Monthly Archives: June 2010

Let's stop this 'Curation is King' crap right now

Here comes another chant for publishers to reassure themselves with. ‘Curation is king’ is becoming a cliche so quickly I probably don’t have to explain it. The idea runs thus: we are so overwhelmed by information now that the role of publishers is not to gather the information so much as to filter it, manage it and present it.

Isn’t that convenient.

…Because they were doing that already.

Like ‘Content is king’, ‘Curation is king’ is a comfort blanket for the afflicted, a sticking plaster for injured pride. It says nothing about the new environment in which we’re operating; it suggests we do nothing other than more of the same; and it suggests our old position as arbiters of The Truth is unaltered.

And it’s a pile of crap.

Yes, curation is an important part of how information is disseminated online, but in a networked environment curation doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to the behaviour of a million internet users measured by an algorithm, and to the six degrees of separation in our social networks. We’re in there somewhere, like an Indian traffic policeman, but let’s once again not conflate the act with the platform.

The problem with ‘curation’ is that it’s a misnomer. As one actual curator said:

“We go to museums to define ourselves, the world and the civilisation around us. If the curator is devalued cheapened through this woolly thinking then museums could lose all respect as cultural bastions. When I asked what the most important function of curators was, we saw how complex and varied the job was and not a single person said “selecting“.”

So if curation is king in online journalism I guess I missed the coronation. Curation is a usurper, here to distract us from the bloody mess we’re in with the message ‘Business as usual’.

If curation is king I say it’s time for some regicide.

Skiff: Murdoch tries to buy the news platform. Again.

News Corp’s acquisition of the Skiff e-reader platform has been widely reported in the last few hours. It’s a completely sensible move from an organisation which understands that it has to control every part of the news chain if it is to extract as much value as possible from content, advertising, and user data.

Of course we’ve been here before with MySpace – a distribution network, database, and content platform that Murdoch acquired to howls of derision – then applause, when an enormous advertising deal was brokered with Google – and derision once more as MySpace failed to meet targets stipulated by that deal.

Skiff, however, is a rather different proposition. Interestingly, News Corp have bought the software but not the device it was supposed to run on. That may be because it was already developing one.

I’m not sure whether it is a wise move to compete with the technical expertise and experience of Amazon and Apple – but you can bet that, commercially, News Corp has a very strong hand.

One point to note is that Apple’s business model is primarily based on selling devices; Amazon’s is mainly about selling things; but News Corp is mainly about selling the intangibles of advertising and content. That may give them cause to discount their technology heavily as a mass-market offering to tie people in, and acquire customer data.

News Corp is a network, not just a series of holdings. And the latest acquisitions suggest they’re not going to let someone else control their market without a fight. The question is: how soon will they put the gloves on? And how hard, and long, can they fight?

More from #JNTM: Flawed thinking behind government local TV plans

Following on from the previous post, another government policy up for criticism at this week’s Journalism’s Next Top Model conference was the much-mooted local TV plans.

This was a recurring theme of Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt‘s speeches while in opposition, and this week he announced that Nicholas Shott, Head of UK Investment Banking at Lazard, will “look at the potential for commercially viable local television stations within the local media landscape right across the nations and regions of the UK.”

Roger Parry – credited with much of the thinking behind Hunt’s proposals – backed the plan, seeing it as being more about local multimedia than local TV. He expected around 80 local TV stations to be made available on Freeview with a consumer-focused mix of programming (gardening, DIY, etc.) and sponsorship rather than spot advertising.

But Clare Enders (Enders Analysis) and Will Perrin (Talk About Local) were hugely sceptical of the commercial basis for a local TV market in the UK.

Enders pointed out that while local newspaper advertising was worth £2.6bn this year, £1bn of that came from classifieds – a form that doesn’t translate to TV (ITV’s previous experiments with ‘video classifieds’ was, she said, a “disaster”).

She also highlighted the vast differences between the US local TV market – where national networks support state affiliates and states have their own “separateness” – and that in the UK where, she predicted, impending budget cuts “will kill some local economies – not inspire ad growth. It will get worse.”

“[Local TV] hasn’t panned out and my goodness has it been looked at in the past couple of decades.”

Government 'doesn't understand economics' over relaxing ownership rules – media economist

On Wednesday I spoke at the thoroughly enjoyable Journalism’s Next Top Model conference at Westminster University. Highlight of the day was keynote speaker Robert Picard, a media economist able to separate publishers’ sense of entitlement from the hard realities of economics and business (mis)management.

Journalism will survive, he said, because there will always be a demand for it. But most print publishers will die because over the past few decades they quite simply haven’t managed their accounts responsibly. While a typical business should have a debt-to-equity ratio of around 1:1, some publishers have racked up ratios ranging from 6:1 to 66:1.

“If you haven’t managed your balance sheet you get in trouble in a recession. Do I feel bad for them? No. They made stupid mistakes.”

One particular mistake highlighted by Picard was the switch in the 1990s from making acquisitions with stock to making acquisitions with debt.

“All the newspapers were making profits when they went bankrupt,” he pointed out. It was their handling of debt that killed them.

I asked Robert about the government’s plans to relax (and consider removing) local media ownership rules – and whether that would indeed create the environment for entrepreneurialism they want to encourage. His response was simple: “You don’t encourage competition by relaxing ownership rules.

“They don’t understand economics,” if they thought that would happen, he continued. “We need people to start more media organisations, not merge into fewer organisations.”

Picard seemed to feel that the Dutch government’s moves to provide funds to help news organisations restructure, or to re-skill journalists, were more intelligent responses.

Salon Sunday June 13 8pm: Philip John of the Lichfield Blog

Salon Sunday is an experimental live chat on the Wardman Wire blog at 8pm on Sundays, aiming to encourage conversations across politics, media, technical and other online niches.

q-photo-lichfield-sammyThis Sunday our interviewee will be Philip John, who founded the Lichfield Blog. The blog is a local news blog opened after the local newspaper closed down, and focuses on “all things Cathedral city since January 2009“. The site has three main editors, a host of contributors, and currently attracts a readership in excess of 10k unique visitors each month. You can read more about the site here, or follow on Twitter at lichfieldblog or philipjohn.

Phil also has an interest in the future of news media – for example what is going to happen to local media, and what opportunities will be opened up when Rupert Murdoch introduces the Times Online paywall – and is convenor of the West Midlands Future of News group.

I’ll publish a longer profile of the blog on Friday at around lunchtime at the Wardman Wire.

If you have any questions to put down in advance, or want to be kept up to date by email, please make a comment below, please leave a comment below.

I’ve tried a couple of different formats for these experimental webchats – one heavily Twitter based, the other having a podcast interview published first followed by an informal chat. This week I’m announcing the interviewee a bit earlier in the week.

This week the pattern, starting at 8pm, will be:

  1. 20-30 minutes interview about the Lichfield Blog.
  2. 30 minutes follow up conversation.

Any help in promoting the event is welcome.

How incomplete context in reporting can feed bigotry about Islam

[Update – title edited. You can see the original in the filename]

This is an investigative/process piece looking at the development of a story that High Wycombe Council has spent money specifically creating a cemetary extension for Muslims, and the tensions that were stirred up in its wake. It is a piece by Alan Wilson, Area Bishop of Buckingham, a long established blogger.

I’m cross-posting it as an example of the type of narrative that bloggers can do very well, combining opinion with reporting to undermine a popular myth, and with critique of mainstream reporting along the way.

The key point I draw from the story is that a more distributed media gives a greater opportunity for “chinese whispers”, where questionable rumours to become the established orthodoxy by media sites and blogs reporting that “x has reported that y has happened” rather than going to the original source to find out if it *did* happen. Then a (dishonourable) justification is possible that “our story is accurate – we just reported what that other site was saying”.

That process also gives a deniable route for Publicists to leak claims and rumours into the public domain, and alliances of websites and blogs to promote claims which meet their political objectives. It is down to the standards of individuals, whether bloggers or reporters, how much depth of context we provide in each case.

One interesting question is how bloggers can adapt traditional journalistic values and practices in an approach which includes more elements than straight reporting. Equally, the wider media faces a similar challenge, in that opinion has become blurred into reporting in most news publications. This piece is clearly opinionated, but I think it avoids being a pure opinion piece.

This is the type of blogging that goes on day-in-day-out and doesn’t usually make the national papers, or draw the attention of the politicians or campaigning groups.

I’ve reposted the article including pictures to show Bishop Alan’s blogging style.

20100608-bishopalan-canardwycombeAt the last census, High Wycombe’s population was 92,300, of whom 10,838 were Muslim (11·7 %). If you prick them, do they not bleed? Like the rest of us, Muslims die. Therefore it can come as no surprise that there is a demand for Muslim burials in High Wycombe. The Local Authority has to meet this. Population is growing, and room running out. It would suit Hysterical Islamophobics to be able to say space had been clawed back from consecrated ground in the local graveyard; but that would be barmy because the other 88% of the population also continue to die, so there’s absolutely no sense in not extending the graveyard, and land is available.

Enter the Bucks Free Press with a story called “High Wycombe Cemetery Extension agreed for Muslim Burials.” This downpedals the fact that a cemetery extension was needed anyway, and points out that Muslims like be buried facing Mecca whilst omitting, curiously, to point out

  1. It doesn’t cost any more to bury people in new ground facing any particular direction
  2. The site in question snakes round a hillside in all directions, and where the majority orientation has been East, Mecca is basically East of High Wycombe anyway
  3. Since 11·3% of the town’s ratepayers are Muslim, they surely have the same right to be buried according to their wishes, if possible, as everybody else.

Next, as is the way with Flat Earth News, this scoop (that Muslims in High Wycombe die like everybody else – Shock! Horror!) is routed, via This is Local London, to the Daily Telegraph.

20100608-bishopalan-canardbosch56The Telegraph spins the story, by adding an anonymous local resident saying “Yet again many thousands of pounds [are] being spent pandering to the local Muslim community.” Apparently burying the dead is pandering to them.
I disagree. I don’t think High Wycombe is ready for Sky Burials quite yet.

The Telegraph also carries, final killer element, a quotation from the Bishop of Buckingham – oh, that’s me! – pointing out that people of all faiths and none are regularly buried in consecrated ground. This is hardly news, since it’s an obligation laid on the Church since time immemorial and legislated in the Burials Act 1880. The established church is delighted, of course, to fufil this basic civic obligation.

But, final link in the chain, the Telegraph story fulfils its purpose. On Saturday evening I receive a furious email from a gentleman in the North West. He had the character and decency to give his name, but can’t have expected me to use it publicly, so I won’t. I believe my correspondent is a good and decent man. This is his reading of the Telegraph:

Having just read an article where it states you are delighted to serve the Muslim community in allowing an extension of Muslim graves facing Mecca into the main graveyard in High Wycombe, Bucks. I would like to express my disgust at your support of such an action given how Christians throughout the world have and are still being persecuted by Muslims on the instruction of Islam.

I would ask you Sir, where was your support for Christians when Muslims desecrated the graveyard in St. Johns Church, Longsight, Manchester by destroying all the gravestones to make way for a mosque car park. The silence of the media and the Church on this issue, has been absolutely deafening.

By your appeasement and support for Islam you are feeding a hungry lion and when there is no more food to give it, it will turn on you, as can be seen in how Coptics are treated in their own cities in Egypt, a once Christian country. Not only are Muslims taken over our Churches they now want to invade our graveyards and the Church is sitting back and not only saying nothing but encouraging such actions.

It is an absolute disgrace and a very sad day for Christians in this once Christian country

20100608-bishopalan-canard-hatredI have to point out to him that I didn’t actually say what he thinks I did. This isn’t a churchyard so it’s none of my business who is buried there. But then my eye is caught by his tale of St John’s Longsight, which I had never heard of before, not being a recipient of Manchester BNP publicity. A video has been posted on the Internet of what I believe is called hard nogging being used as substrate for a carpark, with the strong implication that it is made up of Christian gravestones. This is the message my friend in the north West received, that Muslims have been “destroying all the gravestones to make way for a Mosque car park.”

Trouble is, the gravestones are still there. Indeed, you can see them here. The basic answer to my friend’s question (“where was my support for Christians…?) is that the whole story was a canard, a fiction designed to whip up inter-religious hatred. My correspondent, good and decent man that he is, bought the lie. The Daily Telegraph story in its sexed up form catalysed a response in him, and so the panjandrum of fear, suspicion and hatred gathers momentum.

20100608-bishopalan-canardninth-280I had to remind him, as the Christian he professes to be, that the Ninth Commandment is a Christian value. He does not care to admit that he bore false witness, although he patently did, and he goes on to suggest “the bottom line is not about this or any other story put out by the British press.”


Liberating Data from the Guardian… Has it Really Come to This?

When the data is the story, should a news organisation make it available? When the Telegraph started trawling through MPs’ expenses data it had bought from a source, industry commentators started asking questions around whether it was the Telegraph’s duty to release that data (e.g. Has Telegraph failed by keeping expenses process and data to itself?).

Today, the Guardian released its University guide 2011: University league table, as a table:

Guardian university tables, sort of

Yes, this is data, sort of (though the javascript applied to the table means that it’s hard to just select and copy the data from the page – unless you turn javascript off, of course: Continue reading

Mexican Senate uses Google Moderator for a Q&A session with citizenship

Built upon the Google Apps Engine, Google Moderator is the tool used by the Mountain View company’s executives to hold their town hall meetings that sometimes include Q&A sessions with thousands of people from all over the world. The software allows participants to submit questions and vote for those who want to meet with priority.

Google has announced on its official Latin American blog that the President of the Mexican Senate will use Google Moderator to answer questions to the citizenship next June 14th.

“El Senado Responde” (The Senate answers) is the site that will host all the questions from the Mexican public to Carlos Navarrete, President of Senate.

The Q&A session will also be broadcast live through the Senate Channel and website, and later will be uploaded to YouTube.

Political blogs and how people read them: Sunday Salon Webchat 8pm #onlinepolitics

Following on from last week’s experimental webchat about how different people make a small or a large income from their political blogs (debate starter, actual webchat), I am running another one this evening at 8pm.

There will be a Sunday Salon tomorrow (June 6th at 8pm), looking at different aspects of linking, promotion, how people read blogs and the interaction of blogs and Twitter.

The chat will be hosted at the Wardman Wire using CoverItLive. I will put out a few key points to Twitter using the hashtag #onlinepolitics, but the main debate will be on the blog.

As a discussion starter, this post includes a podcast interview (35 minutes) I recorded earlier this week with Dan Levy, who manages the UK website of Wikio.

We covered everything from the history of Wikio to how the rankings are compiled, how the Wikio service is used, and what developments will be happening in the future.

Any help in promoting the event is welcome. This will be the pattern:

  1. Article published to give a focus for the debate.
  2. Webchat on Sunday night 8pm-9pm.
  3. Publication of lightly edited script on the Wardman Wire, and circulation by email of a short analysis.

If you add a comment below I will email you with a reminder in future.

Get used to reading this…

“We have a team of developers going through the data now – and we’ll let you know here what we learn as and when we learn it.”

If you had any doubt over the concept of ‘programmer as journalist’, that quote above from The Guardian’s liveblog of the opening of the COINS database gives you a preview of things to come. While you’re at it, you might as well add in ‘statistician as journalist‘ and ‘information designer as journalist‘ – or look at my post from 2008 on New Journalists for New Information Flows. Are we there yet?