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Media

Could Brexit break the BBC? The tensions, the bewildering question of ‘balance’ — and how to get it right — Mark Damazer, Prospect Magazine

An impressively thoughtful piece from the former Radio 4 controller, on why the BBC is struggling to remain unbiased amid Brexit.

One senior presenter put it like this: “We should encourage debate… while being more militant about our core approach—that we are fact-based, and question and test all sides of the debate. We should not be doing vanilla ‘on the one hand’ versus ‘on the other hand’ journalism. I am sympathetic to the arguments about the danger of ‘false equivalence,’ and think we should be clear about the weight of arguments. But if a substantial number of people believe, so to speak, that bananas are blue we have to treat that seriously. Seriously, but robustly.”

This article also briefly covers some of the limitations of TV news bulletins, and explains why in some aspects radio performs better. I do find it difficult to watch a bulletin like the 10 O’Clock News (I think I even watched the piece he mentions from Mansfield, with my head in my hands). In that format, it is impossible to cover anything in real depth — and that seems to be the true problem at the moment.

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Screenshot of the text only version of the NPR website

The hurricane web

This post really underlines how media companies have taken the web in totally the wrong direction.

It shows how media organisations like CNN and NPR brought out lightweight “text only” versions of their websites to help hurricane-stricken areas with low bandwidth.

…in some aspects, they are actually better than the original.

Most importantly, it’s user friendly. People get what they came for (the news) and are able to accomplish their tasks.

It reminds me of the GDPR compliant version of the USA Today website, which many noted was actually a far better experience than the standard version that was filled with trackers and ads.

Think how brilliant the web could be again, if people removed all the crap from their pages and focused on what users actually need.

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This week I found out I won’t make the cut of that Scottish independence referendum documentary I was filmed for a few months ago. Due to a change in editorial focus, apparently.

It’s actually a bit of a relief because, as you’ll see from the original post, I wasn’t entirely comfortable with how it panned out. I could actually do without any hassle resulting from being on TV.

When I texted Alex about it, her reply was: “Oh good!!!!” You know it’s serious when four exclamation marks come out.

When I asked why, she said, “I was worried about your political views being on the BBC.” (To be honest, I think we should worry about all sorts of other people’s political views that are allowed on the BBC these days, but there we go…)

Still, it was interesting to be part of the process, and good to know my blog could still get noticed in this sort of way.

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The BBC Domesday Project

A fascinating long article on the BBC Domesday Project from 1986. This huge project celebrated the 900th anniversary of the Domesday book, with an ambitious modern-day take on documenting all of Britain.

The technology was so unique that became obsolete almost immediately. It required a special LaserDisc player connected to a BBC Master computer with a special controller. The price tag put it out of reach of almost everyone, even schools and libraries.

It’s a prime example of the challenges of digital preservation.

Moreover, copyright issues — as well as the sheer volume of content — have raised questions over whether some the content could ever be used again. It is certainly difficult to replicate the original experience (although a few YouTube videos give a flavour).

This article goes into some of the thinking behind the technology decisions, and makes a valiant case that the Domesday Project is not a failure, as some like to think of it.

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The FAQ as advice column

FAQ sections are derided by most content designers, myself included. But (as usual) it is not necessarily the format itself that’s the problem. Normally, the real problem is bad implementation.

This piece by Caroline Roberts makes a provocative case in favour of FAQs, by comparing them with advice columns.

The FAQ structure has held up for so long because it is a brilliant pattern. Think the Socratic method. Or the catechism. Or Usenet. Or “FAQs about FAQs.” Or — you guessed it — “Dear Prudence,” “Dear Sugar,” or any other popular advice column. Users will always have questions, and they will always want answers.

What makes FAQs troublesome is incorrect or lazy use. Lisa Wright has already shared what not to do, but perhaps the best way to start an FAQ is to choose each question with great care. For example, advice columnists spend plenty of time selecting what questions they will answer each week.

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The Apple Podcasts Chart is screwed. How should we replace it?

This article by James Cridland lays bare just how widespread the gaming of Apple’s podcasts chart is.

I have heard presenters pleading with their listeners to unsubscribe, then resubscribe to help improve their position in the chart. Apparently it works.

What I don’t understand is why Apple let this happen? I’m sure it’s not an easy problem to fix. But it surely can’t be as hard as penalising dodgy SEO tactics or email spam filters. What’s in it for Apple?

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Robert Peston: BBC not impartial during EU referendum campaign

I do think that they went through a period of just not being confident enough. Impartial journalism is not giving equal airtime to two people one of whom says the world is flat and the other one says the world is round. That is not balanced, impartial journalism.

It is often said (including by me) that if you are accusing the BBC of bias, it is probably because you are losing the argument.

But Robert Peston is not the first to make this point, that the BBC is giving equal platforms to viewpoints with very unequal merits.

It’s getting difficult to disagree that this is currently a major problem for the BBC. It is particularly acute on particular programmes, such as the Today programme, which is more interested in generating heat than light.

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After Chris Evans — Why women are leading the race for the breakfast slot

In a sense, it’s no surprise to see women as front-runners to replace Chris Evans as BBC Radio 2 breakfast show presenter. It is a scandal that, until recently, no women had a regular slot during the day on Radio 2 since the 1990s.

Radio 2 always explained that the male presenters were hugely popular. And I can think of several people who would likely switch off the Radio 2 breakfast show if Sara Cox were to get the gig. But as Miranda Sawyer notes:

[Sara] Cox and [Zoë] Ball are considered the women most likely to break Radio 2’s all-male daytime club because many men still think of them as “one of the lads”.

I am a relatively reluctant listener to the Radio 2 breakfast show. I’m not averse to Sara Cox per se.

But regardless of who takes over, Alex and I have already decided we will listen instead to Lauren Laverne when she takes the helm of the BBC Radio 6 Music breakfast show in January. I have avoided its current host Shaun Keaveny because… I find it too blokey.

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A lesson from Germany on how to cover far-right leaders

It’s a radical idea — interviewing extremists without pandering to their extremist ideas. It turns out that by asking them about their policy positions instead of just letting them bang on about their racist ideas, you can quickly show them up.

German television viewers found out Sunday night when the broadcaster ZDF ran a major interview with Alexander Gauland, a co-leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which capitalized on anti-refugee sentiment to earn its first-ever seats in the German Parliament last fall. Ahead of the interview, ZDF’s Twitter feed teased the interview as dealing with “climate change, retirement, digitalization—and without refugees.”

The resulting 19-minute interview, in which Gauland struggles to answer basic questions about his party’s positions on such issues, has been lauded by opponents of the AfD as masterful.

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Are we designers shamelessly good at self promotion?

An analysis of content about design — why people write it, how they look for it, and why it needs to be better.

Last year, we published and shared 4,302 articles and links with the community …

That’s a lot of links.

Most of them 5-minute Medium articles.

Not as thorough as we would like them to be.

Not deep at all.

Not as honest as our industry deserves.

This makes me wonder if my own approach — blogging daily with a link to and short remark about a 5 minute read — is wrong.

We definitely need to find more ways to write and think more deeply about design, and spend less time with superficial, self-promotional clickbait.

More on this from Khoi Vinh: Why designers don’t want to think when they read.

See also: Platforms, agile, trust, teams and werewolves — on why we need to see more stories about failure.

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How a Google Maps update lead to the promotion of fringe views

Google Maps made a small tweak to its interface so that the fully zoomed-out view displayed as a globe, rather than the Mercator projection it use before.

Peter Gasston noticed that the angle many news publications found was to cover the reaction from flat Earthers.

This gave ad-funded publishers their opportunity to get some attention money: a simple product update isn’t a story, but a manufactured controversy is…

The result is that a manufactured controversy about a minor product update has given false equivalency to the fringe views of a small band of crackpots so everyone can get a few pennies in advertising revenue. This is the attention economy in action, and it’s rotten.

Remember that repeating a lie — even while you make clear that it’s a lie — makes people more likely to believe it’s true.

This is how the media works these days. And it explains a lot about what’s going on in the world right now.

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Scotsman screenshot

It’s no wonder newspaper websites are in trouble. Their latest scheme is to “lock” content by turning it into squiggles unless you watch at least 6 seconds of an advert. Needless to say, this is a horrible experience, and only makes it all the more likely that I’ll turn away from certain websites.

I’m afraid to say that I know I’m going to have a dreadful time any time I try to read anything on the Scotsman or any other Johnston Press website. Every time, I am bombarded with a cacophony of offensive adverts, which grind my computer to a halt. And when they deign to show me the content I came for, more often than not it’s badly written, and clearly a rush-job by a stressed-out writer being made to churn out any old crap in the name of volume.

Why would I bother following a link to the Scotsman website again?

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From catfishing to unregistered religious marriages: finding news stories hidden In Plain Sight

This looks like a great initiative being driven by some journalists in the BBC.

It was in a conversation following the Grenfell Tower disaster, instigated by our former Director of News, James Harding, which brought about the In Plain Sight project.

In Plain Sight set out to get to those stories and tell them in a way that resonates with younger and more diverse audiences.

To do that, we’re not creating a new programme, platform or launching another BBC brand. We’re simply making sure sure that younger, more diverse members of staff are given a platform to pitch stories and then are producing and reporting those stories themselves across existing BBC outlets.

We have been running manager-free sessions, where we invite along staff from across the BBC to come and pitch ideas.

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Annoying online ads cost business

Results from a study of users of Pandora has quantified the effect of shoving adverts in users’ faces. As part of the experiment, a section of users were served fewer ads than normal, and another section were served more ads than normal.

…after 1.5 years of being exposed to the experimental conditions, people did use the service more, the fewer ads they were served. At the end of the experiment:

  • The low-ad group listened for 1.7% more hours weekly than the control group.
  • The high-ad group listened for 2.8% fewer hours weekly than the control group.
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Guardian Media Group digital revenues outstrip print for first time

The company’s annual report, which covers the 12 months to April 2018, shows the Guardian website attracted an average of 155m monthly unique browsers, up from 140m the year before, with an increased focus on retaining regular readers rather than chasing traffic by going viral on social networks.

Digital revenues — which include reader contributions and online advertising income — grew 15% to £108.6m, as income from the print newspaper and events business fell by 10% to £107.5m.

Could it be that — shock horror — focusing on quality rather than vapid clickbait is the sustainable business model journalism was looking for all along?

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The England v Colombia World Cup reports you were never meant to see

The Independent provides a peek behind the curtain of football match reporting with a tight deadline. Here are two unused match reports written for completely different outcomes of the England v Colombia match.

It’s interesting how both examples almost completely fizzle out after what is deemed to be the pivotal moment of the match is dealt with:

…a scoreline they saw out comfortably over the rest of the second half.

That was the moment that England lost this game and were knocked out of the World Cup…

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Childish Gambino’s This is America and how the internet killed the cultural critic

How considered criticism has been replaced by mindless churnalism collating stuff an under-pressure journalism has hurriedly gathered up on Twitter.

Floating to the top of my feed was an article in the Guardian: “This is America: theories behind Childish Gambino’s satirical masterpiece”. This video is popular, it said, then asked: “But what does it mean?”. Yes, I thought, that’s exactly what I’m here to find out. But instead of an answer, I got a summary of tweets and notes from Genius. No interpretations were drawn, no conclusions reached. Was it a masterpiece? The headline said so, but the piece just linked to tweets by Janelle Monáe and Erykah Badu.

I grew tired long ago of news stories that are basically just lists of other people’s tweets. I have even noticed BBC News doing this. Yet again, I’m left wondering if most of the media’s problems are with their own unwillingness to pursue quality.

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Revealed: How Britain’s biggest local TV company has “gamed” the BBC for licence fee payers’ money

Jeremy Hunt’s scheme to create a network of low-budget local TV stations was absurd from the get-go. Seven years on, it is clear that the scheme is a complete flop, with many of the stations unable to make ends meet.

In Scotland, STV2 — which was made up of five local licenses — is being closed down. The licenses appear to have been sold to the largest local TV company, That’s TV.

This BuzzFeed article outlines exactly how delightful this operation appears to be.

In summary, this is a company that seems to have been set up with the intention of exploiting the local TV model to extract license fee payers’ cash from the BBC in exchange for unusable local news reports made by inexperienced and poorly-paid reporters.

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Chinese firms pile in to sponsor World Cup 2018 amid Fifa fallout

As Western firms have begun to desert Fifa due to the corruption scandal, Chinese firms have seized the opportunity to “to get their brands in front of billions of global eyeballs”.

It has been noted that companies are more willing these days to take a stand (see also ABC cancelling a sitcom because its star is racist). But this appears to be a western phenomenon.

Chinese firms seem to have no qualms around being associated with Fifa. Perhaps this is a dimension to keep an eye on as China becomes more and more important on the global stage.

This year’s Fifa World Cup provides a unique opportunity for little-known Chinese companies to get huge amounts of exposure to global consumers.

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This was England ’90

How the Stone Roses story was bastardised by the music media. I’m not a Stone Roses fan, so I don’t recognise this specific account. But you often do get the sense that at least half of what music journalists say about music is… well… made up?

It was around this time that I started to get the first stirrings of a nasty feeling that my past was being sold back to me…. Suspicious accounts were given of the Spike Island concert as some kind of harmonious pilgrimage to a utopian musical bliss, without a single mention of the smell, the dodgy sound system, the deep techno warmup acts, or the gangs of ne’er-do-wells who clearly weren’t there for the music (and, conversely, referring to the venue as a ‘derelict wasteland’ when it had actually been reclaimed as a ‘green space’ several years previously), almost as though they might not actually have been there.

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The media vs tech battle that nobody can win

Yet again, Thomas Baekdal has a genuinely informative and enlightening take on the turf war the media is trying to wage against tech companies.

Essentially, traditional media and technology are trying to solve a similar problem — but from different directions.

We accept that newspapers can’t cover everything in exchange for a demand for higher quality reporting for the things they do pick. And we accept that, on channels such as YouTube, we will always be able to find the occasional piece of bad content, in exchange for the flexibility and the wealth of things that we can see.

It strikes me that we need to have both. We already knew that good journalism and high-quality media products will always exist. But they need to focus on making those high-quality products rather than constantly reacting in counter-productive ways to the perceived threat of technological change.

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Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica problems are nothing compared to what’s coming for all of online publishing

More on the hypocrisy of media organisation going after Facebook (which I recently wrote about).

What will happen when the Times, the New Yorker and other pubs own up to the simple fact that they are just as guilty as Facebook of leaking its readers’ data to other parties, for—in many if not most cases—God knows what purposes besides “interest-based” advertising?

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Publishers haven’t realised just how big a deal GDPR is

With the media still consumed with scrutinising Facebook, Thomas Baekdal once again points out that it is the media who appear to be less prepared to deal with privacy trends and comply with new regulations like GDPR.

It’s interesting that Thomas Baekdal has emphasised that this is not only important for compliance. But because it is becoming a fundamental expectation.

He notes the clear changes that Google and Facebook have made in reaction to GDPR. In contrast to publishers.

I have yet to see any publisher who is actually changing what they are doing. Every single media site that I visit is still loading tons of 3rd party trackers. They are still not asking people for consent, in fact most seem to think they already have people’s consent…

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Unsexy fundamentals focus: User experiences that print money

An extraordinary example of someone trying to give a publisher a lot of money — and the publisher making that experience as difficult as possible.

I’ve said before that I don’t have much sympathy for most publishers who are struggling. This is one example of exactly why many of their struggles are largely their own fault.

It beggars belief that a publisher should make it so hard to buy their product online. Many of them have a long hill to climb.

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Inside Facebook’s hellish two years — and Mark Zuckerberg’s struggle to fix it all

A very lengthy, but entertaining and informative, read about how everything went wrong for Facebook in the past two years, and why it is a mess of their own making.

While Facebook grappled internally with what it was becoming—a company that dominated media but didn’t want to be a media company—Donald Trump’s presidential campaign staff faced no such confusion. To them Facebook’s use was obvious. Twitter was a tool for communicating directly with supporters and yelling at the media. Facebook was the way to run the most effective direct-­marketing political operation in history.

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It’s the (democracy-poisoning) golden age of free speech

You may think you’ve read it all from people complaining that the likes of Facebook are threatening free speech. But this is a genuinely smart, thought-provoking article on the wide-ranging ways society need to rethink its approach towards freedom of speech.

We are particularly susceptible to glimmers of novelty, messages of affirmation and belonging, and messages of outrage toward perceived enemies. These kinds of messages are to human community what salt, sugar, and fat are to the human appetite. And Facebook gorges us on them.

I have thought before that we need to start thinking about ‘eating your digital greens’. Which means being wary of processed content (processed through an algorithm, that is), and ensuring you seek out a balanced diet of content from different sources and perspectives.

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Ed Yong: I spent two years trying to fix the gender imbalance in my stories

…I looked back at the pieces that I had published in 2016 thus far. Across all 23 of them, 24 percent of the quoted sources were women. And of those stories, 35 percent featured no female voices at all. That surprised me. I knew it wasn’t going to be 50 percent, but I didn’t think it would be that low, either. I knew that I care about equality, so I deluded myself into thinking that I wasn’t part of the problem. I assumed that my passive concern would be enough. Passive concern never is.

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Podcast listeners really are the holy grail advertisers hoped they’d be

On average, according to Midroll’s data, podcast listeners are making it through about 90 percent of a given episode, and relatively few are skipping through ads.

This is interesting, and in the detail is some cheering news for podcast listeners.

But I wonder how long it will last? I’ve been listening to podcasts for well over ten years, but I am becoming increasingly tired of the ads that are taking up more and more time during my day.

As ever, it’s a balancing act. News publishers messed this up big time by bombarding their website users with horrific ad experiences. Podcasters have to be careful not to go the same way.

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There is so much positivity in the digital world of media

As ever, Thomas Baekdal is brilliant and insightful on where traditional media companies are getting it so wrong. He compares the consistently negative focus of news outlets to successful YouTubers, all of whom are filled with “excitement and positivity”.

[I]t makes traditional journalists appear reactive, while digital natives appear proactive…

You can’t just be negative. You also have to give your readers hope and invite them to join you on a journey into a better future.

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Predictions for digital and social marketing in 2018

Gary Andrews with some thoughts on what we might see in the coming year in the digital and marketing worlds.

There are lots of astute points here, not least on the hot potato of the moment: relationship between the tech giants and publishers.

One phrase that has been bandied around a lot towards the end of 2017 has been from publishers proclaiming their “pivot to readers”. At a basic level, this is the publisher’s way of saying we’ll no longer be beholden to platforms like Facebook and Google and will concentrate on building our own brand through focusing on our core readership instead.

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The media perspective on burger emoji: An unexpected analysis

The burger emoji: A first-hand analysis of the media coverage

Media analyst Thomas Baekdal unexpectedly went viral last month when he tweeted about the inconsistencies between the burger emojis for Apple and Google. He has published two articles about it. The first examines why his tweet went viral. The second investigates how the media reacted.

The analysis paints a rather negative picture of the media.

…look at the very familiar pattern of the stories posted by the media. They are all focusing on Google’s CEO saying he will do something.

Think about all the other stories that journalists cover on a regular basis. How many of those have the same inherent problem of being antagonistically focused, with a scandal-first lens regardless if the underlying topic is politics, business, or general human interest?

For what it’s worth, of course the cheese should be on top.

(I have written before about ambiguous emojis.)

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