Perpetual perfect present: journalism strategies for an atemporal world

Paul Raven @ 18-02-2011

Apparently the BBC has been doing this for a while, but this is the first time I’ve seen anyone mention it explicitly; The Guardian attempts to address the atemporality of the globalised 24/7 newsriver:

So our new policy, adopted last week (wherever you are in the world), is to omit time references such as last night, yesterday, today, tonight and tomorrow from guardian.co.uk stories. If a day is relevant (for example, to say when a meeting is going to happen or happened) we will state the actual day – as in “the government will announce its proposals in a white paper on Wednesday [rather than ‘tomorrow’]” or “the government’s proposals, announced on Wednesday [rather than ‘yesterday’], have been greeted with a storm of protest”.

The BBC website, among others, adopted a similar strategy some time ago and I feel it gives an immediacy to their reports akin to watching or listening to a live news broadcast. So in a sense we are, perhaps belatedly, recognising another way in which a website is different from a newspaper.

We are likely to make much more use of the present tense (“the government is facing a deepening crisis …”) and present perfect tense (“the crisis engulfing the government has intensified …”); until the change of approach, we would probably have written “the crisis engulfing the government intensified tonight …”

Largely unmentioned is the root cause of the problem being addressed, namely that folk who aren’t “digital natives” don’t make a habit of checking the date and time on online articles. To be fair, I only learned that necessity the hard way, after being called out on having posted some five-year-old nugget as news…

Though this raises an interesting facet of atemporality, namely that not all information is time sensitive to the same degree. A lot of more general knowledge is “news” if it’s new to the person reading it. The central channel of the river flows faster than the edges…


Careless whispers

Paul Raven @ 20-01-2011

This just in: Chinese whispers happen on real-time social communications platforms just as they do in real life, only faster!

Here in the UK yesterday there was a brief Twitter panic about a non-existant shooting in London’s Oxford Circus, highlighting the problems inherent to the 24-hour global peer-to-peer news cycle: namely that when an erroneous signal gets out onto the network, it’ll probably propagate more quickly than the less senational truth of the matter. Cue lots of “bad Twitter!” punditry, which largely misses the point: this phenomenon isn’t new, it’s just a faster version of the good ol’ scuttlebutt. Some sensible thinking from GigaOM:

Traditional media have struggled with the issue as well, with newspapers often running corrections days or weeks after a mistake was made, with no real indication of what the actual error was. In a sense, Twitter is like a real-time, distributed version of a news-wire service such as Reuters or Associated Press; when those services post something that is wrong, they simply send out an update to their customers, and hope that no one has published it in the paper or online yet.

Twitter’s great strength is that it allows anyone to publish, and re-publish, information instantly, and distribute that information to thousands of people within minutes. But when a mistake gets distributed, there’s no single source that can send out a correction. That’s the double-edged sword such a network represents. Perhaps — since we all make up this real-time news network — it’s incumbent on all of us to do the correcting, even if it’s just by re-tweeting corrections and updates as eagerly as we re-tweeted the original.

Taking responsibility for our own contributions to the global conversation? What a controversial suggestion! Of course, the problem is that “nothing much happening in Oxford Circus after all” just isn’t as interesting a conversational nugget, and therefore doesn’t get passed on as quickly or frequently. (Compare and contrast with the old aphorism that good news doesn’t sell newspapers.)

Related to this is the rush-to-explain (and rush-to-blame) that follows a story, real or otherwise: see, for example, the instant dogpile of people pinning the blame for the Tucson tragedy on Sarah Palin*. Again, it’s an age-old process that’s been scaled up to global size and accelerated to the speed of electrons through wires, and I suspect that we’ll adjust to it eventually: like a teenager adjusting to his or her lengthening limbs, we’re bound to knock a few things over as we grow.

[ * In the name of pre-emptively deflecting my own dogpile, I think that the political rhetoric from all sides in the US has demonstrably contributed to escalating tensions, and I find Sarah Palin an utterly repugnant exploiter of ignorance, be it her own or other people’s. However, the rush to find her prints on the metaphorical pistolgrip was not only counterproductive (that sort of political fire thrives on the oxygen of martyrdom), but was also precisely the same sort of demonisation of ideological figureheads that the left accuses the right of relying on. The further apart ideologically the two polar positions appear to be, the more alike in character they seem to become… and while it might be possible to pin that problem on The New Media™, I don’t think it’ll stick. More depressing still were the countless articles decrying Palin’s “it’s all about me!” attitude to the tragedy, coming as they did in the wake of half the damned internet telling Palin it was all about her. C’mon, folks, work it out. ]


Mayday, Mayday…

Paul Raven @ 01-05-2010

No need for alarm; just thought I should mention that, as I’m at the SciFi London Film Festival all weekend and moving into my new home on Monday (with broadband being installed on the Tuesday), it’s going to be something of a quiet long weekend here at Futurismic.

That said, next month’s fiction offering is all cued up and ready to roll out of the door on Tuesday… and believe me when I say it’s an absolute corker. Co-written by a Futurismic veteran with one of my all-time sf idols, it’s something really special, challenging, and very timely. So keep your eyes peeled!

Have a great weekend, everyone. 🙂


News cycle identified

Tom James @ 13-07-2009

lipstickonapSome glorious and fascinating reportage-porn at memetracker that shows how news stories are taken up and how long they last and what their impact is:

They found a consistent rhythm as stories rose into prominence and then fell off over just a few days, with a “heartbeat” pattern of handoffs between blogs and mainstream media. In mainstream media, they found, a story rises to prominence slowly then dies quickly; in the blogosphere, stories rise in popularity very quickly but then stay around longer, as discussion goes back and forth. Eventually though, almost every story is pushed aside by something newer.

There is something truly wonderful about seeing this information laid out in such an intuitive manner. This kind of analysis of the growth, spread, and retention of ideas is certainly an area that will expand and grow over time.

[via Physorg, from MemeTracker]


Do newspapers have a future?

Edward Willett @ 18-03-2009

Illustrated_London_News_-_front_page_-_first_edition Newspapers are struggling everywhere; there have been a few posts on the subject here at Futurismic already. In Denver, the 150-year-old Rocky Mountain News recently ceased publication. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer has gone to an online-only version. And here in Canada, Canwest, which owns 13 daily and 26 community newspapers across the country, is so strapped for cash it’s ordered my own local newspaper, the Regina LeaderPost, to cut back on the work it doles out to freelancers. I should know, since my weekly science column, for which I was paid a paltry $25 a week, has been axed. Apparently the $1,300 a year that had been coming to me will make all the difference in stemming the tide of red ink. (I’m still writing the weekly column, by the way; it clings to life in a couple of smaller papers and you can read it on my blog or get it sent to you via email, if you’re interested.)

According to science writer Steven Johnson, however, speaking at the South By Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, the lingering death-throes of newspapers will not spell the end of journalism. (Via PhysOrg.) Instead:

Steven Johnson equated newspapers to old growth forests, saying that under the canopy of that aged ecosystem blogging, citizen journalism, Twittering and other Internet-age information sharing is taking root.

“I’m bullish on the future of news,” Johnson said.

“I am not bullish on what is happening in the newspaper industry; it is ugly and it is going to get uglier. Great journalists are going to lose their jobs and cities are going to lose their newspapers.”

Johnson says the problem is that changes that should have happened over a decade are being crammed into a much shorter time frame, partly due to pressure for the global economic situation.  Johnson says the solution is to “stop killing trees” and “stop wasting information freely available online,” adding that “The business model sure seems easier to support if the printing goes away.” (Remember: it would be cheaper for the New York Times to give each of its subscribers a Kindle than to print the newspaper.) 

Johnson sees a future in which news weaves together the talents of professional journalists, bloggers, Facebookers and Twitterers. According to Johnson, the information mix will include direct online streams “such as webcasts from high-profile people such as US President Barack Obama.” (Forget webcasts, actually. Sounds like all you really need to do is hook his teleprompter up to stream his speeches in real-time to the ‘Net.)

Appropriately, Johnson has posted his entire speech on the topic to his own site.

International Data Group (IDG) chairman Patrick McGovern agrees; his company, which operated in 95 countries, owns some 450 publications, including PC World and InfoWorld, and many of them are only available online. “Print editions are yesterday’s news,” he says. “If it is news, people want to hear it as soon as they can.”

McGovern’s solution for newspapers? Drop print, and start on digging out hot local topics readers can’t find elsewhere:

“Find out the scandal in the mayor’s office; what the police are up to, and those other things that people love to talk about,” McGovern said. “It is easier and much less costly to put it online.”

McGovern believes people will pay monthly subscriptions for online newspapers that follow this model.

I’m a journalist by training and a former reporter, editor, photographer and cartoonist for a weekly newspaper. I’ve always loved newspapers. I don’t care about the medium of delivery; I just want them to survive. But I’m not sanguine about the willingness of readers to ante up, even for local content. Nor am I confident the people running the newspapers yet grasp that local dailies no longer need to cover national and international news to the extent they once did, and that their core product, their “killer app,” is local content.

The end of my newspaper column in Regina after almost two decades is proof enough of that.

Um, not that I’m bitter or anything.

(Image: FIrst edition of the Illustrated London News, May 14, 1842, via Wikimedia Commons.)

[tags]news, journalism, newspapers, media, Web[/tags]


Next Page »