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In many ways, it was perfect SEO-fodder: a funny gaffe, pretty American journalist… all wrapped with the topic of the moment, the Grammy Awards.
As CBS reporter Serene Branson prepared to introduce a segment about the awards, something strange happened. Her speech slurred, she lost her place, she seemed distracted. It is – on the face of it – quite hilarious. But as newspapers across the world rushed to get the clips on their sites, many of them should have taken a step back and asked why it happened.
It is emerging now that Serene may have suffered a stroke on air. I say may because we’re not altogether sure yet – all that we do know is that she was taken to hospital after that segment. [UPDATE: It has since emerged that while Ms Branson was observed by paramedics afterwards, she did not need to go to hospital.]
But, as she undergoes tests, and as her family, friends and colleagues worry – newspapers are running stories like these:
“Grammy’s reporter goes gaga” said The Sun, before hastily changing its headline to read “Grammy’s journo taken to hospital“. You’ll notice that while The Sun rephrased much of its story to suit a sombre tone, they haven’t given the same luxury to its readers – many of whose comments still appear from the previous article. “That’s so funny!” says one, referring, of course, to the original story’s content.
The Daily Record got in on it too, quickly removing a article which started with:
Serene Branson was presenting for CBS2 at the biggest music bash in the world when she struggled to put together a coherent sentence
Hastily replacing it minutes later with:
CBS reporter Serene Branson was last night under observation in hospital after it was feared she may have suffered a stroke live on air during the Grammy Awards broadcast.
But perhaps worst of all – posted well after the news of Ms Branson’s apparent stroke – is this effort from 3am, the gossip section of the Daily Mirror:
If this Grammys video clip doesn’t make you laugh out loud, see a doctor
We don’t know why we bothered with the gazillion pictures of dresses, suits, shoes and the leopard we showed you earlier – this is all the Grammys coverage you need.
Serene Branson is an American TV presenter with blonde coiffed hair, very white teeth (naturally, well… probably not naturally, compulsory) and lashings of make-up. All good so far, except she can’t speak… a word. Not even a word that resembles one you’ve heard before. Watch it – it’s officially hilarious.
As I type, the article remains on 3am.co.uk. I hope, sincerely, that it gets removed/edited soon.
But this raises a couple of issues. Number one, did all of these sites get so excited that they forget to use their common news sense? Did it not occur to them that there could be more to it? Number two, for those that have edited, is it acceptable for newspapers to republish video of someone who maybe having a stroke?
Disclosure: I posted this on my own Tumblr this morning – without giving thought to a further problem. I’m not surprised that these places saw the video and figured it would make a great story – but I wonder if, in the rush to be first up with a story, they forget an editorial process which should prevent stories like this getting out there.
Staggeringly, I’ve just discovered this report from the New York Daily News. Which, despite making reference to her hospitalisation, still pokes fun at Ms Branson’s “gibberish”:
A Los Angeles reporter delivered a bizarre string of gibberish on live television Sunday night while at the Grammys.
3am.co.uk have removed their story.
I was lucky, earlier this week, to finally get my hands on a lovely new iPhone 4. It is simply the most sophisticated gadget I’ve ever owned – not to mention the most expensive. But while I’m still in the giddy ‘new gadget’ love-in, it certainly won’t take my affections away from the best thing in my bag – the Amazon Kindle.
I bought the WiFi-only version just before Christmas. It was at the time of the massive ad campaign from Amazon – and I’d hazard a guess that there were more Kindle ads than Kindles in London at one point. It worked – curiosity of my fellow commuters meant a lot of “oh… is that a Kindle? How do you find it?” questions on my journeys around the capital. There are less now, I’m assuming that many who’d wondered about the Kindle had got one, or given one, as a holiday gift.
It’s certain that popularity is growing. Indeed, we’re hearing now that in the last three months of 2010, in the US, Amazon sold more e-books than actual paperbacks.
I guess we all have our reasons for liking the device. But here are mine. For the Kindlerati among us, please add your own…
I thought long and hard over whether to shell out the extra few quid and get the 3G version of the Kindle before deciding it wasn’t worth it. I don’t need the internet when I’m reading. If anything, it’s the internet that’s been stopping me reading all these years anyway – a constant distraction, flickery lights that take me away from good old-fashioned literature.
So when people say, “It’s not as good as the iPad, you can’t do much else with it”, I say, “GOOD! That’s the point!”.
Think of it this way: What’s the best book you’ve ever read? Remember how engrossed you were, as if the world could collapse around you and you still wouldn’t notice. Now – imagine missing out on that because you suddenly got distracted by playing a bit of Angry Birds.
Seems crazy to think – but while a device could do a million-and-one things at a time, that’s just a million reasons for you not to read. And for me, the Kindle was about reading. Nothing else.
Nobody has ever criticised a paperback’s inability to send a tweet. So why do people get hung up on a feature-lite device?
Nobody reads anything online. We think we do, but really we read the first few bits of text, skim around, check out the hot pictures (if it’s the Daily Mail…) and move along to something else. That’s not reading.
I guess that theory means you’ve stopped reading this by now, but I’ll trudge on regardless. By using the brilliant Instapaper, I’m able to see something good, interesting and long-form and, rather than stop everything I’m doing right there, I can just click a bookmarklet and send it to my Kindle for reading later. Bliss.
I’m not the only one. LongReads.com is one of a few sites promoting the best long-form writing from around the web. I’m hooked.
I can still hardly believes this exists. Project Gutenburg looks pretty naff (if I’m quite honest), but it’s a gateway to a library of some of humankind’s greatest achievements.
The site allows the free download of books in the public domain. Often, this means books which were written so long ago that their copyright has since expired. Selected personal highlights: The Time Machine, Sherlock Holmes and The Complete Works of William Shakespeare.
Project Gutenberg is the perfect way to – if you’re like me – catch up on all those classics that you really should have read, but never got round to.
Worth pointing out too that Gutenberg books work on all e-readers, and come in a variety of languages. Tasty.
I’ve had the Kindle for well over a month now, and I’ve charged it, er, twice. And that includes when I first opened it up.
Now bear in mind that in that time I’ve read five books, at least 50 articles and endured two 25-hour flights to and from Australia and you’ll start to have some idea of the juice this little thing can hold.
Being able to not think about gadgets is important for me. Sometimes, with my iPhone, I feel like I’m looking after a small child.
Where a mum would do the customary “do you need a wee wee before we go shopping?”, I constantly need to mentally ask my iPhone: “Are you going to need a little chargey-charge before I go out tonight?”
The Kindle… it just is, you know? It’s in my bag. And if I fancy reading, I can.
Reading in a moving vehicle makes me want to die. Seriously. I lose all the colour in my face (which, as the Palest Person on Earth, is quite scary) and want to vom.
I’ve asked a few people over time and it turns out I’m not the only one. Now this isn’t a problem if you don’t get driven to lots of places – but for anyone who has experience the No. 25 bus from Tottenham Court Road to Stratford will know, it’s a long and bumpy ride.
Imagine how delighted I was, then, to discover that by bumping up the font size a little, I can eliminate the nausea which previous cursed my boring journeys.
Last week, Ghana and Sunderland striker Asamoah Gyan was named the BBC’s African Footballer of the Year.
After having what can only be described as a truly exhilarating World Cup, Gyan has silenced many doubters as he shifted from the mad-dash style of African football into the altogether more rugged world of the Premier League.
I am certain he will go down in history as one of Africa’s greatest ever footballers, if not the greatest. But no matter what he does in the future, he will always be remembered for his part in one of the most dramatic nights in world football.
I was there. Well, I felt like I was there. I think I was in the third most I-was-there-feeling place possible. No, I wasn’t in the stadium. Nor was I even in Ghana. I was instead in a cramped, sweaty bar in Brixton. It had, for that one night at least, a piece of Africa’s soul.
My reason for visiting wasn’t just to soak up the atmosphere. I wanted to produce an audio slideshow of the night as a way of experimenting with some newish equipment of mine: an SLR (bought), a high-quality Marantz (borrowed) and SoundSlides (long fiddled with, never fully utilised).
Sadly, we couldn’t use the slideshow on the BBC site, and it has, until now, sat gathering dust on my hard drive. But, as Gyan collects his well-deserved award, I thought now a good time to relive that night in Jo’burg.
The events unfolded in incredible fashion. Ghana took the lead through Sully Muntari just before half-time, before Diego Forlan – who was later named player of the tournament – equalised in the second half. It stayed 1-1 until the final minute of extra-time when a scandalous handball on the line gifted Ghana with a last-gasp penalty – and the chance to be the first African team to ever reach a World Cup semi-final.
Asamoah Gyan stepped up, but fired the ball against the bar, and with it crushed the dreams of a continent. Ghana went on to lose the match on penalties. It was simply devastating. I can’t describe the emotions in the bar that night, so I’d like to invite you to watch the slideshow below – I think it conveys the hurt pretty well. As one text message sent to the BBC live text team remarked: “Football, how cruel and beautiful you are.”
(Pictures, audio and slideshow production by myself – with a touch of extra audio gathering (and beer delivery) from Ben James and Ben Sutherland. Cheers lads.)
I was heartbroken that night. That game was about more than football – and I hope the slideshow at least gives some idea about what that result meant – or could have meant – to the people of that country.
Brazilian football legend Pele once famously said that an Africa team would win the World Cup before the year 2000. Of course, he was wrong. But it will happen one day, and I believe Ghana have the best shot at it. I plan to be in Brixton when it happens.
Pay walls, micropayments, premium subscriptions… whatever you want to call them, they all have one thing in common: we have no clue what works. Yet.
But we all have our own opinions on what won’t work. The anti-paywall brigade – I’m in it, I think, perhaps, possibly, slightly – will say stacking up all your content behind a big barrier is no way to gain an audience.
And others will add that ‘news’ – whatever that is – can’t be sold. It’s just information. Technically, we’ve never sold news. We’ve sold a newspapers; printed, delivered and physical. But never the actual news itself.
As Jim Tucker once told me, it was a very disheartening experience indeed to learn that his readers – he used to be the editor of a national Sunday paper in New Zealand – got more angry about a crossword being moved than they did about anything else.
Maybe people haven’t ever wanted to buy news? Depressing.
But fear not. Read around a bit on pay walls and you discover some decent initiatives. Yet, to great frustration, we’re sometimes our own worst enemies. Here’s five things I’ve learnt about pay walls – for good or for bad.
A few days ago, the Guardian’s legal affairs correspondent Afua Hirsch tweeted that Alan Rusbridger said (possibly paraphrased): “if New York Times goes behind a paywall, Guardian will be most widely read enl-lang newspaper in the world.”
Well congratulations. I don’t think anyone can match the Guardian online right now – it really is a brilliant website which manages to mix normal, hard news with niche industries. Perfect. But Mr Rusbridger is seriously mistaken if he thinks being the most widely read english language newspaper in the world will solve any of his problems.
If you can’t make 30 million visitors work, then I’d argue no amount will turn things round. If anything – it’ll get worse.
And I can’t help thinking it’s a rather selfish response from the Guardian. They’d be much wiser, surely, to just keep schtum and see if Murdoch’s plans work. If they do, it’ll be better for everyone – especially the Guardian who, with a successful pay wall, could really benefit from all those Media Guardian addicts among us.
But, alas, we’ve got to put up with pretty pathetic bitching between each side… which brings me onto my next point:
Perhaps it already has. Bullshit, says Murdoch of Rusbridger’s notion that newspapers will “sleep walk into oblivion” if they adopt pay walls.
I’m no Murdoch fan – nothing personal, but his control on the world is scary, no? – but I’m starting to think we should give him a good chance with this. Maybe we’ll look back in ten years and say ‘hey… he really saved the industry’. It’s possible.
But before then it’ll be mud-slinging all round. I can almost sense the excited fingers of comment writers just itching to get stuck in News Corp when the first major pay walls go up. Presuming it’s The Times, what’s the betting that we’ll see a whole heap of bile about the quality of the ‘paid’ Times compared to the free Telegraph? Very likely.
But again, as in point two, we’d be far better off diverting our energy into working as a collective to embrace new ways of paying for news online – rather than picking into each other for some short term traffic gains.
Imagine that. “Our newspaper is out of business because we couldn’t adapt to a new business model. Damn. But hey, on the plus side, in the month we slagged off the other paper we got 800,000 extra uniques!”
“Dumping free, state-sponsored news on the market makes it incredibly difficult for journalism to flourish on the internet. Yet it is essential for the future of independent journalism that a fair price can be charged for news to people who value it.”
The words of James Murdoch, son of Rupert, and chairman of News Corp.
It’s an interesting point, and at first glance it appears he may have a point. Right now, the BBC is probably the biggest news-gathering organisations in the world. To be a correspondent is to be at the top of your game. And the website with all this stuff? It’s free.
Obviously not 100% free – there’s a licence fee and all that. But in the minds of users, it feels like a free service. No barriers, no pay walls – you just log on.
So how can anyone compete?
Easily, I say. You see, BBC News Online is all about the here and now. What’s happening today. Yes – that’s the point of a newspaper too – but in a different way, I’d argue.
Newspapers can pile on the analysis. They can doggedly chase stories in a way that is different to the BBC.
Take the expenses scandal as a good example – would the BBC have been able to report that story the same way the Telegraph did? Of course not – it would fall down at the point of paying all that cash for the information.
So my view – a biased one, admittedly – is that if newspapers think the BBC News website completely kills of the level playing field they need to just be more imaginative.
‘Tits for hits’ is a phrase we jokingly use in our office. It’s true – any story with a promise of some flesh is a surefire way to get hits.
It doesn’t bode well for the future of quality journalism, does it? If all we click on is boobs, then it would be easy for news editors to just save money and make all their stories about Angelina Jolie. Seems like the Daily Mail does that anyway – take a look at their right hand nav.
With pay walls that all changes. I wouldn’t pay to read about Jordan getting married (again), but I would pay for the brilliant One in 8 Million series from the New York Times. I’d pay an awful lot, actually.
This means that, for the first time in our industry’s history, what the journalists want will be in tune with what the bean counters want.
If good journalism sells – which it will – then we’ll be needed to do more of it. Happy days.
I prattled on a few months back about how micro-payments could work if there’s a single payment method for every newspaper/news site in the world.
A Paypal for papers, if you will.
I think this is the most crucial aspect of the whole pay wall debate. If there can be one central system that powers it all, for everyone, then we’ve got a system that will succeed.
Put it this way – when you by The Times, do you have to go to a special newsagent which just sells that paper? Do you then have to cross the road to get the Telegraph? No.
Well someone’s only gone and done it. Press+ is touting itself as an out-of-the-box solution for pay walls. From PaidContent:
“Any consumer with a Press+ account should only have to enter payment info once to use the account for any publisher taking part.”
Spot on. So let’s just get on with it, eh?
Have you been watching the Africa Cup of Nations?
It’s pretty decent. Standard isn’t too great – but you can’t knock it for excitement. The first game saw Mali turn around a four goal deficit with just minutes to go. Incredible.
It’s been a difficult exercise, and I’d be lying if I said I’m not slightly relieved knowing that now the semi-finals are out of the way, my Cup of Nations stint is over.
But it’s certainly been valuable. Here’s the five things I’ll be taking with me…whi
(picture by Oluniyi David Ajao on Flickr)
“A beautifully whipped cross from in-form winger Courtney Pitt found Scott Rendell in the box, who gladly slotted past the goalkeeper to make it 2-1,” reads a line from a match report I wrote while at university.
Anyone who enjoys football can write a match report. But knowing about your own team is one thing – writing about another is completely different. Take that example above. The fact I knew it was Courtney’s cross was because I recognised the pint-sized, shiny-headed man straight away. Also because I knew, instinctively, that Courtney was always on that wing. And the cynic in me could even say that the fact it was a good cross meant it had to be him – nobody else in our squad could whip a ball like that. Still can’t.
And Scott Rendell? Of course it was Scott Rendell! You can spot that barnet a mile off.
But this is all knowledge I’ve gathered through years of following, programme-reading and website-scouring about the mighty U’s.
When your covering an international tournament, there’s simply no time to do this. Instead, you spend your time wondering who scored, and where the assist came from. You don’t know if the player hit it with his weaker foot, or if he’s been playing well for his club recently, or even if his name is spelt correctly on the team sheet – more often than not, African football is victim to some rather suspect administration issues, making the whole endeavour and awful lot trickier.
We did our reporting with the help of Eurosport who have been covering the tournament live. Thanks Eurosport.
So the usual plan is to watch closely, scribble down everything that’s happened, and then collate it together somehow at the end. If you’re good, you’ll figure out some way of joining up themes, spotting consistently good players, seeing where tactics have had the game won and lost. That seems easy – but trust me it isn’t. Again, it’s easy to spot when someone like Steven Gerrard plays well – you almost expect it – but Zambia’s centre-back? Less simple to spot.
Ahhh, the life of a football reporter. You sit there, watch football and then write about it. Couldn’t be easier.
Only problem is, you see that photo gallery over there? That needed to be made too. Not to mention previews for the next day’s games. Throw in a bit of subbing and other assorted jobs and suddenly it’s a little more difficult to focus on the game.
Never again will I moan about seeing a report which feels a little rushed.
Somewhat naively I assumed I’d be able to take time over my reports. You know, sculpt out something beautiful. Something a little like Stuart Hall – and fill my match report with twisting verse which gives the beautiful game the respect it deserves.
It’s all about speed.
At the BBC, they call it the four-par match report. The whole game in four measly but significant paragraphs. It’s strict – one extra letter can throw it all out – and once it’s done it’ll zoom off to various destinations: mobile, Ceefax, Red Button… everywhere.
Eventually, like the website, the full version will appear. Usually about ten minutes or so later. A little more time, granted, but still tough – especially if you want to make sense.
But again the four-par report is important. In a lot of places – Ceefax being the main one – they’ll only get that version of the report, and so everything that’s important has to be in there. It’s tough – but strangely rewarding. Particularly when it’s a thriller. Here’s my four par from Ivory Coast v Algeria:
Algeria knocked out pre-tournament favourites Ivory Coast in a thrilling Africa Cup of Nations quarter-final.
Algeria’s Karim Matmour cancelled out Salomon Kalou’s opener before Kader Keita’s 89th-minute screamer looked to have put the Elephants through.
But substitute Madjid Bougherra rescued Algeria with a last-gasp header to force the contest into extra time.
Hameur Bouazza then took advantage of disastrous defending to send Algeria into the semi-finals.
If you’re writing a football report it’s highly likely you’re a football fan. And obviously, if you’re reading one you will be too.
So that provides a bond you just don’t get with news writing. A bond that says that both writer and reader love something very much.
Make use of that – if a player exhibits sublime skill, for example, you know that football fans the world over will be gushing about it just as much as you are.
I had lunch with two of my former tutors the other week.
Well, I say former, but really they still are my tutors. Example late-night panic text: “Debbie! How many words should a 30 second cue be?!”
Anyway – I met Debbie and Andrew in the bar at Bush House. I could have sat there for hours chatting about things media with them.
We chatted about blogging. This blog, in fact, which the eagle-eyed among you will know is pretty much dead. A busy job, you see, is a surefire way of sapping time away from a personal project like this.
Sad, really, because it was this blog that opened up the opportunities which got me the job I’m enjoying right now.
Andrew said it’s important that at the very least I write about what I’m up to – if only for my own benefit years from now.
So I’ve come up with this plan. Rather than spend hours pushing out well-crafted (ha!) posts – I think I’ll keep it simple. “5 things I’ve learned about…” is the theme. Just five things. And I’m starting later today.