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Google’s Spotlight – highlighting journalism of ‘lasting value’

September 4th, 2009 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Online Journalism, Search

A new feature has been added to Google News, Spotlight, which (according to a very brief explanation by Google) is :

“(…) section of Google News [that] is updated periodically with news and in-depth pieces of lasting value. These stories, which are automatically selected by our computer algorithms, include investigative journalism, opinion pieces, special-interest articles, and other stories of enduring appeal.”

By looking at both the search engine’s own explanation of Google Spotlight and the selection of stories it has flagged up so far, Nieman Journalism Lab’s Zachary M. Seward suggests, “Spotlight shines on longer features that have bounced around blogs for a few days.”

According to Seward, lifestyle and opinion pieces fare well, while the New York Times is a frequent source. He does see potential for the new section, however, as a way of using people’s online activity to highlight interesting and important material.

[Laura Oliver adds: The usefulness of Spotlight will perhaps be greater for those who use Google News as their first port of call for the day's headlines - but what portion of Google News' users behave in this way (figures welcome) needs to be taken into account.]

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ABCe opens six month audit option to all publishers

October 10th, 2008 | No Comments | Posted by in Online Journalism

Following the release of six month certificates for the regional press, media auditors ABC are extending the offer of twice yearly online audits to all media owners, from January 2009.

An ABC press release said yesterday that the new certificates will detail monthly and daily unique users or browsers for media publishers. Visual charts will also be available.

The existing monthly audits can still be conducted using ABCe.

The ABC statement explained that by choosing to report their online figures on a six month basis, publishers ‘are committing to continuous reporting of their online activity’.

Speaking in the release, Jan Pitt, director of magazines, ABC, said: “The response has been good so far, these changes are to give publishers more options and enable them to demonstrate to advertisers and media buyers their cross platform performance.”

A guide to how the reporting options work can be downloaded from the ABC website at www.abce.org.uk.

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Undercover Soldier: why didn’t the Beeb open up the debate online?

September 23rd, 2008 | 2 Comments | Posted by in Broadcasting, Online Journalism

It’s a story that has seen a hive of online activity: the BBC puts a new reporter in the army for six months (he’s never worked in the media before); puts out a documentary, based on mainly anecdotal evidence; the army suspends five people (not clear how many were a result, if any, of the investigation); the mainstream media reports on the whole thing (Telegraph report linked here, as an example).

A Facebook group has been created criticising the reporter for the programme – suggesting he should be tried for treason – which at the time of writing has 1,460 members.

Yet nowhere on the BBC website is there anywhere to post a comment. Although BBC news stories don’t always allow comments, this could have been ideal discussion material for a blog. But because there wasn’t any we’ve seen a flurry of activity on our own site, from users who probably wouldn’t normally use a journalism news site. Likewise, Digital Spy had a fair number of comments. The other place with high level of comment is an unofficial Army forum, Arrse (British Army Rumour Service).

People reacted to the question I asked on Friday ‘why the low ratings?’ with a range of suggestions.

Most, if not all, the commenters disagree that the footage was ‘shocking’ or ‘remarkable’. I agree with those that think the documentary had flaws in its method and reportage, but stand by my original comments. Whether it needed this type of ‘undercover documentary’ to give exposure to racism and bullying in the army (anecdotal evidence, or otherwise) is another matter (that was the discussion I was expecting to be provoked).

Bizarrely, if you currently search for ‘Russell Sharp’ on Google you’ll come to our own website, rather than the BBC’s. While we welcome the additional comment and discussion on our own site, would this not have been better placed on bbc.co.uk?

I emailed the BBC Press Office a number of questions about their online management. Initially I was told that there had been an opportunity for feedback in the phone-in on Radio 5 Live, immediately after transmission. I know, I tried to listen. Russell Sharp was supposed to be on it, but was replaced at the last minute – the explanation on air was that he was (or had been?) ‘holed up’ in an edit suite.

I’m posting here the full response from a spokesperson at the BBC in regards to the response to the programme.

I asked why the BBC decided not to open up comments to the public:
They said: “It’s good to see our journalism promoting debate and discussion. We don’t always provide an opportunity for people to comment on every story posted on the news website – decisions are taken on a case by case basis. In this case there was also a phone in discussion on 5Live which examined the issues raised and heard from people with an interest in the story.”

I asked if they were disappointed in the low ratings.
They said: “The broadcast of Undercover Soldier last week is absolutely in keeping with BBC One’s commitment to placing agenda setting investigative journalism at the heart of the peak time schedule. We are proud to have ensured the maximum number of viewers had the opportunity to see it.  An audience of 2.3 million viewers alongside the  media exposure it brought to the issue of bullying in the army is an illustration of public service broadcasting at its best.”

I asked them what they thought about this story that appeared in the Sun, which suggested Sharp could be called back into the army.
They said: “The Sun approached us for a response to their story on Friday but sadly didn’t see fit to include it in their piece. It was as follows…..
‘We would never comment on a hypothetical situation but the MoD will no doubt want to focus on the issues raised by the programme rather than the individual who helped raise them. We are cooperating with the Army in their investigations’.”

The discussion continues, as does our blog traffic. When I posted on Thursday I expected a few reactions from journalists criticising the reportage of the documentary, to explain its low ratings, or a comment on the interests of the viewing public.

Instead, it became apparent that there has been very little outlet for the viewers of the programme to voice their concerns with the BBC’s methodology and subsequent reporting.

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