An experiment with Storify, showing quite an interesting little spat between Labour peer John Prescott and the Sun over this credit card story. Unusually (perhaps even for the first time), the Twitter exchange directly led Prescott to refer the paper to the PCC.
I was happy to read this restrained rant against photo filters by one of CNET’s tech writers, Stephan Shankland. Led by Instagram with 7m users, photo filter apps have become increasingly popular as iPhone photographers recast ofen banal subject matter into bright, poppy, retro images. That is, 7m users reliving a design aesthetic that they probably weren’t alive for. Previously these kind of effects were painstakingly achieved through box cameras and the like, but as Facebook has decided to piggyback on Instagram’s success and add filters to its photo editing tools, what was previously an indie hobby is becoming increasingly mainstream. Incidentally, Facebook thinks it has about 60bn photos on its database. SIXTY BILLION lomo-fied photos, all over your news feed.
I genuinely dislike these photo filter apps – the most popular being Instagram and Hipstamatic (even the names are intolerable) – and find it surprising that a generation of super-connected people choose to filter their lives through an artificial aesthetic which belongs to the 1970s. Pop culture’s nostalgia for history, to recast the present against the golden haziness of the past is hardly anything new, as testified by the ongoing popularity of retro dramas like Mad Men, or (in the UK) The Hour. But the tendency seeps across the media more widely, to interesting, if not always commendable, effect. Take Foreign Policy, which chose to host a photo essay on the war in Afghanistan dubbed “The War in Hipstamatic“. The essay consists of a series of highly coloured photographs of the war in Afghanistan which recall, to borrow Hipstamatic’s own chirpy tagline, ”the look and feel of plastic toy cameras from the past”.
The NYT’s Damon Winter has won plaudits earlier this year for a similar project – so clearly not everyone feels quite as offended as I do by this. Indeed, Winter writes an articulate defence of his choice, saying that using Hipstamatic has no effect on the actual content of his war photography. It is worth reading in full.
What has gotten people so worked up, I believe, falls under the heading of aesthetics. Some consider the use of the phone camera as a gimmick or as a way to aestheticize news photos. Those are fair arguments, but they have nothing to do with the content of the photos.
I disagree. Recasting Afghanistan in grainy colours feels, at gut level, like an insult both to journalism and the soldiers who face a much greyer reality on a daily basis, and the aesthetics actually distract from the content.
Of course, you could ask how far this snobbery should trickle down, and to what extent using any filters in photography is trickery. The simple answer is that I don’t know; I’m not inherently against people experimenting with Diana cameras or or Polaroids. But with more and more people taking retro photos as the norm, rather than the novelty, this insistence on recasting the present is going to get tiresome at best.
Filed under: Media
Rupert Murdoch’s biographer, Michael Wolff, is a peculiar character. In appearance not unlike Murdoch himself, he has emerged over the last few weeks as a curious mix of spokesman and whistleblower – and it was in this double role he continued at an LSE debate on Murdoch’s future. Having inveigled his way into the centre of the Murdoch family fold – essentially because no one stopped him, he claims – he has somehow navigated their complex relationships to convey how inextricable the family dynamic is from the inner workings of News Corp.
Personal politics: all of my folks hate all o’ your folks
Pie-blocking-ninja-wife Wendi hates Rebekah. Elisabeth hates Rebekah. All the Murdoch kids hate Wendi. News Corp execs hate Wendi. Rupert can’t take anyone’s side for fear of antagonising the kids or Wendi. That’s roughly the gist of the interpersonal relationships.
Rupert: the man
After that performance in the Parliamentary select committee, Rupert’s reputation as a media dynamo is somewhat on the wane – with Wolff, as Will Sturgeon puts it, sticking the boot in. But there are curious contradictions in Wolff’s observations – since I haven’t read his account, I can’t determine whether that’s because Wolff isn’t a particularly astute observer, or because Murdoch is himself contradictory. The latter, I suspect. Wolff describes Murdoch – to whom he consistently refers by his first name – as “autistic” and “aspergistic” in his interpersonal failures, and apparent inattention. Yet in the same breath, he claims this is a man who spends the majority of time worrying about, and being “in love with his family”.
Wolff is asked, bluntly, “Do you like him?”. A long pause follows, then, “Yes. I did like him.”
Murdoch’s personality isn’t, in and of itself, necessarily that interesting but provides a helpful backdrop for…
Lying to Parliament?
Discussing the select committee, Wolff is adamant in his insistence that Murdoch Sr., at least, was not performing. He later said – though he didn’t outright accuse the family of lying – that Murdoch “knew everything” about what happened at his papers, which means that the majority of his Parliamentary statements were nothing but performance. The consequences of Murdoch and his son lying to MPs have been chewed over many times elsewhere, so I won’t go into it.
Keeping the Times/Sunday Times taint-free
Wolff hints, with serious implications, that the Times (which has asserted its editorial independence throughout the hacking claims) was not free from interference. He offers little by way of proof however, beyond accounts of phone calls to editors and a pervasive culture at News International to do everything possible to please the top boss. The implication being that, without direct instruction, editors took certain decisions – like cutting articles inconvenient to Murdoch’s business interests - to keep things flowing smoothly. Wolff’s radical solution – which will no doubt cause smirks at Kings Place – is for News International to drop the Sun (another toxic brand, presumably) and keep the Times and ST free of the taint by…putting them in a trust, not dissimilar to the Scott Trust/Guardian arrangement, to “save British journalism”.
Amsterdam is very cool, though not so much for the ‘usual’ activities. In the few days I was there last week, I tracked down BRIGHT - a Dutch technology and lifestyle magazine. Essentially Holland’s version of Wired, the April edition of BRIGHT covered trends in crowdsourcing, tablets and ran a long feature measuring the merits of Spotify Premium vs iTunes. Spotify Premium won, though I’d struggle to tell you why as my Dutch is pretty patchy.
Visually pleasing and ‘trendy’ though it is, BRIGHT is perhaps slower on the uptake than its international cousin – at least when it comes to covering the global technology. For example, this month’s issue featured that pretty Facebook graphic wot was designed by a talented intern, plus the Guardian’s Wikileaks cables tool for its ’Big Data’ feature.
But what was pretty exciting was BRIGHT’s ‘Crowdpleasers’ feature – 6 in-depth profiles of innovators who had successfully used crowdsourcing technology. And they were all Dutch, making this a genuinely useful insight into the local tech scene. A quick summary of the profiles, for those whose Dutch is even poorer than mine (I’d advise using Google Chrome, which will translate enough to give you a jist):
- Valentine van der Lande: Founder of TenPages, a place for aspiring writers to try and get a book deal by publishing the first 10 pages of their manuscripts online. Readers can then buy a share – and once 2000 shares have been bought, the book gets published.
- Alexander Veltman: Founder of BoomerangCreate, where online creative types can take on ‘assignments’ to create work and upload it to an online gallery.
- Dylan Verheul: Founder of Waarneming. An amazing crowdsourcing project where nature watching enthusiasts record sightings of different creatures and species – the point being that if a particularly rare animal is spotted, other enthusiasts know where to look.
- Roy Kremers: Founder of Voordekunst, a beautiful art site which invites donations from site visitors to crowdfund artistic projects which are displayed on the site.
You can read more about BRIGHT here (in English).
Filed under: Media
This is some coverage I did for Journalism.co.uk on a talk given by Starsuckers director and journo-prankster Chris Atkins on tabloids fabricating news.
The tabloid press is adopting increasingly ‘murky newsgathering’ tactics according to a documentary maker who exposed UK tabloids for publishing false celebrity stories.
Speaking at a Media Society debate on Wednesday night, ‘Starsuckers’ director Chris Atkins called for better self-regulation among British newspapers and accused them of colluding to keep the public ignorant of media malpractice.
“When pharmaceuticals and the police are up to no good, everyone reports it. But when journalists are up to no good, no one reports it,” he said.
Atkins focused his criticism on the News of the World after it attempted to stop the release of his film, which showed one of the newspaper’s journalists taking details of a false story.
“They will fight privacy laws and restrictions, but when you criticise them, they will do everything to shut you down.”
In the course of making the Starsuckers documentary, Atkins’ team planted a fake story about Amy Winehouse’s hair catching fire.
“It’s the same journalists who write about Amy Winehouse’s hair [catching fire] who then write something about global warming,” he said.
He added that a tabloid tendency to promote showbiz reporters to senior editorial positions took the problem beyond celebrity gossip stories. “Why do [the Sun’s] Bizarre reporters get to be editors? They don’t check facts, and then you have the Sun saying there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” he said.
But former editor of the People Bill Hagerty defended tabloid behaviour:
“I disagree that people lie about news across all areas. I reject the thought that many journalists start out to falsify news. It’s a few bad apples, and it’s not huge.”
Hagerty also held the online ‘welter of media’ responsible for falling standards in print journalism, but maintained that false reporting was not a widespread practice:
“It’s true that reporters don’t go out any more, and news is often web driven. The press is in very bad shape, but it isn’t driven by people who want to make up stories.”
Though the phone-hacking saga kicked off in 2008, the story has reignited recently after the New York Times published a lengthy feature article last month and Channel 4 aired its Dispatches investigation last night. There is renewed pressure on former NoW editor Andy Coulson to admit knowledge of NoW reporters’ hacking private phone conversations and increasing public awareness and disgust with the tabloid ‘dark arts’.
On Tuesday evening, two journalists from well-regarded media institutions accused the academic science community of remaining locked up in ivory towers during a panel discussion on climate change. The basis for this accusation was ‘Climategate’ (sigh, I’ll keep the scandal+’gate’ rant for another post), where UEA scientists were accused of manipulating climate research data to hide flaws. Not only did scientists refuse to answer FOIs, but hid in ‘ivory towers’ as the scandal broke, they said. (I wrote more about this here).
Impossible, they said, to keep the stories balanced because scientists were so reluctant to communicate. Ironically, the one actual scientist scheduled to appear on the panel didn’t turn up.
I just had this e-mail from the Times, because I’m signed up to preview their new website which launches at the beginning of June.
Filed under: Law, Media | Tags: carter-ruck, defamation, frontline club, libel law, media law, press freedom
It was too good to be true – Carter Ruck and Simon Singh in the same room! Debating libel law! Rargh!
In the wake of the online campaign to reform British libel law, the Frontline Club put together a panel to debate privacy, gagging orders/superinjunctions and whether current laws are a threat to press freedom in the UK.
On the panel were Nigel Tait for Carter-
F..Ruck; David Leigh, Guardian investigations editor (he testified during the Trafigura case); science journalist Simon Singh and a slightly nicer lawyer called David Hooper just to make Nigel more comfortable. I had been hoping for bloodshed but sadly there was none. Though the Carter-Rucker did turn up with a ‘The Guardian hates me’ badge pinned to his lapel. (more…)
Continuing new media’s obsession with giving new labels to well-established hack habits, patch journalism is back in vogue under the guise of ‘hyperlocal’ websites. Small-scale bloggers, tweeters and enterprising journalism grads are springing up to replace tired, understaffed local media outlets to cover their areas.
These online communities have sprung up to replace dying local print coverage which might cover a wider region without any depth. New sites covering anything from a single posh road in London to a village in the West Midlands have sprung up, but it’s all on a micro-news level. We’re talking about the opening of a new Tesco, here. Or changes to bin collection dates. Suddenly(ish) this is all very sexy stuff.
Who exactly has the time to set up all these local enterprises? Super awesome journalism graduates of course, young talent who can’t squeeze themselves through the increasingly narrow Big Media doors. Equally, they may not be employed simply because their new-fangled skillsets of internet-based research, digital know-how and multimedia dabblings don’t quite fit into the average print organisation yet.
The independent journalist
The site, according to Hannah, covers events of extreme local interest. Her first public post announced that Bournville had made Open Street Map. This was followed up with a report on a shooting incident only a couple of days later, which the Birmingham Post subsequently picked up. But hard news isn’t the priority; the community is. Hannah suggests that hyperlocal journalism is a ‘different entity’ to traditional reporting altogether:
“Bournville Village isn’t out there to offer something better/alternative to traditional journalism…It is just trying to help build links between the community in Bournville which have perhaps been lost in some ways.”
Like many British online media trends, hyperlocal journalism is an immigrant from America. As local papers collapsed, local bloggers rose to become authoritative news and opinion makers. But bloggers are fearful of potential libel cases, and indeed there is no comforting media parent to provide the funds should someone bring a suit. Hannah therefore leaves hard news to the established print outfits in favour of stories which buoyed the community spirit: “Positive stories which highlight good points about the community work best. People want to feel proud of the area they live in.”
It’s pretty brave to try going hyperlocal on your own; the practicalities of sustaining enough content for your site mean there’s little time to try a give it a solid financial structure. But there’s been one very solid outcome for Hannah – after launching Bournville Village, she was offered three jobs before taking one at social media agency Podnosh. That’s an outcome most young British journos would be happy with for now.