Robin Brown

Journo. Editor. Tutor. Dour northerner.

Archive for the ‘the independent’ tag

Everyone wants to be the Huffington Post

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News that the Huffington Post – the current Death Star of journalism for reasons outlined here – is now generating twelvety billion impressions a day has obviously enervated the UK’s newspapers.

Well, the online versions of them anyway. The Daily Mail adapted first – and is a recognisably different beast form the print version. Put simply, it has a lot of tits down the iconic right-hand sidebar that virtually stick your fingers to the mouse – metaphorically and, quite possibly, literally depending on the photo.

The Mail Online also writes what might be the first ever article it’s ever done virtually every time it mentions a topic. So, for example, if I were to write an article on the Mail – in the style of the Mail Online – I’d go into how the long the website has been live, how many redesigns it’s had, what it’s raison de’tre is and any recent newsworthy items relating to it. Let’s say, um, Jan Moir’s vile columns or Twitter poll karma. Basically you can expect to read a mini Wikipedia entry about the topic on every different article; like a pen picture for the stupid.

I expect that, combined with lots of other tics, this is an SEO exercise – as the entire site is, really. 3.2 million articles can’t hurt, mind.

The reason for this image will be revealed later on

The Mail also a internet dog-whistler – even going to the trouble recently of winding up its own audience with a ‘lefties are more clever than righties’ article – and it borrows a trick from its print self in stoking up people’s irrational fears and disgust.

The Mail and the Huffington Post have been duking it out for some time for traffic. Other papers have their own versions: The Telegraph has a frothing twat by the name of Jams Delingpole whose only purpose is to wind people up. The Guardian has an entire section devoted to that purpose in the shape of Comment Is Free. The Indy writes millions upon millions of ‘top ten’ articles – it’s almost pitiful.

But I’ve noticed something else in the last few weeks that I did not notice before – something I can only put down to the clear success off The Huffington Post. Namely, idiotic galleries designed to keep users clicking through dozens of pages, getting trillions of eyeballs on display ads and ensuring they’re shared on Facebook and Twitter.

Is Cheryl back with Ashley?

Today the Torygraph has dozens of images of Steve Coogan’s various alter egos – something that amounts to 24 press stills assembled with approximately ten minutes’ effort writing captions. Last week the Grauniad had a load of photos of dogs swimming underwater, for crying out loud.

Somewhere else the Grauniad is following the Huffington Post is into the free resource market. I say ‘free resource market’. What I really mean is ‘using bloggers and media professionals who can’t find employment to churn out high-quality work for no money’. At least the Guardian asks – the HuffPo gets its free labour to take stuff from the web, rehash it vaguely and throw a link back to the source, buried among a million ads and calls-to-action.

I find this fairly egregious, but symptomatic of where the web is heading. Shorter attention spans, sites wielding their Page Ranks like weapons of mass destruction and a brainless mix of celebrity flesh and diverting pictures.

In celebration of the New Journalism, here’s a top ten of internet facepalms I’ve collected from around the internet that other people have taken the time to mock up.

Faceplams are an internet meme popularised by an image of Star Trek: The Next Generation actor Patrick Stewart holding his head in hands. They are meant to typify frustration or disbelief at the behaviour of others (my own genuine facepalm is above).

Star Trek: The Next Generation is a US TV network show that was broadcast between 1987-1994, starring Patrick Stewart. Patrick Stewart is a Shakespearean actor known for his bald head. Baldness implies partial or complete lack of hair. Stewart had a famous public with roly-poly funnyman James Corden at an awards ceremony in 2010.

Written by Robin Brown

February 27th, 2012 at 9:14 pm

Election Day front pages: A predictable roll-call of shame

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As if there were ever any doubt. Today’s front pages from the right-wing newspapers manage to stretch credulity, taste, truth and decency.

It’s in every newspaper editor’s best interests to pick a winning candidate, to maintain the assumption that newspapers are important in deciding the outcome of elections. The option is to buck against that trend to my going off-kilter, like the Guardian this time around, or dig in with sheer bloody-mindedness, like the Daily Mirror.

As expected, there’s the usual roll call of shame from the right-wing tabloids – ranging from the sheer brass neck and wrong-headedness of the Sun’s Obama rip of Cameron to the implication on the front of the Daily Mail that not voting for David Cameron will mean people being burned to death on the streets of the UK.

The Sun’s is by far the most noteworthy, because whoever greenlit that one – presumably bizarre/Bizarre man Dominic Mohan, currently, baffling the editor – has got it so wrong it beggars belief.

Why? Because very few Sun readers will get the reference. Because even the staunchest Tory will not believe the an ideology-free zone like Cameron will really bring anything new to the table. Because the whole thing is an insult to politics, to design, to typography, to paper. It’s truly abysmal.

I expected a typical Sun piece of crap, like Brown’s face in a haggis and GORDON CLOWN wirtten across the top. The sort of childish rubbish we’re apparently all expected to think is hilarious. But the Sun wrongfooted me, by being even worse.

The Mail’s is more insidious, and says much more about the paper’s relationship with its readership. There’s a clear insinuation that unless Cameron gets a strong enough mandate and starts cutting the deficit we’ll all be going to Hell in a handbasket, which uses a picture of someone actually on fire to try and frighten people into following its line. Which pretty much sums up the Mail.

The Express is more prosaic, ramming its message into the sheep-like minds of its readers. Vote Cameron, Brown a disaster, hung parliament a disaster. It’s only a surprise there’s no mention of cancer or Diana in there somewhere. It can barely be thought of as a newspaper any more.

The Telegraph dutifully falls into line with the Tory ‘hope over fear’ nonsense.

The Times is, on the face of it, restrained. There’s even quite a good cartoon, and the whole thing smacks of gravitas. But we all know that the editorial line of the Times is fatally compromised.

The truth is, they’re all compromised. By the lines forced on them by proprietors, by the need to pander to readerships, by the need to achieve a pay-off on back-room deals with media moguls.

This election has been the worst I can remember as far as the right-wing press goes, through their naked partisanship and by neglecting their greater roles as educators and informers.

Things have come to such a head that popular protests against the press were held a week ago. Laura Oliver, on Journalism.co.uk argues that new media may need to fill the objective void left by a partisan media.

The Guardian and Indie have chosen a meek ‘need for PR’ line, which will probably serve well to split the vote. Only the Mirror has come out with any fire in its belly, with a picture of Cameron in his Bullingdon attire.

I think it’s a powerful front page, and there will be some interesting discussions as to where the rights to that image may lie in the future – public domain, public interest? – but it’s still the old tribal drum-beat.

I suppose that an editorial line borne of ideology isn’t really as offensive as one for naked commercial gain, but looking at the selection of paper this morning I just felt depressed.

Depressed that it’s come to this; depressed for the parlous state of journalism in the UK; depressed at the hate and fear-mongering.

The 2010 general election: A willfully stupid, mendacious and depressing election.

Comment is free… but talk is cheap

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Regular readers – there are regular readers, right? – will know that I reserve a special scorn for The Guardian’s Comment Is Free section; a comment and opinion subdirectory that collects viewpoints from across the political spectrum.

In itself, a section like this is laudable. It exposes people to new viewpoints, attitudes and lifestyles that the print version of The Guardian does not. Its strapline is ‘Comment Is Free… but facts are sacred’ – a quote from Grauniad progenitor CP Scott.

It’s a broad church, features some fascinating articles and regularly generates some vigorous debate.

However, I feel that that concept has been somewhat bastardised to create a deliberately provocative and emptily heated section of the website, where drivel like Sarah Palin’s climate change invective is published without comment.

Another recent article on video games relating to rape was similarly witless, and pulled apart by Comment Is Free regulars. And I think that’s the point.

It’s hard not to come to the conclusion that much of Comment Is Free constitutes link- and flamebait, dog whistling, tail pulling – whatever you want to call it.

It’s like the post on a forum that exists simply to irritate, the equivalent of poking a bee’s nest and running away. In web parlance it’s known as trolling.

It exists to provoke, and provoke it does. There are regularly hundreds of well-informed, well-written and well-argued comments on Comment Is Free posts, coming from many points of view.

Thousands of words of user-generated content, lots of outraged inbound links, lots of return traffic from people keeping tabs on the latest debate.

The Guardian’s site has become a slick SEO machine, as evinced by its URL keyword stuffing and habit of publishing several permutations of the same story, and perhaps a bit too good for its own good.

It’s clever, but it’s a step too far for me. I can’t believe that a lot of Comment Is Free isn’t simply designed to rile up The Guardian’s own readership, the very people who buy the newspaper, in order to generate more copy, links and hits from them.

Is this what happens to a newspaper’s content when too much thought is given to chasing traffic and the holy grail of user-generated content? Is it OK to debase and undermine your moral weight and editorial line in search of more web traffic?

Is the trade-off worth it? Crap, often dishonest, generally lazy, frequently hysterical and badly-structured arguments and articles in exchange for a few more hits, and a bit more cash?

There are other symptoms at other papers – the Indie seems to print a diet of increasingly outlandish lists, while the Torygraph recently printed this beauty, a disingenuous piece of phony conspiracy-theory outrage about Google gaming its own algorithm.

The Telegraph article is breathtaking in its dishonesty, but The Guardian is the worst – a serial offender that sticks two fingers up to its own readership every time it wittingly publishes another bad article.

I’m all for a broad church, I’m all for challenging viewpoints, and I’m all for user interaction – but it’s come to something when the newspaper is the troll.

Written by Robin Brown

December 21st, 2009 at 2:23 pm