Future of News is Past of News

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[This is an expanded version of the article Reclaiming the printing press and was first published 3 Dec 2012 here]

Imagine a theme park. Imagine this theme park is the most popular theme park in the world. More popular than Disney World, more popular than Sea World, more popular than all US theme parks combined. Now imagine that it costs about $400 for an annual pass to enter this park. Yet there are no rides in this park. Sounds ridiculous right? But this isn’t an imaginary theme park. This park exists. In fact, you go there almost every day. 

Several weeks ago Newsweek announced it is to stop printing magazines. After 80 years, one of the giants of US news is going web only. It will no doubt be tempting for others to follow; off-loading manufacturing costs, abandoning a declining print readership, addressing steepening competition on the web. Newsweek’s bold move may well herald the long-forecast demise of the print industry.

But it is not just the physical paper that is disappearing. It is the media’s control over content distribution. Gutenberg’s printing press allowed publishers not only to realise their ideas in print, but also to share those ideas as they saw fit. That power is slowly being eroded. Newsweek’s decision underlines the fundamental shift in newspaper and magazine publishing in the age of Web 2.0; a relinquishing of the mode of production.

Continue reading Future of News is Past of News

Nexus Ireland – Relationships that Rule

Nexus Ireland
[This article was original published at Nexus Ireland, 9 Nov 2013]
Russell Brand’s manifesto for a “revolution of consciousness” has, it seems, opened space for an important debate about revolution and democracy. Unfortunately the UK press remains, for the most part, stuck on Brand’s disenchantment with a particular mechanic of democracy – voting. Yet few have offered the revolutionary generation a convincing reason why they should engage in a “tacit act of compliance” for a multi-party democratic system with no significant “distinctions between [political] parties.” 

Citing anecdotal evidence, Brand highlights a particular problem with capitalist democracy – the tendency of power to concentrate: “Whatever party they claim to represent in the day, at night they show their true colours and all go to the same party.” An observation that couldn’t be more timely, coming as it does when the trial of News International’s Rebecca Brooks and Andy Coulson is getting into full swing.

Brooks, a former chief executive of Rupert Murdoch’s News International, is a neighbour of Prime Minister David Cameron, and, it is said, they are on such good terms, she even lets him ride her horses (one of which was lent to her by Scotland Yard). Apparently, Brooks was introduced to Cameron through her husband, who was “one of his school friends”. For his part, Coulson, a former editor of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World, was made director of communications for the Conservative Party in 2007 and later appointed by Cameron to be his chief media spokesman.

Separating the News from the Noise

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In all the talk about the future of news, it’s rare that you actually come across an innovation that alters the way you think about reporting and news gathering. Digital journalism innovations too often focus on how stories are presented to audiences. Social media is used to generate and sustain interest in news, rather than as a source of news. Where news is sourced from social media it is dominated by celebrity feuds or political gaffs. This type of journalism only scratches the surface of what is possible. Sentiment analysis, the virality of content, all measured through social media, overshadow the real evolution occurring, often imperceptibly, across the globe.

Consider the recent Guardian profile of Eliot Higgins. Higgins, a blogger, who from his livingroom in Leicester, “has put together a database of 491 videos of cluster bombs being used across Syria, together with map references and details of the type of weapons used”. Scouring “about 450 YouTube channels from Syria every evening” Higgins has managed to beat organisations such as the New York Times to a globally significant story nearly 5000 km from his front door.

Which is what drew us to the work being done by Storyful. Founded in 2010 by former RTE Prime Time presenter Mark Little, the organisation is a ‘news agency for the social media age’. Storyful’s raison d’etre is to draw actionable news from the noise of social media. Its journalists and editors curate stories about conflicts, natural disasters and elections by verifying social media events – tweets, facebook updates, videos, images etc.

Continue reading Separating the News from the Noise

Blessed with nothing but good intentions

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Finally, the long heralded debt deal has arrived, and with no small fanfare. As the Dáil debate ended, Enda Kenny declared “[t]he Anglo promissory-note payments are gone“, which made for a catchy, if misleading, prepackaged headline. The deal, as you’ll have read, postpones payment of IBRC debt for up to 30 years. Which means that while Anglo’s debts aren’t quite gone (we are still being forced to pay them), they have been pushed far enough in to the future so as to make them look much more…manageable.

This is obviously great news, which is why the Irish Times asked economist Pat McArdle to explain to us lay people why. McArdle (in terms befitting a property supplement-cum-newspaper) made the point: “every borrower knows, a longer mortgage is easier to service as inflation and time erodes the real burden of the repayment“, which offers us “some light at the end of a very dark tunnel“. For the ungrateful among you still disappointed that you’re paying off bondholder’s mortgages, the Irish Times was quick to declare that the deal was the best we could hope for “given that debt write-offs were never on the cards.”

Needless to say the Government were not the only ones proud of their deal. In the following days the Irish Times’ Stephen Collins marveled at the “scale of the Government’s achievement“. Using the same phrase to lead not one, but two articles. He went on to reassure them the deal “should steady nerves…after a wobbly few weeks”. While it was a team effort, with the “Coalition’s credibility as well as the country’s vital national interest on the line”, there was still a opportunity to single out certain individuals who had risen above the rest.

Continue reading Blessed with nothing but good intentions

Blessed with nothing but good intentions

Finally, the long heralded debt deal has arrived, and with no small fanfare. As the Dail Debate ended, Enda Kenny declared “[t]he Anglo promissory-note payments are gone“, which made for catchy, if misleading, headlines. The deal, as you’ll have read, postpones payment of IBRC debt for up to 30 years. While Anglo’s debts aren’t quite gone (we still being forced to pay them), they have been pushed far enough in to the future so as to make them look much more…manageable.

This is obviously great news, which is why the Irish Times asked economist Pat McArdle to explain to us lay people why. McArdle made the point: “every borrower knows, a longer mortgage is easier to service as inflation and time erodes the real burden of the repayment“, which offers us “some light at the end of a very dark tunnel“. For the ungrateful among you still disappointed that you’re paying off bondholder’s mortgages, the Irish Times was quick to declare that the deal was the best we could hope for “given that debt write-offs were never on the cards.”

Continue reading Blessed with nothing but good intentions

Democratic scrutiny is dead in the media

Dear Fintan,

 A great piece on the absence of democratic scrutiny in the Dáil in today’s IT, but you ignored one crucial part of Rabbitte’s diatribe:
“You are dealing with a very cranky media who advocate tough decision-making and when they get tough decisions they start piddling around at the edges trying to unravel it”  
Rabbitte might have well said “democratic scrutiny is dead in the media”, where it matters, ahead of the introduction of the Household Charge, ahead of each austerity budget, ahead of the establishment of NAMA, ahead of the bank guarantee and so on.
Best wishes,