Discussions of what is and isn’t acceptable for publishing on social media (specifically Twitter and YouTube in current debates) are occupying much of my timeline.
Articles written around the role social media played in disseminating images and messages following journalist James Foley‘s murder will abound and I wasn’t intending to add to the noise, but then a couple of things happened: First, Mathew Ingram’s tweeted question made me consider my personal view, and where that view fitted in the expanding horizon of content publishing and distribution.
Serious question: Should Twitter and YouTube be removing content related to James Foley’s death — why or why not?
— Mathew Ingram (@mathewi) August 20, 2014
Most respondents indicated these platforms shouldn’t remove it (Mathew’s conclusions from the debate are here). I suspect our views are actually moot; removing such content from the internet is an exercise in futility – these images aren’t expunged, they simply slide down through the strata of the web to darker layers, or become downloaded shared content, and so viewers gain an extra frisson and the pedlars weird exclusivity-linked kudos.
When Ken Bigley was beheaded in 2004, the videos were removed by YouTube but you could buy a DVD of the killing – should your tastes run that way – at a Liverpool street market. So YouTube did revoke publication rights but a secondary distribution market had already sprung up. Ten years on, the options for alternative online distribution platforms are far greater, and harder to control.
The ability to view something isn’t really the same as wanting to view it. I know I could find and footage of James Foley kneeling and dying alone in the desert but I don’t intend to seek it out. I haven’t clicked any links that looked likely to lead to it, and although I believe there were gifs they weren’t in my Twitter feed or in my hashtag columns. Twitter is considering removing the images in deference to his family’s wishes, although I imagine that won’t stop them being searchable and shareable elsewhere.
The second thing that happened was a world away from the horrors of a young man’s murder, although it was a photo someone retweeted into my timeline. It was utterly innocuous but made me consider how censorship via the removal of content had influenced me. It was a photo of Gerry Adams and a goat.
A morning selfie with Jenny. Or as she says a goatie with Gerry. Maidin maith daoibh pic.twitter.com/VLF9kjqb33
— Gerry Adams (@GerryAdamsSF) August 20, 2014
When I was a child, Gerry Adams was judged to be allied with a cause so dangerous UK TV viewers and radio listeners could not even hear his own voice being broadcast, thanks to a government ban. Instead, an actor spoke his words. Today he publishes selfies and uses myriad broadcast and distribution channels (not least an autobiography). The internet would never suffer such a restriction to hold now and, that is a positive development.
Media companies make daily decisions around in-house and external codes of ethics and conduct, not to mention legal restraints and what the audience reaction might be. Twitter and YouTube are platforms that host content; they don’t create, own and distribute that content, users self-publish. Journalists rail at Google when it removes articles in accordance with the Right To be Forgotten ruling but I can see parallels with YouTube withdrawing a user’s content that is being re-published and distributed across myriad networks.
Taking away someone’s actual voice is a powerful insinuation that we need protection from them, and it made a powerful impression on me as a child. Skip forward a few decades and the world is quite a different place – I know Adams doesn’t speak with Received Pronunciation, for a start, and he is considered the architect of the Peace Process. But until today I had never thought of him as a man likely to take a selfie with a goat. Social media is actually very humanising; it’s how we use it that can dehumanise.
The Guardian’s James Ball sums it up better than me: “Before clicking, serious self-examination is required: why do you want to see this? Do you need to see it to understand something important? Still deeper self-examination should certainly be engaged before even contemplating sharing such material.” I recommennd reading his article in full
Been catching up on some thinking around “what future for newspapers?” this week; this one by Michael Wolff was part-anguish and part-nostalgia and of the “on the one hand, [opinion], nevertheless, having said that [counter-opinion]…” school of writing.
This one is a pretty unsentimental look at the issue from David Carr, of the NYT, which warns against the cosy sentiment that has dogged publishers for too long (and there is a spirited riposte to Carr’s print obituary here):
Just because the product being manufactured is news in print does not make it sacrosanct or immune to the natural order.
And this one, by Steve Outing, which considered and suggested outcomes, and promoted quite a few replies and retweets when I tweeted the link, including one voicing a view I’m sure strikes a chord in the hearts of those who think newsrooms aren’t what they used to be and journalists are stuck at their desks, unable to interact with the communities they cover because they are too busy writing listicles.
@alisongow What ever happened to the local journalists having time to get out and about? Too much online news costs hard copy. Fact.
— Nigel Roberts (@nigelroberts1) August 11, 2014
Lots of people have been lost from the industry as a result of title closures or redundancies in their titles; editorial teams are much smaller these days ( side note: I once worked for a newspaper where the Opinion Editor did only that daily duty. Now, if I had a job where all I did was write a 350 word Voice of the Tribune column every day – which was probably read by about five people including the revise editor – I would look elsewhere for my salary and job satisfaction.)
Personally, I don’t think the editorial size (and geographic location) of a newsroom matters. It is true that newsrooms are not what they used to be but that isn’t a wholly bad thing – they had to evolve because the news gathering and distribution operation had ceased to be all about newsprint. The old models – the news desk gets a flat plan of the next day’s paper, the newsroom spends the day filling the pages relating to said flat plan – simply did not translate.
So the newsroom operation is a vastly different thing now to what it was ten years ago. Today’s newsrooms are:
- Noisy: Not in the clattering-of-typewriters way. Look at the Tweetdeck columns of the average reporter and they will be humming with conversation, feedback and chat. This social conversation and hubbub is, as far as I’m concerned, a more productive, energising backdrop to work in that any amount of clacking keys (here’s another thing newsrooms were when I started out – a haze of cigarette smoke. Can I get nostalgic for that? Nope. I do get a bit misty for spikes and blacks though, those old-skool filling systems that were pretty foolproof… until you had a desk clean-up)
- Accountable: Any link to a piece of journalism posted on a title’s social media can be challenged and discussed in the real world; if a title doesn’t respond it no longer means the conversation is confined to ignored Letters to the Editor. In fact the silence might spur on more comment on Facebook or Twitter, or bloggers might take the issue to their own platform to explore it in more depth. It’s a more open and transparent world now – as a journalist you can get called out on an error, or add context to a discussion, or stamp on a misreading of facts quickly. You can also get some lovely thank yous and expressions of gratitude for the work you’ve undertaken. Sometimes, anyway
- Moveable: Newsrooms can be virtual and still operate in the real world, via social media cafes and reporter surgeries. Online, they operate via Facebook, Twitter, Google Apps, Trello and a host of other sites. I was involved in the Crewe Chronicle’s shift to become an office-less title; with the right tech and training the team there has done an amazing job of proving a newsroom is not about a postcode
- Informed: When I was a local reporter – in an office based right in the middle of the town I covered for a weekly paper – I knew a lot of people, some of whom told me things. Now I’m no longer a reporter, I still know a lot – more, in fact – about what is going on in any particularly locale ( potentially, anywhere) I choose to search, thanks to social media. An example – say I know Phil who owns the local grocery and he sees me passing daily on my way to the local police station to write up the log book (let’s pretend this quaint old custom still happens); he might remember to tell me the interesting thing his customers were talking about the previous day. Or he might tell me in a few days time when he drops by the office to pay his ad fees. However, with online networks and decent geo searches set up around the town, the need to rely on sources is vastly reduced.
- Attuned: Thanks to analytics we know what our readers want and like. Even if a post has several snarky “Slow news day?” comments on it amid the 90-odd other comments, it’s a fair bet that it has proved one of the more popular stories of the day. Analytics tell us more about our audience than we could ever know before. If you read a news website the information, direct and extrapolated, that might be known about users includes the broad geography of where you live, when you get up and go to bed, what tech you like to use, when and how you commute, what TV shows you like, what football teams you support, what you plan to do this weekend. Potentially we know where your children go to school and how you plan to vote in the next election. Some of this information readers provide voluntarily, some of it is data derived from how they use and interact with a brand’s website or social platforms. None of it is particularly difficult to access, and decisions around digital and print content are made on the basis of these analytics every day. So today’s newsprint products are built from the ground up by newsrooms who have real insights into how readers consume information and react to it. Theres very little guesswork about it these days. What do I know about someone who buys a newspaper every day, without going through the circulation department’s files and spreadsheets? I know that they buy a newspaper every day
- Diverse: I guess newsrooms have more people in them who aren’t doing traditional journalism jobs than ever. I head a team with job titles that didn’t exist 12 months ago. Social media editors are viewed as integral to most regional newsrooms, but five years ago, they were exotic creatures. There are audience editors, data analysts, online content planners… all bringing different perspectives on the agendas and content audiences are looking for. Also, an empty reporters bench doesn’t mean there are no reporters. They might be working remotely from a surgery in town, or sat live tweeting a case from the crown court, or videoing a debate in the council chamber, or they might be hosting a live blog debate with readers – when it comes to ways of creating online information, the list is extensive and exciting
It’s a small point, in the grand scheme of things, but when people ‘post a blog’ my day loses a little of its savour.
Ancient (well, several years old, at least) blogger credo insists: You post a post to your [web]log; you do not post a blog. You don’t upload a blog either, and there are purists who would prefer it if you didn’t blog as a verb at all. You are allowed, however, to post an update to your blog. It’s a pedantic minefield.
Having said all that, you can do all of the above so long as you don’t follow the lead of one long-ago sales colleague and tell me (repeatedly) that you’ve “sold a blog” because you think blog is the technical term for a one-off sponsored content slot.
Very annoying to post blog only to be deluged with angry tweets making it abundantly clear the tweeters haven’t read a word of said blog…
— Cathy Newman (@cathynewman) August 11, 2014
(I’ve nothing against Cathy’s tweeted sentiment, incidentally; she just happened to be the 3rd person to ‘post a blog’ in my timeline today)
I am a bit conflicted by the Right to be Forgotten, and Google’s role within it.
On the one hand, I can feel for those people whose past misdemeanours are be blighting their modern day lives, and who wish to draw a veil over the follies of their youth by citing the ROA 1974. On the other hand, what happens in the public domain should probably remain in the public domain. Otherwise we all get the histories we’d like to have, rather than the histories we create and own – that latter option is a path I think few of us would want to wander too far down.
I’ve posted once on the issue and I don’t intend to keep revisiting the subject but today’s latest advance notice of disappearing content of public record bothered me.
It’s an inquest of a man who died on a road in 2004, which appeared on the Daily Post and Chester Chronicle websites (way back when I was working on the Liverpool Echo newsdesk and the internet was Another Country, in fact) and you’d have to assume one of the living people named have asked for it to be de-indexed in search.
This isn't stopping someone from getting a job, or moving on with their life. A man died; now scrutiny of that incident is being hidden.—
Alison Gow (@alisongow) July 14, 2014
I ran a Google Search around the names (the pix need clicking to enlarge)
So they didn’t exactly leap out of Google when searched for and it’s clear they were by no means implicated Or perhaps it was a family member of the deceased who didn’t want the inquest to be searchable in future. Either way, this is one inquest that you won’t be finding on Google.co.uk in future.
Here is the thing that dismays me, though. When Hacked Off and Leveson started turning stones around the Press there was a loud outcry, followed by some reflection and offers of compromises, from the industry. Yet Google is, in compliance with legislation of course, editing digital history (which sounds a bit grand, but is essentially true) and the silence may not be ringing but it is being broken only by some muted coughs and shuffles. (Although, good on The Guardian for getting four of its six withdrawn articles reinstated).
Journalism is popularly supposed to be the first rough draft of history (according to a misquoted Alan Barth, of the WaPo who actually ascribed that honour to the Press). And I can’t help thinking there needs to be more discussion, reflection and challenges or counter-offers, from all corners of the sector (and those who write about it) around this issue. There needs to be some noise before it becomes just another thing that happens. “Court cases used to stay online for always?” “Yeah, we also used to go see the Police Inspector to go through the calls book with him every morning.”
The media, regional or national, should be good noise – we’re accused of blowing things out of proportion often enough, after all – and yet we’re kinda standing around ineffectually mouthing “Google” and “European Court of Justice” as though that’s the end of the matter.
Every day in courts and council offices up and down the country, journalists challenge section 39s and standing orders so they can do their jobs and report on events; no courtroom judge has ever agreed to lift a reporting restriction “for the next 5 years until a conviction, should one be made, expires”. Maybe that’s the next step?
These are some of my reflections on the Revival of Local Journalism conference, organised by the BBC and Society of Editors at MediaCity UK, and held on June 25. There are links to others’ posts and articles from the day throughout this piece.
The Revival of Local Journalism conference (hashtag #localjournalism) on June 25 was a fascinating day, with stimulating conversation, proffered olive branches and some snappy presentations.
For me, it was thought-provoking and occasionally frustrating in terms of complacency and inertia . Perhaps if the day ended with some agreed outcomes and action points from others apart from James Harding (of which more here) it would have felt like a satisfying conclusion (maybe I’ve just sat in too many meetings?) because this needs to be a springboard and catalyst for wider discussion and momentum, not a cul de sac.
So, as to my reflections on the day’s theme and tone, here’s the thing: the media industry is either disrupted and the mainstream within it is either resisting or attempting to disrupt right back. The entrepreneurs and startups are more able to say “yep – so deal with it” and grasping what the next steps need to be more effectively.
Finding things out, writing them down and publishing them has fundamentally not changed; the hook on which too many of us are getting caught is platform.
So when the established regional media bends its thoughts to the revival of local journalism, there is a real danger that we end up talking in circles about our own platforms – whether that be print or broadcast or digital.
The revival of local journalism is a theme that spans staffing, tools, training, best practice, collaboration, competition and innovation – it isn’t whether newspapers are going to disappear at some point in the future, or whether Google is a publishing aid or a publisher in its own right.
I suspect that the best people to lead objective discussions on the revival of local journalism are not those enmeshed in the industry as realities intrude, defences laid, and the trouser of reinvention get snagged on the barbed wire fence of practicality.
We also have to set aside nostalgia – as flagged by Clay Shirky here.So, for a moment, I’m going to think about platforms, deal with it and then dismiss it for the rest of this post.
I was asked at RoLJ if newspapers were going to disappear, and I replied along the lines of “if you had a better delivery method for news, why wouldn’t you use it?”
Me and my mouth. That prompted the more direct question “Do you think newspapers will die?”. To which I answered “yes”, and then there was an audible intake of breath from the room.
It was a fairly bald statement in a room full of press people (and my boss) but, yes, I think newspapers will cease to be required. Which is a far different thing to journalism being required, although platform obsession seems to blur that distinction.
I plucked a number out of the air, and said within 30 years, Jasper Westaway , of borde.rs, said it would be more like 15, and followed it up with a lot more unpalatable truths about where things were headed.
Newspapers will get squeezed between better content producers e.g. hyperlocals and better distribution channels eg FB. They do both poorly—
Jasper Westaway (@JasperWestaway) June 26, 2014
I can’t say what platform we will be publishing on in five years time because predicting the technological, creative and cultural shifts likely to happen over that period of time is like, well, asking to be reminded of your naivety in five years time…
I’ve posted a lot over the years about the need for aggregation and curation. I am starting to wonder about what doing the opposite of these things could offer.
Is there an opportunity in dis-aggregation? The death of the homepage idea is well discussed, as is the ‘each piece of content should be a destination’ viewpoint. So what if a mainstream legacy brand decided to make and distribute its content designed to travel purely through social platforms? And made it was self-sufficient, with its own life support system – commercial, editorial and marketing all bound up in one – networked to sister content through links?
Would that start to get us off the hook?
Anyway, enough platform.
I wish we could have talked more about the social media contribution. Jo Geary gave a storming presentation about Twitter which included a fairly damning slide about a US newsman scooping the UK media on the Glasgow helicopter crash, courtesy of an established and intelligent Twitter search.
And she also spoke nostalgically about the past – but it was just that. Platform does not define her type of journalism.
Understanding that isn’t throwing the baby out with the bathwater; it’s appreciating the baby is a teenager now, and is therefore an entirely different animal altogether.
Peter Barron, head of communications for Europe, Middle East and Africa, spoke of collaboration and the free tools to help understand audiences and connect with them.
In fact, considering the theme was revival, an oft-raised point was not knowing the tools to use.
This is a Google search of the phrase ‘best online tools for journalists’ – there are plenty of people out there writing about the free things you can use, and sharing their knowledge of how-to and why-to in great detail.
None of the apps or tools mentioned is particularly complicated, most are free and someone (hint – the boss) in any media business should be taking responsibility for ensuring at least one member of the team is trained up to be expert in this stuff, so they can, in turn, make sure everyone else in the newsroom is getting clued up on it too. That’s as true for a local weekly paper as it is for Sky. Ensuring the skills are there may require hard decisions and maybe someone does need to be taken off the rota for a few days at a time to go on courses or conferences, and the company has to stump up for this. The outcomes will pay for themselves 20 times over in a few months, as you start bringing in better stories and connecting with your audience.
* Final points:
The folly of Giving It All Away For Free Online point was made. Paul Bradshaw took the parable offered up, turned it into a fairytale guaranteed to give some industry types nightmares, and posted it here. Recommended reading.
Staffing was also raised – David Higgerson’s excellent summation and reflection post on the conference and this particular issue is worth a read.
In the last panel session of the day, I was asked to respond to a question about why students didn’t want to work in newsrooms because they were sweatshops. However, that became a bit sidetracked by the whole ‘what tools to use’ debate.
I am in contact with journalism students from various J-schools via social media and email all the time – some of them I consider friends I’ve yet to meet in real life – and they don’t ask me about potential sweatshop conditions ahead of them. But perhaps that’s out of politeness.
So it’s a hard one for me to answer, too, as I don’t know enough about the situations in all newsrooms. Perhaps it’s one for the industry press to pick up and examine in greater detail?