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How to make a dead duck fly: A guide for the Media

July 5, 2011 1 comment
  1. Take a dead duck. (If not dead, make sure it’s half-strangled.)
  2. Throw in air, with all your might.
  3. Say: “Look, it flies!” Commentators will remark that duck “has legs”.
  4. Take potshot. Take all the potshots while you can. If you find your aim is wrong, bring in Max. He knows what to do  (cos you don’t).
  5. Sit back and enjoy while your mates and fellow travellers take potshots at duck.Think it strange that duck appears to fly backwards.
  6. Bask in glory while dead duck is carved up and dished out. Ignore fact that it seems to be all bone and feathers.
  7. Moan because you didn’t get your fair share of dead duck. Spit out feathers, bones etc.
  8. RSPCA Nazi-agents knock down your front door and invade your home (which legally they are allowed to do) because you have violated a dead duck’s “rights”.
  9. So when are visiting hours? I’ve got that Johann Hari  coming to intellectually profile me!

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.

Joss Stone and shaping the 24/7 news agenda

June 15, 2011 Leave a comment
Joss Stone

Joss Stone: Arresting new single

Currently, both the BBC baby farm – sorry, BBC News – and Sky News are featuring heavily and tweeting louder than an evening chorus the news about blue-eyed soul singer Joss Stone and arrests surrounding an alleged “murder plot”. Both the BBC and Sky seem to rely heavily on that increasingly deranged and hysterical font of breaking “news”, the Daily Twittergraph. Even to the extent of  sharing the same phraseology and “spokespersons”.

Hmmm. Stone of course was the artist who attracted widespread opprobrium from the bien pesantry in the UK media in 2007 by affecting an American accent at the Brit awards. How dare she sound something like George Dubleya! Boo! Hiss! Gerrer orf!

But in these days of Hopey-Changey, that’s OK now, so it seems she has been rehabilitated by the North London chattering classes. Huzzah!

What none of these news reports thought fit to mention is that she has just this week released a new single, Somehow, taken from a new album, LP1, due for release on July 26. I’d have thought these facts might have relevance to the story. But obviously they were unaccountably not included in the original press release. Or, if they were, the journalists for some reason thought fit not to include them, despite finding a lot of other superfluous rubbish to include, including the telling details of  – to quote the BBC – “swords, plans of the singer’s home and” – a real gothic, Burke and Hare detail this – “a body bag”. Surely there was a phosphorescent-fire breathing hound somewhere in there? We are talking about Devon, after all.

Well, call me a cynic, but isn’t the coincidence of a singer coming back in from the media cold with a just-released single and an upcoming album, with a red-hot, hold-the-front-page story of possible kidnap and murder which might have been ripped straight from the pages of a Victorian penny dreadful enough to make even the Twittergraph’s fearless investigator of “quirky internet stories”, Andrew Hough, pause for thought? Maybe not.*

For the record, I enjoy Joss Stone’s singing. You can hear some tracks from the new album at her website. She sounds as good as ever.

Personally, I don’t give a monkey’s what she talks like at some arse-licking industry award show like the Brits. There, she could moo like a cow or honk like a flatulent goose for all I care. She certainly wouldn’t sound any worse than the journalists at the bleeding-edge of our shiny new 24/7 news cycle.

* UPDATE: Or maybe so. I notice at 1.16am this morning, the Telegraph website had taken down Hough’s original story, plus some other “related” stories.

Should the Guardian give up its unhealthy obsession with Justin Bieber?

May 10, 2011 1 comment

The Pythia of Journalism has a revealing post comparing various national papers’ “audience” divided into print, web and “social media” (for which read: Twitter).

It contains this infograffiti,  taken – inevitably – from the media blog de nous jours, The Media Blog:

Newspaper audience: Print + Web + Social

A deeply interesting infographic that examines how the readership of...ooh, look - butterfly!

Pythia, using all the accumulated knowledge of grub street back stabbing and opportunistic job-hopping that today secures you a sinecure as “Professor of Journalism” at City University London, opines thusly:

As Sturgeon readily concedes, it’s only a snapshot. But it is revealing all the same. Note, for example, the Daily Mail’s enormous reach in print and online compared to a relatively small social media (Facebook and Twitter) following. The Guardian, by contrast, has almost as many social media fans and followers as it has daily visitors to its website. Its reach is, arguably, more penetrating.

Well, that’s one way of looking at it, I suppose. Another way of looking at it might be this, and this. And comparing it with this.

But that’s by the by. Let’s look at another of Pythia’s points, which is that the Guardian’s reach is, arguably, more penetrating. In what way could the Guardian’s obsession with Twitter be more arguably penetrating?

Justin Bieber

Justin Bieber: Arguably more penetrating

Oddly, I think I found the answer in Sam Leith’s Arts Column in yesterday’s…well, Guardian 2, actually:

My current favourite fact about human civilisation is that fully 3% of all activity on Twitter consists of conversations about [Justin] Bieber. That is, 3% of an entire communicative medium – on which any and every idea in human history can potentially be discussed – is spent on talking about Bieber.

Could it be that a lot of the Guardian’s arguably penetrating social media reach is really just twittering about an 18-year-old Canadian pop singer with backwards-facing hair? Does a good 3% of that dark blue block next to the Guardian in the graph above actually comprise furrow-browed Guardianistas earnestly tweeting each other about the recent egging of Justin Bieber in a Sydney concert hall?

I do not pretend to know. But if so, the Guardian must stop this arguably more penetrating obsession.

UPDATE: More on the Guardian’s twitter obsession. Apparently, according to Frédéric Filloux, news coverage of the death of Osama bin Laden showed how news organisations “have mastered social media such as Twitter”.

Quite apart from ignoring the fairly mundane fact that however you get the news – via Twitter, Facebook, heard it from a bloke in the pub or messenger pigeon – you still have to do the routine, basic journalistic work of verification and actually writing it up into readable prose, Filloux unwittingly betrays the extent to which media organisations are in awe of shiny new media while forgetting those first principles.

For instance, he links to this startling piece of infograffiti (I use that phrase to indicate that, like graffiti, it gives more pleasure to the perpetrator than the hapless viewer). It purports to show how news of the terrorist’s death was spread via Twitter:

How news of Osama bin Laden's death was tweeted, allegedly

An amazing in-depth infographic of how Osama bin Laden...ooh, look - flower!

Wasn’t that interesting? Well actually, no. It is, in the useful phrase of P J O’Rourke, informationally subtractive: you know less about the subject after looking at it than you did before.

I’m going to alert Peter Sands to this particularly egregious example of the infograffitist’s art, as he has a good blog posting on this sort of nonsense.

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.