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Monthly Archives: August 2011
Vodpod videos no longer available.
When I was 12 I stole a turkey roll from my school canteen. Fortunately, I was a truly crap thief, and decided to eat it straight away, 20 metres from the fridge. I was caught, and duly suspended from school. What a knobhead.
I’ve often wondered why I did it. It wasn’t because I couldn’t afford it. It wasn’t because I was angry at my school, or the canteen, or was hungry. There was definitely a part of me that thought it would make me look cool. But mostly, it was because I was bored.
In between stuffing the turkey roll into my pocket and getting caught, I experienced five minutes of exhilaration. My heart raced. It was thrilling. It was the dramatic, zinging opposite of being bored.
Watching the riots and looting in London, seemingly so devoid of cause or motive, I couldn’t help thinking that, ultimately, these kids were bored. Not bored like a knobhead middle-class 12-year old who’s thinking of pinching a turkey roll – but seriously, horribly bored. Bored on an epidemic level. Every day I see kids in north London just milling around, doing mostly fuck-all. And they are the ones who leave their flats. This was a chance for them to do something truly exciting. A chance to flee their listless lives for a few hours and do something pulse-raising. And once the boredom has given way to anger, however unfounded, the anger sticks, and gathers momentum.
But the underlying boredom is a lot worse than the eventual anger. Anger carries cause. Anger is intoxicating, and inspiring. Stodgy, nothingy boredom holds none of this. But it’s as deep a sign of societal disillusion as anger, if not deeper.
People are pointing to all sorts of explanations for what is happening – disenfranchisement, unemployment, recession, social division. And yes, I’m sure all of these elements are there, and, cumulatively, could justify what we’ve seen. But as the fires are being extinguished, and the chin-scratching post mortems abound, I hope we don’t miss one of the biggest blights of all – when there are a hell of a lot of kids with nothing to do, they’ll do stupid things. And this is a very sad problem.
I recently came across this excellent piece written a few years ago, An Antidote for Web Overload.
The author talks at length about needing a “decoder ring” for journalism, and how journalism needs to endeavour to provide more context, and more distilation. He talks about a bet made between blog evangelist Dave Winer and Martin Nisenholtz, senior vice president of digital operations for The New York Times Company, in 2002:
Winer had made a bet with Nisenholtz that for most of the top five news stories of 2007, blogs would outrank The New York Times on Google. When Winer and Nisenholtz reconvened to settle the bet in 2008, they unearthed a surprise. By the terms of the bet, Winer had won, but the real news was the site that trounced both the Times and the blogosphere — Wikipedia.
The lesson is fascinating. After the buzz of a story has subsided, readers were going to Wikipedia rather than the primary news sources. They wanted context, but they weren’t getting it from the mainstream media.
Two years later, the point still stands – readers are overloaded with news, and under-served with context.
And there’s a broader point, too, something that has been nagging me for a while. Newspapers assume too much knowledge on the part of their readers. Ultimately, this is an alienating factor, and those who fail to address it will lose huge numbers of new readers (read: customers). I’ve felt this recently, on a personal level. I’ve gamely read flurries of pieces about the Greek crisis and the debt ceiling debate, most of which assumed that I understood the context. I didn’t. And I’m sure I’m not alone. I desperately wanted a four-paragraph explainer somewhere to get me on my way, but I couldn’t find one. I ended up on Wikipedia.
I’m not suggesting that newspapers need to become Wikipedia, because we’ve got Wikipedia for that. But I am suggesting that they need to learn from it. Too much content is created in the image of its creators, rather than in the image of those who will consume it. This needs to change. I’m not suggesting that news should be turned in to one big Idiot’s Guide to the World, but a few little bits of context would go a long way.
Some examples of excellent practice:
• Larry’s Elliot’s brilliant family analogies about the Greek crisis was a great example of a story being “decoded” on a article level.
• The NYT’s topics pages are a good example on a structural level (almost like a NYT wiki page).
• The NYT also have a superb word definition feature – double-click on any word on their site, and a little “?” appears, linking you to a definition of the word on answers.com. This is superb practice: do not “dumb down” content to appeal to the masses, simply make it easier for the to understand.
If anyone is doubting the power of providing context, have a look at this video on the credit crunch. It’s two years old, and has had 2.6 million views. It still gets 4-5,000 views a week. And it’s on the credit crunch, for God’s sake! Its long tail is testament to is lack of assumed knowledge. Newspapers should take note.Vodpod videos no longer available.
A version of this post appears on the New York Times’ Goal blog, under the title Joey Barton’s Twitter Philosophizing.
There’s something about Joey Barton. There always has been. His career has been punctuated by disturbing outbursts of violence: as a 22-year old he stubbed out a cigar in a teammate’s eye at a Christmas party; in May 2007 he brutally attacked Ousmane Dabo, another teammate, until his ears bled and his eyesight was damaged; and six months later he punched a man 20 times in the head outside a Liverpool McDonalds – a crime for which he served 77 days in Strangeways prison.
And then there’s the peculiar, gnawingly likeable Joey Barton: the footballer who regularly – and admirably – pierces the dull fog of footballerisms that sterilises the vast majority of post-match interviews and press conferences. He criticised the England team for cashing in on dismal World Cup performances by publishing post-tournament books (“I played like shit, here’s my book”); he flashed his bum at Everton fans who had been taunting him about his incarcerated brother; and, of late, he has been become quite easily the most surprising footballer on Twitter, re-tweeting quotes by Nietzche, offering his opinion on the Labour Party leadership, and recommending Naomi Wolf novels to his followers.
Somewhat predictably, his boundless honesty has landed him in trouble – a flurry of barely-veiled tweets criticising the blundering board at Newcastle United proved the final straw, and Barton was transfer listed on Wednesday. Whoever his new employers prove to be, it’s likely that his online activities will be highly scrutinised. They’ll find some interesting reading… here’s my pick of his most intriguing tweets since he joined twitter. Any I’ve missed?
On getting refused entry to the US:
On Rupert and James Murdoch’s appearance in front of the Select Committee: