Monthly Archives: September 2009

Cervical cancer jab: how the newspapers have learned nothing from MMR

The UK media have learned nothing from the debacle over the MMR vaccine – where they relentlessly covered stories doubting the safety of MMR, putting the lives of children at risk (this is cross-posted from my blog).

They are continuing their habit of undermining public-health initiatives with their latest scare story about the safety of the cervical cancer jab, after the tragic death of a schoolgirl who had the vaccine the same day.

I’ve given each of the mainstream media an irresponsibility rating below – the Mail and Express are the worst scaremongers, followed by the Mirror and Times.

It’s calculated as follows:

  • A headline suggesting a causal link between the vaccine and the girl’s death – there is no evidence of this so far, the two events just occurred on the same day: 20 points
  • The use of a photo or words in the headline casting doubt on the safety of the vaccine itself (as opposed to, say, this being a one-off allergic reaction): 20 points
  • Calls for the vaccine to be banned: 20 points
  • No mention of how many lives the vaccine will save: 20 points.
  • Separate comment piece doubting the safety of the vaccine, or emphasis of other stories about vaccine problems: 10 points
  • Ill-informed user comments adding to the suggestion of unsafety. 10 points

Daily Mail: 90% irresponsible

Headline: First picture of girl, 14, who died after being injected with cervical cancer jab from ‘rogue batch’

  • The headline suggests a causal link. It makes claims of a ‘rogue batch’ in quotes where the only use of those words in the story are the journalist’s own.
  • It’s running a poll: “Should the cervical cancer vaccination be suspended”.
  • There are a lot of figures about side effects – no mention of actual lives saved.
  • The best rated comment is currently “Chemical experiments on our children.” The worst rated is “Many more deaths may occur without the vaccine to guard against HPV.” The comments section is appalling, frankly – full of ill-informed anti-vaccine scaremongering.

Express: 80% irresponsible

Headline: Girl, 14, dies after taking cervical cancer vaccine Continue reading

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The end of objectivity – web 2.0 version

paul bradshaw's facebook network

This week a new nail was driven into the coffin of the notion of journalistic objectivity. The culprit? The Washington Post’s leaked social media policy.

The policy is aimed at preserving the appearance of objectivity rather than its actual existence. It focuses on what journalists are perceived to be, rather than what they actually do.

And in doing so, it hits upon the very reason why their attempt is doomed from the start: Continue reading

What thelondonpaper’s death means for freesheets on the web

On 18 September 2009, beloved London evening freesheet thelondonpaper folded. In its wake, London Lite remains.

While the closure is part of a larger effort by owners News International to trim the fat from their portfolio and erect paywalls around profitable titles, it also speaks to the future of freesheets on the web.

Back in April, thelondonpaper re-launched their web site. What was interesting about that was that London Lite had effectively no web site. It still doesn’t — just a ‘e-edition’. Its content is “incorporated” with morning freesheet Metro.co.uk. Looking back, one has to wonder what would have happened if the money hadn’t been sank into the web presence. Would thelondonpaper still be around?

In a comment on a Guardian article about the closure, a now-former londonpaper web developer had the following to say about the redesign: Continue reading

When the lack of comments damages your news brand

If you want to skip the background, go to the next subheading

Last week the BBC Education website published a piece about a report into the use of technology by schoolchildren: “Tech addiction ‘harms learning'”:

“Technology addiction among young people is having a disruptive effect on their learning, researchers have warned,” the intro led, before describing the results of the study. No one other than the study authors was quoted.

But GP and Clinial Lecturer AnneMarie Cunningham, hearing of the report on Twitter, felt the headline and content of the article didn’t match up: “The headline suggests a causal relationship which a cross-sectional study could not establish, but the body of the text doesn’t really support any relationship between addiction and learning”, she wrote, and she started digging:

“It … was clear that none of the authors had an education background. The 2 main authors, Nadia and Andrew Kakabadse, have a blog showcasing their many interests but education doesn’t feature amongst them. They descibe themselves as “experts in top team and board consulting, training and development”.”

AnneMarie bought the report for $24.99 – the only way to read it – and started reading. This is what she found: Continue reading

Today’s online news: too much surface area, but too little depth?

Even though I had followed the latest financial crisis since its inception on every news site of relevance, I had to wait for the Atlantic’s cover story on the topic to understand where Wall Street had gone wrong (at least to the extent that anyone understood it).

While online news as it exists today is great for 24/7 access, real-time updates, increased transparency, and multiperspectival discussions, it still lacks the depth and detail of a feature story in a print magazine.

As a proponent of digital communication, I can appreciate the pervasiveness of news coverage in the online age, but as a student of journalism I often crave the completeness of long-form journalism, which is lacking on the Internet.

In a very enlightening article in the Nieman Reports’ fall edition, Matt Thompson brings up this very point about digital journalism. Thompson writes that while each new day brings with it an array of breaking news stories on various topics, virtually none of them purport to explain the significance, context or relevance of the subject at hand. Continue reading

Daily Mail has joined the American lunatic fringe

It’s Wednesday and the Daily Mail is still carrying a factually inaccurate story published the previous Sunday morning.

And it’s not like they haven’t been told it’s inaccurate, comment after comment in the 279 thus far point out exactly why they are wrong.

What’s interesting is exactly how come they are wrong. Continue reading

How newspapers SEOed Patrick Swayze’s death

When news breaks, if you want to do well in Google for relevant searches, publish early, publish often and put your keywords at the front.

The Guardian's Patrick-Swayze tag page

The Guardian's Patrick-Swayze tag page

From an SEO point of view, the more stories you can pump out targeting different (or even the same) keywords, the more chance you have of appearing at the top of Google’s search results – and scooping up the traffic.

Get it right, and you can appear twice in the web results – and twice in the news results that Google often shows above them for breaking-news-related searches.

Some of the newspapers may have taken this a little bit far with news of Patrick Swayze’s death

  • The Guardian published 15 stories today (Tuesday 15th), all available from its existing Patrick Swayze tag page. Do we really need 15 stories on this?!? About half had a title that began with ‘Patrick Swayze’.
  • The Telegraph published 10 pages, and while it doesn’t have as many tag pages as the Guardian, it did feature one of its two obituaries (here and here) as a link from its ‘hot topics’ list on its home page, giving it a boost in Google’s web-result rankings. The screenshot, below, shows that it may have run out of ideas to get to 10 pages – the two bottom ones shown are very similar. Also, nine out of 10 of these stories have a title beginning with ‘Patrick Swayze’. The other is just called ‘Dirty Dancing – time of your life’. Now that is front-loading keywords.
  • The Mirror pumped out 5 pages today, and also set up a tag page at some point during the day (they didn’t have one before lunch), hoping to target the searches for ‘patrick swayze’ (yes, they forgot to capitalise it in their haste to set it up). The titles of all 5 begin with ‘Patrick Swazye’.
  • The Independent published 4 pages.
  • The Times managed just 3 pages – maybe with a paywall coming they are less interested in SEO these days ..
  • The Sun published only 2 pages.
  • The Mail published just 1 massively long story – on top of its  existing tag page for the actor. Interestingly, the paper recently claimed it wasn’t interested in celeb stories to drive traffic (although I claimed Michael Jackson was behind its June ABCe success).

The papers weren’t all that successful in their SEO efforts.

The 4th and 5th most viewed stories seem a little bit similar ...

The 4th and 5th most viewed stories seem a little bit similar ...

US sites dominated Google’s results for a search on ‘Patrick Swayze’ and ‘Patrick Swayze death’. The Telegraph did though take the top two web search spots for a search on ‘Patrick Swayze obituary’.

Keith Floyd has also died – and it was a similar story in terms of volume of stories. The Telegraph, for instance, has published 8 stories and the Guardian, via its tag page, published 9. The Guardian pipped the Telegraph to win the results for a search on ‘Keith Floyd obituary’.

If you ever want to target what people are searching for around breaking news, I recently compared the different Google tools for a search on X-factor related terms. And if you want to see SEO taken to the dark side, check out this method of newspapers and paid links.