From the Editors Weblog
The reduced level of VAT that currently benefits the printed press in France thanks to a government aid program is due to be extended to the nation’s digital media publications as well, following demands from Spiil (Syndicat de la presse indépendante d’information en ligne).
On 16 January this year, President François Hollande addressed the press with a "message of confidence" (see Le Figaro's article in French). Concerning the topic of aid to the press, Hollande promised the French media that the government would get down to work on the somewhat thorny issue, with the aim of reorienting their aid towards the digital press. Following three months of hard work, this promise has finally been delivered: yesterday, Thursday 2 May, the group responsible for brainstorming ideas for press aid delivered its recommendations to the Minister of Culture and Communications, Aurélie Filipetti. The report does not suggest a complete overhaul of the press aid system, but instead recommends two major changes: firstly, that the government harmonises the VAT system applied to printed press and online press, and secondly, that it unites the currently scattered financial aid into one single fund, which would regularly report back on its usage. The report argues that, in the interests of establishing neutrality of government support, it is time to "put an end to the discrimination from which the online press is currently suffering" (see Le Figaro's article in French).
The French online press currently pays 19.6 percent VAT on the sale of its content, but will soon profit from the heavily reduced tax of 2.1 percent currently enjoyed by the printed press. This change responds to one of the demands made by Spiil in a letter to Hollande on Monday 29 April. Yesterday’s report calls for this alignment of VAT levels to take place "without delay," meaning that the government will be in a position to apply these changes anytime from June onwards. The measure, however, does not comply with European Union competition law. The French government will have to get the law approved by passing through Brussels first, as it previously did for the aligning of VAT for paper and digital books at a level of 7 percent in April 2012.
Contrary to the wishes of deputy, Michel Françaix – author of a report on press aid last autumn – there is no longer the possibility of reconsidering the uniform level of 2.1 percent VAT for printed press on a basis of whether the titles are part of the 'Association de la presse d'Information Politique et Générale' (titles focussing on politics and current affairs), or whether they are "recreational" in nature. In the interests of solidarity and equality between stakeholders, yesterday's report abandoned this idea.
The current system combines direct aid (for example, for aspects of the press such as circulation and pluralism) and indirect aid (tax, postal aid, aid to Presstalis – a major French media distribution corporation), totalling 1.2 billion euros per year. Yesterday's report urges the government to unite the different types of aid in one main fund, hereby procuring one main instrument of aid for the press, rather than several scattered and uncoordinated funds. The report also calls for greater transparency. It recommends that a list of beneficiaries – including totals of their financial aid, direct or indirect, title by title – be made public in annual reports to ensure that the receiving and distributing of aid is not carried out under any secrecy.
3 May is a day to celebrate hard-won press freedoms, but also to recognise how fragile those victories remain.
Free the press! It is a familiar refrain, one that grows louder year-on-year yet never loses relevancy. Why should a free press even be up for discussion? Are we failing to get the message across?
The simple answer is that the press equals power, and wherever power lies there are those who seek to control or influence it. By nature, a free press is untamed; capable of speaking unfiltered to public opinion, it has always been a vital conduit for free expression.
It has therefore been a constant target.
As we increasingly embrace our digital citizenship, the tyrants who oppose free speech are quickly learning how to act as digital oppressors. Targets are more numerous, attacks more complicated and diverse. Our awareness and vigilance must adjust with similar voracity.
Impunity for the killers of journalists extends also to those who murder bloggers. Censorship does not discriminate between editorial platforms. Prisons are built for those who “offend”, regardless of media.
It is impossible to prevent the oppressors of free speech from eroding our basic freedoms. And they do, as the press freedom indexes show, frequently and without heed for the consequences.
Our right to seek, receive or impart information through any media may be enshrined in international human rights law, yet the media must fight daily to remain a bulwark against intrusions on free speech. As a check on power, an independent press acts as society’s window through which the abuses, digressions, untruths and self-interests of the powerful are revealed for public scrutiny.
According to corrupt governments, violent criminals, and fundamentalists of every description, this window would be better permanently bricked-up.
Take Mexico, for example, where journalists face a violent, often deadly reception. The wider effects are devastating. “A climate of fear grows and it becomes better to remain silent than speak out about events that may pose a threat,” says journalist and writer, Anabel Hernández “This leads to self-censorship, which affects freedom of expression, which in turn affects the quality and depth of information that society receives. If society does not know the reality that surrounds it, who can make decisions?”
Wherever you live, whatever you do, pause for a moment and reflect on what kind of a society would be in front of you, were it not for the presence of an inquisitive media.
Who makes decisions on your behalf, and just how transparent is the process?
This, ultimately, is why we defend journalists and a free press worldwide.
Yet the Internet is undeniably raising the stakes. Checks and balances that provide the counterweight to power, of which traditional media were for so long custodians, are shifting rapidly beyond media-defined parameters.
The Internet invites censors into our homes, often unwittingly, and in the process has made freedom of expression a concern for anyone who signs on to social networks, communicates via email, and owns a smartphone or tablet device.
Or at least it should be of concern. Paradoxically, the great digital revolution that has introduced a truly globally connected age provides yet another mechanism for control, an opportunity for speech to be curtailed. Online news media, forewarned by the experiences of the written press, may be better prepared to combat this. But are we as individuals?
Online and off, new challenges or familiar threats are no less shocking. Each year heralds a roll call of journalist casualties, imprisoned media professionals or publications threatened, intimidated or financially strangled to the point of closure.
Above all, with a sense of solemn reflection, 3 May is an occasion to remember colleagues targeted for their work, especially those killed in the line of duty.
That ‘duty’ was not simply to bring us the news. Their work – by nature risky, sometimes dangerous, yet always outspoken – went beyond the headlines that became unintentional obituaries. Their work signifies a belief in a principle, exhorted by democracy and made tangible with every article, picture or broadcast.
It is that principle behind which we stand proud. It is upon that principle that our industry is founded, and that journalism thrives.
It would appear that Twitter is looking to solidify its relationship with the news media following a new job advertisement posted online for a 'Head of News and Journalism', hereby announcing their search for somebody to "shape and drive the next growth phase of Twitter’s partnership with the news industry."
So what might we identify as the motivations behind creating a media expert role? For one, this announcement comes in the wake of Twitter’s appointment of Simon Rogers as its new data editor (see previous Editors Weblog article) - a move that signalled the social network site’s clear intention to increase its potential as a force of serious journalism, having somebody sift through their sea of tweets in order to fish out compelling news-worthy stories. Twitter already has a prominent media expert in its midst: Erica Anderson, who made it into Forbes’ "30 under 30" media list, appointed in February 2011 to "specialize in helping news organizations and journalists use Twitter effectively to find sources, develop comprehensive stories and engage audiences in meaningful civic discussions." Anderson already set up 'Twitter for Newsrooms' in 2011, an online toolkit designed to help journalists use Twitter for "finding sources, verifying facts, publishing stories, [and] promoting [their] work and [themselves]," already a significant step in fostering a relationship between Twitter and the media.
Perhaps by appointing an official 'Head of News and Journalism', then, Twitter is looking to make official, and be taken more seriously in, its commitment to working closely with news entities to ensure that they get the most out of Twitter. The company are clearly looking for a seasoned media expert, specifying a requirement for a "minimum of 15 years in news in editorial or journalism, 10 years of managing teams and at least 5 years executing strategic partnerships." They may also be looking to keep up with other social networks such as Facebook, who appointed a "managing editor" in 2012 to curate 'Facebook Stories' a journalistic project offering a platform for the stories of people "using facebook in extraordinary ways." It might be interesting to note, though, that the journalism graduate appointed to this position, Dan Fletcher, left the project a few months later claiming that his job title was misleading and that "the company doesn’t need reporters."
It also follows a number of events in the world of current affairs which have cast a certain degree of doubt over Twitter’s credibility as a source of trustworthy breaking news stories. Most prominently, the Boston bombing and subsequent manhunt: events which provoked a wave of harmful false information that ended up misleading the public who were consulting Twitter for its immediacy rather than traditional news sources, which clearly take longer to verify their stories in the interests of reliability. The job advertisement makes what seems to be an indirect reference to this issue, in acknowledging the fact that they already provide a "way for consumers to find news in real-time," and then by specifying in their job description the need for somebody who will strategise an increase in the "volume and quality of professional news content on Twitter, especially in breaking news."
And something else to consider which might be identified as the most urgent motivator - the fact that this new job search follows a series of high-profile attacks on organisations such as Associated Press and the Guardian by a group calling itself the Syrian Electronic Army. As the New York Observer suggests, "now’s probably a good time as any for Twitter to develop a liaison who can calm frantic journalists frothing at the mouth." BBC News reported that on 29 April, Twitter contacted news organisations with suggestions of how they might tighten up their security, responding to pressure from security experts who have advised that they take more action to ensure the protection of their users. Advice included ensuring passwords were more than 20 characters long and consisted of random combinations of letters and numbers, and also having just "one computer to use for Twitter" that is not used for any other purposes such as reading emails and surfing the internet to "reduce the chances of malware infection." However, the BBC quoted security researcher Rik Ferguson, who pointed out that "the point of Twitter is that it’s instant, and you can react instantly. If you have to run back to the office to get to a particular computer to use Twitter, that’s obviously going to impact upon its use."
Appointing this new 'Head of News and Journalism', then, might well constitute another example of Twitter engaging with the media world to ensure that it remains a safe tool that can be used by journalists to report on news items. Twitter clearly wishes to remain at the forefront of the news industry, having "already changed the way news breaks and provided journalists with new ways to connect with their readers," but recognises the need to respond to the threat of hackers. News organisations with Twitter accounts have been made vulnerable, and with serious global consequences (the hacking of AP's feed, for example, caused stocks to dip), and it has therefore become necessary for Twitter to take up responsibility and ensure that its relationship with the media becomes stronger rather than fractures.
In 2006, journalist Sanjana Hattotuwa created Groundviews.org, an influential website based in Sri Lanka intended as a “safe space for debate and discussion” during and after Sri Lanka’s long civil war, where people could write freely about news and events that interested them.
Groundviews has also been an important example for both Sri Lanka and the region to show how technology “could help create new forms of media that would not necessarily be subjected to the same censoriousness, the same violence, the same clamping down on freedom of expression that so many journalists and at the time, so much of media had endured in the 27-odd years of conflict,” he says.
In this edited interview, Hattotuwa, who will be speaking at the World Editors Forum in Bangkok on Wednesday, 5 June, tells us how the site has evolved, the challenges he faces, and his hopes for Groundviews’ future.
WAN-IFRA: What are some of the things that have changed the most since you started the site?
Sanjana Hattotuwa: Initially it was thought of as a tri-lingual space and that quickly became very difficult to manage, so I played to my strength and it evolved into an English-only platform. …
What also changes is the manner we use technology. We’ve pioneered – single-handedly almost – models of news and journalism on the web: Investigative journalism, data visualization, open-data driven journalism. Participatory models of getting readers to also add to the story in the space we’ve created … It’s regarded as a very rare thing in the country, unfortunately, which is a safe space for debate and discussion and the articulation of difference in a civil manner.
… we’re now experimenting with various forms to tell stories: photography, short form video, long form journalism, of which we are the only platform in the country who are proponents of, also because the economic model of mainstream media doesn’t allow for long-form journalism. We’ve actually pioneered new ways of investigative journalism and the way people engage with journalism as well by creating presences on Twitter, on Facebook, many years before the mainstream media recognized the value of embracing those social media platforms and also in creating an iPhone app, which we are now discontinuing in favor of HTML5-based website, which we are going to launch very soon.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face?
As I said, it’s very sad that Groundviews is the only example. … I have no desire to be the only spokesperson for this kind of model from my country or indeed this kind of model and its applicability in any other conflict zone. It is exhausting work. It is time-consuming work. It takes a lot of sacrifice and risk-taking. … There is no immunity that comes as a consequence of engaging with this type of journalism.
The other thing that has been a big challenge is that we have published stories that mainstream media simply cannot publish or will not touch. These are stories related to political dispensation, the first family, high level corruption, significant human rights violations, significant concerns over allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity towards the end of the war, allegations of cluster bombs. …
We have endured, I think, because we have an editorial and comment moderation policy that is explicitly put up on the website and whatever does not fall under those guidelines is simply not published, which might be one easy explanation as to why the site has been allowed to function in the way that it has, but it has been very, very challenging. …
What are your goals for Groundviews for the next year or two?
Technically, I want us to always be ahead of the curve in terms of local and regional media. We’ve been small and very agile in our technical development and experiment and demonstrate by example the potential of new technologies, technical standards and their impact and their possible impact for investigative independent reporting and journalism on the web, primarily for the web and mobile devices, so that’s something I would like to continue to demonstrate by example how HTML5, for example, and content that is being developed now increasingly for tablet-based experiences as the first, and possibly for most, primary interfaces with the web: how that can actually be factored into website development.
The third major redesign of the site, is due in around a month and a half time and that will negate the need for custom apps for Android, IOS, BlackBerry and the Windows 7 forms, because it will be a purely 100 percent HTML5 implementation, which is going to be the first time that such a site is going to be created ever in the country as far as I know. I don’t think there’s another HTML5-based site in the region – mainstream or civic or citizen. That’s something I’m looking forward to.
Launched yesterday, Monday 29 April, the Independent’s new press freedom project, 'Voices in Danger' will endeavour to "give prominence to the plight of journalists being harassed, attacked or pressurised" according to its pioneer, owner of the Independent titles, Evgeny Lebedev. The announcement of this humanitiarian campaign is timely, given that it falls in the same week as World Press Freedom Day (Friday 3 May).
Offering a groundbreaking platform for journalists silenced by the repressive regimes of their home countries, Lebedev’s project will not only carry out insightful case studies into the hardships encountered by individuals throughout their journalistic careers, but will also provide an arena for these journalists’ own work, promising to enrich the UK public’s awareness of the political situation in these countries by giving them access to the investigative journalism of true insiders. In an article published online yesterday, Lebedev, owner of the Independent and Evening Standard newspaper, explained his personal motivations behind the project – namely, the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, a journalist who was working for his family’s Russian newspaper, Novaya Gazeta, when she was assassinated as a result of her work on exposing Russian atrocities in Chechnya.
Adviser to Lebedev and curator of this new project, Jim Armitage told us today during a phone conversation that they have not followed the general rule of "only launch a campaign when you know you can win." He clarified that theirs is not a "binary victory-or-defeat type of project" – the team behind 'Voices in Danger' merely hope that they can contribute in one way or another to raising awareness of corruption in countries where journalists are threatened, harassed, forced into hiding, and sometimes even killed, as was the case with Politkovskaya and countless Syrian reporters and citizen journalists killed during the past few years. He explained that if an oppressive regime in a country such as Chad or Somalia has a major national media organisation like the Independent highlighting cases of its abuse, this has a wide impact, but not necessarily one that is easily measurable or quantifiable.
Armitage talked about some of the campaigns run by the Independent’s sibling newspaper, the Evening Standard (also owned by Lebedev), in order to illustrate the benefit of using a newspaper as an instrument for exposing social injustice. He listed 'Dispossessed', which raises and donates money to charities helping impoverished people in London, 'Ladder for London', which helps young unemployed adults to find work, and 'Get London Reading', which signs up volunteers to offer weekly reading sessions for children in the capital. He also mentioned the Independent’s campaign to help child soldiers in the Central African Republic to demonstrate the positive impact of using "high audience numbers" and "encouraging readers to share stories" in spreading awareness on silenced issues.
Armitage says he believes social media will be at the very core of 'Voices in Danger's potential success: "we want these stories to be read and shared, tweeted, and blogged" he said. The more readers disseminate the stories via social networks, the greater the level of awareness and pressure that is brought to bear on governments, hereby making these journalists’ stories unignorable. "We’re trying to get governments to respond," he said, something which he admits has not yet happened. That is precisely why the role of social media is so crucial in spreading such awareness.
In terms of other levels of reader engagement, Armitage cited the project’s first case study, one illuminating the story of Sri Lankan journalist and political cartoonist, Prageeth Eknaligoda, who disappeared in 2010. The story included a message from Amnesty International encouraging readers to write to the president of Sri Lanka in order to put pressure on him to respond to queries regarding his disappearance. However, Armitage pointed out that sometimes this level of engagement is discouraged by certain NGO’s.
A number of NGO’s will be involved in 'Voices in Danger' to assist in providing contacts and advice for Armitage and his researches, the main being Reporters Without Borders, Committee to Protect Journalists, and Amnesty International. According to Armitage, the main priority of the project is "to tell these people’s stories through their own voices." Unfortunately, issues of security often intervene, and it is often necessary to protect the identity of certain journalists using aliases. For example, Armitage revealed that an Iraqi journalist had recently shared a compelling story with him, but 'Voices in Danger' will be prevented from using his real name for fear of the backlash in Iraq. If the journalists themselves cannot speak freely, the alternative is to speak to their family, colleagues and lawyers. Armitage talked about how the second-hand sources can often prove as interesting to talk to as the journalists themselves. He cited a case study that is currently in the pipe line concerning a journalist in Chad who was imprisoned without trial and denied legal representation until an NGO discovered his situation. Armitage managed to speak to the lawyer that picked up this journalist’s case on a pro bono basis because he was outraged by its gross mismanagement. The lawyer provided a unique insight into the horrific conditions of the prison in question which had been responsible for inmates dying in the past.
Armitage is "excited" about future case studies, which will be carried out by himself and "a couple of researchers" and published on a new section of the Independent’s website. Upcoming studies to watch for include the story of the journalist imprisoned without trial in Chad, and another involving a female journalist determined to expose sexual violence against women in Honduras. As a journalist himself, he is finding the project is deeply "inspiring". The most powerful message to be taken away from it, in his opinion, is the determination of journalists to stay in their profession even after harassment and imprisonment. "This rarely gets recognised. Journalists don’t usually like to be the story. We’re not here to boast about the risks we take. We’re not looking to self-aggrandise." But these individuals’ personal stories deserve to be shared, and what’s more they need to be shared in order for the mismanagement and corruption of certain governments to be brought to light.
The Independent is undertaking a noble venture with its 'Voices in Danger' project – it is taking advantage of its privileged status as an "independent" newspaper to act as a mouthpiece for journalists deprived of such independence in their home countries.
The news media’s less-than-perfect coverage of the recent Boston bombings and subsequent hunt for suspects has reignited debates about how sure you have to be before publishing anything, whether through your own platform or through a social network. This issue arose during several discussions at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia in the last few days, and panelists overwhelmingly agreed that being right is far more important than being first, and this should be reflected on social media.
In the age of social media, scoops can last just a matter of seconds. As New York Times interactive editor Aron Pilhofer noted in a session on moving towards smarter, better online content, gone are the days when competitors would have to wait 24 hours to take your scoop. Now, he said, it’s almost irrelevant to be first, and the value of being right outweighs the value of being first by magnitudes.
It’s not just traditional news organizations who feel this way. Adam Baker, founder of citizen journalism site Blottr, said that his team can’t afford to get anything wrong, because they don’t have the reputation of an established brand.
Most normal people don’t even know who broke a story, said Anthony De Rosa, Reuters’ social media editor, in a session on citizen journalism. Eric Carvin, social media editor at the Associated Press, suggested that scoops are becoming less relevant, with great investigative pieces becoming more important. Pilhofer made a similar point, commenting that any blog could cut and summarise a breaking news article, but a piece like Snowfall will always be unique to The Times.
The Economist is an antidote to the obsession with speed, said community editor Mark Johnson. The paper uses social media to strengthen its already strong community, but focuses on sending out links to articles and cultivating discussion rather than covering breaking news. “You don’t need to know what’s happening minute by minute, sometimes a good analysis 24 hours later can be more valuable.”
“The use of social media shouldn’t be changing our overall value as journalists,” said Carvin. “We use social to further our goals as a news organization. Our number one priority at the AP is to break news: to find stories.” He is happy for AP journalists to use social media primarily as observers, looking out for stories and potential sources. Of course the advantage to having a prominent presence is that it helps you to build your network and widen potential sources: you want to be the person who people want to come to. This has to be done with care, however.
“I think we really need to re-establish a commitment to accuracy on social. Lots of people view it as a ‘softer’ platform,” Carvin continued. The AP has a rule that its reporters should never tweet something that the organization wouldn’t be happy to share on the wire.
This point became particularly pertinent during the events in Boston. “As news organisations, we are tweeting news,” Carvin said. During the hunt for bombing suspects, however, many reporters and others were live-tweeting what the police were saying over scanners, but this was often unconfirmed information and discussions.
Sue Llewellyn, digital media strategist, agreed that it’s far too easy to get carried away on social media, and stressed the necessity to remember that you have the right to remain silent and you are often right to be silent. She recommends that journalists think a bit more before posting on social networks, urging them to ask “is it true? Will it add any benefit to the story and to myself?”
All panelists agreed that inaccuracy can be very damaging to a news organisation’s brand. As Carvin pointed out, inaccuracy that goes out as a tweet might be seen more than anything else you publish. The three golden rules of using social media, Llewellyn said, are “verify, verify, verify.”
Carvin said that he only tweeted once or twice the day of the hunt for the suspects, rather focusing on watching what was coming in and looking for people to talk to. “I find that a lot of times, when big dramatic news is breaking is to focus on news gathering.”
De Rosa expressed a similar sentiment. “I have decided to slow down, do fewer updates on social media and do more live coverage, taking time to pull in more context around the things we’re seeing.”
It is widely accepted that social media will continue to play a key role in breaking news. Will journalists find news ways to use it more effectively, and more safely?
The ability of South African journalists to expose corruption and other criminal activities in their nation is under considerable threat following the passing of the Protection of State Information Bill last Thursday (25 April).
Labelled the "Secrecy Act" by its critics, the controversial Bill seeks to "provide for the protection of certain state information from alteration, loss, destruction or unlawful disclosure" – in other words, it poses an ugly threat to the investigations of whistle blowers and their fundamental right to access and disseminate information of public interest.
Right2Know campaigners, who before the vote, warned on their website that, "if passed the Bill would add to the generalised trend towards secrecy, fear and intimidation that is growing in South Africa today," held a silent vigil in parliament in Cape Town, alongside a picket outside the ANC headquarters in Johannesburg, but to no avail.
The Bill was passed 189 votes to 74 with one abtension, meaning that the matter now lies in the hands of President Jacob Zuma, who has the option to get it passed into law. Significant improvements have already been made to the Bill after consultation by the National Council of Provinces, but according to Lindiwe Mazibuko, parliamentary leader of the Democratic Alliance party, the Bill nevertheless remains "flawed" and "does not pass constitutional muster."
Many believe that the Bill could still be manipulated as a tool of secrecy, eliminating any hopes for openness and transparency and thus discouraging whistle blowers from carrying out their investigations and reporting on their findings.
In a speech to Parliament just before the passing of the Bill, Mazibuko announced that "if the majority party passes this Bill today, we will petition the Honourable President to send the Bill back to the National Assembly under Section 79 of the constitution." She spoke out against the dangers of the Bill to freedom of speech in South Africa, warning that "the media cannot function when important information is suppressed. Bad governments thrive under the cloak of darkness. Those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear."
So what exactly are the improvements that have been made to the Bill and why were they deemed insufficient? According to Human Rights Watch, "the current version, while improved, remains unclear on the key question of whether whistle blowers and journalists seeking to expose certain sensitive issues, such as corruption, would be protected under the law."
One significant amendment "[states] that prosecutions under the law must respect the fundamental rights of freedom of expression and the right to access information." Another positive change tightens up the grounds for prosecution by specifying that "there must be unlawful intent to disclose information."
However, an amendment that doesn’t really seem to improve the Bill significantly is one stating that an individual will not be violating the act if they disclose information that exposes criminal activity. As Human Rights Watch points out, this amendment is inadequate since "it is unclear whether [it] would apply to someone who exposes conduct that might not be considered criminal in an effort to promote transparency and accountability." The example they list is revealing how the government spends taxpayers’ money – something which does not constitute a crime, but which is still useful information that the public has a right to access in a democratic society that claims to be open and transparent.
Even after the amendments, then, there remains the frightening possibility that a whistle blower, journalist or activist who discloses classified information that is not considered to be serving the exposure of criminal activity, or is seen to be carried out with "unlawful intent," could be convicted of "espionage" and face "draconian sentences" of up to 25 years. As campaigners such as Right2Know are arguing, this move would constitute a serious mark of regression for South Africa, dragging the nation back into its dark past of pre-democracy corruption and restriction of information.
It remains to be seen whether the Bill will make it to the Constitutional Court for further review, but if Mazibuko has anything to do with it, the act will not pass into law in its current state. She assured the rest of Parliament during her speech that "this fight is not over."
News journalism just isn’t an industry any more, said Emily Bell, director of the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at Columbia Journalism School, and co-author of the report Post-industrial journalism: adapting to the present. Newsrooms all used to look the same but they are changing fast. The rows of desks with hundreds of people are going, but what will they be replaced by?
Old institutions are trying to adapt but they find changing processes a much higher barrier than lack of resources, the report found. Obstacles such as how a content management system worked could be more serious than a lack of money, Bell specified.
A power shift is taking place from the brand to the individual, she said. “I think the shift to individualism in journalism is very important,” she added, citing Andrew Sullivan as an example of someone who is betting on this shift (although adding later that she thinks his chances of success are no more than 50:50).
This doesn’t mean that institutions aren’t needed, however: you need strength, longevity and continuity to hold the powerful to account, and this must be provided by institutions. But, the institutions must realize the value of their people, and maybe act more like an agency or a studio system, where they have a looser relationship with a network of individuals, she suggested.
Nate Silver, the statistician wizard whose FiveThirtyEight blog is now part of The New York Times, doesn’t have the relationship of a conventional employee with the paper, Bell noted. He has more independence, and clearly has his own brand.
Many people in journalism are thinking about how best to reorganize their newsrooms, Bell said, but they never start the change by thinking “what are we going to allow the journalists to do?” It doesn’t make sense to organize around a process, when your real value resides in your people, she said.
Integrated newsrooms might not be the best solution going forward, Bell said, citing a speech by Clark Gilbert, president and CEO of Deseret News Publishing, that he gave last week. He believes that integrated newsrooms will not survive, as tying two such different processes together such as print and digital will hold you back.
“I think the integrated newsroom is a bet on a future that we thought might be sustainable in 2005-6 but now we realize is not,” said Bell. “The empirical evidence so far is that integration doesn’t allow for the right degree of purely digital thinking and speed to keep up with where the market is going.”
1. Be more open
Traditional media used to be like a fortress, Ingram said, with people behind the walls doing things that the rest of the world couldn’t see. Now, there are so many ways now for publishers to interact with their audiences, and as Clay Shirky said, publishing is no longer an industry, it’s a button on a site.
You can do better journalism by embracing rather than ignoring these facts, Ingram said. He recommended that publishers should be thinking, “How do we help them [the audience] tell us the things that they know about the stories we are writing?”
The Guardian is doing this particularly well, he specified.
2. Give credit
“I think the most fundamental aspect of publishing online is the hyperlink,” said Ingram. Linking allows you to both give credit and support an argument at the same time, he pointed out. For him, an online article that has no links in it is “a lower form of journalism.”
Linking to other sources that you use is essential, he said. “We can’t pretend that all the things we generate inside the fortress are the only things that have value.”
“I’m often critcised for putting too many links in my blog posts,” he commented, but he continues to use as many as possible, just in case people might want them.
3. Be more human
Apologise when you make mistakes, Ingram recommended. Admitting mistakes can make readers trust you more, while ignoring mistakes will mean they will lose trust.
You can’t get the benefits of social networks without being human, he said. Social makes journalists into individuals.
“I believe that there is a value in having the human part of a journalist be part of what they do,” he added. “I’m not sure that I would go as far as transparency is the new objectivity but I believe that transparency is very important.”
4. See journalism and the news as a process
News stories used to be assembled into a finished product and then sent out to readers. It was a very industrial process, Ingram said.
Now, however, an individual story has no defined beginning nor end: it’s a constant, ongoing ebb and flow. The industrial process didn't show you that.
5. How to focus
It’s important to focus on specific things that you understand, or do very well, or have a connection with readers around, Ingram said. The traditional newspaper was a way of aggregating everything, it was never a specialized product. But people don’t have to go to a newspaper to find out about what interests them any more.
“Everywhere, people are searching for info that matters to them,” Ingram said. “If we help them find that then we can build a valuable relationship with them that can lead to monetization.”
The vast majority of the UK newspaper industry has clubbed together to create and endorse their own proposal for a royal charter for press regulation in reaction to the cross-party royal charter published on 18 March.
The cross-party agreement, according to a statement published by the Newspaper Society, "has been condemned by a range of international press freedom organisations," and "has no support within the press" due to the fact that it "gives politicians an unacceptable degree of interference in the regulation of the press."
This latest move by the UK press has placed David Cameron in something of a quandary – the royal charter agreed upon by the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour parties during a late-night meeting in March had been, as deputy Labour Leader, Harriet Harman said, "supported unanimously by the House of Commons and had the full backing of the House of Lords" and was due to go for approval by the Queen at the next meeting of the Privy Council on 15 May.
The press have therefore thrown a spanner into the works with the surprise announcement of this rival proposal, which has gone to the Privy Council for consideration of its own. Harman, however, is resolved to stand by the original cross-party agreement, stating quite simply that "the important thing is that we get on with implementation." But, come 15 May, Harman may find that her wish is not fulfilled with quite such ease. The Queen (head of the Privy Council) will now face a problematic decision what with the government's charter to consider on one hand and the press industry's competing proposal on the other.
The new proposal, said to be a "tough and enduring system of regulation" but, crucially, not underpinned by statute, is so far backed by News International, Telegraph Media Group and Associated Newspapers – three of Britain's largest newspaper groups and therefore three tough forces to be reckoned with. Peter Wright, Editor of the Mail on Sunday told Radio 4 that the Financial Times, Independent, and Guardian are currently all in talks about signing up to the new proposal.
Guardian Editor-in-Chief Alan Rusbridger explained that the issue came down to whether this was "an act of defiance or constructive engagement". Rusbridger should be encouraged by the fact that, whilst members of his industry could have merely resigned themselves to stubborn but unproductive rejection of the cross-party proposal, instead they have pieced together a plausible alternative which has a serious shot at challenging the government's charter.
So what exactly is the difference between the government's charter and the press's rival proposal? What makes the latter a system that newspapers feel is fairer and less restrictive on press freedom, but still tough on regulating journalists' and editors' "systematic wrongdoing"?
First and foremost, the government's proposal states that the charter may be changed with the agreement of a two-thirds backing from the House of Lords and the House of Commons, whereas the industry’s charter strongly rejects this on the grounds that it would allow politicians to impinge on press freedom. Instead, the industry advocates a "triple lock system which would require the unanimous permission of the newspaper industry along with the watchdog and the recognition panel that would audit it before any change could take place."
Furthermore, the government's royal charter orders that no members of the newspaper industry should be appointed to Recognition Panel, whilst the press's royal charter rejects this, asking for a member of the industry to be appointed to the Panel to ensure that the industry is justly represented.
The press's royal charter also gives the board of regulators "discretion not to look into complaints if they feel that the complaint is without justification, is an attempt to argue a point of opinion rather than a standards code breach, or is simply an attempt to lobby." It therefore tightens up the rules governing the complaints system to ensure that the new regulator would not be inundated with complaints that have no grounding in an actual breach of press conduct.
One aspect of the government's charter that the press adopt in theirs is the imposing of exemplary damages of up to £1 million on publishers facing libel actions who have previously refused to sign up to the new regulator. It appears that the number one difference, then, is that the industry's version of the new regulator would be founded upon "genuine independence from the industry and from politicians with all the bodies making up the new regulator having a majority of independent members appointed openly and transparently." It would be an independent regulator rather than a politician-controlled one.
An advertisement for the press's independent royal charter is currently being run in British national and regional newspapers. The rhetoric is persuasive to say the least, stating that their rival charter is the product of "months of careful thought by editors, publishers, ministers, civil servants and some of the country’s leading lawyers" as opposed to a "secret meeting of politicians over a 2am pizza takeaway," which is essentially what the cross-party agreement comes down to. They promise "a Royal Charter that will guarantee the British public enjoys the quality of journalism it deserves."
The press's royal charter is certainly not free from the burden of opposition, though, and it will take more than the skilled rhetoric of a newspaper advert to get it approved. The associate director of the Hacked Off Campaign, Evan Harris, has already spoken out scathingly on the subject: "This is a temper tantrum by some powerful people used to having their own way and they will in due course see that the voluntary independent self-regulation proposed by Leveson is a generous settlement."
The result remains to be seen after the Privy Council adjourn to consider two very different charter proposals on 15 May…
The Independent began adding smartphone-aided augmented reality features to its daily print editions on Tuesday. While augmented reality (AR) apps have been buzzing around the industry for a few years, the newspaper is the first to fully integrate the app into its editorial workflow, Press Gazette reported.
Unlike QR codes, AR uses a phone’s camera to recognize specific images (in this case, newspaper pages) and superimposes information over the camera feed. AR technology opens related links and content within its app, whereas QR codes externally connect to links on mobile web browsers. Industry analysts agree that AR has more potential for newspapers than QR codes, which have been deemed “dead” by most.
Independent+ uses iPhone, iPad and Android app Blippar to update select print stories with new information and additional multimedia features. The newspaper is also using the app to increase audience engagement by allowing readers to vote in polls related to opinion articles. The Independent said AR supplements will be available in all sections of the newspaper, according to Press Gazette.
“We are committed to keeping our readers up to speed with the latest news and trends, and Independent+ allows us to do this, giving readers of the print edition access to real-time online updates and additional engaging content,” said Christian Broughton, Digital Editor at Independent.co.uk.
An ad for Independent+ asks, “Wouldn’t it be great if ... your newspaper could be updated in real-time?” But the concept is hardly a new one: New Scientist was drawing print readers to related web pages a decade ago, The Register noted.
AR apps gained momentum last summer. The Star, Malaysia’s top English daily, introduced iSnap to connect print readers to interactive features, including slideshows and videos, the Editor’s Weblog previously reported. Over the summer Fairfax Media and News Limited also added AR features into apps for several of their publications, including Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
The Tokyo Shimbun also used AR to convert meaty articles into kid-friendly, illustrated versions, but lack of funding kept the attempt short-lived, with only a total of 10 AR-enhanced articles produced, The Register noted.
“[AR] is one of the many innovations that newspapers should be doing,” Fairfax Media Digital General Manager Nigel Tutt said, according to the Newspaper Publishers’ Association. “It’s part of the reader experience alongside print rather than the whole way content is delivered.”
AR represents serious potential for newspapers, which are focusing on engagement to combat declining circulations. Scott O’Brien, from the company Explore Engage, which developed News Limited’s AR app, said research shows people spend 10 times the amount of time with augmented reality than with simple videos, the Editor’s Weblog previously reported. Newspapers have also used AR apps to link to online commenting boards for print articles (video).
The technology also holds advertising potential (see a video of an example ad enhanced by AR). Zach Leonard, Managing Director for Digital at The Independent, expressed hope that the Independent+ will be used to “extend clients’ ad campaigns and sponsorships,” according to Press Gazette.
But Bill Ray of The Register said he doesn’t see much use in The Independent’s use of AR, as the linked content is already available on the newspaper’s website, without having to download an external app.
“Such apps are only useful if the content to which they link provides relevant and live information, rather than more adverts and a sprinkling of updates,” he writes.
Ray contrasted The Independent’s use of AR with The Tokyo Shimbun’s, arguing that the Japanese newspaper’s AR app added value to readers whereas the Independent’s doesn’t.
“Experimenting with new ways to integrate different worlds is unquestionably the way ahead for [newspapers], but it's hard to see anyone on the train taking out a mobile phone to get additional pictures of Crossrail, or voting on whether Parliament's backbenchers are more or less interesting these days,” Ray writes. “Which, unhelpfully for [owners Alexander and Evgeny Lebedev], makes the whole thing look like a PR exercise reminding everyone that papers still exist.”
Highlights of how other news organizations have been using augmented reality technology:
The Times: Used the Aurasma app to enhance its Saturday supplement (video). The app animated photos and allowed readers to buy items featured in the magazine simply by pointing their cameras at certain photos in the magazine.
Fighting a profit drop and an apparent stall in digital subscriptions, The New York Times detailed its new strategy for growth, including expansion into e-commerce and games and cheaper digital subscription plans, during the company’s first quarter earnings call Thursday.
Starting at the end of this year, the Times will roll out new subscription plans at different price points. Two cheaper subscription models will be offered: One with topic-based packages, ranging from food to politics, and another that compiles the newspaper’s most important coverage.
The latter package was earlier referred to as “NYT Junior,” Jeff Bercovici of Forbes pointed out, aimed to target what Eliza Kern nicknamed “Generation Mooch.” CEO Mark Thompson said research has shown the market for this type of subscription is “hundreds of thousands,” Capital New York reported.
The newspaper also plans to introduce a premium package that may include family-wide access, the ability to gift subscriptions and live events, according to a release. Tickets to one of such events, a “global forum” in San Francisco hosted by op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman, are $995 each, Bercovici noted.
The Times’ cheapest current digital package is $180 a year, including NYT.com and the smartphone app. Access to all digital products is $420 per year. Thompson did not provide details on the prices of the new subscription plans, paidContent reported.
“We want to deepen our relationship with our existing loyal customers, but we also want to use a wider family of New York Times products to reach new customers both here and around the world,” Thompson said. “The initiatives we are announcing today should be seen as a significant first step in our effort to put The New York Times Company on a path to sustainable growth.”
The Times also plans to introduce a line of branded products, though they aren’t expected to turn a major profit until late 2014, according to paidContent. NYT plans to expand into gaming and e-commerce, following the lead of Condé Nast, which now makes 10 percent of its revenue through supplemental ventures including restaurants, clothing lines, e-commerce, games and education.
The Times’ new strategy also includes an emphasis on video. Earlier this week the company moved videos from its paywall in an effort to increase clicks and therefore ad revenue. The company also hired the Huffington Post’s Rebecca Howard as general manager of video production in February to further its video initiatives.
The company plans to relaunch its website later this year (check out a prototype). As part of the relaunch, the company is in the process of reorganizing and cutting some of its blogs. Its environment blog was one of the first casualties, and Capital New York reported the Media Decoder blog is being reformatted to a one-stop media page.
In advance of the site’s relaunch, the company has assembled a data analysis team focused on how editorial content is consumed across platforms, Journalism.co.uk reported. The goal is to eventually be able to make editorial decisions driven by data when appropriate, said Aron Pilhofer, founding editor of the interactive news team.
Part of an objective to refocus the New York Times brand, the company hopes to sell New England Media Group, which includes The Boston Globe, by the end of 2013, Capital New York reported. Times Co.’s announced the the Globe was up for sale in February, after shedding several regional newspapers and About.com over the past couple years. The NYT branding focus will extend to the renaming of The International Herald Tribune, which will take the nameplate The International New York Times in the fourth quarter of 2013.
The company’s net income dropped to $3.1 million at 2 cents per share in the first quarter from $42.1 million at 28 cents per share during the same period last year, Christine Haughney of the New York Times reported. Total revenue was down 2 percent, to $465.9 million, and income down from $8.7 million to $3.1 million.The Times' digital circulation growth seems to be slowing. Graphic courtesy of Quartz.
The company emphasized that despite declines in profits, circulation revenue was up 6.5 percent, due both to more digital subscribers and increased print subscription prices, Haughney reported. But digital subscriptions seem to be slowing: The newspaper only gained 5.6 percent additional subscribers this quarter, reflecting its smallest increase since introducing its paywall in 2011, Quartz reported.
But the Times is optimistic about growth, expecting a surge of subscribers after the world edition is rebranded, Capital New York reported. The Times’ and International Herald Tribune had a combined 676,000 subscribers at the end of March.
The British press is set to profit from a new level of advanced legal protection – and, by extension, greater freedom of expression – in their criticism of large companies thanks to the long-awaited passing of the Defamation Bill by Parliament.
The House of Lords voted on Tuesday 23 April by a majority of 78 in favour of passing the Bill, and consideration of the Lords amendments took place in the House of Commons yesterday, Wednesday 24 April. The Bill has hereby cleared its last Parliamentary obstacle, and now awaits the final stage of Royal Assent which will statutorily enact the Bill as an official Act of Parliament. According to the UK parliament's website, "the aim of the Bill is to reform the law of defamation to ensure that a fair balance is struck between the right to freedom of expression and the protection of reputation."
Press Gazette reports that "under the new law bodies trading for profit will be asked to show that the words complained of caused, or are likely to cause, serious financial loss" – certainly a positive step towards restricting the ease with which companies have been suing individuals and organisations including newspapers and broadcasters during the past few decades, causing London to earn the nickname of "libel capital of the world." The Bill is the long-awaited end result of a three-year campaign championed by Liberal Democrat peers Lord McNally and Lord Lester, and is the first wholesale reform to libel laws since 1843, so the excitement of campaigners at this final result is understandable.
Press Gazette quoted Kirsty Hughes, chief executive of the Index on Censorship, on her celebration of this soon-to-be Act of Parliament: "The Defamation Bill is a major advance for freedom of expression both here at home and abroad. For too long, free speech was chilled, restrained and threatened by our archaic libel laws, that were a laughing stock around the globe. Even President Obama passed laws to protect US citizens from its effects."
Other aspects of the final ammended Bill include a public interest defence for journalists – open to defendants who can demonstrate that they "reasonably believed that publicaton was in the public interest" – and a "qualified privilege" given to statements in scientific and academic journals and reports on government proceedings, international conferences and court proceedings, meaning that "fair and accurate reporting about any of these things will be protected from libel." The law also restricts libel tourism by ordering that "a libel action against a person who does not live in Europe can only be heard in London if the claimant can show that England is the most appropriate place."
The only reason for campaigners to be disappointed was that a further important ammendment was refused, one asking that private companies contracted to perform public functions (for example, independent treatment centres, dentists, care homes, and prison management) should be prevented from suing for libel. In response, Jo Glanville, director of English Pen, told the Guardian: "We are delighted all in all, but obviously are very disappointed... that it did not go far as we would have liked on private companies being able to sue. This will have a chilling effect on free speech as they use the law to bully in a way they have done in the past."
One thing is certain, though: the bill as it stands today, even without the inclusion of this last ammendment, promises to make a real difference to the freedom of journalists reporting under a critical, investigative agenda in the interests of enlightening the public on topics such as corruption and injustice.
There is a lot of exciting progress in data journalism, panelists at the first School of Data Journalism panel said at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia. The session, organized by the European Journalism Centre and the Open Knowledge Foundation, aimed to assess the state of data journalism in 2013.
Data journalism doesn’t necessarily sound “sexy,” said Aron Pilhofer, editor of interactive news at The New York Times, but as the South Florida Sun Sentinel made clear this month with its Speeding Cops story, it can be Pulitzer Prize-winning.
Pilhofer leads a team of 18 data and developer journalists. In contrast, Guido Romeo of Wired Italy explained that he himself is the data team. Pilhofer argued that it isn’t necessary to have a huge team to do great stories, pointing out that the Sun Sentinel’s public service Pulitzer-winning piece was done by a very small team, who acquired the data, analysed it and published it within a matter of weeks. It’s something that “normal people in normal newsrooms can do,” he believes.
Dan Sinker, director of Knight-Mozilla OpenNews, described some of the US election coverage projects he had been most impressed by. Election coverage really allows you to track progress of news organisations, he pointed out, as it’s every four years. On election night, his go-to app was created by NPR’s new news apps team, who decided not to use a map, as most new outlets do, but went for blocks representing real numbers.
ProPublica’s Message Machine was another notable initiative, he said, looking at the different targeted fundraising emails sent out by the presidential campaigns. ProPublica’s team built software that allowed people to auto-forward the email they received, and by looking at the demographic data that the public provided, they started to detect trends and surface algorithms.
Pilhofer dicussed statistician-turned-journalist Nate Silver’s impressive predictions of the US election results, which were an “utter victory for what I would call one form of data journalism: applying stats to storytelling.”
Panelists agreed that getting more statisticians and other mathematicians interested in journalism is extremely important, as such people will be able to provide higly useful skills to newsrooms of the future. But the dangerous side of Silver’s fame is that editors across the US, and even further afield, as Romeo noted, now want their “own Nate Silver” but don’t understand that this kind of work is based on probability. “It’s not a precise science,” said Pilhofer, and even Silver can be “spectacularly wrong.” As James Ball, data editor of the Guardian, pointed out, this was indeed the case when Silver tacked the UK election in 2010.
When asked how to put together a data journalism team, Pilhofer stressed the importance of getting people who know how to acquire data, and know not to take it at face value. “You need to know what’s good about data,” he stressed.
Looking forward, Sinker pointed out that there are exciting implications for journalism of work being done to hack hardware, as Safecast did with radiation monitors in the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. “You are beginning to see some of the work that they did beginning to trickle into newsrooms,” he added. Along the same lines, Pilhofer noted WNYC RadioLab’s Cicada Tracker, which encourages the public to build their own temperature sensors to track when cicadas are likely to emerge from their 17-year hibernation period.
Romeo highlighted a new Italian website, datajournalism.it, an Italian initiative inspired by last year’s International Journalism Festival, where speakers urged the audience to start doing data journalism now, rather than waiting for massive resources.
The rumour coarsed through Twitter like wild fire, The New York Times reported it, but, in an article for telerama.fr, Nicolas Delesalle pointed a finger at French media organisations for failing to provide sufficient coverage of the latest "massacre" committed in Syria, on Saturday, 20 April.
As is the case with many breaking news stories, this one first surfaced on Twitter – one tweet, then two, then hundreds, all bearing the same piece of news: there has been a horrific massacre in a Damascus suburb on Saturday 20 April... and the media are ignoring it. According to Twitter users, 450 people were killed by the forces of President Bashar al-Assad, including women and children, in an effort to eliminate a large number of terrorists in the area. Not exactly an ignorable news item...
The hashtag #rememberthe450 began trending on the micro-blogging site. Twitter users sensed it was their moral obligation to make this human tragedy known to the world, and simultaneously to denounce the silence of the traditional media who were failing to keep up with breaking news of such a shocking nature.
This isn't entirely true, though. Delesalle points out that the media did not ignore events in Syria, they simply chose to limit what they reported in order to avoid misinforming the public. CNN, France 24, BBC and The New York Times all reported on the violence at Jdeidet al-Fadel on their websites, but all reinforced the fact that they did not have sufficient information on the attack, and therefore, were reluctant to report on specifics as important as the number of fatalities.
Whilst Twitter users ensured that the number "450" was cast far and wide (without any substantial proof), the traditional media, on the other hand, thought it better to keep quiet and admit to a lack of information that was not remotely the fault of journalists, but rather the consequence of army patrols in the area making the verification of numbers very difficult, paired with the fact that the Assad regime banned almost all independent media organisations following the March 2011 uprising.
The traditional media relied on a legitimate source of information, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, who Yahoo News quoted as saying that it "documented 80 names of people killed, including three children, six women and 18 rebel fighters." They also warned readers of the distinct, but as yet unconfirmed, possibility that there may be further fatalities. For example, Yahoo reported that "Jamal al-Golani, a member of the Revolution Leadership Council opposition group, said the number of dead may be higher than 250." In other words, the press ensured that readers were fully aware of the haziness surrounding the information. Even major news websites such as the BBC chose not to place the Syrian massacre on their home page – readers had to be actively searching out information on this topic to have a chance of finding it.
On Monday, France Inter aired a programme devoted to recent events in Syria, but the massacre (even the rumour of it) went unmentioned. Editor-in-Chief of I-télé, Lucas Menget, said "we could be hypocrites and carry out a press review of what we read on Twitter, but that’s not our job." He explained that he wouldn't use any image that hadn't first been verified by AFP (Agence France Presse) since, "when it comes to what circulates the web, we don't know where anything comes from."
Three of the major press agencies – Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France Press – did not release anything very quickly on the subject, and so major newspapers and news websites awaited futher confirmation (quite rightly). Such agencies have previously been tricked by false images, and so have clearly learned from their mistakes.
When talking about images sent to AFP by the public, Patrick Baz, director of photography at AFP’s Middle East branch said: "It has become nearly impossibly to determine where they come from." He also stated that AFP won't use figures reported by the public that have not yet been verified in a concrete manner. "What does that mean, 450? Why a round number? Why not 422, or 423? At one time, we had lots of figures including 11's and 9's, I’m not sure why. Always 11's and 9's... Lots of images circulate, we try to cross-check them, to see whether or not they've been seen before. We spend our days doing that – checking" (these citations can be read in their original French in Delesalle's article).
This is undoubtedly an example of the traditional forces of the world's press valuing quality over rapidity. After the Boston marathon bombings, journalists are warier than ever of being duped by information diffused through social media networks. It seems that the core standards of journalistic conduct are being reassessed and reinforced by the traditional media now more than ever – even if this means that we might receive news slightly later this way than on Twitter, at least we know that theirs is news that we can reasonably count upon to be true.
Another week, another Twitter hack. What can be done to stop hackers?
Around 1 p.m. EST yesterday, panic spread after the Associated Press (AP) Twitter account announced that US President Barack Obama had been wounded from a series of explosions at the White House. Minutes later, the AP revealed that their account had been hacked.
With 1.9 million followers, the concession of retweets spread like wildfire, reaching the stock market where the Dow lost 130 points within a few minutes before returning to it original level.
The fake tweet read: “Breaking: Two Explosions in the White House and Barack Obama is injured.”
The AP quickly announced that their account had been hacked and was suspended yesterday. Following the incident, an FBI investigation is under way. An AP staffer said on his Twitter account that the attack came shortly after a number of AP employees had received a phishing email.
Hacking can have strong implications for a venerable publication like the AP.
“A media publisher conceivably could be sued for negligence if things are published under their name that is not true and if they didn’t take reasonable steps to prevent the erroneous publication of information,” said Nick Economidis to Bloomberg.
The hack is linked to The Syrian Electronic Army (SEA), which has already hacked several international media accounts, including the Agence France-Presse (AFP), Sky News Arabia, and Al Jazeera Mobile. SEA, which claims to support the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, had published several photos and documents on the account before it was suspended.
Just last Saturday, the Twitter accounts of two flagship programs of the American television channel CBS also fell prey to pirates. Twitter did not comment on the incident, but it is evident that security measures need to be improved.
The Guardian’s Dan Gillmor expressed the need for more security on social media sites like Twitter.
“…Journalists – all of us, really – need to understand much, much more about security. Whatever precisely happened at the AP in this case, any news organization should have had systems and policies in place to prevent it, period. (Twitter's own security methods regarding user accounts are not up to industry best practice, but they're getting better.)” wrote Gillmor.
Gillmor encourages a “slow news” approach to prevent the spreading of false news.
To improve Twitter’s security, a “two-factor authentication” is being proposed, which would require those wishing to sign into the account from a new device enter a secondary password.
Mashable’s Lance Ulanoff said in an op-ed, “If Twitter had already been requiring two-factor authentication for these trusted accounts, I can’t imagine that we’d be seeing as many hackings.
Another proposed security measure is the ability to post corrections that can be attached to a tweet after it has been sent out.
The New York Times has plucked videos from its 10-article-per-month paywall, effective yesterday, in a move that will likely increase both its reach and revenue.
"We have to change the perception of the New York Times as not only a place to read about important stories of the day and interesting topics, but also a place to watch,” Denise Warren, executive vice president of NYT’s Digital Products and Services Group, told Journalism.co.uk.
Many of the Times’ videos were already available for free on YouTube and Hulu, an inconsistency that needed to be addressed, Warren told paidContent. And thanks to sponsorship by Acura and Microsoft, videos are now freely accessible on all of the Times’ platforms, including its mobile apps, according to a release.
This move follows announcements that the newspaper is considering a cheaper digital subscription plan to supplement its current 668,000 subscribers. As paidContent noted, these shifts toward accessibility lie in stark contrast to the company's commitment to a paywall, with the newspaper even patching up holes in its wall earlier this year.
But with video ads generating a much higher profit margin than other digital ads, the allure of more clicks perhaps superseded the Times’ paywall strategy. The Times isn’t the first newspaper to reap benefits from both a paywall and increased video traffic: Toronto’s Globe and Mail also excludes videos from its metered paywall.
Warren told paidContent that the presidential election brought a spurt in video traffic, which has since remained elevated. NYT’s video views doubled during the past year, Journalism.co.uk reported.
"I think video has become an expectation among web users," Warren said. "It's something our users have been demanding, so this is our response.”
The Times’ 2012 investments in its “core” emphasized video among social engagement, mobile and new global markets, Capital New York reported. Moreover, the company also hired HuffPo’s Rebecca Howard as general manager of video production in February. Just last month the company revealed a prototype for its revamped website, further cementing its digital expansion.
“We have a lot of tools at our disposal to tell stories,” Warren said in an interview with Nieman Lab. “We need to be aggressive about using all of them, and video is one of those important tools.”
Many other newspapers are also scrambling to meet the demand for video ads, as Justin Ellis of Nieman Lab pointed out. WSJ Live, HuffPost Live and the Washington Post’s forthcoming video channel were all created to increase video content and thus ad revenues.
The Times currently puts out more than 250 videos per month, Journalism.co.uk reported, but Warren says that number is on the rise. The newspaper plans to amp up its video offerings, possibly by creating branded video channels around key journalist personalities, paidContent reported.
But with a newsroom full of mostly text-based journalists without the schooling or charisma for video, as Jeff John Roberts noted, the Times’ increase in video productivity likely won’t be easy, even with its major investments.
Following a week of monumental breaking news – namely, the Boston marathon bombing and the subsequent investigation and manhunt – the Social Media Summit on Saturday, 20 April, took place at just the right time considering that its primary aim was to meditate the evolving relationship between journalism and social media.
According to French journalist Laure Nouraout on meta-media.fr, the summit panelists made reference to the Boston bombing regularly throughout the day to provide a solid basis for their discussions. As David Hayward, Director of the BBC College of Journalism's events programme wrote on his blog: "Last week was quite extraordinary for breaking news stories. I was in New York for most of it, preparing for the BBC College of Journalism and New York Times Social Media Summit #smsnyc. As many people pointed out, the event could not have come at a better time for the issues that were to emerge."
The summit took a critical glance at the way in which breaking news is treated and consumed by the masses. The general consensus seems to be that events in Boston have acted as a real game-changer for the relationship between journalism and social media. Developments during the Boston bombing scandal were reported and discussed on Twitter on an unprecedented scale and hereby revealed the extent to which traditional methods of news reporting such as TV and radio are growing largely outdated.
But events in Boston also sparked grave journalistic errors (see previous Editors Weblog article). As media blogger Alan D. Mutter wrote on Newsosaur: "armed with iPhones, empowered by Twitter and amplified by the high-tech witch hunt known as Reddit, perhaps more self-appointed citizen "journalists" than ever broadcast whatever came to mind in an instant, unencumbered by such quaint considerations as accuracy, fairness and balance – or concern for the damage that erroneous accusations can inflict." False information was propagated on a viral scale, highlighting what Hayward sees as the "massive problems of social media in a fast-moving news environment," that is, "the mistakes that go uncorrected and then shared across networks," and "the mass of noise and speculation, without context or challenge." Of course, the journalism industry is no stranger to errors of information. But the virality which Twitter facilitates means that the moment a piece of false information is put out there, it is retweeted by other users and thus its exposure grows uncontrollably.
The sheer influence of Twitter in breaking news stories was recently acknowledged in ITV crime series, Broadchurch, in which the news of an 11-year-old boy's murder is first broken by a journalist via a tweet, a move which aggravates the police who have given the boy's family their word that they will not make the murder public before first consulting them. This may be a fictional example, but it seems highly plausible – surely recent events in Boston have shown how important it has become that Twitter undergoes some form of policing when it comes to sensitive issues such as murder or terrorism? As Mutter points out, Twitter users generated "so many false accusations and so much paranoia that they heightened the collective angst understandably triggered by the cascading horrors of the marathon bombing." Their false information produced a toxic effect on the general public that amounted to more than just confusion. Indeed, it might be fair to say that false Twitter reports were responsible for something closer to emotional turmoil.
The summit lay emphasis on the importance of quality over rapidity – even in today's digital age, it remains important to send reporters out to breaking news scenes so that they might then go on to produce well-researched, accurate reports that also (it is hoped) respect ethical and moral codes of journalistic conduct (e.g. they will not include potentially disturbing images without first warning the reader). Another question raised and debated at the summit concerned the issue of how traditional media organisations can differentiate themselves from, but also complement, Twitter. Mutter recalls the findings of a national survey conducted after the 2012 presidential election by George Washington University for ORI, a strategic marketing firm, which found that "63% of respondents believed the quality of information about the election was the same or better in the social media than in the mainstream press." Surely it’s time to worry when the masses start trusting what social media users post thoughtlessly online over and above reports from traditional media sources.
Sessions at the summit were chaired by leading figures in the industry including Claire Wardle of Storyful, Andrew Hawken, head of digital at Sky News, Liz Heron, director of social media and engagement at The Wall Street Journal, and Lisa Tozzi, an editor at The New York Times who oversees The Lede blog. According to Hayward, the main topics of discussion were as follows: verification ("how do you know what’s true and what’s false?"), speculation ("how can you tell what’s speculation and what’s considered reporting?"), responsibility ("we all have a duty to ensure that what we are saying is true and accurate"), processes ("better processes are needed for breaking news") and ethics ("the basic core principles of journalism and reporting").
Many constructive ideas were raised, with particular focus on the issue of verification. For example, the idea of "a colour-coded system of rating verification" whereby "people and organisations are rated on their ability to verifiy content" was brought to light. Also, the notion that there should be a "correction function" on social media sites such as Twitter, whereby information can be altered if it is proven to be invalid, or otherwise "an eBay-style trust/verification rating system for individual users."
There were also smaller scale ideas, such as the suggestion that the hashtag #unv should be employed to sign-post unverified material, and the request for a warning in relation to particularly graphic images. (Hayward’s full list of suggestions can be consulted here). If any of these ideas concerning the policing of sites such as Twitter were to be implemented, we would see a great change in the way that breaking news is transmitted via social media. Rather than have an instantaneous, chaotic and unmediated Twitter as we do now, would we rather see measures put in place to favour accuracy of information and moral soundness?
According to Laure Nouraout on meta-media.fr, the summit did not give birth to any great revelations concerning the future of journalism, but it did provide a valuable opportunity to reflect on a recent real-life case that has greatly affected the way in which we view social media and its role within the field of journalism. The summit brought to light the fact that citizen journalism is undoubtedly a useful tool that is highly promising in its potential for reporting breaking news in a more immediate fashion, but it clearly requires some form of vetting process in order to be considered a morally-viable practice.
Forget journalistic objectivity, USA Today told its editorial team. The newspaper is asking reporters to pepper their writing with personality and offer unique perspectives to news, Publisher Larry Kramer said.
“We went to the staff and said, ‘You know, for 30 years you’ve been told to write the same way,’” he said at the Ad Age Digital Conference last week, Alex Kantrowitz reported. “We really want you to have a unique stand on how you write.”
USA Today’s move is part of growing recognition that journalists’ brands are becoming increasingly important, even rivaling those of their publications, as The Editor’s Weblog has previously reported. With readers craving recognizable voices in the deluge of reporting available on the web, some journalists have accumulated more Twitter followers than their publications.
“Many readers — particularly younger ones — consume media based not on corporate brands but on individual writers that they feel a connection to, and I would argue that is becoming the norm,” paidContent’s Mathew Ingram wrote. “We read the New York Times as much for Tom Friedman or Nick Kristof as we do because it is the NYT.”
Following the hiring of Michael Wolff, controversial media columnist, USA Today plans to recruit other strong personalities, Ad Age reported. This move supports Kramer’s theory of a newspaper as a choir, each reporter with his own strong voice and presumably equally strong band of social media followers, according to Ad Age.
And Kramer expects other newspapers to follow suit, calling the shift to sharable news “a Gutenberg moment,” Ad Age reported. Indeed, just last week Quartz’s website further touted its journalists’ brands by adding Twitter handles to bylines, following the lead of publications such as The Atlantic.
USA Today’s encouragement of strong voices could prevent reporters from going rogue to cash in on their followers. Other proposed solutions to combat “the Andrew Sullivan problem” have included author-specific paywalls.