Tag Archives: Matt Wardman

The last #jeecamp in pictures

JEEcamp, the online journalism enterprise and experimentation unconference, was held for the last time yesterday (Friday 21 May 2010) in Birmingham but went out with a bang with excellent and revealing speeches from Stewart Kirkpatrick, founder of the Caledonian Mercury, and Simon Waldman, former director of digital strategy for the Guardian Media Group and now group product director at LOVEFiLM.

I have uploaded a few shots of the key speakers to flickr and created the slideshow below, which shows in order, JEEcamp organiser Paul Bradshaw (@paulbradshaw), Simon Waldman (@waldo), Karl Schneider (@karlschneider), Stewart Kirkpatrick (@calmerc), Mark Pack (@markpack), Siôn Simon (@sionsimon) and Matt Wardman (@mattwardman).

Expect other future great events from either Paul Bradshaw and/or his students in the future.

Bloggers to be given access to Westminster parliament

This is an edited version of a post that first appeared on the Wardman Wire. Re-posted here with permission.

PR Week is reporting that House of Commons authorities are preparing to bring down the barricades and allow bloggers into parliament:

House of Commons chiefs are fine-tuning plans to give bloggers privileged access to government communications. The radical move would see selected bloggers allowed into the Westminster lobby system, provided they meet certain criteria. PRWeek understands that conversations have been taking place between the Commons authorities and Financial Times political editor George Parker, who is chairman of the parliamentary press gallery.

Evolutionary approach

A ‘gradualist’ approach will be adopted, which does not sound very “radical”.

Parker told PRWeek recent applications had forced the authorities to revisit the issue. ‘The system is being tested on a case-by-case basis,’ he said. ‘There is no ban on bloggers at the moment, but things are being refined as we go along, because it’s a new form of journalism and the authorities are having to adapt.’

To me this sounds sensible, provided that ‘gradual’ does not mean ‘one minor change and then we stop’.

Worried about bloggers

Yet the authorities are worried about a free for all:

Parker said: ‘What the Commons authorities are concerned about is that there should be no precedent set that would create a free-for-all. They don’t want to have the House of Commons over-run by bloggers.’

I don’t buy this. Politicians routinely play far filthier tricks than bloggers could dream up.

I think that this is a mirror image of the worries which existed centuries ago when they were concerned about letting reporters in at all. This is rather long quote from the history of Parliamentary Reporting, illustrating that the Parliamentary Authorities have sometimes been more concerned with controlling reporting, rather than facilitating it. From Wikipedia:

Before 1771, the British Parliament had long been a highly secretive body. The official record of the actions of the House were publicly available, but there was no such record of debates. The publication of remarks made in the House became a breach of Parliamentary privilege, punishable by the two Houses. As more people became interested in parliamentary debates, more individuals published unofficial accounts of parliamentary debates. Editors were at worst subjected to fines. Several editors used the device of veiling parliamentary debates as debates of fictitious societies or bodies. The names under which parliamentary debates were published include Proceedings of the Lower Room of the Robin Hood Society and Debates of the Senate of Magna Lilliputia.

In 1771 Brass Crosby, who was Lord Mayor of the City of London had brought before him a printer called Miller who dared publish reports of Parliamentary proceedings. He released the man, but was subsequently ordered to appear before the House to explain his actions. Crosby was committed to the Tower of London, but when brought to trial, several judges refused to hear the case and after protests from the public, Crosby was released.

Parliament ceased to punish the publishing of its debates, partly due to the campaigns of John Wilkes on behalf of free speech. There then began several attempts to publish reports of debates. Among the early successes, the Parliamentary Register published by John Almon and John Debrett began in 1775 and ran until 1813.

Where change has happened, it has been through a process of external factors forcing the hand of parliament, rather than by parliament choosing to open itself up for public scrutiny. This time is no different, and we shouldn’t forget that, despite the protestations, grunts and squeaks from the Honourable and Right Honourable Members, and the Noble Peers.

Greater openness is in everyone’s interest, and there will inevitably be a few ruts and rumbles along the way. But as soon as the pressure is released, the process will begin to reverse through natural inertia.

Acceptance criteria

Rolling all of that together, “acceptance criteria” are proposed. Bloggers would need to be ‘popular’ and have a ‘track record’.

He added that certain criteria should have to be met by bloggers: ‘The general criteria we would agree with is that the person applying for the pass should be a proper journalist with a track record of journalism; that they should be operating for a respectable news organisation or website with a reasonably large number of subscribers or viewers; and that they should be using the pass for the purposes of journalism, rather than coming in and commenting on stuff.’

Those will be difficult lines to draw.

“Reasonably popular” is relatively easy to define, and could be as straightforward as ‘10,000 unique users a month’ whilst being a recognised commentary site.

However, what is a “respectable news organisation”? Do campaigning blogs qualify as “news organisations”? I think the key here may be in the phrase “and that they should be using the pass for the purposes of journalism, rather than coming in and commenting on stuff.” That is, the emphasis is on reporting rather than commentary.

  1. Jack of Kent has a legal column in the Lawyer; will he be allowed in? What about Ben Goldacre?
  2. Does Comment is Free count? A lot of bloggers have written for the site, but it is a mudpit of debate compared to the vast majority of blogs, yet is an accepted platform.
  3. The Heresiarch has not written extensively for other sites, nor has Cranmer, but both put much of the mainstream media to shame on their specialist subjects.
  4. What about writers for Open Democracy, Journalism.co.uk, or thinktanks?
  5. What about the Wardman Wire – I hope that we are ‘respectable’, but I don’t intend to be so if respectable means giving unacceptable control to an external body.
  6. Part of the stock in trade of politically or party-aligned blogs such as Liberal Conspiracy, Left Foot Forward, Conservative Home, Labour List and Lib Dem Voice for the next 6 months will be to inflate minor stories into major stories as part of anti-Tory, anti-Labour or anti-something else campaigning, an activity which involves highly selective use of facts as a basis for exaggeration in the hope that other media will think it is “news”. Does this undermine their status as “respectable news organisations”? The same goes for Iain Dale and Guido Fawkes. I don’t see why this should be a problem, as most newspapers have gossip columns.
  7. Who is allowed into Parliament from multi-author blogs? Most group blogs mentioned above have from a dozen to perhaps 50 authors. At the Wardman Wire, we have about 25 people on the contributors’ list, but half are dormant or retired – yet we have added another 6 in the last month. I am not London-based, but I have half a dozen contributors who are based there. How will that be managed?

Finally, if it is about “respectable news organisations”, does that mean that any national newspapers will be expelled? If not, why not?

Worried about the reputation of parliament

There is also some concern about the reputation of parliament. This is amusing:

However, the Commons authorities are understood to be concerned that an influx of bloggers into the lobby could further undermine the reputation of parliament.

My initial reactions is to ask: you think that bloggers can cause significant damage? The blunt answer to worries about the reputation of parliament is to refer the Commons Authorities to the case of Arkell vs Pressdram, and to the history of the past five years. The reputation of parliament has been damaged by MPs and Peers, and the shenanigans they have been up to conceal these activities from the public, specifically not by media or bloggers. Bloggers are better thought of as part of the salt which has helped cause some of the poison to be vomited out of the system; there’s plenty of poison that hasn’t even been touched yet.

If MP’s hadn’t been fiddling and farming their expenses for decades in contravention of the published rules and with the connivance of the House Authorities, the Speaker and Speaker’s Office, the Fees Office, the political parties themselves, and those who set the business agenda for House, then no one would have been able to accuse them of doing it.

Letting bloggers in will – if anything – act as a further necessary check. If – to go all Guido for a moment – secret expenses farming, fiddling and fraternisation for personal gain become more difficult to hide, then it will be an excellent thing.

Worried about gossip, trivia and mischief

They are also worried about gossip and trivia.

One Commons insider said: ‘If you have a lobby pass, you can wander anywhere. There will be far more scope for mischief and trivia if you let bloggers in.’

Parker said: ‘What the Commons authorities are concerned about is that there should be no precedent set that would create a free-for-all. They don’t want to have the House of Commons over-run by bloggers.’

It seems to me that gossip, trivia and mischief have their source in politicians and their staff as much as in the media. I do, however, think that there is an opportunity here for access which is more finely-grained than “in” or “out”; I’ll comment on that below.

Opportunities to do things better

I’ve made clear that I think there’s more than a little self-justification going on in the statement from the Commons Authorities. These are my own thoughts about things which may happen next.

Firstly, the ABCe circulation measurement organisation could offer a lower priced product as one way of auditing the “readership” of blogs. Or perhaps Wikio could do it as a new service, as many of the relevant blogs already run their “ranking” badges.

Secondly, I would not be surprised if a condition of entry to the lobby system is that blogs accept some sort of regulation, perhaps via the Press Complaints Commission.

Thirdly, there is an opportunity here for more ‘fine-grained’ specialist reporting, which may require changes in access for reporters outside the lobby. It will be a mistake to limit access to general political bloggers. I would like to see Commons’ Committees, which mirror specialist departments, authorise specialist bloggers to report on particular aspects of parliament – for example an academic specialist who writes a blog about landslides should be able to attend to report a debate on earthquakes. The benefits from allowing bloggers proper access to parliament goes way beyond the lobby beat; the greatest benefit will be from allowing reporters to reach all the nitty-gritty detail which is not usually reported at all.

Finally, there is a question of resources. It would be a farsighted idea to make small grants available – perhaps as little as £100 a day or just out of pocket expenses – to help relevant amateur but knowledgeable bloggers attend parliament.

Initially, this could be paid for out of monies recovered from repayments of over-claimed expenses; the small amount of £1 million – £2 million of repaid expenses so far would cover 20,000 reporting days at one hundred pounds each.

Comment: Matt Wardman on Glen Jenvey, blogs and journalism standards

This is a story of how self-declared ‘terrorism expert’ Glen Jenvey, acting as an agent provocateur under the name of Abu Islam, reportedly created a false story by posting allegations on an internet forum, and then passed that story to the national press on his own behalf and made the front page of the Sun.

This process has been investigated and uncovered by two bloggers over a number of months, and featured on the Donal McIntyre programme on Radio 5 yesterday.

The key spadework has been done by Tim Ireland of Bloggerheads, and Richard Bartholomew of Barth’s Notes, who have been digging into this for some time. Both Richard and Tim have posted again this weekend.

Inayat Bunglawala has a detailed commentary on this story on Islam Online, and makes a series of excellent points.

The bizarre aspect is that Glen Jenvey has apparently confessed as a result conversion to radical Islam.

There is a potentially sinister aspect to this story – that of gung-ho coverage of anti-Islam stories in the British media provoked and seeded by commentators whose political attitudes are sympathetic to such stories. A good example of this style of coverage was the inflammatory coverage of the demonstration by approximately 20 extremists during a parade of soldiers returned from Basra in Luton, in March this year. By contrast, a far more balanced report, in my opinion, was published by the Nofolk Unity blog.

This is another story which asks serious questions of the quality and professionalism of the processes of journalism in our national media – following on most recently from the Baltimore spoof. In turn this asks the question whether there is actually much material that is worth putting behind firewalls – and whether discerning readers will be willing to pay for it for long.

It also highlights how digging by bloggers can help uncover stories, which then get wider attention than is currently delivered in the UK by blog sites.

Finally, I’d note that bloggers can have exactly the same biases as newspapers for stories which fit in with our own opinions, and none of us are immune to that – including me. So we need to pay attention to all the traditional disciplines of good journalism – multiple sourcing, sanity checks by a third party if we have a concern, and the separation of reporting from opinion.

The Mayor of Baltimore spoof: A digest of media apologies

This is an edited version of the post that originally appeared on Matt Wardman’s site The Wardman Wire.

In my previous piece I noted that Labour List had made a neat three-point-turn after reporting that Alex Hilton’s spoof press release for the Mayor of Baltimore was not a real statement from the real Mayor Sheila Dixon.

The spoof was picked up by a range of newspapers and online news outlets and reported, before the hoax behind the story was known.

The manner of an admission of a mistake can tell us about the culture and attitude of the organisation making the retraction. This article is a straight digest of retractions on this story, without much commentary from me here – each title’s name links to its own retraction/apology regarding the story:

Baltimore Sun:

The Baltimore Sun had more excuse than anybody else for getting it wrong, since they were informed about the new ‘Mayoral’ Twitter page by a Baltimore official.

“Editor’s note: The website and Twitter accounts referenced by this post were not written by Mayor Sheila Dixon or her staff. Instead, they were produced by a British prankster. A fuller explanation is available here. The Sun regrets the error.”

And:

“I got duped.

“Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon does not have a Twitter page and did not respond to Britain’s Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling’s rebuke of the city by referencing The Wire. It was a hoax, I learned this morning, and City Hall is trying to figure how a fake internet page with the mayor’s seal was born.”

Baltimore City Paper:

“Update: We got punked. See comments section below.”

Independent:

“The story below was written on the basis of statements supposedly made by the Mayor of Baltimore which have since been proved to be false. They were fabricated on this website (http://mayorofbaltimore.org/crimestatement.php). We fell for the hoax.”

(The Indy did a further piece which attempted to set up Hilton as the new Damian McBride.)

Guardian:

The following correction was printed in the Guardian’s Corrections and clarifications column, Saturday 29 August 2009:

“In the story below we numbered among the duped in quoting comments supposedly by the Mayor of Baltimore, but actually by a hoaxer, chastising Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, for comparing aspects of British life to the underside of Baltimore as portrayed in the TV crime show The Wire.”

Spectator:

“UPDATE: Oh, the embarrassment! Guido reports that this whole quote (and the Mayor of Baltimore website behind it) was an elaborate hoax, by Alex Hilton of Recess Monkey, designed to catch out ‘churnalists’. I’ll certainly think twice now before flagging something up from another blog – so congrats, Alex.”

Liberal Conspiracy:

First statement from the site:

“Update: It’s a fake. But this accompanying video is pretty funny though.

(Matt Wardman: this video has now been removed from Youtube)

“And Chris Grayling is still wrong.

“Another update, in response to Iain Dale

“There never was a press release to the story.

“I heard about it on Twitter and passed it along to post up on the site.

“The sanctimonious attitude of Dale and Fawkes is funny – I suppose they’ve never linked to a website with a comment.

http://iaindale.blogspot.com/2009/08/extent-of-government-funded-lobbying.html

http://order-order.com/2009/08/04/think-tanks-on-the-taxpayer/

In a second statement:

Separate piece. Liberal Conspiracy has a point here – guess which blog the Spectator did its ‘research’ on?

“Yeah, we fell for the spoof on the Mayor of Baltimore, as did many others including The Spectator, the Guardian and Baltimore Sun – people who are paid to do more research, you know? And I updated the page as soon as I heard about it, as should be the practice.”

The BBC:

The BBC included the site in their daily quiz. It was changed without immediate acknowledgment. I can’t link to it as there is no acknowledgment, however Plato had a screen shot:

20090901-plato-bbc-quiz-baltimore

To be fair, a daily quiz is hardly in the same league as a news article.

Matt Wardman edits the non-partisan Wardman Wire group blog which covers politics, media and technology. He is @mattwardman on Twitter, and mattwardman [at] gmail [dot] com on email.

The Baltimore Hoax: newspapers and bloggers fall for Wire comments spoof

There’s been a wonderful ‘gotcha’ story today.

Following on from the ‘froth and fertle’ of the ‘Chris-Grayling-compares-Britain-to-Baltimore’s-The Wire-TV-Series’ story (even Garbo came in on that one at the Wardman Wire), parts of the British Press and parts of the blogosphere picked up a story that the mayor of Baltimore had rebuked Grayling on her own website.

These news sources included:
1. The Guardian
2. The Independent
3. The Baltimore Sun
4. Liberal Conspiracy
5. Labour List

The Sky News blog took a different position, and suggested that the whole thing was a bit fishy.

The story was a fake, as Alex Hilton – the editor of Labour Home and ‘currently resting’ Recess Monkey – had created a spoof mayor of Baltimore website with a fake press release, which suggested that if we compare Baltimore to TV series The Wire, we may as well compare Britain to The Midsomer Murders.

The real Mayor of Baltimore website is part of that of Baltimore City.

The fake website contained a number of clues, such as an assertion of copyright belonging to ‘R Monkee Esq’, and a slight giveaway in the source code:

OK, so I’m just having a bit of fun at Chris Grayling’s expense.
Sitting in the office on a hot August afternoon, I was fantasising
that I was mayor of Baltimore and how annoyed I would be.
I hope you very quickly picked up that this was a spoof.
Didn’t mean to break any laws or ethical mores – please don’t
extradite me if I have unwittingly done so. Hope you appreciate the
humour, Alex Hilton, alexhilton@gmail.com – 07985 384 859

But some British newspapers and blogs missed the clues.

What can we learn?
I’ve recently been arguing that the different skills of bloggers and journalists are complementary rather than being competitive; it seems to me that this ‘incident’ points up some skills which are common to both.

The pressure to get the story out now is the real enemy of good reporting. Surely it is better to wait and be beaten, than to just get it wrong. A model which depends on being five or 10 minutes quicker than a competitor with the news may end up undermining credibility. In this case, there were ample signs that this was a hoax, but they were somehow missed. I’m glad I’m a supporter of the slow blogging movement.

One antidote to mistakes caused by time pressure is a stronger ‘fact-checking’ framework, as used in the USA. For bloggers the equivalent might be a ‘sanity check’ by a completely different set of eyes.

One way to avoid that is to follow the classic ‘niche’ route, and simply avoid competing in the commodity area of ‘the latest news’; report something in-depth where you can be a specialist and a unique authority. That is a strategy which is perhaps more open to bloggers than journalists in the big media.

Once the incorrect report is published, the important element becomes the nature of the the updates and corrections are a peculiar mix of self-justification, continued reflex-bashing of Mr Grayling, and straight corrections. Labour List has done the cleanest three-point-turn in this case:

UPDATE: The Guardian, The Independent, The Baltimore Sun and LabourList all got hooked, lined and sinkered by this, which was a hoax inexplicably deisgned to deceive, arranged by LabourHome’s Alex Hilton. Lesson learned: check twice.

Question asked: why, Alex? Hopefully he’ll let us know in due course. In the meantime, apologies.

The final point that I have noted is the ‘comment box ranting’ tendency to follow the line of the article, even when there are those in the same thread pointing out that the article is nonsense.

The one point that I am still interested to discover is how Alex Hilton seeded the story into the media.

Matt Wardman edits the non-partisan Wardman Wire group blog which covers politics, media and technology. He is @mattwardman on Twitter, and mattwardman [at] gmail [dot] com on email.

Nutshell.org.uk: A new directory for local blogs

Following on from plans to map and identify ultralocal UK blogs and websites, Matt Wardman has started a new directory for local blogs, Nutshell.

It will feature:

  • Sites focused on a defined and identified area or community.
  • Sites edited and controlled from within that area or community.
  • Sites which are editorially independent.

For more information or to submit a blog visit Nutshell.org.uk.

Online Journalism Blog: Help map local blogs in the UK

A call to action on behalf of the Online Journalism Blog, which with the help of Matt Wardman, is attempting to build a map of locally-focused blogs in the UK.

You can submit the name of any local blogs you know of via an online form.

Matt has some interesting thoughts on the opportunities for local news blogs in this post too.

“I think group blogs with varied teams of contributors may be best placed to provide a decent level of coverage and draw a good readership, while competing effectively with other media outlets. That is a trend we have seen in the political blog niche over several years – the sites which have established themselves and maintain a position as key sites have developed progressively larger teams of editors, and provided a wider range of commentary and services,” he suggests.

Going back to the backlink licensing case: NLA’s full statement

This goes back to last week, but it seems worth putting up here anyway. Last Thursday Matt Wardman covered this story for Press Gazette: about the Newspaper Licensing Agency regulating hyperlinks for commercial agencies and aggregators.

“The NLA will be introducing a new form of licence from 1 September to regulate ‘web aggregator’ services (such as Meltwater) that forward links to newspaper websites and for press cuttings agencies undertaking this type of activity.”

Craig McGill also picked up on it and asked a series of provocative questions. He got a lengthy response from the NLA, including this:

“This is not about bloggers adding links to newspaper sites. Our focus is on professional media monitoring organisations (news aggregators, press cuttings agencies) and their client business who make extensive use of the newspaper content.”

More questions are raised in the comments beneath McGill’s piece, including this one about copyright law.

Last Friday Journalism.co.uk spoke to the NLA who said it was part of their new e-Clips service – ‘a feed of newspapers’ online content direct to cuttings aggregators and press cuttings agencies.’

Here’s the NLA statement in full:

“The Newspaper Licensing Agency (NLA) today [dated June 2009] announced a new business-to- business clippings database for newspaper websites to launch in January 2010. It also has said it will extend its licensing remit to cover newspaper websites from January 2010.

“The new service, called eClips web, will offer a complete feed of newspapers’ online content direct  to cuttings aggregators and press cuttings agencies. Powered directly from newspapers’ own content-management systems, eClips web will make web-based media monitoring faster and richer and provide a permanent record for PR and communications professionals.

“The NLA will also extend its licensing remit to cover local and national newspapers’ web content. David Pugh, managing director of the NLA, said: “We have two aims: to contribute to the growth of web monitoring; and to protect the rights of publishers. Research shows that 23 per cent of newspapers’ online content never appears in print and that the internet is growing in influence as a resource for news. So it is vital to have comprehensive monitoring coverage of newspapers’ websites – and vital that the publishers are properly rewarded for their work.”

“From September 2009, web aggregators that charge clients for their services will require a NLA licence and be charged from January 2010, The press cuttings agencies that either ‘scrape’ content themselves or buy in services from aggregators will also be licensed and charged. Client companies that receive and forward links from these commercial aggregators within their organisation will also require a licence.

“David Pugh added: “We have consulted extensively across the industry – the incremental charges for web cuttings will be low and manageable. I stress this is not about individuals sharing links – we think that’s great for newspapers and promotes their websites and their readership.  What we are doing is making sure that newspapers are rewarded fairly for professional use of their web content by businesses.””

Further notes:

“The NLA is owned by the 8 national newspaper publishing houses and generates B2B revenues for
1,300 national and regional publishers through licensing use of their content by press cuttings
agencies (PCAs) and their client companies.

“The new licences will cover all local and national titles with the exception of the Financial Times and
the News International titles. These will all, however, be included in the eClips web database.”

BBC Question Time engages with Twitter #bbcqt

The BBC current affairs programme Question Time has started watching the online debate around a Twitter hashtag, #bbcqt, that has become popular over the last several weeks. A hashtag is a way for Twitter users to create a debate around a particular topic.

During the May 14 edition of Question Time, which was dominated by questions around MPs’ Expenses and described as the most vigorous Question Time ever, there were around 3,000 Tweets during the one hour run of the programme.

Different people have used the hashtag in the past, including Mark Littlewood, who runs a blog called ‘Mark Reckons’ (@markreckons), and Marc Knobbs, who posted about the hashtag back in early March this year.

On a different note, a dedicated live blog even existed for a short time in 2007, focusing on text messages received by the programme.

Now the makers of the programme have created a Twitter account @bbcqt, and will be watching the online debate as a first ‘unofficial’ step.

You can read more information about the tools that are useful for following this volume of Twitter Traffic, and a more detailed account of the development of the Twitter #bbcqt debate, in my piece “BBC Twestion Time Takes Off with bbcqt hashtag: 3000 Tweets in one Hour“, on the Wardman Wire.

Matt Wardman edits the non-partisan Wardman Wire group blog which covers politics, media and technology. He is @mattwardman on Twitter, and mattwardman AT gmail DOT com on email.