Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Down to the wire

John Terry: I stole the pic, obviously
In the headlong rush to provide content, it's not surprising that cash-strapped media companies paste wire copy straight into the paper or website. Given the constraints on time and money, it's difficult to be too harsh on staff who have to get the news into the public domain as fast as possible. That said, I've got more respect for orgainisations that are honest about what's going on.

Compare these two sentences from today's websites:
"The defeat by United was painful in more ways than one for Terry, who will be hoping to shake off a knock in time for Sunday's final home game of the season against Newcastle."

"The defeat by United was painful in more way than one for Terry, who will be hoping to shake off a knock in time for Sunday's final home game of the season against Newcastle."
The first is from The Guardian while the second is from The Daily Mail, and they show the different priorities of two of the UK's most successful national newspaper websites. They also show the ugly little world of "churnalism", where the same old copy is regurgitated without anything new or original being added.

The original copy comes from the Press Association, and both articles are pretty much identical except for the fact that the Grauniad has corrected the error "way" for "ways". Before I get accused of indulging the popular sport of Mail-bashing, I should point out that 72 news organisations posted exactly the same story, straight from the wire or by copying each other, and only six of them corrected the mistake. 

Actually, the numbers aren't as good as that. I have no idea who is behind uefachampionsleaguesoccerblog.com, but it doesn't deserve much credit because it simply copied The Guardian's piece. On the plus side, it had the honesty to admit it, although it then had the cheek to add "Copyright © 2011 Uefachampionsleaguesoccerblog.com" at the bottom. The same goes for xoolon.com, soccermillionaires, foofoot.net and halapic.com. Halapic didn't even acknowledge its source, although we can be pretty sure where the copy came from since the headlines and sub-heads are the same as The Guardian's. In other words, the only organisation that even bothered to read what it was publishing was The Guardian. Kudos to them (even though there is evidence that the piece was on line for five minutes before the error was spotted). 

The other things in The Guardian's favour are that it provided its own headline, correctly used square brackets in a quote and credited the story to the Press Association. In other words, a sub-editor did some work to make it fit for publishing. The MailOnline's byline says "Sportsmail Reporter", while its headline is identical to the Daily Mirror's (byline: MirrorFootball). That's a bit odd, because ESPN, The Sporting LifeFox Sports and most others went with another headline, "Terry turns focus to next year", presumably from the PA original. Have the Mail and Mirror been copying each other?

In the Mail's favour, it provided three photos in keeping with its image-rich approach, while The Guardian added value by hyperlinking the text. 
In neither paper's favour (or anyone else's), they published what was little more than the transcript of an interview on Chelsea TV.

Moral: Journalism is hard. Churnalism is easy, so long as your readers don't mind eating other people's vomit

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