Monthly Archives: September 2009

Coming soon: A journalistic ‘state of nature’

According to many…the perfect storm is approaching. The winds have been whipping for a while. But there’s a problem. The Old King is dying… but the New King, apparently, isn’t quite ready yet.

Clay Shirky, the harbinger-in-chief of newspaper death, encapsulated the problem at a recent Harvard Shorenstein Center talk:

“We are headed into a long trough of decline in accountability journalism because the old models are breaking faster than the new models will be put in their place.”

He’s right. But, intriguingly, he also slings in a caveat. Shirky imagines a time in the future when everything is hunky-dory, and a broad conglomeration of multiple news organisations will “overlap and provide a small percentage of journalism individually, but taken as a whole, represent the same position of accountability held by newspapers in the 20th century.”

Perhaps. But until then, we’ve got a problem.

So what’s going to happen in this imminent limbo stage – when journalism enters an intermediate ‘state of nature’? Allow me to imagine…

1) The paywalls go up, and a black market for scoops emerges

Paywalls and micropayment schemes begin to appear on news websites. A few of them make a decent stab of it – News International in particular, as they have a competitive advantage. As Malcolm Coles at Econsultancy suggests, Murdoch’s sites begin corralling in Sky News, Sky Sports, Fox as well as umpteen other publications and broadcasters that it owns, offering an attractive package behind the wall. Jason Wilson’s idea (aired at that News Corp will “draw on its corporate experience with pay television to leverage audiences and money using niche content of various kinds” kicks in, and, for a while, it all seems to be working.

Desperate to lure readers beyond the paywalls, the organisations that enacted them scramble for scoops. They get dirty. They hunt for drug scandals and nip slips like never before. Investigative journalism becomes feral. They get some real goodies.

Infuriatingly, the exclusives start being screengrabbed and hijacked on pop-up sites. A black market for scoops emerges, fuelled by the free-for-all web evangelists and cottage hackers. But readers don’t care if the scoop they are reading is 14th hand and poorly delivered, because they’ve still got it. As Shane Richmond notes in the Telegraph “it doesn’t matter that versions of the story on free sites “won’t be as good” because they’ll be free, which offsets the loss of quality considerably.” (Google’s Eric Schmidt agrees)
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Twitter phishing scam


Earlier today I received a Direct Message from @funsherpaNYC reading “rofl this you on here?” followed by a link to a url starting “video.twitter..”

I clicked the link, and it redirected me to a Twitter logon page. I rarely log in to Twitter on the web (usually using Tweetdeck on my computer or on my phone), so this seemed perfectly normal.

I entered my details. Nothing happened. I thought no more of it.

About four hours later I started getting @replies telling me that I had sent them a message “hey. i make $300-$500 a day online. this website showed me how” (obviously without the Xs).

I looked in my DM outbox and realised that the message had been sent to the 2,340 people that follow me. I’d been phished.


I have since changed my password, which should stop any further scams from my account.

I’m very sorry to everyone who was DMed.

It wasn’t just me. Thousands of other users have also been hit. The scam is currently being picked up by wires and news sites:

Twitter Spam: Phishing Scam Steals Twitter Passwords (Huffington Post)

Twitter Phishers Dangle Bait in Direct Messages (New York Times)

Phishing Scam Steals Twitter Passwords (PC World)

… and so on.

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Adebayor is not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy

I wrote another post for the New York Times’ Goal blog. This one’s on Emmanuel Adebayor and his terribly naughty antics over the weekend. I seem to be making a habit of reinforcing stereotypes of English football as a loutish world of fists and hoo-hah. Sorry about that.


11 images of New York

For the last month I’ve been living in New York. It is an excellent place. Here’s 11 images I’ve taken on my mobile phone since I’ve been here. (**Map fans: scroll to the bottom**)

M’lady and I have a tiny little apartment on the 6th floor of a Chinatown building. Chinatown is a fascinating place. Staring at a Chinatown street is a two-fold experience: look horizontally and the first storeys look copied and pasted from Beijing, with Chinese lettering plastered across shops and stalls; look up and see soaring New York tenenment architecture. Two cultures for the price of one.

A ground floor shot of locals playing a board game on East Broadway. Anyone know the game?

New York rarely gets any credit as a budget destination…but, in my experiece, there are more free events in this city than any other city I’ve visited. Here’s a Guardian piece I wrote about Free NYC last year. Over the summer, free films are screened in Midtown’s Bryant Park – this is an image of the crowd watching the cartoon before Close Encounters of the Third Kind came on.

Some idiot let me into the New York Times building. Here’s the 14th floor cafeteria. The view aint bad.

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Why the Internet Manifesto is annoying

Ther’s been a lot of noise about the “Internet Manifesto” over the last few days. Written by a group of 15 journalists and bloggers in Germany, the list of 17 positions on the future of journalism serves as a half-decent State of the Nation… detailing the current realities, and the changes that must be made.

While I applaud the exercise – and happen to agree with the majority of it – the delivery annoyed me. It’s a little patronising, and a lot aggressive. We know the king is dead, but does the new king have to be such an asshole? Here’s some snippets:

“Journalism’s self-conception is—fortunately—being cured of its gatekeeping function…..The media must adapt their work methods to today’s technological reality instead of ignoring or challenging it….If media companies want to continue to exist, they must understand the lifeworld of today’s users and embrace their forms of communication. This includes basic forms of social communication: listening and responding, also known as dialog.”


Perhaps a little has been lost in translation from German to English? I don’t think so. The thing reads like a goddam paralegal textbook! It’s got more syllables than a Sri Lankan family tree! Here’s a snippet:

“The web rearranges existing media structures by transcending their former boundaries and oligopolies.”

Erm, ok.

Surely in this brave new world of democratised journalism – a world that the manifesto so brusquely outlines – people need to understand what the hell you are talking about? Surely the ground rules shouldn’t be the preserve of the über-educated? And anyway, if they really wanted to walk the walk…shouldn’t they have crowdsourced the whole thing in the first place?

Luckily, I had a crack team of ace gobbledygook-to-English translators at hand to sieve though the wordage:

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Why membership is an Old Media solution to a New Media problem

A few days ago, Jeff Jarvis wrote a post on the idea of a ‘membership model’ for news organisations.

With journalism desperately seeking ways to pay for itself…the membership model is a co-optive alternative to the two other predominant ideas: 1) Paywalls (as employed by the WSJ, the FT and others); and 2) Using events to make up for the profits that ads aren’t yielding (as employed by TechCrunch).

As Jarvis outlines, a good membership model would mean “contribution [by members] to a community to build it as an asset; ownership of the community by the community; members having a mutual stake in the community; members exercising control over the whole.”

He argues that this model is “no salvation…but a fine idea”, so long as the organisations didn’t think of themselves “as the owners of this club but instead as just another member.”

I disagree with him. I don’t think it’s a fine idea at all…and here’s why:

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Show & tell


A couple of things I’ve done recently:

• A Video Break for the Guardian on Olympos – the southern Turkish village that banned concrete.

• A TwiTrip to Blackpool – a Twitter inspired visit to the North East’s most famous resort. The undisputed highlights were the glorious Tower Ballroom (pictured above), and transvestite cabaret at Funny Girls.

• I chose Unlike as the Guardian’s travel blog of the month. A fantastic, multi-faceted network of sites.

• I moved to New York for a little while, British football exploded behind me, and I wrote a piece about it for the New York Times’ Goal blog. This is the first time I have ever professionally written about football, vindicating hours and hours of stupidity on Benji’s Balls all those years ago.

For more of my stuff, see my Guardian profile, and my New York Times articles.