Tag Archives: CNN.com

Tibet and the Information War

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From EastSouthWestNorth

Rebecca Mackinnon of the Journalism and Media Studies Centre in Hong Kong does a great job of looking at how Chinese are increasingly skeptical of Western news agencies’ perceived bias about what has happened in Tibet:

Hopefully most of China’s netizens will draw the obvious conclusion: that in the end you shouldn’t trust any information source – Western or Chinese, professional or amateur, digital or analog – until and unless they have earned your trust.

She provides some great examples including the apparent cropping of photos on CNN.com to shape the story. It’s well worth a read.

Ethan Zuckerman takes issue with one BBC reporter who, he says, take all the criticism of coverage he has received as coming from government stooges: “In other words, there may be angry Chinese citizens contacting BBC reporters to complain about their coverage, but they’re being controlled by Chinese state media.” (There’s no link for the report so I can’t follow this up.)

This is a fascinating discussion, because it represents something of a watershed in different ways:

  • What was originally perceived to be a crisis for China’s image of itself in the world may end up being something else. Too early to say yet;
  • The first big international story that may, in the final analysis, be defined not by the (Western) mass media but by an online debate (kind word)/’information war’ (probably more accurate word);
  • The extent to which a country/nation defines itself is drifting from an official function to an informal, online one. An online fightback, and one which is done by its passionate and angry citizen, has much more credibility than a state-sponsored one.

‘Stories’ are shaped early on and it’s a brave journalist who defies preconceptions and refuses to pander to them. (Brave usually because their editors will yell at them to provide copy and content to match their competitors, but also because they face viewer/reader harrassment.)

The Tibet story, which has not yet played itself out and may have more twists to come, is one of those stories any media should be mature enough to cover in a nuanced and unbiased way.

RConversation: Anti-CNN and the Tibet information war

Journalists Should Bite the Bullet

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screenshot from CNN’s website

It’s the one area where old-style journalism hasn’t really made the strides it could. I can understand why: Journalism is a very, very conservative profession. But The Journalism Iconoclast, written by Patrick Thornton, makes a telling point when he points to a nice new feature of CNN.com’s website — the bullet point:

One of the features many people may have noticed with the relaunch of CNN.com earlier this year is that CNN offers succinct bullet points above articles about the key points of the story. Most people skim stories anyway, so why not give them the ultimate way to skim an article? Maybe they will read the whole thing, but use the bullet points to help them remember key points.

Patrick suggests newspapers adopt this for their online offerings; I would actually be in favor of their doing it for their offline offerings too. Buzzmachine, for example, is not the only one bemoaning a buried lede. Indeed, I often find the inverted pyramid approach outdated and less useful for the sort of rapid scanning we do now we’re so webcentric.

One commenter to the story, Marc Matteo, points to one of the key problems with newspapers introducing this kind of bullet-point approach: Shrinking budgets and harried editors. In which case I would farm the bullet pointing out to people who aren’t even journalists. As Marc himself points out, non-journalism websites don’t seem to have this problem. How about allowing readers to add the bullet points themselves? Indeed, it may even be possible to automate the process.

The nasty truth is that a lot of what we take to be good sound journalistic writing was designed for an earlier, slower time. Now we want to catch the gist of something in a few seconds, and we’re looking for reasons not to read them, rather than feeling we should, we have to, or (God forbid) we want to.

Bottom line: Newspapers and all traditional media should not just be looking for new ways to deliver their news, but new ways to write it too. An example of good, pithy writing is actually Techdirt, which rarely strays (unlike this blog) over 250 words, including story, background and (usually quite tart) analysis.  

The Journalism Iconoclast