perhaps, as FSB suspects, a sharp-eyed sub, hedged the bets somewhat by adding that “at least someone calling himself Henry Kissinger”. But once that reasonable doubt is raised, Patterson then goes on mostly ignoring it:

As the speech went on, and Twitter was aflutter with the kind of comments you wouldn’t want to hear about your godson, the ersatz Kissinger’s pride switched to loyalty. “Those,” he said, “saying Saif Gaddafi is under the influence tonight are completely out of order. He had a problem once,” he added, “and dealt with it.”

As FSB rightly notes, the whole three-par reference to “Henry Kissinger” has “the slightest whiff of a last-minute save by the subs.” Indeed, the “at least someone calling himself Henry Kissinger” and that “ersatz” sit oddly in the sentences in which they appear. As FSB asks:

“Why else insert two random, not particularly tongue-in-cheek comments from a tongue-in-cheek spoof twitter account into an otherwise serious paragraph on reaction from world leaders?”

That the Henry K twitterer is a spoof is pretty conclusively proved by FSB, though my suspicions were immediately raised in Patterson’s original article by the sentence: “Those,” he said, “saying Saif Gaddafi is under the influence tonight are completely out of order.” (Emphasis mine.)

Now I’ve hopped around the world a bit and I would say the phrase “completely out of order” is a UK English idiom. OK, you do hear it in some Commonwealth countries, but they’re usually the ones where UK imports such as EastEnders and Coronation Street are popular, Al Pacino in the final scene in Scent of a Woman notwithstanding (there, I would argue, it is used in a strictly legalistic sense, rather than the more general way it is in the UK).

It’s not the kind of phrase I would expect to trip lightly off the tongue of a Harvard-educated German-born American Jewish Nobel Peace Prize winner. But I could be wrong, and perhaps he uses the phrase all the time, along with “Leave it owwwwt!” and “You want some, then?!”

But what this whole storm in a Twitter cup highlights is something I alluded to my posting about the Guardian’s live blog on the Christchurch earthquake: irrelevant, baffling tweets that instead of merely being a means of gathering and conveying news (ie, just another journalists’ tool to do their job) become the news itself. Marshall McLuhan eat your tweet out.

Within the 140-letter limit of a tweet, you may have the sparkle of a lead: what you seldom have is the hard gem of actual news. The more excitable tabloids and sleb magazines (as well as the more excitable political commentators working in the hothouse of Westminster – yes, you, Guido) may get all fired up by the more wayward tweets of their particular prime suspects (B-grade movie stars, pop stars you’ve never heard of, publicity seeking politicos, drunken sportsmen etc), but really, just how much nuance can you squeeze into a tweet. Not even Stephen Fry is really in the running for the Oscar Wilde Cup for Pithy Aphorisms.

So what’s all this got to do with Bart Simpson? Well, by amazing coincidence, this article, The Day Twitter Gave Birth to Bart Simpson, appeared on Splitsider this week. It’s the fascinating story of how a random tweet on February 23 that “Today is Bart Simpson’s 32nd birthday” created a Twitter meme (a “tweme”, anyone?) that went around the Twittersphere, helped on its way by, among others, Rolling Stone, Netflix and the Chicago Tribune.

Like a snowball rolling downhill, the meme gathered more and more weight and acceleration, but was, of course, totally erroneous, as any Simpsonologist could tell you. Well, the birthday of a cartoon character who doesn’t actually age is hardly of major import, but Denise Du Vunay’s article is a fascinating insight on how erroneous information gathers its own irresistible momentum until it has the dubious weight of consensus and before you know, everyone’s citing it as established fact.

That’s hardly new: bad ideas and false information have been doing that for millennia. It’s just that with networking tools such as Twitter, Facebook and whatever the next step is that’s surely evolving as we speak, it now happens a hell of a lot faster.

The best defence against ending up with an egg-face interaction a la Patterson is to maintain that essential journalistic skill: healthy scepticism. A sense of humour helps too. God knows I’m aware in today’s under-staffed over-worked news rooms it’s easy just to throw in Twitter comments because they seem to come from someone relevant, but they should rarely be used to hold up a whole story, unless they’re part of a rolling news story such as the Mumbai attack or one of those revolutions that are so popular in some part of the world these days.

Otherwise, they’re best used as a starting point that requires more digging, in much the same way as an anonymous tip-off or those interesting comments from a man down the pub.

After all, while false tweets about Bart and Henry may be harmless and even funny, one day you might be responsible for reporting one that, with its propagation, actually does harm and is not that funny at all.

 

 

 

 

Friday on my mind

March 4, 2011 Leave a comment

Ways to fill the time while clock-watching on Poets Day:

The 15 lowest grossing (in the US) Best Picture  Oscar winners; a massive solar flare; really useful graphs that are better than most uninformative infographics; Children’s books in Latin; the world’s fattest contortionist; Masterchef – though not as we know it; Why the Christchurch earthquake was so destructive, by one man and his wheelbarrow; Polish lottery draw; photos from Human Planet with audio commentary; Test your geography as a virtual pilot with Lufthansa; Scary bike ride in Chile (Tip: David Thompson); What has the space shuttle got to do with horses’ backsides? An interesting history lesson; The world’s worst observation in internet history (warning: text NSFW).

Gaddafi unites the nation: Official

February 24, 2011 Leave a comment
Odd spelling of Gaddafi

Someone's not following the Style Guide

The on-going crisis in Libya has highlighted one hitherto little-known fact: the country is almost totally united in thinking the correct spelling of the Libyan mad dog dictator’s surname is “Gaddafi”.

An exclusive survey by pollsters One-Man-And-His-iMac for Louse & Flea reveals that of the major UK news outlets, from the Guardian to the Telegraph and the Daily Mail to the Daily Mash, only the Economist breaks the consensus by opting for “Qaddafi”.

There is also overwhelming support for the spelling of his first name as “Muammar”, apart from the Financial Times, which chooses “Muammer”, and the Sun, which appears to believe it’s “Colonel”.

A spokesman for the not-for-profit-but-mostly-for-drinking-really UK Association of Sub-editors and Web Content Wonks welcomed the findings that there was widespread agreement about what is widely agreed to be a tricky spelling. “It’s hard enough just getting the name of the fucking country right,” he said.

Oversea, chaos reigns over the spelling of the mad dog’s name, which may threaten chances of a united response to the continuing crisis. Of the major newswires, AP opts for “Moammar Gadhafi”, Reuters, Bloomberg and Aljazeera for “Muammar Gaddafi”, the Press Association for Muammer Gaddafi” and AFP for “Moamer Kadhafi” (but they’re French, so whaddya expect?).

Some commentators have said President Barack Obama’s dithering response to unfolding events might be because, while the Wall Street Journal opts for “Moammar Gadhafi”, the Washington Post goes for “Moammar Gaddafi”, the LA Times for “Moammer Kadafi” and the New York Times for “Muammar el-Qaddafi”.

One analyst (me) said: “Maybe Obama’s confused by all these which of all these people with similar sounding but orthographically dissimilar names is actually in charge and he’s getting Hillary to draw up contingency plans according to whether one or the other, or all, are toppled.”

The inevitable split in the EU is also signalled by Der Spiegel choosing “Moamer Gadhafi”, Le Figaro for “Moammar Kadhafi”, Corriere Della Sera for “Muammar Gheddafi”, De Telegraaf “Muammar Kaddafi” and El Pais “Muamar el Gadafi”.

One commentator (me, again) said Turkey’s dreams of joining the EU may or may not be harmed by the fact that while the country’s leading newspaper Zaman uses “Muammer Kaddafi”, the EU’s own website, Europa, uses “Mohamar Kadhafi”.

In Russia, Pravda decrees “Muammar Gadhafi” while Catholics worldwide are urged to use “Muammar Gheddafi” by the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore.

A spokesman for leading journalist online resource Wikipedia said: “Muammar Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi (Arabic: معمر القذافي‎ Muʿammar al-Qaḏḏāfī).”

It’s doomed…doomed, I tell ye!

August 4, 2010 Leave a comment
Newsweek 'sold for $1'

Newsweek: Yours for a buck

Now why doesn’t this surprise me?

Full story here at the PeeGee.

By way of an I-told-you-so, my previous thoughts on the decline of a once mighty newsweekly are here.

(And by way of extra schadenfreude, wasn’t Newsweek the publication which a year ago told us to forget the Great in Britain because, as its insightful “thought leader” analysis informed us, it  didn’t have an empire any more? Oh yes, so it was…)

First chink in Times paywall

July 17, 2010 1 comment
The Times behind the paywall

The Times: Knock-down admission price

Of course it’s early days in the new paywall encompassing the Times and Sunday Times, but indications are that what’s happening behind the Murdoch motte and bailey is exactly what everyone thought would happen: online viewers have left in TNT lorryloads. Everyone knew they would, that is, except perhaps for the benighted folk at Wapping.

In a bid to lure them back, Murdoch’s belatedly launched Plan B: knock-down admission prices.

Read more…