News is irrelevant. Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business. The point is: the consumption of news is irrelevant to you. But people find it very difficult to recognise what’s relevant. It’s much easier to recognise what’s new. The relevant versus the new is the fundamental battle of the current age. Media organisations want you to believe that news offers you some sort of a competitive advantage. Many fall for that. We get anxious when we’re cut off from the flow of news. In reality, news consumption is a competitive disadvantage. The less news you consume, the bigger the advantage you have.
The Amanda Knox verdict happened late enough at night that a lot of newspapers were desperate to publish their stories on the verdict in time for the morning editions – not to mention the perceived need to be first with the story online. A lot of news organisations were caught out by the order in which the verdicts were delivered (not least because they’d totally ignored one of the charges that the judges and jury were considering).
Yes, a lot of news organisations were caught out, but the Daily Mail had gone further, and written an entire news report about a guilty verdict: including an eyewitness account of Amanda Knox’s shocked reaction and those of the family and the lawyers:
Unfortunately, like many people, the Mail was caught out by the judge finding her guilty of slander – before clearing her of the murder. At the sound of the word “guilty”, they hit publish on a story about her appeal being rejected that includes reactions from the family and prosecutors being delighted – reactions that can’t have happened as she was found NOT guilty of murder.
Read the full account here: Hugely embarrassing: Daily Mail jumps gun on “Amanda Knox guilty” story » Malcolm Coles.
I got this via http://themediablog.typepad.com/
- ‘Daily Mail’ Jumps The Gun On Knox Verdict With Embarrassing Results (paidcontent.org)
- Hugely embarrassing: Daily Mail jumps gun on “Amanda Knox guilty” story (malcolmcoles.co.uk)
Alastair Campbell, former spin doctor, has blogged about the super-injunction saga, linking it to the phone hacking scandal. He points out the blatant hypocrisy of the press in breaking the “footballer” super-injunction because it hurts them where they live; whereas they’re largely silent on the question of law-breaking in the form of phone hacking when it suits them.
The papers are under pressure. Take away from their staple diet stories of kiss and tell and the synthetic anger and envy in which they specialise and the pressure grows. That is what the last few days have been about. Magna Carta? Cant. Freedom of expression? Hypocrisy, especially in light of the near blackout on phone hacking.
Sex sells, apparently. Celebs sell, apparently. What they are fighting for is the right to write about sex and celebs. Thats it.
Campbell also points out that the government are (as usual) running scared of the news media – for some reason, no politician thinks they can win an election without Murdoch’s support – and following their agenda.
Without sex scandals the tabloids have got nothing. Reading the text of the injunction granted to “CTB” (named in Parliament as Ryan Giggs) and it’s clear that one party was trying to make money from selling a story in the time-honored “kiss and tell” fashion. Hotel meetings were arranged simply so photographers could grab shots to illustrate the story. At the heart of all this is the question of “public interest”. The argument is always between what the public are interested in and what the public should or ought to know. The judges in the case have correctly consulted the newspapers’ own Code of Conduct and concluded that knowing about CTB’s private life does not meet their own definition of a “public interest”.
This is not a politician mis-using public funds, a banker bringing down the world’s economy or even a sportsperson breaking the law. It’s celebrity gossip. I don’t buy the argument that CTB “profits from his public image”. He’s not David Beckham. I personally had no knowledge of his marital arrangements and can only recall seeing him in a couple of TV advertisements, neither of which promoted his family image (e.g. he wasn’t shown playing on the Nintendo Wii with his kids). So the idea that he deserved to be exposed is nonsense. As David Hepworth pointed out on his blog, this kind of behaviour is probably true of 75% of footballers, rock stars, and other young men who earn lots of money and have lots of free time.
There’s a story here about a woman who (according to CTB) has sex with a man three times in (according to her) six months and then arranges for a photographer to follow her to a fourth meeting at a hotel. And a fifth. She’s either trying to get money out of CTB, or she’s trying to make money from one or several newspaper groups. So this could be a story about blackmail, as the judge in the case implied (and if so, the victim does have a right to privacy under the law); or it could be a story about someone too lazy to get a proper job.
- MP names footballer in Parliament (bbc.co.uk)
You may have been aware of the controversy raging over in the USA about President Obama and where he was born (Hawaii, since you ask). Of course, this so-called “birther” controversy wasn’t really about where Obama was born, it was about race. It’s just the latest in the insidious racism that has dogged Obama since he announced his candidacy. Not all racists are thick, some of them are clever enough to come up with bogus reasons to sow doubts about the president in the minds of other racists.
The big problem with this story, however, was the reporting of it. It struck me as being very similar in nature to the British media’s coverage of the MMR vaccine “controversy”, another non-story given legitimacy by the media by dint of endless repetition and by giving airtime to extremism and ignorance.
The media likes to pretend that they are merely holding up a mirror to society, making themselves as invisible as possible in order to transmit messages. They are, as Michel Serres likes to put it, acting as angels: invisible messengers.
Except that, in cases like this, they’re not. We don’t see news every day about people who think aliens are living among us (unless you count scientologists); we don’t see stories every day about people who think the world is flat, or deny the holocaust, or who believe in the superiority of those with lighter skins. That’s because people who hold these opinions are either tragically deluded, mentally unstable, or just plain nasty.
So why did the US media in particular go on and on and on about the racist “birther” movement? Why did it go on about the story until Obama was forced to release his birth certificate in a press conference, as if doing that was going to make a blind bit of difference to the racist opinions of his racist opponents?
The really interesting thing here is that there are very many reasons to expose Obama’s political weaknesses. Policies he’s made that aren’t working; wars that are dragging on; insane security policies; the continued existence of a prisoner of war camp on a little bit of Cuba. If Obama’s opponents wanted to go after him, there’s plenty of ammunition. So why go on about this non-story?
When nonstories fill the airwaves and dominate headlines, people stop paying attention and miss the real news. But more importantly when so much energy and so many resources are devoted to chasing a phantom issue, the real issues get ignored.
From skyrocketing unemployment in the black community and no end in sight for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the continued existence of Guantanamo and the unacceptably stalled immigration reform debate, President Obama has a long list of outstanding issues that the media should be focusing on. Yet if you turn on your television or visit any major news website, the political discussion in this country has been hijacked by the birther movement‘s Quixotian quest to find our nonexistent foreign-born president.
I think part of the answer at least relates to budget cuts. It’s surely easier to report something that somebody released to the press than it is to investigate a real news story. For the American media, the “birther” story was low hanging fruit — cheap airtime (or column inches) to fill with nonsensical opinions and speculation. Whereas researching and fact-checking real news stories is expensive.
That’s not the only reason, of course. For some of Obama’s opponents, the “birthers” were politically useful idiots, who could be used to undermine the authority of the President and allow racists to kid themselves that they weren’t being racist.
Finally, by dumbing down political discourse like this, by reducing politics and the economy to a game of yah-boo sucks, the media don’t have to ask questions about the political and economic system that has failed us so badly in the last few years. You can see the same thing happening in the UK with regard to the debate about the voting system and the forthcoming referendum. Instead of an in-depth discussion and real information, we get two opposing sides calling each other names and flatly contradicting each other. So that’s okay then.
- Birther movement is outright racism (capitolhillblue.com)
- Yes, Birtherism is Racist (As is Donald Trump): Three Videos Tell You Why – Source: AlterNet (curmilus.wordpress.com)
Peter Preston writes an interesting column about the nature of news over on the Observer. What happens to the news when certain kinds of events (murder, muggings, riots, terrorism) become routine? We saw what happened with major earthquakes (in quick succession) in Haiti, Chile, and then China.
What happens – to quote my PhD thesis – is that events lose their eventhood. News loses its novelty (and newsworthiness).
Ah! The most difficult question. If news is essentially the unexpected, what happens when murder becomes routine? Well, in a sense we know the answer to that. Look for extended coverage of ghetto or township murders in Washington DC or Johannesburg and you look in vain. Look, indeed, for escalating coverage of terrorist strikes in Pakistan’s own press and you find that routine turns to page two after a while. Violence doesn’t guarantee huge headlines.
So now the same cloud settles over Millbank as front pages are cleared because a few dozen sort-of students moved from marching protest to window-breaking mayhem and Scotland Yard didn’t have enough boys in blue to cope. Was that – a rampage around Tory HQ, a storming of roofs – news? Of course. Everybody from David Cameron to the Met commissioner was sounding off.
Almost 25 years after the launch of the Independent, the newspaper is tomorrow publishing a spin-off title, entitled i and designed to attract younger readers.
The 56-page tabloid will be distributed nationally and promoted with the catchy, if illiterate, marketing slogan: “‘i’ is, are you?”, a nod to one of its parent paper’s advertising campaigns.
It has been a long time since a new national newspaper launched in the UK – I’d imagine (if this fails) it will be a long time till we see another. Get your souvenir copy of issue #1 today! (That’ll be i, not Today – newspaper joke).
A memo written by the BBC’s world news editor, Jon Williams, and sent to fellow executives, says the cost of reporting the rescue will exceed £100,000.
It will also result in cuts to coverage of the Cancún climate summit, which begins in November, the Nato summit in Lisbon, and the Davos World Economic Forum.
BBC News has sent 26 people to cover the dramatic rescue of the San José miners, pushing its annual budget far beyond its agreed limit.
“The financial situation is serious”, Williams warns. “We are currently £67k beyond our agreed overspend of £500k; newsgathering’s costs for Chile will exceed £100,000.”
I see a story about journalism. To know that 1300 journalists have descended on this mining town to cover a worldwide story is a little disconcerting in an era of closed foreign bureaus and budget cutbacks. Many might question that thought given the intense interest in the story; my Twitter and Facebook feeds were lit up last night as the first miner descended ascended up the 2000-foot shaft. But the public doesn’t think in terms of resources when it consumes journalism; it only has what it has in front of it.
Thirteen-hundred journalists – imagine what we could do with that. Journalism organizations are pouring resources into this as if it is the Baby Jessica 1980s and ’90s, with fatter newsrooms and no Internet. Really, does every major TV news network in the U.S. need a camera crew and reporters out there? In an era of satellite feeds and citizens on the ground who can pipe in material, does the U.S. media have to parachute in on a story like this?
Superb comic strip version of the case of Andrew Wakefield, with a few well-aimed barbs at the UK media and how they reported the whole MMR non-controversy. Flat Earth News ahoy!
So the Times has taken the plunge, and is proposing to charge £2 per week for access to its online content from June. Would you pay? I obviously wouldn’t, because I can read the paper edition for free at work.
The bigger question is, how will the rest of the newspapers respond? The Guardian frequently argues against charging for online content, though they have created an iPhone app. The Telegraph, as the biggest-selling quality paper will be more influential. £2 per week is relatively cheap (the print editions will cost you over £8). On the other hand, they haven’t got to pay the costs of printing and distributing online news, so it should be cheaper. On the other hand, there’s a difference between £2 per week and £104 per year – that’s the difference between a big wodge of cash and a micropayment system. If you pre-register now, you can get free access for a while, which I suppose will help people make their minds up.
But they have to do something, the newspapers. They’re all haemorrhaging cash (The Times and Sunday Times lost £87.7 million last year, though the parent company is still making money from their tabloids), so they need to fix their broken business model.
In a presentation to the company’s journalists, James Harding, the Editor of The Times, said yesterday that he appreciated that people saw this as a risk but “nowhere near as big a risk as continuing to do what we’re doing”.
He added: “Paid content is the only way that we are going to see a sustainable economic model for quality journalism.”
Mr Harding added: “Saying that our journalism is worthless and dumping it free online is not a viable economic model.” Even were The Times to double its online readership over the next five years the revenue created through non-subscription means would be too low to sustain a quality newspaper, Mr Harding said