Where’s the proof? Google, the luge and the reliability of online news sources

Over the weekend, the social web has been rife with news that Google decided to withdraw a homepage illustration depicting a luge competitor, which was published within hours of the tragic death of Georgian luge athlete, Nodar Kumaritashvili, during training for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games.

According to the New York Daily News, Google made the decision following a ‘torrent of slams’ from Twitter users while Mashable published its own post citing the NY Daily News’ story – ‘Google Pulls Olympic Luge Logo After Backlash’. So far, Mashable’s post has been retweeted almost 1,000 times.

To a less sensationalist extent, ZDNet was also in on the act.

The problem is, I am not convinced that the story is true.

By coincidence, I’d planned to write a post about the fine editorial line between what public taste considers ‘OK’ and ‘Not so OK’ based on the alleged ‘backlash’ against Google’s choice of homepage image.

So I was scouring web tools like  Social MentionTopsyTweetmemeBing and Google to trace the timeline of the story.

Having tried to discover all the tweets I can – and I admit that I’m not necessarily using all-singing-all-dancing analytics applications here – there is precious little evidence of an alleged  ‘backlash’ against the Google homepage at all; certainly not enough to claim Google had cracked under pressure.

Yes there were plenty of exclamations of surprise at the choice of illustration, but retweets of Mashable’s story outstrips these relatively neutral mentions by at least 10 to 1.

So I am not convinced that Google did make a decision to withdraw the image as the NY Daily News – and subsequently Mashable – claim in their headlines.

I am all the more uncertain because of the final paragraph in the New York Daily News article which reads:

“Google did not respond to an e-mail about the logo on Saturday, when the search engine turned up 121,000 matches for the late luger’s name.”

Put that statement at the top of the story and the story should fall flat on its face.

So this appears to be a claim by the New York Daily News citing a handful of tweets and with no statement from Google to either confirm or deny that they made a decision to withdraw the homepage image. The claim has been repeated by Mashable and – subesequently – by close to 1,000 people on Twitter.

Why am I so bothered about it?

Just imagine if it was an individual’s reputation – your reputation – that was subject to the same experience rather than a huge brand like Google.

Maybe Google did make a decision. But where is evidence?

I’ve no idea about the reputation of New York Daily News, but Mashable – which is generally good at labelling rumours rumours – is an important source of news for the social web community. It is important that editorial brands like these safeguard their own reputations by respecting the reputation of others – no matter how newsworthy.

Both should forfeit the clicks by sticking to the principle that comment is free, but facts are sacred.

Johnston Press and the plucky pay-wall pilot

According to holdthefrontpage.co.uk, Johnston Press – owner of the Scotsman and Yorkshire Post in the UK – intends to pilot a pay-wall for a small number of its local titles as early as next week.

If that’s the case, then this is one experiment whose outcome will be eagerly anticipated by many media industry watchers.

Media planners, ad agencies and advertisers – in particular – will no doubt watch with baited breath to see if consumers will cough up for content that, until now, had been freely available online or – even more traditionally – from the news-stand,  local newsagent or delivered through the door.

Continue reading “Johnston Press and the plucky pay-wall pilot”

Was it Twitter wot won it?

Undoubtedly the media world just experienced a truly significant episode.

The decision by Trafigura’s legal firm, Carter-Ruck, to withdraw its opposition to The Guardian’s right to report the details of a question in the UK Pariament is – of course – important, but it would be a mistake to suggest that Twitter won the day.

What Twitter and – no doubt – other social media channels have managed to do was vital on two fronts: First, in highlighting the Trafigura issue in the first place and, second, delivering the means to galvanise mass opinion at an alarming speed.

Continue reading “Was it Twitter wot won it?”

Man bites dogma – Round Two

The comment added by BSkyB’s David Wheeldon to the ‘Man bites dogma’ Pay Per View (PPV) post sparked something of a surge to the blog yesterday.

David’s comments draw attention to the dilemma facing publishing and content producers: How an earth do we monetize and protect the distribution of content when free access has become ubiquitous with the advance of the web?

In many respects the debate isn’t about monetization of content but of its distribution. That’s because technology has turned traditional distribution models inside out and, ironically, media brands have been an active participant in this revolution. The net effect (no pun intended) is the distinct prospect that it is the owners of distribution technology, and not the providers of the content, that will seize the lions share of the ‘value chain’.

Today’s media owners will become disintermediated themselves; they will lose the power to monetize content distribution and be subject to distribution by new participants with new models of distribution – like Google.

The Guardian’s Media Talk podcasts in both the UK and US have served up some interesting debates in recent weeks.This link to Media Talk UK discusses the potential introduction of a ‘paywall’ at Sunday Times, while its US cousin Media Talk US digs into the issue of a potential content cartel in the US.

Today, you can link and listen free of charge. In future, you may not. And that’s why this debate is going to roll and roll…

Man bites dogma

This was written a few weeks ago for the blog-in-development at MRM

Interesting opinion piece in the Guardian about Rupert Murdoch’s pronouncement last week that he expects News International titles to be charging for access to online content; effectively pay per view (PPV) for news content.

There are two sides to this: On the one hand, Mr Murdoch has always called trends in mass communication correctly; even sparking the trend. On the other hand, I suspect he’s got this one wrong because commercial imperative is overpowering judgment.

There’s no substantial evidence that pay-per-view readership has worked in the past and, while the Wall Street Journal may have got something right, that doesn’t mean to say that mass circulation papers will be able to pursue the same model.

Essentially, this is about protecting commercial rights and attempting to preserve the traditional media model because that’s where the profits are.

But what Mr Murdoch did to the so-called ‘Spanish practices’ of the Society of Graphical and Allied Trades (SOGAT) and National Graphical Association (NGA) in the early 80s is now coming back to haunt him. He booted out a traditional skill in the name of progress and now his traditional approach to content distribution is being booted out itself.

Marx would have a field day with the current environment because the owners of the means of production are being torn apart by fragmented, mass-micro media that offers more up to date and compelling content.

But what’s also happening is that once mass consumption newspapers are rapidly being squeezed in favour of alternatives – Twitter, Facebook, blogs, podcasts, streaming media, radio, BBC, guardian.co.uk etc – so their profitability is inevitably being squeezed. So The Sun becomes a niche purchase for particular purposes i.e. the tea break, train or bus, because the medium its published in suits this context best. Mobile platforms are going to blow even this model wide open.

The fact is that the big rights owners and gatekeepers – film studios, record companies and publishers – are rapidly becoming disintermediated by the technology that distributes content. The accessibility of that technology is now so low that its free – take WordPress and Blogger as examples. Once you would have to invest in vast factories, printing presses, editorial teams, premises and a distribution infrastrutcure; now, you don’t have to.

What PPV does is restrict the power of the content as an ambassador for the brand. If you don’t allow people to consume content they want the way they want it, you’ll inevitably dilute the significance of the brands that generate it.

So, bizarrely, by trying to make more money now he’ll make the stock of his media titles less valuable in the very short term. There is absolutely nothing to stop journalists coalescing via online brands that can result in a printed paper if they decided to do so at relatively low cost – see The Printed Blog and My Local.

Brands like the Guardian and BBC have generally responded impressively to the challenge of new media, regarding themselves as content platforms and producers who content to be repurposed for consumption by different audience. It’s likely that, today, their strategy for traditional newsprint content will stand the test of time compared to adherence to the dogma of traditional print distribution. In fact, it’s a compelling argument that the Guardian’s brand is now more potent because is adapted to digital; its brand is now global (and considered to be one of the top 100 most influential web brands in the world see the Web Trend Map 2009).

If there’s going to be a resurgence in print, it’s more likely to be at a regional and local level. The significance of national newspapers is rapidly diminishing in contrast to their potential online brands.

Of course, it’s a matter of opinion.