Explanatory rant: The Daily Mail used my photo without my permission. Grrrrrr.
Explanatory rant: The Daily Mail used my photo without my permission. Grrrrrr.
This comment, on a post by Charles Arthur, sums up the most frustrating thing about working in a newsroom:
Once a story has run in one mainstream outlet, it’s put up to conference *before* it’s given to a writer to check. Once it’s been sold to conference, the news desk can’t nix it without looking silly, and in all probability getting shouted at, so they have no interest at all in listening to any journalist who tells them it’s bollocks. The journalist will, in all likelihood, be told to write it anyway, or fudge it, and may, to boot, get a reputation for being ‘awkward’.
A brief bit of background for non-journalists: “conference” means the editorial conference during which the senior editors gather together and decide what stories matter most. The editors will instruct the news desk team to follow particular angles on particular stories; the news desk team then go back to the desk and start giving instructions to reporters.
Karl’s comment is spot-on: many were the times when I witnessed a reporter being shouted at or treated with scorn because he or she had followed up a story and found it to be full of holes. The news editors didn’t want to have to go back to the senior staff and tell them that, so they would force the reporter to try again and find another way of backing up the story.
In many cases, the decision to follow up the story was made by a senior editor solely because he (in my experience, it was always a “he”) had seen it reported elsewhere and didn’t want his news organisation to be seen to be left behind: the story had to be covered, no matter how wrong or ridiculous it was.
A month or so ago there was a discussion on the Underscore mailing list about the evils (or otherwise) of web advertising.
I chimed in with some thoughts that have been bubbling in my head for a while now, which relate to online journalism and its relationship to online advertising:
Print media is – has always been – built this way: the advertisers get
*first priority* over the *physical space* available in the newspaper. The ads get booked in advance. *Then* the copy from the journalists gets fitted *around* them … Online media *does not face the same constraints*.
My point, in short, was this: in the old days, print ads ruled newspapers, and dictated how much content there would be and where it would be positioned. Online, things are reversed and ads have to be subservient to content. Those that are tend to work. Those that aren’t are incredibly irritating and just end up annoying people.
Last week the Telegraph got in touch, saying please could I write something about iPhone hacks to tie in with the imminent iPhone launch in the UK. Sure, I said, be happy to. Can you do 1200 words, they said. No problem.
The article appeared today: Apple v the iHackers, and it has been cut back to 700 words. To make it flow, most of what I filed has been re-written or moved around.
I’m not moaning. This kind of thing comes with the job. Newspapers, particularly, are governed by the twin pressures of advertising space (if an ad – especially a big one – comes in at the last minute, copy will have to be cut to make room for it) and printing press deadlines. (It’s an interesting contrast with online publications which are unencumbered by either constraint.) If you write something for a print publication, you have to be prepared for it to be chopped up by the subs.
In the unlikely event that you’re interested, here’s my original 1200 word version:
Apple’s iPhone, unveiled to UK customers yesterday, has all the technical characteristics of a computer. But Apple doesn’t want you to think of it like that.
As far as its makers are concerned, the iPhone is a device – a thing you buy and use as it comes, just as you’d use a television, or a dishwasher. Most certainly not a thing to be messed with.
Try telling that to the iPhone hackers.
They don’t want to be spending all that money on something they can’t play with. They want to dive inside it, get their hands dirty with a bit of coding, and customise it. Apple and its partners in the mobile telephony business are having a hard time stopping them.
Ever since its launch in the US back in June, the iPhone has been subjected to all sorts of hacks and tricks by a growing community of keen computer nerds, determined to bend its internals to their will.
Overjoyed with the iPhone’s innovative multi-touch interface, the geeks have been trying to add more applications. They know the computer inside can handle them, but Apple’s default set of apps isn’t enough for some people. They want to add all manner of extras, and don’t see why the threat of voiding their purchase warranty should get in the way.
A virgin iPhone won’t let users change things much. If you want to start adding software or extra ringtones, your first task is to “jailbreak” your iPhone.
In the early days that required detailed technical knowledge and a lot of spare time. More recently, downloading a copy of third-party application iFuntastic was all you needed to jailbreak your iPhone and customise almost anything you could think of. Then it became simpler still: the Jailbreak Me web site sprung up, offering instant jailbreaking to iPhone users with just one click.
Both of these methods install a piece of software, Installer.app, on the iPhone. Those who want to be more personally involved in the jailbreak process can download Installer.app and install it manually, if they prefer.
Once jailbroken, your iPhone is open to further tweaking and meddling. Installer.app is an ingenious idea; it automatically checks in with a central database of available third-party programs, and can download, install (and uninstall) them with a couple of finger taps. It even checks to see if any of your installed software needs to be updated.
Jailbreaking is not the same as unlocking the device, but does make unlocking possible with the use of third party applications, which can be installed easily on a jailbroken iPhone.
All iPhones sold in the US so far have been locked to the AT&T network; in the UK, it is O2 that has the deal with Apple. But mobile phone users in Europe are a savvy bunch on the whole, and unused to the idea of a phone that can’t be unlocked and used on a different network.
Jailbroken iPhone in hand, the simplest way to unlock it is by paying £35 or so for a third-party application called SimFree, which does what you’d expect – unlocks the iPhone for use with any standard sim card on any standard network.
All of this hackery is considered fair game by the hackers who indulge in it, but it is considered anything but that by Apple and its telephone service providers.
Since the jailbreaking and unlocking began, a sizable minority of iPhone owners has spent been engaged in a nail-biting cat-and-mouse game with Apple. As soon as a way was found to crack open the iPhone’s digital guts, shortly afterwards Apple released a software update that slammed the door shut. Days or weeks passed, then the cycle repeated.
The first battle in the war was won decisively by Apple, when a software update turned a lot of unlocked iPhones into expensive “bricks” that could no longer make calls. Furious iPhone owners turned on Apple, but didn’t have grounds to argue; by hacking their iPhone in the first place, they’d broken the warranty.
Subsequently, more hacks appeared online – some offering to return “bricked” iPhones to their factory-fresh condition, and a fresh batch designed to break through the security around the brick-creating update itself.
The situation now is complicated, especially for British owners of brand-new iPhones bought since yesterday. Much depends on which version of iPhone firmware you have, and how up-to-date your copy of iTunes is on your Mac or PC. The 1.1.1 version of the iPhone’s firmware was the cause of all the “bricking” controversy, although hacks have now been written that can skirt around it. Reportedly, Apple’s UK iPhones are being sold with a newer version, 1.1.2 – and if that’s what your new iPhone is running, you’ll find hacking it much more tricky.
This version closes a lot of the holes used for previous jailbreaks and unlocks. At the time of writing, neither iFuntastic, Jailbreak Me nor Installer.app will work on an iPhone running firmware version 1.1.2.
That’s not going to put off the hackers, though, who will be determined to find another way inside iPhone as soon as possible.
If they could bring themselves to wait they might have an easier time of it. In mid-October, perhaps spurred on by the catting-and-mousing of iPhone hackery that was dominating pretty much every Apple-related news feed at the time, boss Steve Jobs made a brief announcement: in February 2008, Apple will release a full-fledged Software Development Kit (SDK) for the iPhone and iPod Touch.
Professional application developers were overjoyed to hear this – it’s what they’d been desperate for ever since the iPhone was first announced.
The SDK announcement was itself delayed, as Jobs explained in his typically candid manner: Apple wants to open the iPhone to genuine software developers, but keep it locked tight against malicious software, viruses and dodgy hacks that could break the built-in code. Striking this balance between access and security was an extremely difficult task, and the main reason why no SDK was available in the first place.
When the iPhone was first announced, some hardcore geeks derided it for lack of basic functions. But Apple is committed to the iPhone for the long term, and likes to spend time getting its products perfect. There’s every chance that future software updates and hardware revisions will see the iPhone gradually morphing into the tiny tablet computer that those hardcore geeks wished it was in the first place.
While the geeks battle to make that dream a reality now, Apple is working behind the scenes to make it happen when it decides the time is right.
If you really can’t wait until February, and you don’t mind voiding your warranty, and you can find a way of making them work on iPhone firmware 1.1.2, here’s our pick of the finest and most fun ways of getting more from your iPhone.
Until recently, most Gawker bloggers were paid a flat rate of $12 per post for twelve posts a day, with quarterly bonuses adding to the bottom line; these bonuses could be used to buy equity in the company, which took two years to vest. Now, Denton is moving to a pay-for-performance system. He has always tracked the page views of each individual Gawker Media writer, thinking of them like stocks in a portfolio, with whoever generates the most page views as his favorite. If each writer was only as valuable as the page views he drew, then why shouldn’t Denton pay him accordingly?
This system of paying writers is an obvious next step for the so-called blog networks. Sadly, it’s not a good thing for readers, because it rewards the writers who appeal to the commonest of mass readerships. Innovation, imagination, ingenuity, writing that has been *thought about* – these are all lost, because those writers don’t attract anything like the “right” level of traffic, and therefore don’t get paid as much, and therefore don’t write any more posts.
I’m quite amazed by the Guardian’s new print-your-own newspaper, G24. In size and format it’s almost exactly what I’ve been wanting to see a national newspaper do for years now; it’s what I hoped the Guardian or Independent might become when they switched from broadsheet to tabloid.
It’s much smaller than a tabloid (A4, of course – has to print nicely) but packs far more words into a dozen pages that you’ll ever see in the first 12 pages of a typical issue of Metro.
Plus, because the whole thing is compiled automatically all day, every day, the thing you download is always up-to-date, the most up-to-date kind of newspaper you can carry away with you. It’s bloody clever, another market-leading idea from the Guardian’s new media gang, who continue to cut a path a long way ahead of the other UK online newspapers. I predict G24 will be a success with intelligent commuters, backpackers who don’t want to pay for Guardian Weekly (in fact, it probably spells doom for Guardian Weekly), and those who work unusual office hours.
In some respects you can tell it’s been put together by a computer. There are odd layout quirks – large gaps, or a single line of a story hanging over into the following page – but overall it looks very professionally produced and is a delight to read. Doesn’t take long, either; just right for a tea break or a Tube journey.
I don’t suppose it will remain free for long, though. I just hope that when they do start charging for it, they’ll opt for a sensible low-cost price-per-issue rather than a subscription; after all, most people won’t want to commit to reading it regularly, they just want to read it when they think they’ve got the time. That’s not something you can pay up front for.
Last week’s relaunched Observer was a welcome change in many respects, but I was disappointed by the colour magazine (imaginatively called “The Observer Magazine”). Everything in it was the same old Sunday magazine crap. I want something different.
You’d have thought that an upmarket Sunday newspaper with a largely intelligent, educated audience would have the guts to create a magazine that takes some risks, but sadly this mag was a dull repetition of most of its rivals on Fleet Street.
Sunday newspapers have got trapped in a net of perceived expectations. The editorial team think that readers expect so-and-so, and they dish the same old stuff up again and again, in the belief that they are meeting this perceived need.
So the colour mag in the all-new, all-smaller Observer contains the same old guff you’ll find in the Sunday mags from the Independent, the Times, even the Mail. No-one can imagine a mag that doesn’t have a food column (recipes), a restaurant review, a booze column, an agony aunt (even if she’s someone trendy like Mariella Frostrup, she’s still an agony aunt), a gardening column, a fashion photo shoot over four or five pages, a review of a car.
We’ve been reading exactly the same kind of stuff in Sunday colour supplements for decades now, and it’s getting boring.
The Observer, in particular, has shown some innovation with its monthly specialist magazines about sport, music, and food. It should turn its attention to the colour mag and re-invent it with the same spirit of innovation. Why not ditch the (rather thin) newsprint Travel section, perhaps the newsprint Review section as well, and combine them with some new material into a larger, fatter, more interesting weekly magazine? Why not ditch all the existing magazine content (or just move it to other parts of the paper, if it deserves to survive) and start with a completely blank slate, a full colour magazine ready for new ideas?
If I had my way, I’d commission things like:
But most of all, I’d commission something different, something radically different, every single week. I’d want editorial that didn’t try to comfort the reader with the same kind of stuff every week, but instead tried to surprise them with something unexpected.
Unexpected, but readable. Another problem I have with Sunday newspapers is that there’s a tradition of writing longer articles. Frankly, too many of the ones I try reading are simply good, short articles that have been padding out with guff and bullshit. I’ve nothing against a long piece when all of it is worth reading, but I also see no need for all features to necessarily be “feature-length”. I’d tell contributors to write what the story was worth.
I rarely buy a Sunday paper these days. I look at them lined up on the shelf in the newsagent, grunt my frustration, and walk away.
When I heard about the Buncefield explosion on Sunday, the first thing I did when I got to the computer was check BBC news.
These two sites have become a perfect news filter, although neither of them try to be. Whenever some major event takes place, you can be sure that photos of it will be on Flickr in no time at all – and that with sensible use of tags, you’ll be able to find them.
It only struck me later on that my efforts to find images of the disaster on Flickr were entirely automatic; I didn’t stop to think about where to look next, it was done without hesitation. My mind now associates poking around inside Flickr’s tags with the act of finding out about news.
A digression: now that del.icio.us has been bought by Yahoo!, and Flickr is already owned by Yahoo!, might we see Flickr’s “interestingness” technology being copied over to the del.icio.us links database?