Mandy de Waal
“If Vietnam brought war into the living room, the last few weeks have put it at our fingertips. On our phones, news alerts full of body counts bubble into our inbox, Facebook feeds are populated by appeals for help or action on behalf of victims, while Twitter boils with up-to-the-second reporting, some by professionals and some by citizens, from scenes of disaster and chaos.”
David Carr on how media technology is changing the way war is reported on, and experienced in his excellent piece At Front Lines, Bearing Witness in Real Time in The New York Times.
Here’s an app for everyone who dreams of writing clearly and boldly like Ernest Miller Hemingway. Called the HemingwayApp, the algorithm created by brothers Adam and Ben Long hunts through writing to find ‘unHemingway-like’ writing and highlights it for a rewrite. Sentences that are too long are accented, while words that could be simplified are earmarked for substitution. Hemingway hated adverbs – his writing was sparse yet authoritative – so words that modify verbs, like wonderful and quickly, are also highlighted for the chop.
“After spending our days writing, we realized a common mistake: sentences easily grow to the point that they became difficult to understand,” the Longs told Ian Crouch of The New Yorker. “The worst part is we didn’t realize we were doing it. Our text was more clear and persuasive when we kept it simple.”
Read The New Yorker’s interview with the Long Bros, in Ian Crouch’s story: Hemingway Takes The Hemingway Test.
Try out the HemingwayApp.
Jon and I have just started watching The Newsroom, the compelling HBO series created by Academy and Emmy-award winning phenomenon, Aaron Sorkin [the brains behind A Few Good Men and The West Wing]. What makes this series electric – apart from the fast-paced dialogue, the wit, and the politics – is the intelligence. Everything about the series is clever.
The plot of last night’s episode, called News Night 2.0, centered on protagonists Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and Mackenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) rebooting their television news show [called News Night]. McAvoy and his old team had been playing it safe [think celebrity politics; pitting politicians against each other instead of focusing on policy and issues; as well as digging into predictable ratings boosters like human interest stories, sensationalist opinion and pop-culture fluff].
News Night 2.0 – the reboot – is all about not playing to the crowd, but getting back to the roots of journalism. Doing news that educates and informs voters instead of news that tries to grab ratings. The big difference between the two, of course, is dumbing down voters and making money instead of taking the road less traveled. The tougher way of doing news is supporting democracy by doing the hard stories that teach people about policy, the constitution and empower a thinking citizenry.
During the News Night 2.0 episode McHale unveils a white board with her ‘rules’ for reinventing the fictional news show:
These new rules for a TV news show that’s relevant to voters and to informing a democracy are:
1. Is this the information we need in the voting booth?
2. Is this the best possible form of the argument?
3. Is the story in historical context?
As South Africa moves to what is the most crucial election of our young democracy these ‘rules’ offer much in the way of guidelines for local journalists covering South African news that matters. When reporting perhaps we should ask ourselves whether the stories we cover offer our electorate what they need to know in the voting booth; if we offer historical context in our news; and whether the argument we’re putting forward is the best form of argument in terms of our democracy.
PUBLISHING company MarkLives and brand intelligence entity Ornico have launched a new publication called trendMark aimed at helping companies and marketers to align their brand campaigns with the latest technology changes and consumer-related trends.
TrendMark, which comes in an electronic magazine format, is a local trend resource which also covers trends in business, technology, reputation, retail and general trends in some parts of Africa.
It will be a resource for marketers and brands looking at re-evaluating their strategies to keep up with the fast-changing technology and the needs of consumers as influenced by the latest trends.
“The customer isn’t just king, he’s a fickle despot with a penchant for tantrums and voting with his feet.”
De Waal says big brands will need to earn their place in people’s hearts by embracing sustainability, authenticity, relevance and right pricing. “Tight times mean value will be scrutinised,” she says. Read the full story in Financial Mail.
Good news for news brands – young people are accessing news via social media, blowing apart notions that the many hours they spend every day on Facebook and Twitter are wasted only on trivialities.
Anton Harber cites research from Jos Kuper: “They don’t read papers or watch traditional TV, but they need quick and current news to keep up with their peer group. They just find and use it differently from the way their parents did. And South African youth, the research showed, are intensely involved with politics and discussing it a great deal. They check their cellphones often during the day and pick up snippets on social media, radio (still the most popular medium) or street news posters, and they Google it to learn more. They don’t trust a single source, knowing that the internet can feed them falsities, and so look at a number of reports, particularly those from branded sites, such as News24, CNN and BBC. Once they have verified the story, they share it — tweeting, posting it on Facebook or e-mailing a screen-print. If the story is particularly interesting, it may go viral — and then the mainstream media might report it.”
Read Anton Harber’s piece on BDlive.
Journalism.co.uk has a brilliant, speedy guide of data journalism tools and sources. Skip the first bit, which is very UK specific. About halfway down the page there’s listings on tools like:
- Tabula, a tool for ” liberating data tables trapped inside PDF files”;
- Import.io, which turns website information into data tables;
- Google Charts – which is fairly useful for visualising and displaying live data on Websites;
- and much, much more.
- There’s also cool insights and thoughts about how to use these data journalism tools.\
Sources and tools for data journalism at Journalism.co.uk
10 key skills for digital journalists to hone in 2014 at Journalism.co.uk
In online publishing perhaps Alexander Pope’s eminent quote “To err is human; to forgive, divine” should be changed to: “to err is human; to correct, divine.” When a fallacious facts make their way into newspapers, the bolted horse often means that corrections are more notably visible.
However in online news often there’s the temptation to fix that fact without a trace of an apology or correction. But given that journalism is the first draft of history, don’t publishes owe it to their readers to act ethically and correct correctly by being transparent in how they make corrections?
The Economist Style Guide dictates:
Apologies and corrections: Unless some other arrangement has been made, apologies and corrections should appear, under the heading Apology (or Correction), in a box in the section giving rise to them, at either the top or the bottom of the page. Corrections need not be ponderous. Apologies, however, should not be flippant. They should leave the reader with the impression that we are genuinely sorry for any offence given, not merely sorry that we had to say sorry.
Making mistakes in the news business is punishing to the ego, but accepting responsibility for those errs creates a sense of accountability which is important to ensure the credibility of news brands.
Besides The Economist Style Guide is useful for a lot more than just good form when it comes to apologies and corrections. From that writer’s ‘how to’, here’s George Orwell’s six elementary rules (“Politics and the English Language”, 1946):
- Never use a Metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
- Never use a long word where a short one will do (see Short words).
- If it is possible to cut out a word, always cut it out (see Unnecessary words).
- Never use the Passive where you can use the active.
- Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a Jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
- Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous (see Iconoclasm).