The Publisher Audience

By Robin Lubbock

For years I’ve been meaning to write this post, but it seemed so obvious that I kept neglecting to write this thought down.

I am the publisher. You are the publisher. Anyone with a screen is the publisher. That changes everything. It moves institutions that are publishers on paper or on the air one step further away from the audience. It means newspapers and broadcasters have to find ways to market their wares to the new publishers.

Let me say that again with a little more detail.

In the old days newspapers and broadcasters made selections from a wide range of competing news producers (AP, Reuters, staff, freelancers, etc.) and decided which of those sources would be published on any given day. The newspaper editor decided what would go into the paper, where each story would appear on each page, and therefore what the audience would read.

The person who buys paper as a vehicle for news has the decisions about what appears on that paper made for him by the editor.

But when people started buying screens instead of newspapers that changed. The decisions about what appears on the screen were, and are, no longer made by the newspaper publisher or the broadcaster.

The person who buys a screen, not matter what size, as a vehicle for news, also decides what news will appear on the screen. The screen owner has become the publisher. The people who used to be called the audience have become the publishers.

Each day each member of the new publisher/audience produces a single, individual, unique publication for one person: themselves. That publication includes some e-mail, some news, some productivity applications, some video, some blogs, some comments, perhaps an e-book, some more e-mail and so on.

The power that newspapers and broadcasters used to have to decide what the audience would read, hear and see, is gone. That means the old idea that newspapers and broadcasters are the gatekeepers is also gone.

The institution that used to be the publisher or broadcaster has become just another news producer which has to try to get the new publisher/audience’s attention, in competition with the same organizations that used to compete for its attention.

The old publishers have moved back a level. The new publisher is the audience.

The implications of the audience being the publisher are huge and a little obvious, but deserve a separate post. Coming soon…

And of course the newspapers, broadcasters and booksellers are trying to get their hegemony back by producing tethered devices and apps. But that too is another story.

In the browser-based world we mostly inhabit the publisher audience is still enjoying the fruits of the screen revolution.

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Today’s twin bombings in Jakarta—their implications for Indonesia aside—should bring home to conventional media that social media is a multifaceted force, one that is evolving so quickly it’s fast becoming the primary channel that users tune in to for urgent news.

Some conclusions to draw from Jakarta (or are reinforced by the sad episode):

  • Social media is not just about issues that concern the kind of things that people think social media type people are going to be interested in. This was a bomb that went off in a hotel in the developing world, not a pop star who died in California. Admittedly at the heart of the wealthy quarter of the country, but still not LA.
  • The two tweets below could not really be faulted for their content. OK, the second one should perhaps be “explosion” until it’s confirmed that it’s a “bom”, but that’s a quibble. The 140 characters of twitter have already converted us—both user and consumer—into the headline/alert shorthand that was once the preserve of conventional media.
  • TV was reporting a third bomb—and casualties—in north Jakarta long after a twitterer and his photo had shown it was not so. (I don’t have a timeline for that. Contributions welcome).

Lastly, friends and colleagues have made the point I’m stressing the timeliness of all this too much. They say who reports something first doesn’t matter. Well, in some ways that’s true. But a lot of conventional media still believe it to be so, indeed make that a key part of their business model. I highlight speed here because of the still prevailing sense that twitter is full of noise. To still think that is to fail to see how quickly the medium is evolving. The rise of hashtags, retweets and tools like tweetdeck has made it easier for anyone interested to monitor and contribute twitter—so much so that for many it’s the best way to:

  • be alerted to the fact that something is going on/has happened
  • update oneself quickly
  • bypass news and newspaper sites that are often slowed down by traffic during a big event
  • share the information with friends and others
  • pursue and confirm/refute unconfirmed information
  • and, perhaps most interestingly, expand one’s network of ‘information sharers’ so that the experience of watching an event becomes a social one. (Not as in cocktail party social, but in terms of sharing shock, grief, outrage etc, as in the case of the Jakarta bombing. We journalists tend to hide our feelings a lot but that’s not the case on Twitter. It helps to remind one that the casualties are real people, and the suffering being felt is by people who may be on the same vast network as yourself and reading your tweets.)

Here’s an initial timeline of how the story broke, from what I can gather (all times Jakarta time, WIB). Claims that eyewitnesses beat traditional media by 20 minutes are a little exaggerated—it was probably closer to 10 or 12.

0751 WIB: @dregar (Andre Siregar) “Something going in Mega Kuningan. Explosion? In Ritz CArlton and felt building shaking. Marriott hotel has some broken glasses”

indonesia bomb first tweet 2

 0752 WIB:@danieltumiwa (Daniel Tumiwa) “Bom @ marriot and ritz Carlton kuningan jakarta”

indonesia bomb -first tweet 0852

These tweets were forwarded extensively.

The first conventional media coverage I can find is by Reuters, quoting local television, 15 minutes later (all timings are from Factiva. There may well be stories and updates missing):

0807 WIB: INDONESIA EXPLOSION HEARD, FELT AT RITZ-CARLTON KUNINGAN HOTEL IN JAKARTA -METRO TV

@BreakingNews put out their alert eight minutes after that:

0814 WIB: BULLETIN — EXPLOSIONS HITS NEAR JAKARTA’S MARRIOT HOTEL

Followed by two more, quoting the Associated Press.

AP itself put out a bulletin at 8.20 am (I couldn’t find the original despatch that BNO was quoting):

0820 WIB: Bombs explode at Ritz-Carlton, Marriott hotels in Indonesian capital; at least 3 injured

The Reuters fullout came out nine minutes after that:

0829: UPDATE 1-Explosions heard at two central Jakarta hotels –TV

Please correct any omissions. Just to stress, I’m not having a go at my colleagues in conventional media here. Just recording the sequence of events for future dissection.

Journalists Citing Wikipedia: Rarely an Option

Reuters has just published its handbook online. A smart move (declaration of interest: I’ve done some training work for Reuters. I’ve got my old dog-eared copy on a shelf nearby.)

I posted (approvingly, but without comment) a retweet from Nieman pointing out that Reuters generally forbids quoting from Wikipedia:

Online information sources which rely on collaborative, voluntary and often anonymous contributions need to be handled with care. Wikipedia, the online “people’s encyclopedia”, can be a good starting point for research, but it should not be used as an attributable source. Do not quote from it or copy from it. The information it contains has not been validated and can change from second to second as contributors add or remove material. Move on to official websites or other sources that are worthy of attribution. Do not link to Wikipedia or similar collaborative encyclopedia sites as a source of background information on any topic. More suitable sites can almost always be found, and indeed are often flagged at the bottom of Wikipedia entries. It is only acceptable to link to an entry on Wikipedia or similar sites when the entry or website itself is the subject of a news story.

This is good policy, but the point could be made more clear. Wikipedia does not encourage the writing of entries that don’t cite existing sources:

Wikipedia does not publish original thought: all material in Wikipedia must be attributable to a reliable, published source.

In other words, if it’s in Wikipedia it should have been somewhere else first, and anyone using the information should go to that original source to check before citing it.

This is true of any journalistic endeavour,  and so it’s no great issue. (“Who told you that?” “What’s your source for that?” “Where did you hear that?”: all questions a journalists asks of someone who tells them something that’s not their own direct experience.)

People should not be offended by Reuters’ polic; indeed, they should be following it already—as writer, as reader, as consumer of Wikipedia.

Confirming is easy enough to do, by the way: just click on the small number that should be next to the information you’re planning to use:

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That will take you to the footnote, highlighted in blue:

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Then click on the link, if any, in that footnote which should take you back to the source:

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If it doesn’t—either because the link no longer works, or the source is an offline one–then you need to do a bit more digging before you’re ready.

Of course, if no footnote exists, then you should be skeptical, or look elsewhere to confirm the information.

How to Get Your Pitch Read Part XIV

One way to try to get the journalist to read beyond the headline/subject is the EMBARGOED tag:

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Although it does sound somewhat pompous, and can backfire if it’s not a story worth breaking an embargo for.

Likewise a subject line prefaced by BREAKING NEWS:

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As you can see, MySpace’s PR seems to think anything to do with their client is BREAKING NEWS, and deserves CAPS all the way.

Both of these are in danger of Cry Wolf Syndrome. Use them too many times and they wear out.

Another, better way to get your press release read than to send it and then recall it:

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I have no idea whether these were all intentional but they certainly had me trawling through my trash for the originals. The fact that no explanation is given for the recall just makes it more intriguing.

This reminds me of an ex-colleague who used to put tiny mistakes in his Reuters features so they’d have to be corrected and run again. Doubled his chances of getting them in print.

Of course, overused, both endanger the credibility of the author: the journalist looking like an error-prone hack, the PR flak looking like someone who says something and then promptly takes it back.

Fake Photos-A Thing of the Past?

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image from WSJ.com

You may have already heard about the Chinese antelope that weren’t: This, from WSJ’s Jane Spencer and Juliet Ye:

Earlier this week, Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency, issued an unusual public apology for publishing a doctored photograph of Tibetan wildlife frolicking near a high-speed train.

The deception — uncovered by Chinese Internet users who sniffed out a Photoshop scam in the award-winning picture — has brought on a big debate about media ethics, China’s troubled relationship with Tibet, and how pregnant antelope react to noise.

The photographer and editor involved have since resigned. But this took two years to out; you look at the photo now and you just know that it’s not real. And this, of course, is not the first time photos have been doctored by news organisations that should know better (there’s Reutersgate, as it’s sometimes called, when Lebanese freelance photographer Adnan Hajj was caught allegedly duplicating flares, buildings and plumes of smoke for Reuters. More on photoshopping at Wikipedia). How can we avoid this?

One option is to be a bit more discerning about the pictures we see, whatever their provenance. Another is to turn to technology. Academics Jessica Fridrich, David Soukal and Jan Lukáš looked at

detection of a special type of digital forgery – the copy-move attack in which a part of the image is copied and pasted somewhere else in the image with the intent to cover an important image feature.

Their paper [PDF] investigated the problem of detecting the copy-move forgery and described what they called “an efficient and reliable detection method”. John Graham-Cumming, best known for his work on Bayesian spam filters, made it a reality with an algorithm that implements automatic detection of image alteration using copy/paste. (OK, he did it because he wanted to win money in a spot the ball competition, but it’s still good work.)

A guy called John Wiseman has made a few modifications to the code so it works faster, and has shown how it works well in detecting the alterations in Adnan’s photos:

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The blue and red bits are where there are duplicated pixels. The code didn’t work very well on the Chinese antelope picture because that involves splicing two pictures together more than copy/move. But it’s worth a look.

Is this going to bring to an end Photoshopping? Probably not. But it might make us more skeptical, and if tools like this are readily available, more likely to run suspect photos through the wringer until we’re sure that what we see actually happened like that.

China Eats Crow Over Faked Photo Of Rare Antelope – WSJ.com

The New Newswire: a Dutch Student Called Michael

Twitter is now a news service in its own right. ReadWrite Web, an excellent website dedicated to Web 2.0 stuff, points out that the recent earthquake in England–not that unusual in itself, apparently, but rarely actually strong enough to be felt by humans—was reported first by Twitterers and by a Twitter-only news service called BreakingNewsOn (www.twitter.com/BreakingNewsOn): 

This story broke over Twitter in the past half hour, and nothing is up yet on the BBC sites, the Guardian, or the Telegraph. This story is breaking live on Twitter.

Looking at the situation a few hours later, it’s certainly true that mainstream websites have been a bit slow with the story. From what I can gather, the timeline is something like this (all times are in GMT):

Quake hits south of Grimsby 00:56  
First tweets 00:57  
BreakingNewsOn 00:59 (“Unconfirmed reports of earthquake in London”)
BreakingNewsOn 01:01 (“Reports of earthquake, working to confirm”, followed by lots of tweets)
BreakingNewsOn 01:10 (confirmation from European-Mediterranean Seismological Centre)
Dow Jones Newswires 01:29 (quotes BBC report)
Associated Press 01:30 (garbled alert)
Reuters 01:36 (“Quake shakes Britain, no casualties reported”)
AFP 01:45 (“Moderate quake shakes Britain”)
BBC twitter feed 01:56 (“Tremors felt across England”)

There may be some holes in here: I don’t have the exact time when the BBC website first carried the story, but I’m guessing it’s a few minutes before the wires. And this is not the first BreakingNewsOn has been ahead: It was, according to some reports, first on the Benazir Bhutto assassination, although I’ve not been able to confirm that. 

So who or what is BreakingNewsOn, and how does it scoop the big guys on their own turf? The service is actually pretty much one guy, a 20-year old Dutch student called Michael van Poppel, according to this interview by Shashi Bellamkonda. He is a news junkie, and makes money from it too, doing something called web-trawling—searching the net for stuff he can sell to the big players. (He was the guy who last September dug up a videotape of Osama bin Laden, which he then sold to Reuters.) 

Van Poppel works with a couple of other people and is clearly experienced and voracious in hoovering up web content. But it’s also about citizen journalism, crowd sourcing, whatever you want to call it: in the case of the UK quake, the first alerts actually came from witnesses, who twittered about the jolts they felt; it was BreakingNewsOn’s skill in harvesting that information, and staying sufficiently close to its readers for them to think to share their experience, that led to the fast turnaround. 

Of course, there’s much about this that is new. Everyone is now a reporter, if they find themselves in the middle of news. And everyone can be a media publisher: In this case it’s one 20-year old student with a twitter feed and an Internet-connected computer. And, finally, everyone can now subscribe to that once holiest-of-holies: a newswire service that updates in real time. Only now it’s not called a Reuters terminal or a Bloomberg but Twitter. 

But behind that, not much has changed. I’ve covered a few quakes in my time, and it’s all about finding the stuff out quickly by getting it out quickly. Nothing much has changed. No one was injured or killed, and it sounds like there was no falling masonry or damage to buildings. But that’s no excuse: earthquakes are news, and especially if they’re the strongest in the country for more than two decades

Twitter is perfectly suited for breaking news, because it’s all about short pithy sentences and updates. As ReadWrite Web points out, during the California wildfires last year, Twitter and other citizen journalism tools were used by people on the ground, scooping the mainstream press. And all this offers some lessons for the mainstream press that it would be wise to absorb: 

  • Mainstream media cannot afford to be slow off the mark on stories like this, since their value to high-paying subscribers is intimately tied to their speed;
  • Alert streams are no longer the province of market traders;
  • Traditional media needs to find a way to work with these new sources of news, or else find a way to add value that such services cannot. In this case it could have been finding a way to reflect in the headlines the unusual nature of this event;
  • Traditional media has to both monitor these new sources of news–the tweets from ordinary folk surprised to be shaken awake by a tremor—and work with them to ensure that they, too, benefit.

Some might say that what van Poppel does isn’t news. I’d contest that. He did everything right in reporting the story: it’s big enough an event to merit an “unconfirmed” snap, a quick follow-up which contains what we old newshounds would call an advisory letting subscribers know what he’s doing and to expect more. When he got confirmation he put out, all within 10 minutes. That’s a time-tested, old-fashioned and reasonable news approach. He leveraged the new media, but he showed an understanding of news values and what his readers needed. 

Kudos to him. We all could learn a lesson.

(An extended version of this post is available for publication to newsprint media as part of the Loose Wire Service. More details here, or email Jeremy Wagstaff directly.)

The First Casualty

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The discovery of three suitcases of negatives belonging to Robert Capa has raised hopes that, once and for all, the authenticity of his famous photograph of a falling Spanish Replubican soldier will be settled. Some believe the photo was staged (Philip Knightley, in particular, has made it an article of faith), as this piece from Reuters highlights:

Still unknown, however, is whether the famed 1936 photograph of “The Falling Soldier,” which shows a Republican soldier at the moment a bullet strikes him down, is among those in the three battered cases, some now held together with black tape and known collectively as “the Mexican suitcase.”

Lingering questions about whether the picture might have been staged could be answered by the negatives, which are said to be in very good condition.

In fact, the truth behind this picture has already been established with some degree of certainty, and actually offers some salutory lessons we could still absorb in this New Media age.

Robert Whelan, Capa’s biographer, has written extensively of his search to authenticate the photo. His PBS version is here, in which he establishes beyond any reasonable doubt that the photo is real; the man’s name, the place, and the way he died. But, intriguingly, some bits are left out of that account, perhaps for reasons of space, and appear only in this version [PDF], which I found on an Italian photographers’ website. (It seems to be a revised version of a piece Whelan wrote for Aperture magazine.)

It turns out the truth is somewhat murkier. There seems little doubt the man had been shot, and that he was dead when the photo was taken. The semi-closed position of his left hand suggests this, since anyone intentionally falling would reflexively open it to catch his fall):

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Whelan assembles other evidence to identify the place, the person and the actual incident.

The photo wasn’t staged, but the fact that the man was standing on the hillside, with Capa about to photograph him, was. Hansel Mieth, another Life photographer, wrote to Whelan that Capa and the soldiers had been “fooling around. We felt good. There was no shooting. They came running down the slope. I ran too and knipsed.” And although Capa denied to Mieth that he had asked them to stage the attack, he had “implied that he felt at least partially responsible for the man’s death – a feeling that he naturally did not wish to make public, and so he altered various details in his several accounts of the circumstances in which he had made his photograph.”

If shown in context with the other photographs in the batch, it’s clear that Capa had been asking them to stage certain manoeuvers for him to take photographs, and that their activities and shooting had attracted the attention of an enemy machine gun.

In some ways the photo must have been agony for Capa. On the one hand it became not only his most famous shot (even more famous than his Normandy landing shot) but also the defining icon of war. But the truth is that it was of a man standing still on a hillside in good humour, obliging a photographer, unaware he was in enemy sights.

So what are the lessons?

  • The truth matters. Some have suggested it doesn’t matter whether the photo was staged. It does. This kind of thinking has always confused me; when I investigated a story about Internet photographs of rape victims from the Indonesian riots in 1998, a lot of those hosting the alleged photos said it didn’t matter; what mattered, they said, was whether the rapes occurred. I couldn’t disagree more; what matters is whether the reader/viewer can be sure that what they’re seeing/reading is what it purports to be. This is even more important now with the Blurring of Branding, where we are as likely to get our information from individual-run blogs as we are from big media.
  • The truth is always murkier than we imagine it is. I would have thought Philip Knightley, who wrote The First Casualty about war correspondents, might have dug deeper on this, given the book has gone through countless revisions. Whelan’s work on Capa is by contrast a model of tireless investigation and I believe that he’s gotten as close to the truth of this photograph as we could hope to get.
  • Staging anything is dangerous. Capa may have felt partially responsible for his death although he may not have really been so. But anyone who has been in a situation where they’ve moved an ornament, asked someone to pose in a doorway, encouraged a guerrilla to check out the next hill against his better judgement, must know the feeling: any kind of interfering may lead to unforeseen consequences. The best, the only, course of action is never to interfere and never to suggest to a subject, whether as a journalist or photographer, to do anything they weren’t about to do anyway. Capa carried that burden for the rest of his short life. Any journalist, citizen or otherwise, must be aware of that.

The First Casualty

image

The discovery of three suitcases of negatives belonging to Robert Capa has raised hopes that, once and for all, the authenticity of his famous photograph of a falling Spanish Replubican soldier will be settled. Some believe the photo was staged (Philip Knightley, in particular, has made it an article of faith), as this piece from Reuters highlights:

Still unknown, however, is whether the famed 1936 photograph of “The Falling Soldier,” which shows a Republican soldier at the moment a bullet strikes him down, is among those in the three battered cases, some now held together with black tape and known collectively as “the Mexican suitcase.”

Lingering questions about whether the picture might have been staged could be answered by the negatives, which are said to be in very good condition.

In fact, the truth behind this picture has already been established with some degree of certainty, and actually offers some salutory lessons we could still absorb in this New Media age.

Robert Whelan, Capa’s biographer, has written extensively of his search to authenticate the photo. His PBS version is here, in which he establishes beyond any reasonable doubt that the photo is real; the man’s name, the place, and the way he died. But, intriguingly, some bits are left out of that account, perhaps for reasons of space, and appear only in this version [PDF], which I found on an Italian photographers’ website. (It seems to be a revised version of a piece Whelan wrote for Aperture magazine.)

It turns out the truth is somewhat murkier. There seems little doubt the man had been shot, and that he was dead when the photo was taken. The semi-closed position of his left hand suggests this, since anyone intentionally falling would reflexively open it to catch his fall):

image 

Whelan assembles other evidence to identify the place, the person and the actual incident.

The photo wasn’t staged, but the fact that the man was standing on the hillside, with Capa about to photograph him, was. Hansel Mieth, another Life photographer, wrote to Whelan that Capa and the soldiers had been “fooling around. We felt good. There was no shooting. They came running down the slope. I ran too and knipsed.” And although Capa denied to Mieth that he had asked them to stage the attack, he had “implied that he felt at least partially responsible for the man’s death – a feeling that he naturally did not wish to make public, and so he altered various details in his several accounts of the circumstances in which he had made his photograph.”

If shown in context with the other photographs in the batch, it’s clear that Capa had been asking them to stage certain manoeuvers for him to take photographs, and that their activities and shooting had attracted the attention of an enemy machine gun.

In some ways the photo must have been agony for Capa. On the one hand it became not only his most famous shot (even more famous than his Normandy landing shot) but also the defining icon of war. But the truth is that it was of a man standing still on a hillside in good humour, obliging a photographer, unaware he was in enemy sights.

So what are the lessons?

  • The truth matters. Some have suggested it doesn’t matter whether the photo was staged. It does. This kind of thinking has always confused me; when I investigated a story about Internet photographs of rape victims from the Indonesian riots in 1998, a lot of those hosting the alleged photos said it didn’t matter; what mattered, they said, was whether the rapes occurred. I couldn’t disagree more; what matters is whether the reader/viewer can be sure that what they’re seeing/reading is what it purports to be. This is even more important now with the Blurring of Branding, where we are as likely to get our information from individual-run blogs as we are from big media.
  • The truth is always murkier than we imagine it is. I would have thought Philip Knightley, who wrote The First Casualty about war correspondents, might have dug deeper on this, given the book has gone through countless revisions. Whelan’s work on Capa is by contrast a model of tireless investigation and I believe that he’s gotten as close to the truth of this photograph as we could hope to get.
  • Staging anything is dangerous. Capa may have felt partially responsible for his death although he may not have really been so. But anyone who has been in a situation where they’ve moved an ornament, asked someone to pose in a doorway, encouraged a guerrilla to check out the next hill against his better judgement, must know the feeling: any kind of interfering may lead to unforeseen consequences. The best, the only, course of action is never to interfere and never to suggest to a subject, whether as a journalist or photographer, to do anything they weren’t about to do anyway. Capa carried that burden for the rest of his short life. Any journalist, citizen or otherwise, must be aware of that.