Monthly Archives: November 2009

Model for a 21st Century Newsroom – in Spanish

In April Maxim Salomatin translated the Model for a 21st Century Newsroom series into Russian. Now Mauro Accurso has translated it into Spanish. All 6 parts, which make up around 10,000 or so words. It’s an incredible feat, and I’m enormously grateful.

News Diamond in Spanish

So, here they are, part by part:

  1. Part 1: The News Diamond –
  2. Part 2: Distributed Journalism –
  3. Part 3: 5 Ws and a H that should come after every story –
  4. Part 4: News distribution in a new media age –
  5. Part 5: Making money from journalism online: new media business models –
  6. Part 6: New journalists for new information –

(As an aside, The Spanish Press Association approached me last year for permission to translate it too but I’ve never seen it. Perhaps they got bored after part 1… or perhaps they’re just rude. Anyway, if you’ve seen it, let me know.)

Sun misjudges readers’ mood over Gordon Brown letter

The Sun is running a despicable campaign against Gordon Brown. But I’ve analysed the comments on its website – and readers disagree with its stance by a ratio of more than 3 to 2 (on top of which, there are now accusations that the Sun is censoring pro-Brown comments).

The paper has exploited the grief of Jacqui Janes over her son Jamie’s death in Afghanistan to attack the PM – because his handwritten letter of condolence was supposedly disrespectful due to sloppy writing and (disputed) spelling errors.

It’s loathsome journalism that ignores the effect of his disability (the PM is blind in one eye).

And it seems Sun readers are mostly on the Prime Minister’s side.

Of the 100+ comments on the story (don’t worry, I’ve nofollowed those links) when I checked, 111 expressed a view for or against Jacqui Janes or Gordon Brown (the rest commented on other issues or corrected people’s spelling errors). Of these:

  • 42 were anti Gordon or pro the Sun’s stance.
  • 69 were pro Gordon or anti the Sun’s stance.

So that’s more than 60% who don’t agree with the Sun, and less than 40% who do.

Sample comments from those who agree with the Sun’s stanceanti-gordon-brown

Some comments from those opposing itpro-gordon-brown


The Sun is channeling this woman’s grief into a personal attack on the Prime Minister.

It’s refusing to make allowances for his disability (maybe we could next attack the war wounded for being workshy benefit scroungers?).

And it’s facilitating her breaking data protection laws by releasing a recording of a private phone call.

The whole thing is sickening – let’s hope that observing its readers’ reactions will lead to an end to this (not that this happened in the Jan Moir case) – and preferably prosecution of the Sun over the data protection offence. What’s more, Daily Mail readers are pro Brown, too. The Sun has got this badly wrong.

Research: news execs still think they have a monopoly

Statistics from the American Press Institute paint a strong picture of the disconnect between news executives and readers that covers

  • how much content is valued by execs and readers,
  • how easy the two camps think it is to find alternative sources of news; and
  • where readers would go if the website was turned off. That last question shows the biggest disconnect,

As reproduced below, an incredible 75% news execs think switching off their websites will drive people to their newspapers. Readers, however, are saying they would go to another local website, with other prominent alternatives including regional and national websites, TV and radio (note that news execs also feel that ‘local media sites’ will benefit but users disagree): Continue reading

Do something now: help change the daft defamation law on online publishing

Forget about turning your Twitter avatar green or adding a Twibbon, here’s something you can do today which can make a genuine difference to both professional journalists and bloggers: write to the Ministry of Justice as part of their consultation on defamation which has just a few weeks left:

“This consultation seeks views on the ‘multiple publication rule’ under which [people can be sued for every time a web article has been  accessed], and its effects in relation to online archives. The paper considers the arguments for and against the rule and the alternatives of a single publication rule.”

This consultation couldn’t have been published in a more user-unfriendly way. The consultation page consists mainly of a link to a PDF and a Word document (which was clearly written for an online form that was never created, even down to HTML coding).

There is no clear address to send your responses to. You’ll find it on the 4th line of the Word document. It’s Don’t worry, I’ll repeat that again at the end of the post.

UPDATE: have published the consultation in their trademark easy-to-respond form here.

Here’s what they’re asking (also hereherehereherehere and here), reproduced in a rather easier-to-navigate format and rephrased for slightly easier reading: Continue reading

“Mapped” writing model takes a layered approach to news

If the inverted pyramid as a writing form is tied to the printed page, what writing form does the web suggest?

That was the question asked by João Canavilhas of Portugal when he proposed the “tumbled pyramid,” a more open story architecture designed to encourage online navigation and personal reading paths. Canavilhas describes a new structure with four levels: base, explanation, and two levels of exploration.

I’ve wrestled with the same question. My solution: the “mapped” writing model (interesting how we reach out to new metaphors to replace old ones). Where my approach differs is its simplicity. The mapped model is really just a specific way to organize information. It assumes little change in how you, as the practitioner, define a story or function as a journalist. I’d like to explain the concept and how it rethinks the inverted pyramid.


The mapped model views the news story as a whole and parts. First comes a summary of the main elements. Then the story breaks into an orderly conversation of one element or thread at a time. It’s up to the writer to define the content threads. Each thread starts with a subhead that clearly conveys what comes next, for example: “what happened,” “what witnesses saw,” or “next steps in the process.” The subheads function as a map, telling readers ahead of time where the story will lead, what turns in the road they can expect, and reminding them where they are. This form seems to work best on longer news and feature stories.

Below is a simple example of a mapped story I wrote recently for our community newspaper. I presented the story experimentally in a simple Flash file, to see how it might look on the web. You won’t be wowed by zippy graphics. It’s meant to show how the subheads can become the means of navigation, literally. On the web you could also present this story as a continuous text, with subheads set into the story, acting as signposts.


I developed this model as a news designer a few years ago as I tried to imagine ways to make stories easier to read.

I was troubled by what seemed like information chaos in many news stories dealing with complex topics. With a background in writing, I began to analyze how stories were built. I used color markers to highlight the various categories or threads present in a story, wherever they showed up in the text (I choose the colors at random). For example, “background” might turn up as a block of yellow in the second paragraph, then again in the sixth paragraph, then as a chunk toward the end of the story. Fully deconstructed, the story might contain six or eight threads, showing up as a patchwork of colors. Continue reading

Troubleshooting WordPress: A quick DIY guide

WordPress is being used for thousands of blogs because of how powerful it can be. However, that can often be its downfall and many blog owners come across problems while extending and customising their blog. Being a free platform, there’s no support other than the forums so here’s a quick DIY troubleshooting guide.

Essentially, WordPress is made up of 3 parts;

  1. Core – the bare bones of WordPress, without any plugins or themes.
  2. Themes – the theme controls the look and feel of your blog, the part your readers see.
  3. Plugins – extra functionality or features are provided by these extensions.

When a problem arises the cause will likely be in one of these three areas. Go through these steps to try to find out where the problem lies;

  1. Revert to the default theme that comes with WordPress.
  2. De-activate all your plugins.
  3. If you’ve edited any of the themes or plugins you’re using, revert to the original.
  4. If the problem persists, it may be an issue with the WordPress Core. Try upgrading to the latest version if you’re not up-to-date.
  5. Or, if the problem goes away; start re-activating each of your plugins, checking for the issue after each one. If it’s a plugin issue it’ll be obvious which plugin has the problem, and you can contact that plugin’s author.
  6. If you’ve re-activated all the plugins and the problem hasn’t come back, re-activate the theme you were using. If the problem comes back it could be either;
    1. the theme is clashing with one of your plugins (go back to step 2) or
    2. the theme is trying to use a plugin that you haven’t activated; check the ‘readme’ or ‘install’ file that came with the theme.

Once you’ve done all that, if you still find yourself with the problem, take a screenshot of the problem and search for any error message you get. It might also be worth searching for the error on the WordPress support forums. If you’re still stuck, pray to your chosen deity.

Philip John is a freelance consultant providing WordPress installation, customisation, training and support. He is the technical geek behind The Lichfield Blog and you can find out more on his blog.

We need this: Lashmar launches blog for journalism events, publications, etc.

Investigative journalist and lecturer Paul Lashmar has launched a much-needed blog listing upcoming journalism events, books, and other useful tidbits for those following the profession/craft/hobby. The blurb runs:

“Keep up to date on the big name journalism lectures and conferences. Find out what new journalism book is worth reading. What’s happening with Britain’s repressive libel laws? Which university’s journalism degrees are the best? Who is doing important media research?”

It’s called The Rubicon and can be found here.

Twit-Fit of the Week: It’s Monday, so let’s Wibble about Twitter…

Articles in newspapers complaining about bloggers and twitter users seem to come along like bills from the taxman – at a rate of about 5 a week.

We have had the remarkable exhibit of Janet Street-Porter (or “Janet Self-Publicist”) complaining about “publicity seeking bloggers“, and more recently Rachel Sylvester starting a pop-psychology consultancy practice for sad and lonely individuals possessed by the Twitter demon.

Last Monday, Nicholas Lezard, the usually literate writer for the Guardian and the Independent, had what I would call a “Twit-Fit”, wibbling furiously for an entire 700 words against Twitter – here.

This is my commentary cum translation. A little light relief for a Sunday, and I hope that Paul Bradshaw doesn’t give me an ASBO.

So you’re eating lunch? Fascinating

(I only read boring Twitter accounts)

Stephen Fry … Twitter

(faux introductory wibble … let’s set up the target)

I have nothing against Stephen Fry

(lots of my friends use Twitter, so I am not prejudiced … I have the right to quibble wibble)

but I CERTAINLY have something against Twitter

(pop-polemical wibble)

The name tells us straightaway

(pop-etymological wibble)

it’s inconsequential, background noise, a waste of time and space

(unintentionally self-revelatory wibble)

Actually, the name does a disservice to the sounds birds make, which are, for the birds, significant, and, for the humans, soothing and, if you’re Messiaen, inspirational

(arty-farty-Primrose-Hill-party wibble)

But Twitter? Inspirational?

(well, it isn’t when you can’t hear for your own ranting)

The online phenonemon is about humanity disappearing up it’s own fundament, or the air leaking out of the whole Enlightenment project

(I just managed to look over Nigel Molesworth‘s shoulder, and I cribbed a bit from his 2nd year philosophy test, Hem-Hem)

It makes blogging look like literature

(I have a whole quiverful of cookie-cutter stereotypes, and boy am I going to use them)

It’s anti-literature, the new opium of the masses

(Clickety-click! I taught Blue Peter how to prepare things earlier, and this one is from 1843)

It’s unreflective instantaneousness encourages neurotic behaviour in both the Tweeter and the Twatters

(Dear Damien Hirst, can I be your Press Officer ? )

Seriously, the Americans have proposed that “twatted” should be the past participle of “tweet”

(Obviously there are 300 million identical cardboard-cut-out idiots across the pond. Perhaps “stereotroped” should be the past participle of “stereotype”)

It encourages us in the delusion that our random thoughts, our banal experiences, are significant

(I want to be Alain de Botton when I grow up, Blankety-Blank)

It is masturbatory and infantile, and the amazing thing is that people can’t get enough of it – possibly because it IS masturbatory and infantile

(or ############, Yankety-Yank)

(redacted to avoid being sued by a certain award-winning journalist)

Oh God, that it should have come to this. Centuries of human thought and experience drowned out in a maelstrom of inconsequential rubbish.

(Does Andrew Keen or David Aaronovitch need a ghost-writer for when they are on holiday? )

Don’t tell me about Trafigura – one good deed is not enough

( don’t tell me about the hundreds of other achievements either; the last thing I need is facts – or reality – interfering with my opinions)

(My Rachel Sylvester piece includes a list of about 10 examples of how Twitter can be used positively that I compiled last March).

and an ordinary online campaign would have done the trick just as well

(bollocks …. no other online forum has anything like the permeability or reaction speed of Twitter)

It is like some horrible science-fiction prediction come to pass: it is not just that Twitter signals the end of nuanced, reflective, authoritative thought – it’s that no one seems to mind

(pleeeeeeeease … SOMEBODY … I’ll even write leaders for the Daily Mail)

And I suspect that it’s psychologically dangerous

( Was it Twitter that did for Gordon Brown?)

We have evolved over millions of years to learn not to bore other people with constant updates about what we’re doing,

(I didn’t consult my partner before writing this column)

and we’re throwing it all away

(which is what would have happened if I had consulted my partner)

Twitter encourages monstrous egomania, and the very fact that Fry used Twitter to announce that he was leaving Twitter shows his dependence on it.

(Unlike being an opinionated columnist, of course, Hem Hem)

He was never going to give it up. He’s addicted to it.

(And – finally – did I tell you that I am a self-qualified Doctor able to diagnose from afar)


Wrapping Up

I really have trouble understanding why some people just do not seem to appreciate the positive side of Twitter, although many of them seem to be general commentators inside the London media bubble.

I suspect that it could be that the main benefits of Twitter (and blogging) have made to make politics and media more permeable, and have made it possible for a far wider group of people to engage in the political debate without going through the media filter.

The point is that if you are inside the bubble and already get politicians reply to your emails in person because you work for an organisation they have heard of, then all of these seem to be unwelcome threats, rather than benefits or opportunities.

Bye-bye media bubble, I hope.

FAQ: What is the difference between monetising content and monetising audience? (etc.)

Another set of questions from a student (based on a discussion I did on Radio 4’s Today programme with Will Hutton) which I am answering in public:

1) What is the difference between monetising content and monetising audience?

What a great question. Monetising content means selling content or, more often, a container of content. So most news organisations sell a ‘newspaper’ as much as ‘news’. Although wire services like PA sell ‘news’ and, sometimes, ‘information’, their clients ultimately re-sell that as a print package. Continue reading

Clay Shirky on Twitter and the social media revolution

Here’s a great interview with Clay Shirky by GRITtv’s Laura Flanders.

Clay Shirky talks about the power of digital networking, and how social media  can do everything from cause revolutions to create whole new political parties when done right.

The simplicity of Twitter, of course, is its genius. It has the power to do so much by doing so little. But that’s not the only thing that’s simple about Twitter. The service itself was only intended to share 140-character messages with the world. Its significance is its evolution. Everything from @replying and retweeting to using hashes and symbols can be attributed to the users. It has brilliantly allowed users to define it – almost entirely. As Shirky points out, “Most of the uses of Twitter were not imagined by the designers of the service – they were managed by the users of the service.”

As Claire Cain Miller wrote in this NYT piece, Twitter exploded to unprecedented popularity by outsourcing “its idea generation to its users.” Continue reading