Tag Archives: Mayor

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.

Another council freesheet bites the dust

Via FleetStreetBlues and HoldtheFrontPage we learn that another council newspaper has had it.

On July 30, the Doncaster Free Press (paid-for title owned by Johnston Press) reported that getting rid of the council-run free monthly newspaper ‘has saved Doncaster Council £67,000 without cutting jobs’:

“The new mayor [Peter Davies] ditched Doncaster News, the monthly newspaper that had been delivered to every home in the borough since 2002, on his first day in the job.

“”It is simply council propaganda and an exercise in distorting unpalatable truths,” he said.

“Instead, he plans to keep residents informed through local news organisations including the Free Press.”

Earlier in the month it was reported by HTFP that Cornwall Council had scrapped ‘Your Cornwall’ magazine after it ran £250,000 over budget.

Listen to yesterday’s BBC Radio 4 Media Show for views from both sides of the free council news debate:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00lv5h9/The_Media_Show_05_08_2009

Paperhouse: The Telegraph’s ‘financially contrary’ newsroom

Following Boris Johnson’s flippant comment about his ‘chicken feed’ column payment (a deal earning him £250,000 a year) Sarah Ditum takes a look at the Telegraph’s financial strategy:

“The Telegraph is in the perplexing position of having both made rather a lot of money last year, and then lost even more of it buying itself out of joint ventures. And from the outside, the newsroom looks similarly financially contrary: the Telegraph appears to have invented seven sports hacks to cover up a reliance on agency copy, and yet still have the money hanging around to spend a quarter of a million hiring Boris Johnson as a columnist.”

Maybe, she ponders, for the Telegraph to agree to that kind of money, he does add ‘galactic levels of value to a masthead’.

Full post at this link…

The Mayor of London on the BBC’s HardTalk programme, in which he describes the ease of bashing out a column on a Sunday morning:

Whatever the platform, whatever the technology, it’s the stories, stupid!

Students rise to a challenge if you trust them and give them one. This week they’ve learnt that stories matter. As previously reported on this blog, my students – aided by my colleague Andrew Noakes and me – have been providing live reports on cutoday.wordpress.com from the Play the Game Conference in Coventry. To say this has been a rip-roaring success is an understatement.

The product and its appeal has shocked even hardened hacks like me and my fellow lecturer Andrew. The students have seen and scaled an online Olympus.

Let the figures speak for themselves: over 5000 hits  in four days before the conference has ended; hits received from all over the world and overnight they go up 500; 100+ posts for the week – the daily record so far is 30, from a staff that never exceeded ten. All contributed by students, bar two lecturers giving help and advice.

We’ve provided print, audio and video and a link to a live-stream of some of the events. These lessons in live journalism have taken place in the blogosphere and are very transferable.

But, Content is King. Keep putting up real and interesting stories in all media. The audience will find them and find them very quickly. One video on drug testing had 50 hits in the first five minutes.

It’s the video and audio which sells, especially if original and exclusive. Keep refreshing the stories with new one and new angles. People will come back to find the new. Vary the texture of stories with length and embeds. Remember that you are writing for a net generation with the concentration span of a gnat.

Tease and trail the speakers, profile them, preview them and then report them. Remember what happens in the conference hall (sometimes the live audience was, er, all of 15) is just the front-end; your audience is out there on the blogosphere worldwide. Via the internet, you can reach and refresh parts that many thought could never be reached – and do so in seconds and in some style.

But the central lesson is the obvious one. Produce good readable and accessible journalism. Assemble motivated hacks manqué, get them working quickly and accurately, finding angles and writing the stories up well. But make sure they are subbed and checked – one student was surprised to learn that the Lord Mayor of Coventry had changed since last year… But the mantra should always be – as Jim White of the Daily Telegraph once put it to my students – ‘good copy delivered on time…’

Whatever the platform, whatever the technology, it’s the stories, stupid. No stories, no content, no audience. It’s a lesson we have all learned quickly.

John Mair is a senior lecturer in broadcasting at Coventry University. He ran cutoday.wordpress.com at the 2009 Play the Game Conference. Most of the hard work was done by his colleague Andrew Noakes and a small group of students of journalism at Coventry University.

How Westminster students covered last week’s Journalism in Crisis conference

I got a peek behind the stage curtain last week, at the University of Westminster / British Journalism Review Journalism in Crisis conference (May 19/20). Geoffrey Davies, head of the Journalism and Mass Communications department, gave me a mini-guided tour of the equipment borrowed for the event – it allowed the live-streaming of the conference throughout; a real bonus for those at home or in the office.

Jump to video list here (includes: Mark Thompson / Nick Davies / Paul Lashmar / Boris Johnson and a host of academics and journalists from around the world)

The Journalism.co.uk beat means that we cover a fair few industry and academic conferences, and so we get to compare the technology efforts of the hosts themselves. While Twitter conversation didn’t flow as much as at some events (not necessarily a negative thing – see some discussion on that point at this link) the students’ own coverage certainly made use of their multimedia skills. I contacted a few of the students and lecturers afterwards to find out a few more specifics, and how they felt it went.

“We streamed to the web via a system we borrowed from NewTek Europe, but might purchase, called Tricaster. It’s a useful piece of equipment that is a television studio in a box,” explained Rob Benfield, a senior lecturer at the University, who produced the students’ coverage.

“In this case it allowed us to add graphics and captions downstream of a vision-mixer. It also stores all the material we shot in its copious memory and allowed us to store and stream student work, messages and advertising material of various sorts without resorting to other sources.

“Some of our third year undergraduates quickly mastered the technology which proved to be largely intuitive. We streamed for two solid days without interruption.”

Conference participants might also have seen students extremely diligently grabbing each speaker to ask them some questions on camera  (making Journalism.co.uk’s cornering of people a little bit more competitive). The videos are linked at the end of this post.

Marianne Bouchart, a second year at the University, blogged and tweeted (via @WestminComment) along with postgraduate student, Alberto Furlan.

“We all were delighted to get involved in such an important event,” Bourchart told Journalism.co.uk afterwards. “It was an incredible opportunity for us to practice our journalistic skills and gave to most of us a first taste of working in journalism. I couldn’t dream of anything better than to interview BBC director general Mark Thompson.

“We worked very hard on this project and we are all very happy it went on that well. My experience as an editor managing a team of journalists to cover the event was fantastic. We encountered a few scary moments, some panic attacks, but handled the whole thing quite brilliantly in the end – for inexperienced journalists. I can’t wait to be working with this team again.”

A sample of the Westminster students’ coverage:

If you missed the Journalism.co.uk own coverage, here’s a round-up:

Videos from the Westminster University students at this link. Interviewees included:

  • Paul Lashmar, Is investigative journalism in the UK dying or can a ‘Fifth Estate’ model revitalise it? An examination of whether the American subscription and donation models such as Pro Publica, Spot.US and Truthout are the way
  • Haiyan Wang, Investigative journalism and political power in China —A case study of three major newspapers’ investigative reporting over Chenzhou corruption between April 2006 and November 2008
  • Maria Edström, The workplace and education of journalists – myths and facts
  • Shan Wu, Can East Asia produce its own “Al-Jazeera”? Unravelling the challenges that face channel NewsAsia as a global media contra-flow
  • Yael .M. de Haan, Media under Fire: criticism and response in The Netherlands, 1987-2007
  • Esra Arsan, Hopelessly devoted? Turkish journalism students’ perception of the profession
  • Professor James Curran, ‘Journalism in Crisis,’ Goldsmiths College
  • Marina Ghersetti, Swedish journalists’ views on news values
  • Igor Vobic, Multimedia news of Slovenian print media organisations: Multimedia on news Websites of delo and žurnal media
  • Anya Luscombe, The future of radio journalism: the continued optimism in BBC Radio News
  • Tamara Witschge,The tyranny of technology? Examining the role of new media in news journalism
  • Juliette De Maeyer, Journalism practices in an online environment
  • Colette Brin, Journalism’s paradigm shifts: a model for understanding long-term change
  • Dimitra Dimitrakopoulou, Crisis equals crisis: How did the panic spread by the Greek media accelerate the economy crisis in the country?
  • Matthew Fraser, Why business journalism failed to see the coming economic crisis
  • Michael Bromley, Citizen journalism: ‘citizen’ or ‘journalism’ – or both?
  • Vincent Campbell, ‘Citizen Journalism’: A crisis in journalism studies?
  • Martin Nkosi Ndlela, The impact of technology on Norwegian print journalism
  • James S McLean, The future of journalism: Rethinking the basics
  • Mathieu Simonson, The Belgian governmental crisis through the eye of political blogging
  • Nick Davies, freelance journalist and author of Flat Earth News
  • Boris Johnson, Mayor of London
  • Jonathan Coad, partner at Swan Turton solicitors
  • Mark Thompson, BBC director-general
  • What was that Boris? Carve up the licence fee?

    Last of the blog posts from last night’s Charles Wheeler award speeches, but just to share with you a question from London Mayor, Boris Johnson, to BBC director-general, Mark Thompson. Over to you, Boris:

    “I really wish I hadn’t decided to ask this question.

    “I love the BBC and I’m a big beneficiary from the BBC, but I have to say listening to your [Thompson’s] critique, I thought you were showing some sort of guilt about what the BBC website is doing to other commercially operated websites, you know, run by newspapers and you were trying to say the BBC might paddle it, that guilt, by sharing resources online (…) I understand it would be a very good way forward.

    “I don’t quite know how it’s going to work. I wonder if the simple solution might well be to carve up the licence fee and give a slice of it to the Sun, some to the Daily Mail…”

    Thompson answered, to paraphrase, that it probably wouldn’t work very well.

    A little more fully: there are countries where they’ve tried that, said Thompson. And the problem is, he said, that if you’re not careful, the ‘subsidy you need’ gets a bit bigger every year; and secondly, as a public service broadcaster one would ‘begin losing the critical mass’ in terms of the organisation’s culture, calibre of the output and public accountability.

    Hacks beat Flacks to knockout in Pall Mall debate

    Normally it is very sedate – the Pall Mall world of the Gentlemans’ Clubs. On Monday night it was a bare knuckle fight to the finish as the hacks took on the flacks in a Media Society/CIPR debate at the Foreign Press Association on whether this union was a marriage that would ever work. The Hacks won, for a change, persuading some of the 80 strong audience, mainly PRs, to change their mind between the beginning and the end of the session.

    Both sides have been reeling since the runaway success of Nick Davies’ book ‘Flat Earth News’ and its unearthing of acres of ‘churnalism’ – PR disguised as journalism – in the press. The Hacks were ably represented by three Terracotta Tigers: Rosie Millard of the Sunday Times, Roy Greenslade of City University and the Guardian, and Maggie Brown, the distinguished media writer. Up against them Peter Luff MP, once and still a PR man, and Jo Tanner whose PR skills helped elect the Boris Johnson as Mayor of London last year.

    The whole match was taking place in a rather significant setting. It was here in January 2004 on the stairs of the Foreign Press Association that Alastair Campbell announced his ‘victory’ over the BBC after his PR ‘triumph’ on the Hutton report.

    Sue Macgregor, late of the BBC now of national treasure status, refereed the whole shooting match. Millard played the men from the start accusing Flacks of ‘getting in the way of the truth’ week after week after week in her Sunday Times work. She reserved her especial ire for the PR machine of Buckingham Palace, ‘a venal institution’ whose spinners ‘bamboozled the public’ on Royalty.

    Peter Luff, only lightly mired in the recent MPs’ expenses scandal was having no truck with the journalist as saint. “Which journalist ever got the sack for getting it wrong?” he asked. On that current PR Disaster, Jon Stonborough, the former ‘spinner’ for Speaker Michael Martin was in the audience and was called upon to advise him. He was less than warm in his praise and less than generous in a forecast of career longevity for the embattled ‘Gorbals Mick’! [Ed – John submitted this piece this morning, timely given Martin’s announcement today that he will step down]

    Hacks and Flacks agreed that they were all ‘truth’ tellers and that there was an inverse relationship between the number of PRs now employed and the number of journalists unemployed. That was not a healthy sign.

    Greenslade, the sage of the internet and soi-disant conscience of British journalism, was equally punchy, producing a roll call of journos killed in the last two years.

    He then very effectively contrasted this with a blank sheet showing the number of PRs killed in action. The opposition was put firmly on the back foot by this low punch.

    Jo Tanner pledged, as they all did, to always tell the truth (however they defined it) and delighted in recalling the story of how she had exposed Baroness Jay as not the product of an ‘ordinary grammar’ as she claimed on television but a prize product of Blackheath Girls School. Good journalism for a PR.

    Maggie Brown revealed a trick of her trade – a simple device to get round the PRs who controlled access to celebrities and powerful people in the media and elsewhere. She simply ignored them and went round their backs. She cited the example of Jay Hunt, the controller of BBC One whose PR blocked her access. Maggie simply interviewed her proud Professor father instead!

    It was left to a super hack Phil Harding, former Today editor and Controller of BBC editorial policy to point out the idea of a marriage between the two was a pure chimera: “We do different jobs.” We do and did. Not a marriage more a friendship of distrust.

    After their defeat – smiling as always – it was simply left to the Flacks to buy the drinks for the Hacks…

    Channel 4 Dispatches: Boris Johnson audio on plans to assault journalist to be aired

    Channel 4’s Dispatches will tonight air extracts from a conversation between current London mayor Boris Johnson and Old Etonian friend Darius Guppy from 1990 in which the pair discuss beating up a journalist – then News of the World reporter Stuart Collier.

    In an Independent.co.uk interview in January 2007, Johnson said he had offered Guppy his help in finding the journalist because Guppy had told him ‘that some tabloid scuzzbags had reduced his family to tears’.

    Listen to excerpts from the conversation at this link.

    According to a statement on the Dispatches website, a spokesman for Boris Johnson said: “This was a colourful story from almost two decades ago. It was of little or no consequence back then – and has no relevance whatsoever now.”

    Guardian blogger calls for other London bloggers

    One of the Guardian’s newest bloggers, writer Dave Hill, is to use the platform to promote, and interact with, other external blogs.

    “Blogging offers the chance to fill the void,” London blogger Dave Hill writes at his new Guardian.co.uk home.  In an attempt to nourish connections with other bloggers, he’s asking for people to send him their favourite London blogs.

    Prior to this blog he blogged at London Mayor & More, and his other blogs Clapton Pond and Big Britain are still active.

    FT.com: Problems with London Mayor Boris Johnson’s crime map plan

    Plans proposed by London’s new mayor Boris Johnson to create a detailed crime map of the city have stalled because of legal concerns.

    The Conservative party’s agenda to make data more widely available has raised concerns with the Information Commissioner’s Office, which says releasing such information could breach data protection laws.

    The Royal Chartered Institute of Surveyors has also expressed fears that publishing a crime map could affect house prices.