It can be quite depressing to be part of a story that’s being about a subject you know about, where people who are ostensibly your peers – that is, equipped with the same skills as you, with access to the same tools as you – are reporting on it. Because it shows how rubbish people can be at simply reading a piece of text and regurgitating it.
If the future belongs to amateurs, one has to really worry. Though the professionals aren’t always doing such a bang-up job.
Case in point: PaidContent. PaidContent UK wrote a story which absolutely correctly said that Guardian management is considering whether to keep the printed Technology section going. Prices of raw paper have risen; job ads, which was always meant to be the raison d’etre of “G3” specialist sections (Guardian 3: there’s G1 – the main paper – and G2, the “features” bit), have moved online, especially for technology jobs.
Nevertheless, the Technology supplement does get job ads, and it does occasionally get display ads. So the idea of closing it isn’t a fait accompli.
Robert Andrews got wind of the review that’s going on, which is part of a far larger look at costs, and wrote about it. (I could argue about the link text – “may” would have been good – but anyway.)
Robert did try to contact me before writing; I was offline (though I had my mobile…). He did speak to the Guardian’s press office. Apart from being finicky – Online started a long time ago and Vic Keegan wasn’t the launch editor – it’s a good piece of journalism: find something out, speak to those who are in a position to speak about it.
(I’d take issue actually with this:
The move is thought to be due to worsening tech ad spend but also the fact that many readers, naturally, are online natives with a voracious appetite for tech news throughout the week… one school of thought has it that a weekly dead-tree edition seems like anachronism.
Actually, it’s very evident that the people who read the print section aren’t exactly the same ones who read the Technology content online. They get something extra. And it’s important for other reasons: it’s easier for a civil servant to show a piece of paper to a minister; easier to wave in their face than a website.)
(Note also that Azeem Ashar adds some detail in the comments.)
Next up: Press Gazette. Following up the PaidContent story, they actually did contact me – we spoke by mobile. Look, there are my quotes in the story. Accurate. Journalistic. Good. Can’t argue with the headline or intro. Though I would say that there aren’t any staffing implications. We’re more than busy anyway, and we could be just as busy even without the print section – we’d be writing stuff for the main paper, the features section, and so on. (And again, interesting comments.)
And now we begin the slide downhill – and the depressing thing is that it’s the lousy reporting that actually gets bounced around the blogo/twittersphere.
First, MediaWeek, which has a story that was originally headlined “Guardian to close Technology supplement”. And then an intro: “The Guardian is considering dropping its Thursday Technology supplement, according to Paidcontent.”
Exactly how crap is that? Intro and headline completely disagree. And it’s a complete ripoff of PaidContent’s er, content. I emailed to complain, and the headline was changed. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been. (MW says it came from Brand Republic. Thanks a lot, BR.)
And finally we come to the World Editors’ Forum, which wrote:
Headline: The Guardian reconsiders Technology supplement
Intro: The Guardian is due to drop its Thursday Technology supplement, paidContent:UK reports.
I mean, come on. That’s just incompetent. I’m sorry, but it is. The headline is correct; the intro, wrong. That’s not what PaidContent said.
It is also feasible that the printed edition just could not compete with its online counterpart, which is updated daily. Technology enthusiasts, moreover, are presumably more inclined to log on regularly than wait for the Thursday paper to land on the doorstep.
“Could not compete”? What rubbish is this? Have they bothered to find out who runs the online content (me) and who edits the physical section (me)? Apparently not. even though I’m all over the internet like a rash. Hell, my mobile phone number is on this site. I’m not a hermit.
Nick Passmore launched the Online supplement in May 1994. In 2005 it was rebranded Technology with the arrival of new editor Charles Arthur, and its science counterpart supplement Life was merged into the paper when the paper adopted a berliner format.
Nice – they’re read the comments on the PaidContent story. Except they didn’t research this blog. I didn’t arrive until November 2005, two months after the September relaunch in Berliner format.
So let’s see, that’s a slew of factual errors, a basic subbing error (headline doesn’t agree with intro), in a piece just four paragraphs long. (I haven’t bothered to fisk it all.)
So the score: two lots of good reporting, where sources are checked (PaidContent, Press Gazette); two of crap reporting (MediaWeek/Brand Republic, WEF). Trouble is that the meme that gets passed around Twitter (for sure) is the idea that it’s going to close – no doubt, none of the subtlety in the original story.
Frankly, that’s a bit crap all round, and makes one consider the final score.
1) how well can proper journalism (PaidContent, UKPG) survive when you have copy/pasters all around? Copy/pasting is cheaper than finding stuff out. Quicker, apart from anything.
2) look how easily ideas get crunched into misconceptions in being translated into 140 characters, especially if they’re taken from headlines that are just plain wrong.
3) some people can’t read, parse and regurgitate a piece of text.
4) I wonder how many times have I written something that’s unwittingly incorrect because I haven’t been able to get at original sources? Not often, I hope. But this is the sort of experience that makes me even more determined not to accept lazy copy/paste stuff, and to check stuff with sources. Properly.
See you next Thursday in print.