Monday 30 June 2008

Links for today: Blogging and Jay Rosen

  • Bloggers should stop whining about mainstream media reports because they quote them all the time says this US marine. And I'm not going to argue with her even if she is currently deployed in some far off distant land...
  • Bloggers at the Global Voices Summit remind Chris Vallance that blogging is not for everyone. Especially when you're daring to publish information from a place like Iran, or China, or Egypt with only your keyboard to defend yourself.
  • Jay Rosen says it's time for those old world journalists to pack up their bags and migrate on over to the new land of digital opportunity.

Sunday 29 June 2008

A Fifth Estate? The Internet community acting as media corrective in David Davis's resignation

I largely missed the news of David Davis's resignation. At the time, I was being filmed for a BBC Six O'Clock News reconstruction for the "intelligence officer loses documents on train" story - I played the role of: 'the arm of the intelligence officer'. (This sort of thing happens if you sit around at the BBC not looking sufficiently busy and wearing a smart-ish suit).

But anyway, I more criminally also missed the media reaction to David Davis's resignation over the extension of the terror detention limit to 42 days and what appears to be quite a significant moment in the history of commenters, emailers and bloggers acting as a corrective to media coverage in the UK.

It seems that the mainstream media significantly misjudged the story and the public response to David Davis's resignation. They then quickly backtracked as it became clear from blog posts, comments and emails that they had got it wrong. (So apologies that this post is a couple of weeks out of date but it's useful for me to catch up even if everyone else has moved on...)

Here's the evidence, with a hat tip to Rachel North for getting me started.

Rachel North notes that the Sun's editorials went from vitriolic:
  • Friday 13 June: "HAS David Davis gone stark raving mad? How else can we explain his silly act of self-styled martyrdom?"

To he's 'still got a massive ego...but'
  • Monday 16 June: "WHATEVER David Davis says about noble causes, flouncing out of Parliament is no way for a senior player in a potential government to carry on....Annoyingly, though, it is hard to disagree with the cause Davis has decided to embrace."
And finally, to whole-hearted endorsement:
  • Tuesday 17 June, Fergus Shanahan: "I respect Davis for defending freedom" - "Davis has quit his Tory post over the 42-day detention limit. His enemies say he has made a bad miscalculation. I’m not sure he has. Although Davis is mocked in Parliament, the mood in the country is different. Davis has hit the nail on the head."

But the Sun wasn't the only one who misjudged the mood in the country:
  • Michael White on Comment is Free, The Guardian 12 June: David Davis resignation: a stunt and an ego trip
  • By 13 June Michael White was quoting Tory MPs who thought the resignation was "egotist", "self-indulgent", "loner" and "quixotic", but included a section about how "resigners' motives are usually high-minded".
  • Here's Peter Wilby on various other commentators initial reactions...
    • "Davis was guilty of "flawed judgment, erratic temperament and unrestrained ego", raged the Times leader. His behaviour was "egregiously self-serving", his resignation statement "weary rhetoric".
    • The Guardian's Julian Glover thought Davis's decision the result of "some sort of extraordinary brainstorm".
    • The Telegraph's Iain Martin saw it as "monumentally wrong-headed"
    • The Mirror's Kevin Maguire as "the mother of all bad political stunts"
    • The Independent's Michael Brown as "truly bizarre".
    • And that was just in the papers that agreed with Davis, at least on being against 42-day detentions. On the pro-42 days side, the Sun's headlines were "Davis is a quitter", "Who Dares Whinges" (Davis is a former SAS man, geddit?) and "Crazy Davis"."
By Monday various sections of the media were rapidly rewriting those commentary pieces because of an Internet backlash:
  • Peter Wilby in the Guardian: "But reaction against the dismissive and patronising media tone was sufficiently strong on the internet and in e-mails - the BBC's Nick Robinson reported the corporation was "inundated" with praise for Davis - to cause a certain softening and even backtracking in later press comments."
  • Read Frank Fisher in the Guardian: 'David Davis and the great media U-turn'
  • He links to:
    • Janet Street-Porter in The Independent: "Is David Davis a champion of the people or a shameless self-publicist? Many in the Westminster village quickly dismissed his resignation over the Commons' vote on the detention of suspects for 42 days as a meaningless gesture, but outside the hothouse atmosphere of party politics, there's been a more considered response."
    • William Rees-Mogg in The Times: "Pragmatists may have failed to recognise the impact of his personal declaration or the strength of public feeling on libertarian issues."
So how did the media get it so wrong?

Matthew Parris explains in The Times:
  • "I distrust clich├ęs such as “Westminster village”, but there are occasions when they fit. Within the space of an afternoon a relatively small number of people - MPs, broadcasters, journalists, party hacks - gathered within a relatively confined space and, communicating mostly with each other, worked each other up into a clear, sharp and settled judgment on the question of the hour. By now it was almost unanimous. The judgment was conveyed electronically to the offices of the national press, bouncing back at Westminster in the form of vituperative editorials and opinion columns by dawn the next morning."
And here's Frank Fisher again:
  • "The media sought the easy story - but they also sought what seemed to them the accurate story. They sourced, corroborated, conferred - the angle they decided on was absolutely spot on, but sadly, it was spot on on another planet. When your living depends on your contacts, and your contacts are all party political figures, your stance is always, invariably, coloured by that. When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In fact, as we now see, what looked like a nail was in fact a screw-up."
And I sign off this post with some of the comments that might have changed a few minds:

'Wellop' on Michael White's CiF piece:
  • "It's remarkable how disconnected from the general population most politicians and political journalists are. Your piece, Michael, is completely shot through with Westminster village parochialism. In the wider world, what David Davis has done today will be seen by many many people as the least cynical and most principled bit of politics seen in far too long."
And Metroisbetter:
  • "Simply watching a politician that makes a stand makes for a wonderful change.

    Why would someone, by default, turn what at first sight looks like a principled gesture, into a cynical stunt?

    Because of the (cynical) angle of the person who makes the accusation.

    The author of this piece."

Comments on Nick Robinson's blog on the BBC website:

  • "David Davis has given a very clear account of his decision. He has taken a principled stand. Now I know it might be hard for a journalist of your ilk to believe this - but a lot (and looking round the webosphere - a vast majority) of people can see what he has done and support his stand."
Richard Gosling:
  • "You only need to go to Have Your Say to see how much admiration and support David Davis has from the vast majority of the public (or at least BBC News website readers), that we believe this is a genuine principled stand that does Davis nothing but credit, and (for many) gives credit to the Conservative Party just by association with him.

    I have never seen news reporting so out of step with public opinion."
Photo: Steve Punter, under Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0

Friday 27 June 2008

Milblogger forced to stop blogging for writing 'too much unfiltered truth'

For more go to the Frontline.

News values and student interns

I've just posted a comment on Adrian Monck's blog, which I thought I' d reproduce below.

The background is this suggestion in The New Republic magazine that to be a successful journalism intern you need to be single-minded, strategic, have similar ambitions and come from a similar background to the journalists you work for. This results in narrow news selections because they are made by the same type of people.

This is my two pennies' worth:

I think the problem here is the institutional socialisation of news values. In order to move on in news organisations interns or students are called upon to internalise the news values of the existing senior staff.

This leads to uniformity in the selection of news. When selecting news, students have to learn what their news editor thinks is ‘a good idea’ for a news story. I know, because I’ve been there.

You might think that this makes sense because the news editor has greater experience and often this is the case. I’m not for a moment suggesting that students know it all - they still obviously have a lot to learn.

But we might well also ask how this very experience might hinder selection of stories that don’t fit with what the news editor has come to think of as ‘news’ - him- or herself a product of the organisational setting.

Apart from the obvious ‘wow’ stories, I think that if there is any method in story selection, it’s a learned institutional process, and at times there is a methodical non-method when selection of news is based on the availability of resources, time pressure, the interests of a particular news editor, ease of access - ‘we’ll use PA/PR/wires’ etc.

Some editors nevertheless continue to place faith in their ability to make what they see as objective news judgements - and they have to, in order to justify their editorial decisions.

We can only benefit from hearing stories and news selections from people who are outside of the ‘news factory’, which is why blogs are so important to the future of media and perhaps why, as a recently qualified MA journalism student, I’m already thinking about whether my future lies within a traditional news organisation.

Thursday 26 June 2008

Greenslade on journalism and blogs

I had a drink with a journalist the other day who was fairly frank about blogs: 'I just don't care', he said.

I'm amazed we're still at this stage. But not surprised. Here's Roy Greenslade in an introduction to an interesting post he wrote yesterday about the importance of the 'blogging revolution':
"The debate over blogging's usefulness to journalism tends to get stuck in a cul de sac, mainly because too few people - well, too few journalists - treat it seriously. At conferences I've attended recently, speakers have referred to blogging as little more than a sad ego trip. It is not regarded as having any real public service value."

And he concludes that blogging should teach journalists that they are not in a different class from bloggers, or the citizens who some claim to serve:

"When we journalists talk about integration we generally mean, integrating print and online activities. But the true integration comes online itself. The integration between journalists and citizens. Of course, there should be no distinction between them. But journalists still wish to see themselves as a class apart. We have to open ourselves up to a new thought process. There is no us and them".

Just over six years ago, and yes I do mean 'years' and not 'months', Scott Rosenberg wrote this for
"Typically, the debate about blogs today is framed as a duel to the death between old and new journalism. Many bloggers see themselves as a Web-borne vanguard, striking blows for truth-telling authenticity against the media-monopoly empire. Many newsroom journalists see bloggers as wannabe amateurs badly in need of some skills and some editors.

This debate is stupidly reductive -- an inevitable byproduct of (I'll don my blogger-sympathizer hat here) the traditional media's insistent habit of framing all change in terms of a "who wins and who loses?" calculus."
More than three years ago Jay Rosen had already worked out that:
"Bloggers vs. journalists is over. I don’t think anyone will mourn its passing. There were plenty who hated the debate in the first place, and openly ridiculed its pretensions and terms. But events are what did the thing in at the end. In the final weeks of its run, we were getting bulletins from journalists like this one from John Schwartz of the New York Times, Dec. 28: “For vivid reporting from the enormous zone of tsunami disaster, it was hard to beat the blogs.”"
Journalism in the UK is still years behind where it should be; it needs to catch up and quickly.

Wednesday 25 June 2008

Links for today: Blogging

  • Blogging is a community strategy and some people still haven't sussed this yet says Adam Tinworth.
  • Paul Bradshaw at the Online Journalism Blog asks what skills we should be teaching online journalism students. For starters, I think they should all be made to keep their own blog throughout the year. Oh and expect them to have posted before 9am everyday...get them up and around and hard at work etc...
  • Bloggers fight censorship in Uzbekistan.

Tuesday 24 June 2008

Links for today: Impressions of Iraq

  • Last of Iraqis has a post on the security situation in Baghdad which I summarised on my Frontline blog.
  • Another dentist in Iraq has also recently written about his view of life in Mosul and Baghdad.
  • And finally, US Army officer, Lt G, swapped engaging the insurgency in Iraq for an engagement party of his own. Congrats!

Thursday 19 June 2008

Arianna Huffington at the BBC

Earlier today I went to see Arianna Huffington speak at an event for BBC journalists at Television Centre. She's the founder of the Huffington Post - liberal US blogs website-cum-Internet Newspaper.

I've written about the war reporting aspect over at the Frontline Club which you can go to now by clicking here.

But below I thought I'd stick some other thoughts up on the virtual paper.

1. A few facts about the Huffington Post:
  • 2,000 plus bloggers, who aren't paid. (Nor are 'the citizen journalists')
  • Last month the site had 600,000 comments
  • Arianna reckons it takes 3 minutes for a mistake by a blogger to be corrected
  • 55 people on staff
  • 30 people who work part time moderating comments (how many of the 600,000 do they get through?)
  • Funded by advertising
  • Planning to expand locally and globally

2. Arianna started the website after seeing the way in which bloggers forced Trent Lott to resign as a Senator after he made racist comments at a birthday party way back in 2002. She recognised this as a major new development and wanted to be a part of it.

3. She said the Huffington Post believes in a "very old-fashioned and idealistic" form of journalism, emphasising the importance of establishing the facts, "ferreting out the truth", and presenting a clear distinction between news and opinion.

4. Giving two sides of a story equal weight wasn't something Arianna was keen on if one side had a better case. But importantly nor was she advocating a move towards an entirely partisan media and highlighted the necessity of considering different points of view and reporting news that questioned 'your side' of the story.

As the chair of proceedings pointed out, this is a challenge to BBC journalists who are trained in the principal of impartiality. Though I think it's time to move beyond the 'one side against the other' definition of impartiality and consider how impartiality is enhanced by blogs as they provide a space for a multiplicity of views and angles on a story.

5. Addressing a concern about amateur journalism, Arianna felt there's an exciting future ahead for journalism that combines the skills of trained journalists and the advantages of using 'citizen journalists' - particularly their ability to access places that trained journalists for whatever reason cannot reach.

6. There was an interesting discussion about 'off the record' conversations. This was in reference to the actions of Mayhill Fowler who broke this story about Bill Clinton recently. Some journalists felt this 61 year old 'citizen journalist', who was acting on behalf of the Huffington Post, had broken some journalistic rules by not telling Bill Clinton who she was before she published the former President's diatribe about a Vanity Fair article.

Arianna thought Fowler should have introduced herself but maintained that the exchange happened in public and should therefore be deemed 'on-the-record' in any case. She did not rule out using 'off-the-record' conversations but was concerned about the use of anonymous sources in the media.

7. And as a final thought - it may have started as a group of blogs but isn't the Huffington Post already part of the mainstream media? It's now styled as an 'Internet Newspaper' after all with a full time staff. Oppositional definitions of 'blogs', and 'mainstream media' will have to be reconsidered (if they haven't already).

Links to other coverage:

  • Robin Hamman claims the first blog post on the event and now has other links too. Also you can check out his photos here.
  • The result of Rory Cellan-Jones's arm-ache inducing video coverage is here.
  • Richard Sambrook's not convinced about the Huffington Post's plans for global expansion

Wednesday 18 June 2008

Blogging Binman

This blog appears to be written by a binman. He's fed up with people moaning about the occupation and is hoping to put the record straight on the challenges of refuse collection...

Monday 16 June 2008

New form of collaborative Investigative Journalism goes missing at IJ Conference

Last Friday, I went to an Investigative Journalism conference at the University of Westminster in London. There were some big names - John Pilger, Nick Davies, David Leigh to name a few - but there was little recognition of the potential role that bloggers could play in investigative journalism in the future.

With the exception of Paul Bradshaw, (who did manage to talk about using bloggers to do some IJ), Gavin McFayden at the Centre of Investigative Journalism and the occasional mention of 'citizen journalism' by some of the other pannelists, there wasn't much evidence that many people really understood blogs or had any idea how bloggers might contribute to investigative journalism.

The idea of a new investigative journalism based on a collaborative process between a network of journalists, experts, interested parties, bloggers, and individual members of the public was barely discussed, and certainly not considered in any depth.

There was a rather nostalgic, dare I say, backward-looking feel to the whole conference. The overall impression was that the golden age of investigative journalism in the UK had passed (with the end of World in Action), and that mainstream media organisations must battle on with whatever resources they can muster from the wreckage of a broken business model.

Admittedly, there aren't many stand out examples of successful investigative journalism by bloggers or citizen journalists in the UK. But we could have considered Guido Fawkes breaking political stories, the work (scroll down) of Graham Knight to expose the flaws in the Nimrod aircraft, and campaigns for an inquiry into 7/7 just to get us going.

Then there's the evidence from the US: Dan Rather, The New Republic being undone by the collaboration of the military blogosphere and the mainstream media, lawyers' blogs driving investigative journalism etc.

Other things that were hardly mentioned or not at all include journalists using bloggers to trawl through document dumps, crowdsourcing and Ohmynews in South Korea, which uses citizen reporters as a matter of course.

So there's plenty of exciting new developments in investigative journalism - but you wouldn't have heard about them at this conference. The omission of serious discussion on the future was particularly evident in the final debate: 'IJ today is dross by another name', where both proposers and opposers could have discussed 'citizen journalism' and blogging in relation to investigative journalism. But didn't.

An afterthought: In one panel there was a frankly pointless non-argument about whether journalists are investigating the number of casualties in Iraq. No one seemed to know anything about this. Which was interesting because if you follow a few blogs you'd know that there's a UK website that tracks the number of reported casualties. You'd also know that various bloggers, and mainstream journalists had taken the Lancet report to task, that The Guardian had written an article about this as well in May, and that this has been hotly debated in the Iraqi blogosphere.

Wednesday 11 June 2008

'Terror Blog Live': Blogging the debate on 42 days

Channel 4 News is live blogging the House of Commons debate and the vote on whether to extend the terror detention limit to 42 days. You can follow it here. The debate began at 3pm, the vote's at 6pm and the result is due around 7pm.

Channel 4 are using CoverItLive, a piece of software which allows you to do exactly what it says on the virtual tin, (though when I tried it a few months back it crashed my laptop and everything was a little less than live...but given that Channel 4 will be able to factor out my laptop I'm sure they won't have these problems).

And after you've had your fill of that live debate you can watch another one. The Frontline Club will be asking whether the Taliban are winning in Afghanistan from 7.30pm.

Tuesday 10 June 2008

Blogging hoo-ha in Australia

I missed this last month, but then I haven't seen anyone else in the UK commenting on it either:

In a nutshell: A couple of Liberal Party members were slating the parliamentary leader of the Liberal Party, Ted Baillieu, in the state of Victoria on an anonymous blog from inside the party's headquarters. I imagine the pair politely bidding him 'good morning' while tapping out this (genuine) scathing post from behind the computer screen:
"With ambition not seen since the early life of Mao Tse Tung; with paranoia not
seen since the time of Emperor Tiberius; and a proclivity for nepotism not seen
since the papel court of Pope Innocent the tenth - Red Ted is the ultimate
hypocrite. If you think about it for a moment Ted Baillieu has many of the
attributes of a Roman Emperor, except greatness."
The two party members were found out by another blogger who broke the story, and the pair were subsequently sacked.

(P.S. For legal reasons, I must add that although I haven't spoken to him, Ted Baillieu would, I'm sure, deny these allegations.)

A frontline view from Afghanistan

In a post at the Frontline, I comment on Lachlan MacNeil's Afghanistan diary.

Monday 9 June 2008

Links for today: Bad news from Afghanistan

  • The 100 is up and it's not a good sort of 100 as Alastair Leithead, the BBC's correspondent in Kabul, explains.
  • A Canadian soldier also died over the weekend after falling into a well. (AFP).
  • And it's not just soldiers who are putting their lives in danger in the country. Leithead's fixer and BBC World Service's Pashto reporter, Abdul Samad Rohani, was killed at the weekend. Here, you can read Jon Williams, World News Editor, on Rohani's death and that of another journalist, Nasteh Dahir Faraah, in Somalia.

Pressing the button: once it's published, it's published

Ruth Gledhill, the Times religion correspondent, publishes a blog post, then deletes it, finds it has been republished on another blog and then asks for it to be removed. Which it was. But it's still there of course in Google cache. (Via Adrian Monck).

Which is interesting because these 'ooops-I-probably-shouldn't-have-published-that' moments potentially make great news stories for journalists. You'd think journalists might realise this and take a little care over pressing the 'publish' button, but apparently they're still learning.

Wednesday 4 June 2008

Picture blogging to support the troops

My latest Frontline post is about the Military Motivator blog.

Tuesday 3 June 2008

The aftermath of the China earthquake

When I was preparing a workshop for some journalists at the BBC, I came across a couple of blogs written by husband (Paul) and wife (Lara) in English from Chengdu, China.

I particularly like this post by Lara, who teaches Applied Linguistics at Sichuan University.

In it she describes life one week on from the earthquake: telling her students that this year's class is over, standing outside as sirens ring out in memorial to the dead, noting the pride of the Chinese people in their government and soldiers.

A piece written by Paul a few days ago, which includes pictures of the tents people have been using, also makes interesting reading. He says:
"Class politics is playing itself out here, as parents from poorer areas are asking why their schools were so shoddy that they collapsed, while those from more wealthy schools just down the street survived. After days of protests, a group of parents planned a march to Chengdu to demand answers. At first, a local Communist Party official pled with them, from his knees no less, not to march to the capital. They also offered the parents $4,500 per child if they would just keep quiet. Finally, they corralled the protesting parents onto a bus and drove them to a meeting with local Party officials, hoping to avoid the embarrassment of going over local officials’ heads."

Monday 2 June 2008

PM talking to blogging 7/7 survivor

The PM programme on BBC Radio 4 is promising to talk to Rachel North this evening - any time now, in fact. Rachel was on the Piccadilly line train that was caught up in the terrorist attacks on London in July 2005.

She began a blog (still going strong) which described how she came to terms with the events of that day. It ended up on the BBC website. She later added her voice to calls for a public inquiry.

On PM, she'll be talking about a new study that says it might be better not to share your feelings after being subjected to major trauma. It'll be interesting to see what she has to say. After all, she ended up sharing her thoughts with thousands of people, first in blog form and then in the pages of her book, Out of the Tunnel.

I'll update this post in due course.

UPDATE 6.55pm

Generally, Rachel agreed that the findings made sense. She believed that it was usually better for people to deal with trauma in their own way and shouldn't be forced to relive the experiences if they didn't want to.

She did briefly talk about her blog, noting that it enabled other survivors to get in contact and form a community that could help one another, but it wasn't something presenter Eddie Mair pursued.

For me, I think the way Rachel North was treated as a source of information is interesting. She has made the transition from being an eyewitness, or a 'blogger', to being an expert source that journalists regularly call on. Her opinions are treated as reliable, trustworthy and accurate.

This is not unwarranted as Rachel has clearly become very knowledgeable in this area, but it's evidence of how far the relationship between bloggers and the mainstream media has come in the last decade.

And I would suggest that more and more bloggers, like Rachel, are being used, and will be used as sources of information, providing their expertise on the news, in the future.

Some links about the BBC for Monday morning

I'm spending some time getting back on top of the blogs. Here are the first fruits of this morning's rather languid labour:
  • The BBC Trust has published its latest review of the BBC's services. Alfred Hermida has searched through and found the relevant sections on BBC News Online and the BBC's blogs.
  • Nick Reynolds, Editor of the BBC Internet Blog and a great believer in openness, is amused/annoyed by an Observer article quoting BBC 'sources', insider', 'insiders', 'executives', 'correspondents'. Who are these people, he wants to know? He's had one answer already...
  • It's not easy getting journalists into Burma, so a lot of the media have been pitching their tents in Thailand. But reporting from there isn't straightforward either according to Jon Williams, the BBC's World News Editor.
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