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August 24 2012

14:35

This Week in Review: Twitter’s ongoing war with developers, and plagiarism and online credibility

[Since the review was off last week, this week's review covers the last two weeks.]

More Twitter restrictions for developers: Twitter continued to tighten the reins on developers building apps and services based on its platform with another change to its API rules last week. Most of it is pretty incomprehensible to non-developers, but Twitter did make itself plain at one point, saying it wants to limit development by engagement-based apps that market to consumers, rather than businesses. (Though a Twitter exec did clarify that at least two of those types of services, Storify and Favstar, were in the clear.)

The Next Web’s Matthew Panzarino clarified some of the technical jargon, and Marketing Land’s Danny Sullivan explained whom this announcement means Twitter likes and doesn’t like, and why. ReadWriteWeb’s Dan Frommer gave the big-picture reason for Twitter’s increasing coldness toward developers — it needs to generate tons more advertising soon if it wants to stay independent, and the way to do that is to keep people on Twitter, rather than on Twitter-like apps and services. (Tech entrepreneur Nova Spivack said that rationale doesn’t fly, and came up with a few more open alternatives to allow Twitter to make significant money.)

That doesn’t mean developers were receptive of the news, though. Panzarino said these changes effectively kill the growth of third-party products built on Twitter’s platform, and Instapaper founder Marco Arment argued that Twitter has made itself even harder to work with than the famously draconian Apple. Eliza Kern and Mathew Ingram of GigaOM talked to developers about their ambivalence with Twitter’s policies and put Twitter’s desire for control in perspective, respectively.

Several observers saw these changes as a marker of Twitter’s shift from user-oriented service to cog in the big-media machine. Tech designer Stowe Boyd argued Twitter “is headed right into the central DNA of medialand,” and tech blogger Ben Brooks said Twitter is now preoccupied with securing big-media partnerships: “Twitter has sold out. They not only don’t care about the original users, but they don’t even seem to care much for the current users — there’s a very real sense that Twitter needs to make money, and they need to make that money yesterday.” Developer Rafe Colburn pointed out how many of Twitter’s functions were developed by its users, and developer Nick Bruun said many of the apps that Twitter is going after don’t mimic its user experience, but significantly improve it. Killing those apps and streamlining the experience, said GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram, doesn’t help users, but hurts them.

Part of the problem, a few people said, was Twitter’s poor communication. Harry McCracken of Time urged Twitter to communicate more clearly and address its users alongside its developers. Tech entrepreneur Anil Dash offered a rewritten (and quite sympathetic) version of Twitter’s guidelines.

There’s another group of developers affected by this change — news developers. The Lab’s Andrew Phelps surveyed what the changes will entail for various Twitter-related news products (including a couple of the Lab’s own), and journalism professor Alfred Hermida warned that they don’t bode well for the continued development of open, networked forms of journalism.

Plagiarism, credibility, and the web: Our summer of plagiarism continues unabated: Wired decided to keep Jonah Lehrer on as a contributor after plagiarism scandal, though the magazine said it’s still reviewing his work and he has no current assignments. Erik Wemple of The Washington Post lamented the lack of consequences for Lehrer’s journalistic sins, and both he and Poynter’s Craig Silverman wondered how the fact-checking process for his articles would go. Meanwhile, Lehrer was accused by another source of fabricating quotes and also came under scrutiny for mischaracterizing scientific findings.

The other plagiarizer du jour, Time and CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, has come out much better than Lehrer so far. Zakaria resigned as a Yale trustee, but Time, CNN, and The Washington Post (for whom he contributes columns) all reinstated him after reviewing his work for them, with Time declaring it was satisfied that his recent lapse was an unintentional error. However, a former Newsweek editor said he ghost-wrote a piece for Zakaria while he was an editor there, though he told the New York Observer and Poynter that he didn’t see it as a big deal.

Some defended Zakaria on a variety of grounds. Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon evaluated a few of the arguments and found only one might have merit — that the plagiarism might have resulted from a research error by one of his assistants. The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer, meanwhile, argued that plagiarism has a long and storied history in American journalism, but hasn’t always been thought of as wrong.

Others saw the responses by news organizations toward both Zakaria and Lehrer as insufficient. Poynter’s Craig Silverman argued that those responses highlighted a lack of consistency and transparency (he and Kelly McBride also wrote a guide for news orgs on how to handle plagiarism), while journalism professor Mark Leccese said Zakaria’s employers should have recognized the seriousness of plagiarism and gone further, and Steven Brill at the Columbia Journalism Review called for more details about the nature of Zakaria’s error.

A New York Times account of Zakaria’s error focused on his hectic lifestyle, filled with the demands of being a 21st-century, multiplatform, personally branded pundit. At The Atlantic, book editor and former journalist Peter Osnos focused on that pressure for a pundit to publish on all platforms for all people as the root of Zakaria’s problem.

The Times’ David Carr pinpointed another factor — the availability of shortcuts to credibility on the web that allowed Lehrer to become a superstar before he learned the craft. (Carr found Lehrer’s problems far more concerning than Zakaria’s.) At Salon, Michael Barthel also highlighted the difference between traditional media and web culture, arguing that the problem for people like Zakaria is their desire to inhabit both worlds at once: “The way journalists demonstrate credibility on the Web isn’t better than how they do in legacy media. It’s just almost entirely different. For those journalists and institutions caught in the middle, that’s a real problem.” GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram argued that linking is a big part of the web’s natural defenses against plagiarism.

Untruths and political fact-checking: The ongoing discussion about fact-checking and determining truth and falsehood in political discourse got some fresh fuel this week with a Newsweek cover story by Harvard professor Niall Ferguson arguing for President Obama’s ouster. The piece didn’t stand up well to numerous withering fact-checks (compiled fairly thoroughly by Newsweek partner The Daily Beast and synthesized a bit more by Ryan Chittum of the Columbia Journalism Review).

Ferguson responded with a rebuttal in which he argued that his critics “claim to be engaged in ‘fact checking,’ whereas in nearly all cases they are merely offering alternative (often silly or skewed) interpretations of the facts.” Newsweek’s editor, Tina Brown, likewise referred to the story as opinion (though not one she necessarily agreed with) and said there isn’t “a clear delineation of right and wrong here.”

Aside from framing the criticism as a simple difference of opinion rather than an issue of factual (in)correctness, Newsweek also acknowledged to Politico that it doesn’t have fact-checkers — that its editors “rely on our writers to submit factually accurate material.”  Poynter’s Craig Silverman provided some of the history behind that decision, which prompted some rage from Charles Apple of the American Copy Editors Society. Apple asserted that any news organization that doesn’t respect its readers or public-service mission enough to ensure their work is factually accurate needs to leave the business. The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates said the true value of fact-checkers comes in the culture of honesty they create.

Mathew Ingram of GigaOM wondered if that fact-checking process might be better done in public, where readers can see the arguments and inform themselves. In an earlier piece on campaign rhetoric, Garance Franke-Ruta of The Atlantic argued that in an era of willful, sustained political falsehood, fact-checking may be outliving its usefulness, saying, “One-off fact-checking is no match for the repeated lie.” The Lab’s Andrew Phelps, meanwhile, went deep inside the web’s leading fact-checking operation, PolitiFact.

The Times’ new CEO and incremental change: The New York Times Co. named a new CEO last week, and it was an intriguing choice — former BBC director general Mark Thompson. The Times’ article on Thompson focused on his digital expansion at the BBC (which was accompanied by a penchant for cost-cutting), as well as his transition from publicly funded to ad-supported news. According to the International Business Times, those issues were all sources of skepticism within the Times newsroom. Bloomberg noted that Thompson will still be subject to Arthur Sulzberger’s vision for the Times, and at the Guardian, Michael Wolff said Thompson should complement that vision well, as a more realistic and business-savvy counter to Sulzberger.

The Daily Beast’s Peter Jukes pointed out that many of the BBC’s most celebrated innovations during Thompson’s tenure were not his doing. Robert Andrews of paidContent also noted this, but said Thompson’s skill lay in being able to channel that bottom-up innovation to fit the BBC’s goals. Media analyst Ken Doctor argued that the BBC and the Times may be more alike than people think, and Thompson’s experience at the former may transfer over well to the latter: “Thompson brings the experience at moving, too slowly for some, too dramatically for others, a huge entity.” But Mathew Ingram of GigaOM said that kind of approach won’t be enough: “The bottom line is that a business-as-usual or custodial approach is not going to cut it at the NYT, not when revenues are declining as rapidly as they have been.”

Joe Pompeo of Capital New York laid out a thorough description of the Sulzberger-led strategy Thompson will be walking into: Focusing on investment in the Times, as opposed to the company’s other properties, but pushing into mobile, video, social, and global reach, rather than print. And Bloomberg’s Edmund Lee posited the idea that the Times could be in increasingly good position to go private.

The Assange case and free speech vs. women’s rights: WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange cleared another hurdle last week — for now — in his fight to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault accusations when Ecuador announced it would grant him asylum. Assange has been staying in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London for two months, but British officials threatened to arrest Assange in the embassy. Ecuador’s decision gives him immunity from arrest on Ecuadorean soil (which includes the embassy).

Assange gave a typically defiant speech for the occasion, but the British government was undeterred, saying it plans to resolve the situation diplomatically and send Assange to Sweden. Ecuador’s president said an embassy raid would be diplomatic suicide for the U.K., and Techdirt’s Mike Masnick was appalled that Britain would even suggest it. Filmmakers Michael Moore and Oliver Stone argued in The New York Times that Assange deserves support as a free-speech advocate, while Gawker’s Adrian Chen said the sexual assault case has nothing to do with free speech. Laurie Penny of The Independent looked at the way free speech and women’s rights are being pitted against each other in this case. Meanwhile, Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian excoriated the press for their animosity toward Assange.

Reading roundup: We’ve already covered a bunch of stuff over the past week and a half, and there’s lots more to get to, so here’s a quick rundown:

— Twitter and Blogger co-founder Evan Williams announced the launch of Medium, a publishing platform that falls somewhere between microblogging and blogging. The Lab’s Joshua Benton has the definitive post on what Medium might be, Dave Winer outlined his hopes for it, and The Awl’s Choire Sicha wrote about the anti-advertising bent at sites like it.

— A few social-news notes: Two features from the Huffington Post and the Lab on BuzzFeed’s ramped-up political news plans; TechCrunch’s comparison of BuzzFeed, Reddit, and Digg; and a feature from the Daily Dot on Reddit and the future of social journalism.

— The alt-weekly The Village Voice laid off staffers late last week, prompting Jim Romenesko to report that the paper is on the verge of collapse and Buzzfeed’s Rosie Gray to chronicle its demise. Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon said the paper still has plenty left, and The New York Times’ David Carr said the problem is that the information ecosystem has outgrown alt-weeklies.

— Finally, three great food-for-thought pieces, Jonathan Stray here at the Lab on determining proper metrics for journalism, media consultant Mark Potts on a newspaper exec’s 20-year-old view of the web, and Poynter’s Matt Thompson on the role of the quest narrative in journalism.

Photo of Jonah Lehrer by PopTech and drawing of Julian Assange by Robert Cadena used under a Creative Commons license.

January 13 2011

16:56

BBC online cuts offer few savings

The BBC is back in the news with more talks of cuts and savings.

The Guardian reports that BBC director general is looking for additional cost savings of 20% – about £400m – over the next six years.

One of the ways Thompson plans to cut costs is by reducing the amount spent on online services by 25%.

This might sound like a drastic saving. But it masks the fact that online is the poor relation when it comes to BBC finances.

According to the BBC Annual Report for 2009/2010 (PDF), the corporation spent £199.3 million on online.

A cut of 25% would free up just under £50m. Given the BBC’s total budget of £3.5 billion, the BBC would be shaving just 1.4% off its budget.

By comparison, television accounts for £2.3 billion, while radio takes up £603 million.

Just a 2% cut in spending on TV services would save approximately the same amount as a 25% cut in online.

TV and radio are far more well established than online, so it is much harder to take on and change deep-rooted practices.

September 06 2010

10:05

BBC CoJo: In defence of Mark Thompson’s visit to Downing Street

Last week several news outlets, including the BBC, reported on a visit to Downing Street by the BBC’s director general Mark Thompson, who was allegedly there to discuss BBC news coverage of the government’s spending review.

It was suggested that such a visit may risk damaging the impartiality of the broadcaster, with Thompson reportedly trying to ensure a good relationship with the government in light of a licence fee review on the horizon. Others indicated that the meeting was on the order of senior government figures who wanted to “quiz” Thompson on content.

Commenting on the press coverage, Kevin Marsh, editor of the BBC College of Journalism criticizes what he regards as a promotion of appearance and impression over the facts in a post on the College of Journalism discussion blog.

Is it really a surprise for example, to learn that David Cameron’s press chief, Andy Coulson, had lunch with the BBC head of news, Helen Boaden, and that the subject of spending review coverage came up? Or that Mr Coulson would press for more ‘context’?

(…) Now, I have no special knowledge or insight here – but certainly when I was running Today or World at One it wasn’t that unusual to recruit senior executives to put in a good word when you were trying to fix big interviews.

And it’s easy to see that with a huge, high-profile season on the horizon – and the spending review season will run across all of the BBC’s national and regional programming as well as the news website – a bit of shoulder work from the chaps at the top is no bad thing.

See his full post here…Similar Posts:



September 01 2010

11:34

BBC pensions update – strike ballot result expected today

BBC staff unions are expected to announce the result of a ballot for strike action later today, following pension proposals put forward by the broadcaster in June which could see the introduction of a one per cent cap on increases in pensionable salary and the closure of the final-salary scheme to new joiners.

In a blog post, NUJ general secretary Jeremy Dear says the union expects the results to show “a massive vote in favour of action”.

He adds that an announcement is expected to be made between 3:30pm and 4:00pm today. The BBC previously told Journalism.co.uk it would be making further proposals at the beginning of September following the backlash from its initial suggestions. Its 90-day consultation period closes later this month.

More to follow later this afternoon.Similar Posts:



March 08 2010

15:58

#IWD: Chie Elliott – ‘Sidelining of TV’s older women could be reflective of society’s warped views’

Blogger and freelance journalist Chie Elliott (@orangeblossomer) has written a wide-ranging piece to mark International Women’s Day and its relevance to the media/publishing industries. The post can be read in full on her own blog at this link.

It wasn’t that long ago that BBC boss Mark Thompson came under fire for replacing a mature female judge in a popular dance show with a pop star 36 years her junior.

The fact that in television, older, grey-haired male presenters carry on commanding respect well into their retirement age, whereas their female counterparts get sidelined as their age starts to show, could be a reflection of a society’s warped views about women, and not exclusive to the industry.

Women’s value and employability should not be conditional to age or appearance, but women in highly visible jobs such as television or film, do not always seem to have a choice. Anna Ford, a journalist worshipped by her male peers as something nearing a sex goddess in her heyday, decided to retire in April 2006, at 62, saying:

“I might have been shovelled off into News 24 to the sort of graveyard shift.”

The BBC’s  drive to recruit older female newsreaders, announced soon after the Strictly Come Dancing judge swap saga, strikes me as laughable. I can visualise a screaming headline: “Older women join ethnic minorities and the disabled under positive discrimination scheme.” Or, more bluntly, as The Independent put it: “Must be Female. Young Need Not Apply”.

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March 04 2010

14:57

Is the BBC really falling out of love with blogging?

From reading recent media news you might think the the BBC’s passion for blogging was cooling.

First off, we learnt (via the Times initially, and then confirmed by the BBC) that the corporation is to significantly cut back its web content and reduce the number of online staff.

Then on Tuesday evening, BBC political editor Nick Robinson said he no longer read the comments on his own Newslog. Rather than widening the political debate, commenters were “people who have already made their minds up, to abuse me, to abuse each other or abuse a politician”, he said at an Election 2.0 debate at City University London.

Finally, as academic and blogger Alfred Hermida flagged up, the BBC Strategic Review labelled the blogosphere as “vast and unruly”. The report says:

Above the vast and unruly world of the blogosphere, professional media power may actually concentrate in fewer hands. Individual plurality may increase but collective, effective plurality decrease – with societies around the world left with fewer reliable sources of professionally validated news.

Professor Hermida, who specifically researches the BBC,  was surprised by the language and suggests reminding director general Mark Thompson that the BBC is part of the blogosphere itself:

Perhaps Forrester analyst Nick Thomas when he says that “Mark Thompson does not ‘get’ digital in the way that even his much-maligned predecessor John Birt did.”

But before we get carried away with the BBC’s blogging / web apathy, let’s take a step back. Malcolm Coles’ easy-read guide to the Strategic Review comes in handy here.

For one, as Coles notes on Econsultancy, halving the number of sections on the site is not quite the same as halving the size of the site. “The overall quality will be improved by closing lower-performing sites and consolidating the rest,” he reports.

And proactive web interaction will be developed. From Coles’ post:

The BBC also plans to open up its programme library (outside the areas with high commercial value) “over time” within BBC Online as a publicly accessible ‘permanent collection’.

The review says it will make programmes available on demand “alongside the component parts of those programmes (segmentation), programme information (full catalogue) and additional, complementary content (programme support”. And the site will look to deliver audiences through propositions like the BBC’s Wildlife Finder “which maximise the public value of archive programming”.

(…) It’s pledged to “turn the site into a window on the web” by providing at least one external link on every page and doubling monthly ‘click-throughs” to external sites: “making the best of what is available elsewhere online an integral part of the BBC’s offer to audiences”.

Anyway, read the report – or Coles’ summary – for yourself. PDF at this link.

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March 03 2010

15:09

BBC review labels blogosphere as “unruly”

The BBC strategic review (PDF) of its services has been widely covered in the media, with much of the focus on the scrapping of 6 Music and cuts to BBC Online.

Buried in the document is a phrase that is reminiscent of how big media used to talk about the Internet a decade ago.

In a discussion of public space in the digital age, the review talks about the “vast and unruly world of the blogosphere.”

I was surprised at the language.  Unruly? Well, to an extent, yes. But why not say vibrant, lively or even boisterous?  In its choice of words, the BBC appears to dismiss the contribution that blogging is making to the public sphere.

Maybe someone should remind Mark Thompson that the BBC, itself, is part of the blogosphere, with dozens of BBC blogs.

Perhaps Forrester analyst Nick Thomas when he says that “Mark Thompson does not ‘get’ digital in the way that even his much-maligned predecessor John Birt did.”

It seems odd that the strategic review says the “internet is now the BBC’s third core medium” and that the”internet then is not an optional extra: it is the future for the BBC.”

But there is little about investment in the web, and more about cuts and “refocusing”, with the corporation spending 25% less on BBC Online by 2013.


February 26 2010

09:57

Times Online: BBC to cut web pages by half?

The Times claims to have seen details of the strategic review of BBC services director-general Mark Thompson that recommends the closure of digital radio stations 6 Music and the Asian Network and a severe reduction in the size of its website. The report is due to go before the BBC Trust next month.

The corporation’s web pages are to be halved, backed by a 25 per cent cut in staff numbers. Its £112 million budget will also be cut by 25 per cent. It is also pledging to include more links to newspaper articles to drive traffic to the websites of rival publishers.

While the plans to link out more are nothing new, the review reportedly includes a pledge to never “produce services at a ‘more local’ level than is currently the case”.

Full story at this link…

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November 25 2009

08:53

BBC review of online activities: a better deal for local media?

The BBC Trust has published more details of the strategic review of the corporation’s activities, which it announced in July, led by director-general Mark Thompson.

One focus point of the review will be ’streamlining the BBC’s online services’ to ‘narrow the focus on distinctive content and help to create a more open BBC’, the Trust said in a release yesterday.

This includes considering which online services could be stopped

“The Trust recognises external concerns over scale and growth of BBC online operations. Equally, it’s an immensely popular service with audiences and an important tool for the UK economy,” said Sir Michael Lyons, chairman of the Trust.

“We have no intention of diluting BBC commitment to universal access to free news online. But beyond that we want to question honestly what licence fee payers really expect to get from their licence fee and what they might be surprised to see the BBC doing in the online world.”

At the Society of Editors conference last week David Holdsworth, controller of English regions, discussed BBC Online plans to bring in RSS feeds from newspaper websites – just one example of how the corporation could be a better neighbour to local media, he said.

The Trust said Thompson’s review must take these kind of relationships into consideration and ask ‘how can the BBC work with the rest of the industry to ensure its investment creates the greatest possible value?’ This question has been a sticking point for many local media groups following the dispute over the corporation’s plans to increase its local video offering online, which were later rejected by the Trust.

Additionally, sharing or linking the BBC’s websites with other public or not-for-profit cultural and creative organisations, such as community radio services, should be looked at, the Trust recommended.

The first findings of the review will be published in early 2010 and opened to public consultation.

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