Tag Archives: Dow Jones & Company Inc.

Another Way to Blog

I’m always trying to rethink what a blog is, and in particular what this blog is, and we’re now probably past the five year mark, so maybe it’s time to take stock. Here are five conclusions I’ve reached about how to Blog Thoughtfully:

  1. It’s no longer about feeding the beast. I’ve tried to post once a day, but I think the abundance of blogs nowadays makes a nonsense of that. People nowadays have so much to read they don’t want space filled up for the sake of it. (That’s what a newspaper is for.) Don’t be afraid to not post. No one unsubscribes from a feed because it’s silent for a few days; they unsubscribe because it’s too noisy.
  2. Comments are great, but so is silence. Loose Wire has never been about lots of comments (or, come to think of it, lots of readers) and sometimes I wonder whether I’d prefer lots of comments. Some blogs, the discussions in comments are better than the original post. But that’s not the only way to go. Some people aren’t just the commenting type, and that’s cool. The only readers aren’t the ones that comment; commenters aren’t the only people to write for.
  3. Forget link-love, link-bait and all that balarney. It’s great to be high on the rankings, and pointing to other people’s sites helps that, but ultimately it’s a disservice to the reader if those links aren’t incidental to the subject matter of the post. Respect the reader’s time and don’t post something if it’s just a back-scratching exercise.
  4. Blogs are people, but they shouldn’t be egos. I think blogs differ from publications in that they ooze the soul of the person(s) writing it and keeping it going, but that doesn’t mean letting the ego run free. So many posts I read nowadays on otherwise thoughtful blogs are all about what awards/coverage/junket the writer just experienced. Give me your brain, not your ego. Save that for your Twitter stream.
  5. Brevity is the friend of clarity. It doesn’t mean all posts should be short, but no writing has ever suffered from being edited down. If there’s a simpler and quicker way of saying what you want to say, say it. Which is probably a good place for me to stop.

And thanks, everyone, for reading anything I’ve written over the past five years. I have to say I really enjoyed it and don’t intend to stop. (And thanks to Dow Jones for not standing in my way when I asked permission back in 2002, or since.)

At The End of The Day, It’s All About Clichés

We journalists are a boring, predictable lot. Whether we’re in the UK, US or Australia we all use the same clichés. Well, cliché, actually: ‘at the end of the day’. Knowing I was a sucker for monitoring the Internet cliché Factiva (co-owned by Dow Jones, who owns WSJ, the paper I write for) sent me their findings, based on their text mining technology, on clichés in the media for the first six months of this year. Their findings: “at the end of the day” (uttered both by writers and presumably the people they quote) dominates all English-speaking zones.

Cliche

The phrase was used more than 10,500 times in the U.S. media, more than double the next most used cliche (“in the black”). In Australia it was used 2,183 times, more than three times the next cliche (“in the red”, intriguingly, at 679 times) while the New Zealand media used it proportionally more than either of them, 639 times against 147 times for “in the red”. (Clearly Aussie and Kiwi companies not doing so well this half.)

UK media was in love with “at the end of the day” too, at 3,347 times, but that less than double “in the red” (1,877 times) and only around double “in the black” (1,628 times).

Here are the clichés monitored:

a laugh a minute
a question mark hangs over
about face
all in due time
all the way to the bank
at the end of the day
bated breath
bend over backwards
better late than never
blazing inferno
braindump
brutal reminder
burn the midnight oil
business at hand
call it a day
carnival atmosphere
chew the fat
clean bill of health concerned residents
dead cat bounce
dog eat dog
eat your own dog food
firing on all cylinders
fly by night
freak accident
full-scale search
gang busters
horror smash
hot pursuit
in the black
in the nick of time
in the red
last-ditch effort
leave no stone unturned
left at the altar
level playing field low hanging fruit
nose to the grindstone
outpouring of support
rushed to the scene
shrouded in mystery
split second
survival of the fittest
tense standoff
the eleventh hour
think outside the box
time after time
time and again
time heals all wounds
time is money
time is running out
unsung heroes
up the ante
wealth of experience
wipe the slate clean

Seems like a pretty good list to avoid. You’ve been warned!

Do Bloggers Have Stealth Agendas?

How do we know what we’re reading on a blog is written by someone without a financial or other interest? I’m not just talking right- or left-leaning, but a specific agenda, financed by someone else.

It’s quite understandable that consultants blog. It’s quite understandable that people who sell things, invent things, make things or do PR for people who do these things blog. And it may not influence their writing a jot. But we still need to know this, upfront, otherwise how can we gauge the quality and objectivity of the writing? I think this kind of thing needs to be more fully addressed by the blogging community. If we’re about to kill off traditional media, we need to know what we’re killing off and what we plan to replace it with.

Traditional media wasn’t always very good at being objective, or declaring an interest where there was one. But most journalists would be aghast if someone suggested they had a conflict of interest in their writing. On the whole I think journalists are very careful about this kind of thing, because they care or because it’s company policy. I won’t bore you with Dow Jones’ policy on this, but it’s strict (we’re not talking the editorials here, we’re talking reporting). That’s a good thing, and it’s mirrored in most serious publications. But bloggers have no such restrictions, which could be a good thing: There’s no harm in someone doing more than one job, and for there to be some overlap (read: synergy) between them. But we need to know all this upfront.

Perhaps these exist, but I can’t see declarations to this effect on blogs. I think there should be some, prominent and clear. ‘So-and-so works as a paid consultant for such-and-such a company that is in this field. Where a possible conflict of interest arises in this blog it will be flagged to the reader.’ Something like that. Do people do this? I haven’t seen it. If we don’t do this, are we not going to further blur the lines between what is real and what is fake?

A Wake, And A Wake-Up Call

Just got back from a ‘wake’ for the Far Eastern Economic Review, which, after 58 years, went monthly last October under the ownership of my employer, Dow Jones. I won’t get into the politics of that decision, but it did occur to me, listening to some eminent former FEER personnel talking this evening, that three things go into a publication like FEER, if you ignore distribution, financing, marketing and the non-editorial side. And it’s worth considering, from a blogger’s point of view.

First is material. You’ve got to have good material. Not just off-top-of-head stuff like this, but real material, gotten by use of footwear, dialling numbers or other forms of real digging.

Second, editing. Common wisdom is that material is no good if it’s not written and edited well. This includes writing style — an important part of traditional media that sucks up a lot of the whole publishing process.

Third, production. I’m an editor right now. A lot of our time is spent on layout, fitting stories to length and making everything look nice.

If you look at this from a post-print, blogging perspective, only the first remains a necessity. Editing? If we can write ok, who cares if it’s brilliantly written? I think it was Paul Graham who characterised as incongruous some NYT reporting when read in a blogging context. Print media need to look closely at how stories are written and why they’re written that way, and ask: Does it need to be like that anymore?

The last thing: production. Blogs, by their nature, involve very little production. In fact, part of the beauty of blogging is not just the lack of effort in producing something (write it up, post it. If it needs editing again, edit it), but in the fact that it looks good on the page. Blogs, well most blogs, actually have strong production values built in. It’s hard for a blog not to look nice on the page. Some look wonderful, really very aesthetically pleasing. At worst they look like this, a bog-standard TypePad template I’m too lazy to change. But who cares? You’re probably reading it in a RSS reader anyway, or using GreaseMonkey to tweak the formatting. (Then there’s efforts at standardising this sort of thing a little more, like StructuredBlogging.)

The bottom line is: Blogging is a powerful publishing force, not just a voice. Blogging has established a way to publish on the net and be noticed, without huge capital and design resources. Traditional media need to look at that and realise that the battle is not going to be over allocating resources to the second and third elements of the game I mentioned above, but the first. It’s going to be about material. It’s not going to be about the medium. Blogging — and the Internet — has already won that round.

The rise and fall of the Internet cliche

I thought I would try out Edward Tufte’s sparklines idea as a way of presenting some research I have been doing into how the mainstream media has been covering technology over the last decade or two. I went through Factiva (part-owned by Dow Jones, publisher of The Wall Street Journal, and my paymaster), noting down the number of references each term got in a year (not as swift an exercise as one might hope. There must be an easier way of doing this.) Some of the results are in a column due out tomorrow in the Asian and online WSJs (Friday).

Anyway, here’s some material there wasn’t room for, along with a stab at a sparkline or two:

Who calls the Internet ‘the information superhighway’ anymore? Sadly, some still do – mentions have been static the past four years at about 1,000 per annum – but that’s a distinct improvement over 1994, when it was cited on Factiva a record 16,447 times. Since then editors must have started issuing edicts, because usage more or less halved in subsequent years. ‘Electronic mail’ started getting mentions as early as 1972 but took a quarter century to fall out of editors’ favor for the snappier sounding ‘e-mail’. From a high of 13,637 mentions in 1996 it has been falling steadily: Last year it was mentioned only 4,552 times against 1,577,582 for e-mail. Some terms, unfortunately, are more resilient. ‘Cyberspace’, for example, took longer than ‘information superhighway’ to hit the mainstream (in 1994 it received a third the number of mentions) but continued to enjoy journalistic approval right up to 2000, when a staggering 26,226 editors failed to spot its cringe-making quality and allowed it to enter copy. Since then, it’s gradually fallen from grace, but not fast or far enough: Last year it popped up nearly 9,000 times. Ugh.

Then here’s the same data in sparklines format (thanks to Mathew Lodge’s excellent Adobe Photoshop script for making it possible for a design doofus for me to be able to get something like this out. My fault it’s not a very good example of the genre. Suggestions very welcome for making better ones). Still, I think it shows up some interesting features of how, at least in the case of the first two, one cliche has given way to another over the past decade.

Mentions in Factiva, 1986–2004:

Sparkline for SuperhighwayInformation Superhighway
Sparkline for Cyberspace3Cyberspace 
Sparkline for Electronic mailElectronic Mail

What the data doesn’t show is that this was the first reference to ‘electronic mail’, back in January 1972:

Pres Nixon proposes development and demonstration of electronic mail system…
21 January 1972, New York Times Abstracts – Pres Nixon proposes development and demonstration of electronic mail system to provide routine overnight mail delivery between stations and 1-hr priority delivery

Whatever happened to that?

A Geek’s Lexicon

By Jeremy Wagstaff
from the 1 May 2003 edition of the Far Eastern Economic Review, (c)   2003, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
It’s unsurprising, given the kind of people who design and play with computers, but I’ve always felt there to be a chronic shortage of terms to describe what we actually do with our technology. So I’ve come up with some of my own. And, in case I’m accused of merely adding words to the English language, I’ve used existing words, in this case from the villages of the United Kingdom (I make no claim for originality here; the late author of A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams, did it first with a marvellous book called The Meaning of Liff. I also offer a nod in the direction of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter). Here’s my contribution (these are all real place names, so my apologies in advance to offended residents):
appledore (n) Someone who touts the superior benefits of Macintosh computers at parties, even after the dancing has started.   

aynho (n) Someone who forwards inane jokes, hoax virus alerts and cutesy e-mails to everyone in their address book, however much they’re asked not to. Usage: Who is the aynho that keeps sending Saddam  jokes?

biggleswade (v) The process of scouring through tonnes of Word files, spreadsheets, and e-mails to find a crucial document. As in: I’ve been biggleswading all afternoon and I still can’t find the dang thing.   

branksome (adj) A temperamental Internet connection. The Net’s been really branksome today.  

chettle (collective n) The debris, such as crumbs, dead insects and lint, that gets stuck inside your computer keyboard.

chew magna (v) When your floppy or ZIP drive, instead of reading a disk, grindingly destroys it.   

chipping norton (n) The point a PC reaches when it requires the use of an error-fixing program such as Norton Utilities. As in: I’m   sorry, guv, but your computer’s chipping norton.

crackington haven (n) A Web site that is home to ne’er-do-well hackers, crackers and credit-card fraudsters.   

cridling stubbs (n) The stunted, misshapen fingers and thumbs of teenagers who have spent too long sending text messages on their cellphones.

devizes (n) Gadgets you bought, used once and then, realizing they took up more time than they saved, threw in a drawer.   

fiddleford (n) A person who jabs away on a personal digital assistant in public places.

fladdabister (n) A sore or bruise that appears shortly before the onset of cridling stubbs (qv).   

foindle (v) The (usually) unconscious act of stroking a much loved gadget in public.

fugglestone (v) Frustration experienced after failing to   master an item of hardware or software. I’ve spent three hours on this dumb   program and I’m completely fugglestoned. (Not in polite usage.)   

gnosall (n) A person who frequents newsgroups and appears to know the answer to everything, while having no apparent qualifications or job.

hanslope (n) The slouch adopted when text messaging in public.   

hayling (n) The gesture made by someone answering his hand-phone during a meeting or meal, signifying it’s important and they’ll be with you in a minute.

hordle (v) The noise a modem makes when it is trying to connect to the Internet. As in: My modem isn’t working. I can’t hear it   hordle. (Also see millom)   

inchgrundle (v) To assist, reluctantly and grudgingly, a customer with their recently purchased computer.

keevil (n) A small icon residing in your Windows system   tray, the purpose of which remains a mystery.   

lostwithiel (n) The remote area not covered by your cellphone operator. As in: I would have called you, boss, but I was in lostwithiel.

melbury bubb (n) The noise of people talking on their handphone on public transport, unaware they are driving fellow commuters to distraction. How was your day, dear? Fine, but the melbury bubb on the train   home was awful. What’s for dinner?  

melplash (n) An annoying window that pops up on your screen   when you’re trying to do something important.

millom (n) The period of blissful silence when, after hours   of fiddling with settings and wall sockets, your modem no longer hordles   (qv) and connects to the Internet.   

much wenlock (n) The belated realization that you’ve been typing with the cAPS lOCK oN.

odstock (n) Gadgets and peripherals you can no longer use because you’ve lost the cables, software or power adaptor for them.   

padstow (n) The place where all your mousepads mysteriously head for when they go missing from your desk.

puncknowle (n) A geeky teenager who knows the answer to all your computer problems but never seems to actually get around to fixing them. 

scrooby (adj) When a computer screen starts behaving oddly for no apparent reason. Common usage: Jeremy can you come round and take a look at my computer? It’s gone all scrooby again.

swaffham bulbeck (n) The pseudo-authoritative spiel delivered by computer-store staff in the hope of browbeating a sale. As in:   I tried to find out which was the best computer to buy but the guy just gave me a load of swaffham bulbeck. I’m not going back to that store again.

tibshelf (n) The area near your computer where you keep software and hardware manuals you never refer to.   

ufton nervet (n) The suspense experienced upon rebooting a crashed computer, fearing that valuable data has been lost.

upper tooting (n) An insister error beep, the source of which cannot be identified. As in: I have no idea what the problem is, the   thing just keeps upper tooting.  

wantage (n) The shortfall between your present computer’s capacity and that required to run the program you just bought.

whitnash (n) The pain in your shoulder at the end of a long laptop-carrying trip. As in: The trip went fine, but I’ve got serious   whitnash and need a bubble bath. What’s for dinner?

Loose Wire Reopens For Business at The AWSJ

Today is the launch of Loose Wire in The Asian Wall Street Journal, following the shift of my old homestay, the Far Eastern Economic Review, to a monthly newsletter format. Of course Dow Jones own both publications, so it’s not that great a change; the column actually used to appear there a few years back, when it was just called Asian Technology. So in a sense I’m going home, although I’ll miss the FEER folks, who were an excellent and motley crew.

I’m not quite sure of the link to the AWSJ stories and columns, but for sure they’ll be subscription only. The permanent home to my column at WSJ.com is this, where Loose Wire will continue to appear. I’ll pass on more when I know it. Oh, and I still do my spot on the BBC World Service’s World Business Report. (More on that here.)

For readers of the AWSJ, thanks for reading. For FEER readers, I hope you’ll come across. For pure blog readers, none of this will mean that much to you. But thanks for reading anyway. This blog will continue to go on as before, and will act as a repository for extra bits and pieces that I couldn’t manage to fit in the AWSJ column.

Oh, and further to my piece in today’s Personal Journal on telecommuting, here are a couple of suggestions for wannabe teleworkers that we didn’t have space for on the page:

  • If you want to be mobile in the house, you still need to think about surfaces. Laptops are too hot to have in your lap, and while commercials show people happily working with laptops resting on their bed, on the carpet or on their spouse’s stomach, in real life this doesn’t happen without lawsuits. Buy a laptop rest, such as the Laptop Desk from Lapworks ($30) or the Intrigo Lapstation (which may, sadly, be out of business, as I can’t get into their website. This was a great product, since it not only served as a good work surface, but also doubled as a portable table you can use on the floor, in bed, or by the pool.)
  • For those wedded to the desk, I’d recommend buying a second monitor for your computer. Most desktop computers and laptops support spreading your display across two screens, and with prices of flat screen LCD monitors falling, it’s a no-brainer to buy one. Trust me: It’s a great timesaver to be able to read stuff on one screen, and type on the other. Just make sure your computer supports dual monitors before you buy.

If you’ve got any more tips for telecommuters, please let me know.

How (Not) To Pitch A Blogger

I get a the growing feeling that we bloggers are being targeted more than we were by PR folk. Sure, there’s the Warner/Secret Machines/MP3 blog debacle, where a Warner employee used some hamfisted tactics to get some bloggers to write about a Warner act. But there are other tactics too, and some are more impressive than others.

I lead a double life as a technology columnist — indeed, that’s why this blog exists — so I get quite a lot of PR pitches, some of whom are hoping I’ll do a column on their client, some of whom are just looking for a blog entry. All of this is fair game, and assumes a degree of professionalism on both sides.

But I didn’t realise until today that there are media “lists” of bloggers out there who are now being targetted by PR types. I received a pitch from a US-based public relations company for the Motorola DCP600 Digital Video Home Entertainment System. The email began thus:

As a blogger focusing on news and trends within the technology sector, I thought that you would be interested in this innovative home entertainment system from Motorola. Please consider covering this new product in your blog. Feel free to contact me if you need further info, have any questions, etc.

Fair enough, except for a couple of things. First off, the email address used has never been posted on this blog, and has only been used for spam, phishing attacks and Nigerian email fraud for the past year. The only exception: A pitch by another PR guy, back in June 2003. So where did they get my email address?

A quick email later, and the PR company tells me: “I received your information through a media research database.” Fair enough. Bloggers, clearly, are being tracked, and that’s probably no great shakes. But why the out-of-date email address? And why no basic data which might shape the nature of the pitch, such as I also happen to be a technology columnist for Dow Jones?

What makes it all a tad weirder is that the pitch is for a product that was announced in January, seven months ago, and won’t be available in the stores until “either October or
November (in time for the holiday shopping season)” — another two or three months away. Not exactly a hot story, either way you look at it. If I was half-asleep (not that unusual, I admit) I might have just edited down the attached press release and bingo! Motorola would have had a bit of free publicity to keep their product bubbling away on the search engines until the product actually appears in the stores.

Bottom line: I don’t mind being pitched. And I don’t mind it that much if the product is actually either too old to really get excited about, or too far away from the stores to burden readers with it. But couldn’t these media research databases, and the people who use them, do a bit of basic research (it’s called ‘Googling’) before they fire off their pitches? We bloggers, just like journalists, are a sensitive lot and hate to feel we’re being taken for a ride by folk who haven’t done their homework first. Otherwise it looks dangerously like spam.

Shameless Loose Wire BBC Plug

For those of you who can’t get enough Loose Wire (yeah, I know there are millions of you out there, even if you don’t admit it) you’ll be delighted to know it now appears on the BBC World Service radio. Well, sporadically, anyway. I appear, reading one of my columns in my customary monotone, on the World Business Report every Friday (well every week for a while, and then off for a while).

The next one, I’m told, will be later today: The WBR is broadcast at 0230, 1030 and 1730 GMT. You can either tune in or hear it on the net here (scroll down to the WBR RealAudio link). Or not. Thanks, Manuela, for making it happen, thanks to the BBC for having me, and thanks to Dow Jones for supporting it. Oh, and thanks to anyone who listens to it.

The Digital Fallout Of Journalistic Plagiarism and Fakery

How do you correct the Internet?

All these reports of plagiarism and fakery in U.S. journalism — at least 10, according to the New York Times — raise a question I haven’t seen addressed elsewhere. What should newspapers and other publications which have carried the reports do about setting the record straight?

A USA Today report says of disgraced reporter Jack Kelley that it has “found strong evidence that Kelley fabricated substantial portions of at least eight major stories, lifted nearly two dozen quotes or other material from competing publications, lied in speeches he gave for the newspaper and conspired to mislead those investigating his work.”

Here’s a taster: ”An extensive examination of about 100 of the 720 stories uncovered evidence that found Kelley’s journalistic sins were sweeping and substantial. The evidence strongly contradicted Kelley’s published accounts that he spent a night with Egyptian terrorists in 1997; met a vigilante Jewish settler named Avi Shapiro in 2001; watched a Pakistani student unfold a picture of the Sears Tower and say, “This one is mine,” in 2001; visited a suspected terrorist crossing point on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border in 2002; interviewed the daughter of an Iraqi general in 2003; or went on a high-speed hunt for Osama bin Laden in 2003.”

That’s quite a lot of correcting to do. USA Today says it will withdraw all prize entries it made on Kelley’s behalf (including five Pulitzer nominations) and “will flag stories of concern in its online archive”.

But is that enough? Correcting the “online archive” would have to include all secondary databases such as Factiva (part-owned by Dow Jones, publisher of the Far Eastern Economic Review, The Wall Street Journal, and my employer; There are 1,495 USA Today stories with Jack Kelley’s name either on them or in them prior to this year). Strictly speaking, it should also include all Internet copies of those stories on the Internet (a Google search of [“Jack Kelly” and “USA Today”] threw up 3,470 matches; while many of those are accounts of the plagiarism charge, many precede that). And what about blog references to Kelley’s stories?

I’ll take an example. In 2001 Jack Kelley wrote about a vigilante Jewish settler named Avi Shapiro in 2001. According to USA Today, this was one of the stories where “the evidence strongly contradicted Kelley’s published accounts”. That story has been posted on dozens of websites (I counted 60). Who’s going to correct, or raise flags on all those?

Then there’s the doubt. With Kelley claiming, according to the USA Today report, that he was “being set up”, there’s no way that even a serious investigation by the paper (which included a eight-person team, a 20-hour interview with Kelly by three veteran journalists from outside the company and extensive use of plagiarism-detection software) is going to confirm with any sense of certainty what was faked or plagiarised. So what, exactly, do you correct? Do you delete his whole oeuvre?

It’s a tough one, and perhaps a sober reminder for journalists (and bloggers) using the Internet as a source that it’s not just emails that appear to come from our bank that we need to double check. Is there a technological solution to this? A digital watermark or trace that can allow someone to instantly correct a story, or at least notify those hosting the material that there’s a problem?