DEC/BBC update

On the DEC/BBC, a couple of links I should have included in the original post.  First, if anyone wants to donate to the DEC gaza appeal: https://www.donate.bt.com/bt_form_gaza.html

If anyone wants to complain to the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/complaints/complaints_stage1.shtml

The British International Development secretary, Douglas Alexander, yesterday expressed his ‘disappointment’ at the decision to refuse to broadcast the appeal in a letter to the BBC, ITV and Sky reports the Guardian.

The BBC’s Chief Operations Officer, Caroline Thompson, appeared on Newsnight on Thursday.  Asked if the BBC would reconsider its decision she said they would, ‘If the situation changes..so that it stops being an issue of great controversy and it starts being a much more stable situation there’.  Round May 2087 then.

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B’Tselem and citizen journalism as a very serious enterprise

A brilliant idea:

In January 2007, B’Tselem launched its camera distribution project, a video advocacy project focusing on the Occupied Territories. We provide Palestinians living in high-conflict areas with video cameras, with the goal of bringing the reality of their lives under occupation to the attention of the Israeli and international public, exposing and seeking redress for violations of human rights.

The camera distribution projcet works with families who live in close proximity to settlements, to military bases or at the sites of frequent army incursions. Settlers daily harassing a family in Hebron or attacking farmers in the South Hebron Hills, soldiers invading Qalqilya, daily life in the village of Yanun… these are just some examples of the material filmed by over 100 cameras that we have distributed to families throughout the Occupied Territories. B’Tselem has succeeded in airing this material on major Israeli and international news networks, exposing global audiences to the previously unseen.

This is what citizen journalism should and can be.  Not to denigrate the efforts of cameraphonists recording weather disasters or planes in the Hudson, but the B’Tselem project takes it to another level.  And on a number of levels.  One being giving cameras to people who might not otherwise have them, and whose voices, therefore, might remain unheard.  For all the talk about the great democratisation brought about by the web, too many of its democratising elements remain yet out of reach of an unwired, rather than wireless, majority.  Another being the incredibly significant capacity to record aggression in real time.  How many times have we read stories of unpleasantness in countries far from our own and salved our consciences, to a degree, by assuming some bit of artistic licence, exaggeration, rather, by the journalist reporting it?  It can’t be that bad, surely, reasons a small part of our cornflake crunching brain; and on to the next page.  Seeing this stuff in real time does, like it or not, make it an awful lot more real.  Go.  Watch.

http://www.btselem.org/english/Video

Do people really spend so little time reading news online?

From the December/January 2008 edition of the American Journalism Review:

Newspaper Web sites are attracting lots of visitors, but aren’t keeping them around for long. The typical visitor to nytimes.com, which attracts more than 10 percent of the entire newspaper industry’s traffic online, spent an average of just 34 minutes and 53 seconds browsing its richly detailed offerings in October. That’s 34 minutes and 53 seconds per month, or about 68 seconds per day online. Slim as that is, it’s actually about three times longer than the average of the next nine largest newspaper sites.

The Reuters report I wrote about  yesterday gives similar figures for a discrepancy between time spent reading the news online and in print, this time in Europe:

…visitors to the leading UK newspaper websites (as measured by overall traffic) typically only spend a few minutes each day perusing the content. The Daily Mail leads the pack, with an average daily visit of only 8.7 minutes; followed by the Guardian(5.4 minutes), News of the World(3.7 minutes), The Sun(3.7 minutes) and The Times(3.3 minutes).In contrast, McKinsey estimates that, on average, consumers spend roughly eight times longer reading a physical newspaper, compared to the equivalent time they spend at a news-paper website.

In other words, someone who reads the Daily Mail online spends 8.7 minutes doing so, but a reader with a physical copy of the newspaper spends 69.6 minutes at it.

In line with this, (this may have been where McKinsey got their data, I’m not 100% as that data isn’t available online) the UK National Readership survey estimates the average UK print newspaper reader spends 30 minutes reading it per day, with just over 20% spending around an hour.That’s a pretty big discrepancy between time spent reading online and reading print.  And the AJR sees it as having an effect on the amount of money online news providers can charge for ads: Continue reading

The Daily Show does it better

Jon Stewart responds to Michael Bloomberg’s assertion that Israel’s response to rockets being launched from Gaza is proportional:

Bloomberg: If you’re in your apartment and some emotionally disturbed person is banging on your door, screaming “I’m going to come through this door and kill you!” do you want us to respond with one police officer, which is proportional, or with all the resources at our command?

Stewart: I guess it depends if I forced that guy to live in my hallway for three years…and if he had to go through checkpoints every time he had to take a shit

Vodpod videos no longer available.

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BBC refuse DEC aid appeal appeal

From the Guardian:

The BBC has refused to broadcast a national humanitarian appeal for Gaza, leaving aid agencies with a potential shortfall of millions of pounds in donations.

ITV and Sky have followed suit.

The Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC), an umbrella organisation for 13 aid charities, launched its appeal today saying the devastation in Gaza was “so huge that British aid agencies were compelled to act”.

The DEC is made up of, amongst others, the British Red Cross, Concern, Actionaid, Care International and Save the Children.  They undertake appeals for donations through media channels – like the BBC.  In order for the DEC to undertake an appeal, an emergency must meet certain criteria:

Three principles have been adopted to provide a guideline for trustees and others involved in deciding whether a national joint appeal is the appropriate response to a particular emergency:

  1. The disaster must be on such a scale and of such urgency as to call for swift international humanitarian assistance.
  2. The DEC agencies, or some of them, must be in a position to provide effective and swift humanitarian assistance at a scale to justify a national appeal.
  3. There must be sufficient public awareness of, and sympathy for, the humanitarian situation so as to give reasonable grounds for concluding that a public appeal will be successful.

In the past, the DEC has appealed for donations from the public to mitigate emergencies in Darfur, Chad, the Sudan, and Bangladesh.  They also launched an appeal after the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004.  A BBC spokesperson, quoted in the Guardian piece, said

The BBC decision was made because of question marks about the delivery of aid in a volatile situation and also to avoid any risk of compromising public confidence in the BBC’s impartiality in the context of an ongoing news story. However, the BBC will of course continue to report the humanitarian story in Gaza.

The BBC holds that it’s not the first time it has refused to broadcast a DEC appeal, the implication being requests from the DEC are taken on a case by case basis.  In 2006 they refused a DEC appeal for aid to Lebanon during the humanitarian crisis sparked by Israeli air-strikes and a ground invasion of Southern Lebanon.  At the time they  said:

“We really have to think about what the political sensitivities of the situation are”

The DEC state in the press release issued today:

the devastation wrought in the Gazan territory (is) so huge that British aid agencies were compelled to act.

It’s a bit depressing, but hardly surprising that they felt it necessary to add:

DEC aid agencies (are) non-political. “We work on the basis of humanitarian need and there is an urgent need in Gaza today. Political solutions are for others to resolve, but what is of major concern to us all is that many innocent people have been affected by the situation – and it is them that we seek to help.”

It’s even more depressing that the BBC won’t run with it. Emergencies in the Congo and in Chad were politically loaded, too, it’s just that the political entities involved were odd little African ones whose motives were so obscure to Western audiences that partisanship couldn’t possibly be an issue.  With Israel and Palestine, however, it’s a diplomatic issue between equals.

A dropped stitch

An interesting slip-up in Obama’s inauguration speech is pointed out by Harry Browne on Counterpunch.org:

…there was one largely overlooked passage that was so stupid, and so disturbing, that I may have to withdraw my standard concessionary, “Well, sure, I admit he’s obviously a smart guy with some decent instincts.”

In reaffirming the greatness of our nation, we understand that greatness is never a given. It must be earned. Our journey has never been one of shortcuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those who prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame.

Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

For us, they packed up their few worldly possessions and traveled across oceans in search of a new life. For us, they toiled in sweatshops and settled the West, endured the lash of the whip and plowed the hard earth.

[…]for me its most striking phrase is the denigration, alongside the despised “faint-hearted” and fame-seekers, of “those who prefer leisure over work.”

It gets worse, a lot worse, if you follow the rest of the passage logically in terms of the contrast he has set up. The productive good guys of the next sentence, the doers and makers who brought not just prosperity but freedom – those folks clearly must have preferred work over leisure, or maybe they scored them even. And the final sentence tells us explicitly who he is talking about: farmers and settlers, sweatshop-workers and … slaves.

The idea that slaves helped build American greatness because (among other things) they preferred work to leisure is so offensively stupid that it clearly wandered into Obama’s speech via sloppiness rather than by design. (This is in itself undermines his reputation for wordcraft and attention to detail: the only reference to slavery in the inaugural speech of the first African-American president was permitted to carry this crazed logic.) Maybe we can just write it off as the sort of thing that happens when you’re absent-mindedly knitting together clichés and you drop a stitch. Nobody seems to have noticed it or taken offence anyway.

As Browne goes on to point out, who doesn’t prefer leisure over work?  John Calvin has a lot to answer for in inculcating the belief that idle hands will always and everywhere occupy themselves fluffing the devil’s pillows.

Update: See, this is where we’ll end up:

After meetings with some of Japanese industry’s most important CEOs, including the heads of Sony, Nintendo, Toyota and Kendo Nagasaki, the Taoiseach said there were lessons for Ireland to learn. “You look at how efficient these businesses are and compare them to way the operate in Ireland and it’s chalk and cheese.

Here they’re cramming people onto trains with sticks so they can get to work. Half the time we’re calling in sick. Here if an employee performs badly he’ll commit Hara-kiri such is his shame at letting company down. At home they just don’t care. I think we need to take stock of ourselves and if, at first, it means we have to commit Hara-kiri on people to give them the example then I think that’s what we’ve got to do”.

Via The Irish Sentinel

What’s happening to our news?

The Reuters Institute is shortly to publish a wide-ranging report called What’s Happening to our News? It’s based on interviews with 70 significant players in the British media and quantitive data from a range of sources.  The report’s author, Andrew Currah, wrote a piece for Monday’s Guardian summarising the main research findings. First:

News publishers have always had some degree of consumer feedback – but never at the range, intensity and speed that the web makes possible.

He concludes that,

…as newsrooms become more digitally integrated, the flow of data from the web will be faster, more detailed and much harder to ignore. It will put pressure on editors and executives to review the popularity and revenue performance of content, the value of specific journalists and the overall allocation of resources. Already, in the quest for digital success, publishers are being nudged to depart from well-established brand and editorial values. This shift is contributing to the development of a softer and more populist news agenda in the UK, with preference given to topics seen as effective generators of traffic, such as celebrity, entertainment and sport.

To the main report, to find the evidence for this shift.  Unfortunately, the report does not contain any quantitive data on the softening of the news agenda in the UK.  On page 88 there is the assertion:

The distant and relatively ill-defined promise of the clickstream is also luring quality daily newspapers into a more populist, comment-driven andtabloid-like style, which is designed to attract eyeballs from the international ether of the web. For example, the inclusion of entirely new categories of coverage—such as ‘celebrity’, ‘lifestyle’ and ‘weird’—to the websites of the Daily Telegraph, The Times and the Guardian underscores the radical difference between these newspapers and their pre-digital counterparts.

All of the newspapers mentioned above have had such sections for years, and without giving the precise date for each paper’s beginning to include ‘soft’ topics it’s difficult to credit the tyranny of the clickstream with this kind of editorial shift.  Research by Professor James Curran is cited to support the thesis that the UK media has shifted toward ‘softer’ news, it’s true:

…research by Professor James Curran (Goldsmiths, University of London) has found that the UK news media are shifting towards the softer, entertainment-oriented model of the US, and away from the harder, factually oriented model of public service havens such as Denmark and Finland.

That paper hasn’t been published yet, but a report on the Reuters website on its forthcoming publication indicates that it was dedicated to assessing the impact of public vs private media ownership on the kind of news reported:

In collaboration with other colleagues, Professor Curran recently conducted research into the impact that the ownership structure of media has on the availability of different kinds of news in the United States, the United Kingdom, Finland and Denmark. The aim of the research was to assess what, if any, differences could be found between public broadcasting systems and commercial broadcasting when it came to the news mix on offer, vis-a-vis hard news and soft news as well as foreign and domestic news.

It’s possible that the report addresses a ‘shift’ from harder to softer news but

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