Category Archives: Comment

Editor backpedals on ‘only good cyclist is a dead one’ comment

Image by Arenamontanous on Flickr. Creative commons licence. Some rights reserved

The editor of glossy listings title The Richmond Magazine has done a partial backpedal today after invoking the wrath of cyclists.

The Bike Biz yesterday highlighted comments made by Richard Nye in an editorial column in the September issue of the magazine in which he said “the only good cyclist is a dead one”.

Nye wrote how the Olympics had temporarily altered his view of cyclists:

After years of sullen rage against the cycling fraternity – as a daily driver on busy roads, I tend towards the temperate view that the only good cyclist is a dead one – I suddenly found myself experiencing strange feelings of attachment towards the pedal stars of Team GB.

He later described a drive home from a long day at work:

“Bastardo!” I yelled at the windscreen. “Cycling swinehunt! Two-wheeled son of Beelzebub!” A huge wave of relief surged through me. At last I was back to normal.

Bike Biz reported that a bike shop had withdrawn advertising from the glossy listings mag and pointed out that only yesterday Your Local Guardian reported the death of an elderly cyclist killed in Walton, a few miles from Richmond.

Nye tweeted via the @TheRichmondMag account to say:

I am astonished at the reaction to my blog, which had nothing to do with cyclists being killed. I would never joke about such a thing. People have misunderstood my use of phrase.

The @TheRichmondMag then tweeted to say that Nye was on holiday, promising the post an update today.

The Times (paywall), which runs a safe cycling campaign, has got hold of Nye. He reportedly told the news outlet:

With regard to my remark about the only good cyclist being a dead one, it is just a phrase, like people who said during the Cold War that ‘the only good Russian is a dead one’. It’s a standard English phrase. It doesn’t actually mean you want to see that person dead. I absolutely don’t wish cyclists any ill.

I was suggesting that I used to be really angry at cyclists, then we all had this cycling love-in at the Olympics, and then to my relief I went back to being this angry person again. That’s not actually something to be relieved about. It had irony written all over it. I don’t shout such things at cyclists.

If I were writing the piece again, I perhaps wouldn’t choose to use that phrase and if there are individuals out there who have suffered a painful loss as a result of a cycle accident, then to those individuals I am very sorry and it certainly wasn’t anywhere in my thoughts at all to think about cycling fatalities when I wrote that line.

This wasn’t a deadly serious piece. It was a slightly ironic piece aimed as much at my own eccentricity as anything else.

Commenting on the interview to The Times, Bike Biz adds:

However, digging a hole for himself, he added “a lot of cyclists behave in ways that don’t help anyone, least of all themselves”.

How the Guardian’s community of commentators contributes to the story

A community of commentators provides the Guardian storytelling process with “cross-fertilisation from below the line”, David Shariatmadari, deputy editor of Comment is Free (CiF), the Guardian’s comment, analysis and discussion platform, told readers at the Guardian Open Weekend event today.

In a session called “digital revolution: how publishing is becoming collaborative”, Shariatmadari explained how 400 non-Guardian staff are commissioned to contribute to CiF every month.

In addition to commissioned commentators, a post-moderated commenting system,  and reposting content from niche blogs, the “opening processes” provided by social media results in “unearthing unexpected gems from the readership”.

“It’s difficult to say where the future of digital collaboration might go next,” Shariatmadari said, but feels “moderation will always be necessary”.

The Guardian trys to reduce the need by moderators by “managing the conversation”, with journalists, community coordinators and moderators joining the debate.

Laura Oliver, a community manager who is one of those “embedded” within the news room and areas such as CiF,  works to reduce the need for moderation by encouraging a healthy community of moderators.

Oliver sees her role as to represent and be the “voice of the reader”, encouraging a “two-way conversation” and broadening the overage.

Once a story is published, that’s not the end of it as that’s where the readers come in.

The Guardian wants to build a returning community, Oliver said, beyond asking readers to “send in pictures of snow”.

She gave the example of ensuring the team “connected” with those contributing from North Africa during the height of the uprisings and ensuring those commentators “would come back to us”.

She also highlighted the collaboration from readers and expert commentators during the daily blog on the Health and Social Care Bill, run during the debate around the amendments to the bill, the pause and its passage through parliament.

Claire Armitstead, literary editor of the Guardian, talked about crowdsourcing and call outs for reader responses and how they influence the sections such as Books.

What this new journalism has opened up is new ways of responding to criticism within the arts.

Dan Roberts, national editor of the Guardian, the chair of the debate, explained how his team started trying to capture witnesses to events, harnessing citizen journalists, and has evolved into opening up to publishing the daily newslist.

The idea is that publishing the list encourages feedback, Roberts said, “in the hope we get some advice and help”.

That way we know that we are chasing the things that readers care about.


2012 – a year of irony for the media industry?

By Matt Buck, currently engaged as engraver to @tobiasgrubbe


1. Rupert Murdoch revives the News of the World, but online-only.

2. Nick Davies loses his job at the Guardian, but joins the revived News of the World as part of its investigative team.

3. The Guardian poaches the “fake sheikh” Mazher Mahmood from the Sunday Times.

4. A trend develops for floundering local newspapers to be bought out by local entrepreneurs, returning control and vested interest to their communities.

5. The Leveson inquiry into the culture, practice and ethics of the UK press concludes nothing needs to be done about unethical and/or illegal media practices, as they are redundant because everyone is publicly revealing everything about themselves on social media sites like Facebook anyway.

6. Journalists are officially declared to be bloggers, thereby ending a perennial (and very tedious) debate.

7. The Guardian launches a paywall.

8. Richard Desmond, founder of Northern & Shell and owner of Express Newspapers is knighted in the New Year Honour list and becomes chair of the Press Complaints Commission (PCC).

9. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and is appointed National Security Adviser to the Obama administration.

10. Facebook buys the Daily Mail, as part of a number of strategic acquisitions of ‘accordant’ news outlets throughout the world.

Thanks to Matt Buck for permission to use his excellent cartoon.

How open data has changed journalism

Tomorrow (Saturday 3 December) is International Open Data Day. We have been asking what the open data movement has done for journalism.

Simon Rogers, editor of the Guardian’s Datablog and Datastore – @smfrogers

It’s only been a couple of years and you could argue that open data has changed the world: Wikileaks, government spending, what we know about the riots… The irony is that the governments behind much of this data have only contributed the numbers; the hard work has been done by an army of developers and data journalists who have created stories and new ways of telling them. When we started the Datablog in 2009, we thought it would be popular only with developers; now everyone wants to know the facts behind the news.

Nicola Hughes@DataMinerUK

It’s the knowing how to use it that’s vital. it’s a (re)source.

Borja Bergareche@borjabergareche

It’s helped us do the best journalism of the 20th century in the 21st century.

Lucy Chambers, community coordinator, Open Knowledge Foundation – @lucyfedia

Evidence-based journalism. Journalists will back up stories, readers will expect to be able to verify facts.

Andrew Gregory@andrew__gregory

Open data is useful. But original journalism also requires good human sources.

Rune Ytreberg –  @ytreberg

The obvious: Open data has made journalism more transparent.

Megan Cunningham@megancunningham

Open data has accelerated the opportunities for crowd sourced investigative journalism. But the potential hasn’t been realised.

Harriet Minter@Harriet_Minter

It’s forced journalists to embrace spreadsheets, brought interactives to the forefront and given us many bad infographics.

Greg Hadfield@GregHadfield (who is organising the UK’s first open-data cities conference)

Data – whether open or not – has always fuelled journalism. Data that is increasingly “open” (in the fullest sense of the term) will transform journalism.

Ironically, a lot of the best revelatory journalism of the past has depended on journalists unearthing data (ie “stuff”) that others want to keep locked. Ideally, by lawful means. Therefore, openness may remove some of the mystique that journalists delight in, as people who know things that only those “in the know” know.

An open-data tsunami will mean that more journalism will be about interpreting – and putting into context – data that is open to all, at least in its rawest, unrefined form.

To an even greater degree, journalism will be about adding value to data by transforming it into information. The best journalism will be to add value to information, to provide insight, even wisdom.

Openness of data will change the behaviour of individuals and organisations. But not immediately and not in every case. Would MPs have played fast and loose with their expenses if they knew data about each claim would be published openly and in real time? Sad to say, it is quite possible some would.

Much good journalism has involved shedding light on data that was routinely (although not widely) available and which was only rarely studied or analysed.

Importantly, some of the best journalism has involved making connections and spotting patterns. I’m thinking of earlier parliamentary abuses, such as the “cash-for-questions” scandal of the mid-1990s, before Hansard was on the web, and when it was rarely read in print by journalists.

Those were the days when typewriters and telephones – rather than computers and the internet – were the primary journalistic tools. When bars and restaurants – rather than offices and desktops – were the venues for journalistic enterprise.

With more data openly available – along with more tools easily available for mining, sifting and interpreting it (as in the case of the Wikileaks material) – there are many more needles to be found in the burgeoning haystacks of unstructured data.

But even when every day is #Opendata Day, the best stories may remain hidden in full public view – until one of the new generation of journalists stumbles expertly across them.

Google +1 button is coming to AdWords – but how useful is it?

Google is to introduce its +1 button to AdWords, the internet giant’s main advertising product, so users can recommend adverts to their friends and contacts.

The button was made available to news sites earlier this month and has been adopted some web publishers.

Google’s button was added to AdWords on at the end of March and is now coming to, according to an announcement on the AdWords blog.

Users who are logged into their Google account can click the button and their friends and contacts will see that news story or page promoted in their search.

In its US announcement, Google explains how the button works for Google AdWords.

Let’s use a hypothetical Brian as an example. When Brian signs into his Google account and sees one of your ads or organic search results on Google, he can +1 it and recommend your page to the world.

The next time Brian’s friend Mary is signed in and searching on Google and your page appears, she might see a personalized annotation letting her know that Brian +1’d it. So Brian’s +1 helps Mary decide that your site is worth checking out.

But almost a month on from news outlets adding the +1 button next to Twitter’s tweet button and Facebook’s like button (including on news stories on, the button is very much third in line in terms of generating clicks.

So why are readers not using Google’s +1 button?

Unlike Twitter or Facebook where users post a link, those who click the button get little out of it in the same way they do by tweeting or liking a story – although that could change with the launch of Google +, a new social network dubbed Google’s answer to Facebook.

Making a recommendation is not immediate and there are several hurdles to overcome. For a contact to see a recommendation it relies on them searching for a keyword that the +1 user has shown interest in and the contact must also be logged into their Google account.

The button’s less than lukewarm take up also suggests people do not want their searches sorted by the choices made by their friends and contacts, but organised by relevance to what the wider online community is reading.

News sites get little out of +1 and although they may get a few more hits as a result, few would claim it has made any impact.

After a month on the article pages of news sites who opted to adopt +1, it is unlikely those who have not added the button will follow suit unless Google+ takes off in a big way. Those which have the button may decide to replace it with the LinkedIn share button, which has been gathering pace and is now coming in ahead of Facebook as a sharing mechanism on many sites, such as in this example from Mashable.

What do you think about Google’s +1 button? Let us know in the comments section below.

Related content:

Poynter: Google’s new +1 social search and news publishers

Digital Trends: LinkedIn launces aggregated news service

#Tip of the day from – using LinkedIn for reporting and job hunting

Twitter, comments, and the reaction to Rowenna Davis’ NHS surgery liveblog


Last week, Guardian journalist and newly-elected Labour councillor for Southwark Rowenna Davis used Twitter to liveblog the heart operation of a two-week-old girl at Great Ormond Street hospital.

Her updates were also posted on the Guardian’s NHS liveblog alongside photos she took during the surgery (see above) and tweets from followers.

Going through Davis’ @ messages and tweets that used the #nhsblog hashtag shows the response on Twitter was, as she said, “overwhelmingly positive”. The Media Blog called it “A perfect use of Twitter“.

But interestingly, the response on the Guardian’s Comment is free site, where Davis blogged about the reaction to her coverage, was almost completely the opposite.

The comments that follow the CiF post are almost overwhelmingly negative, with Davis’ live coverage of the surgery called, “mawkish”, “ghoulish”, “a stunt”, “revolting sensationalism”, and more.

An interesting point of comparison for the coverage, which has been raised in the CiF comment thread, is broadcast, but it is hard to see people reacting quite the same way about a fly-on-the-wall documentary.

A few commenters suggested the problem with Davis’ liveblog was that it was live, and that the risk to the girl’s life made that inappropriate (according to Davis the operation carried a 1 or 2 per cent risk). Whereas a documentary, commenter davidabsalom said, would be recorded in advance.

But Channel 4 screened a series of programmes in 2009 that showed live surgery, during which viewers were invited to interact with the surgeons using Twitter, email and the telephone.

Channel 4’s David Glover said at the time that the programme was designed to “demystify surgery, encourage discussion and help viewers to understand their own bodies, as well as showing the care, dedication and skill that goes into modern surgery”.

Ofcom archives show no record of any complaints about the programme (less than 10 complaints are not recorded).

The Surgery Live patients were adults, rather than children as in this case, but Davis obtained consent from the girl’s parents. And the operations – brain, heart, and stomach surgery – seem no less risky than the one in this case.

So I can’t help but wonder whether the discrepancy between the responses on Twitter and on CiF stems from the medium itself, with those who use Twitter – and so responded via the network – much more likely to see the coverage in a positive light, and those on Comment is Free more likely to construe it negatively. (I can’t assess how many of those who commented on the CiF post use Twitter, so this is something of a shot in the dark).

Davis has responded several times in the comment thread to defend the journalistic value of her coverage, including this post:

I think one key dividing line about whether this is defensible is intention. If you’re just blindly seeking ratings for entertainment value, that’s pretty grim. But if your aim is to offer some kind of insight into the reality of the job surgeons face and the trials families have to go through, that seems quite different. Especially when it helps bring to light the importance of the health service, and how vital it is that we get the reforms right.

That said, I think the points you are raising are valid, and it’s important to raise them. There are certainly ways in which I could see this being done insensitively.

You can follow the full debate here.

Review: QuickSurvey relaunches online tool

Online survey tool QuickSurvey has relaunched after a full makeover.

The tool, developed by market research firm Toluna, offers news organisations the opportunity to carry out market research using an online community of people who are ready and willing to respond.

It has obvious uses for businesses, including media organisations, and potential for PRs, but our review of the software struggled to see how it can assist journalists.

Testing out QuickSurvey

I decided to create a sample survey to test out the technology by asking QuickSurvey to find out how often people buy a local newspaper, why they buy one, how often they read local news online and what they would like to see from their local newspaper. Within an hour I had received 250 responses at a cost of around £200.

Click here for the results of my example QuickSurvey on local newspapers. You can play around with the data, graphs and pie charts and see a long list of things people would like to see from their local newspaper. Lemon Casino has recently become very popular among players in Poland. Players are attracted by generous bonus payouts, a large selection of games and excellent customer service.

How does QuickSurvey work?

When I started playing around with QuickSurvey I thought of surveying a hand-picked group of respondents. For example, I thought I could ask 20 news sites what percentage of their web hits came via Twitter, which had the potential to result in a news story.

QuickSurvey is not the best tool to use for this as it doesn’t allow you to enter figures as an answer, such as percentages. I soon realised that QuickSurvey’s main strength is the community of online respondents who willing to answer your questions.

You decide on how many people you want to complete the survey, what type of person (you could pick an all-male survey, for example) and, if carrying out a survey with your own respondents, you can ask them to include an email address (information which, like the research carried out, is yours to keep).

You can embed the active survey on your news site, email it to particular contacts or, if you want to use the Toluna community, you can allow it to be displayed on Toluna only.

If you are asking your own respondents to answer questions QuickSurvey is free, but if you ask the Toluna community you pre-pay for credits and are charged for the number of clicks from the community. One credit is deducted for every one person who answers one question.

I had 250 respondents answer four questions costing me 1,000 credits. A pay-as-you-go deal for 1,500 credits costs £240.

Results were returned in minutes and it was interesting to see people responding in real time. The company has a million poll rates a day globally and 2,000 responses can be gathering in eight to 12 hours so it offers a fast response to market research.

When your survey is completed, in less than an hour in my case, you can download reports, including word clouds of the answers.

The verdict: QuickSurvey is incredibly easy to use and within an hour you will have some very usable feedback and market research at a cost of around £200.

Not allowing people to respond using percentages was slight problem, as was not being able to select a very specific geographical area, like a newspaper’s distribution area. Another obvious problem is the respondents, who are all web savvy by nature, which skews results when asking a question about whether they read news online.

Is it of use to the news industry? No doubt there are uses in gathering data by using QuickSurvey.

Is it of use to journalists? Probably not, unless they have the money to pay for large surveys to provide research for a story.

Is it of use to PR professionals? Almost certainly. I can envisage a press release starting with the line: “A new survey shows 90 per cent of women think…”

Tips on creating a survey using QuickSurvey

Be short and relevant:

  • Give your survey a name that speaks to the audience. ‘Local Newspaper Survey’ is better than ‘Sarah’s Test Survey’, for example;
  • Ideally opt for three to eight questions (although you can include up to 15);
  • Short questions, ideally 10-15 words or less.

Keep answers simple:

  • Fewer than 12 answers – longer answer lists are a turn off;
  • Give options to answer ‘none of these’, ‘other’ or ‘don’t know’;
  • Use logos, videos and images where possible – all can be seamlessly integrated into the tool.

Be clear:

  • Precise vocabulary;
  • Avoid double negatives;
  • Be unambiguous.
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Stay neutral and cautious:

  • Use neutral words to avoid bias;
  • Randomise answers for brands, products or services (this stops the top brand or option being overly represented in the results, as people have a natural tendency to pick the answers near the top);
  • Use generic questions as screening questions when targeting specific profiles – for example if you’re looking to talk to Toyota drivers, don’t ask ‘Do you own a Toyota? yes/no’ but ask which of the following cars do they own – and give a list of manufacturers.

Always test your survey:

  • Get someone else to check your survey makes sense and spell check it.

Media release: Financial Times launches A-List commentary section

The Financial Times has announced the launch of a new section called the A-List, claiming to offer commentary from leaders, policy makers and commentators, on and all global editions of the newspaper, based on issues “at the top of the news agenda”.

Topics will range from business, economics and finance to world politics and diplomacy. The headline commentary will be accompanied by a response from related experts to encourage debate, and readers will be able to participate and comment online.

Read more here…

This follows the launch of Bloomberg View last month, a new editorial page featuring columns and commentary across all of Bloomberg’s platforms, as announced at the end of last year.

Guardian launches Comment Network on Comment is free

The Guardian today announced the launch of the Guardian Comment Network on Comment is free. The site says it has partnered with a range of websites which they will curate content from and cross-post, in a bid to break down “barriers between us and them”.

We hope to act as curators for the best of this content, while acknowledging that we as editors are not the only ones who can or should decide on the direction of Comment is free on any given day. We already draw on the inspiration and insights of our users through series such as You told us, the People’s panel and Anywhere but Westminster. We want to extend that to the many bloggers out there who are often just as good as Guardian journalists – if not better – at spotting stories and responding quickly and imaginatively to them.

This follows similar developments in content curation across other areas of the site, as outlined by Dan Sabbagh to when he joined the Guardian last year as its new head of media and technology.

Twitter to send users emails about RTs and favourites

Twitter announced yesterday it is phasing in a new function sending emails to users when one of their followers adds their tweets as a favourite or retweets to their followers.!/twitter/status/72775840978571264

You can choose to stop Twitter emailing you about retweets and when someone favourites your tweets by going to settings > notifications

Twitter notifications

A quick straw poll of followers found opinions are divided on Twitter’s decision to email users when someone you follow retweets or favourites one of your tweets.