The Now/ledge

A Guide to the 'Now' Revolution in News / by Alan Soon

Al Jazeera’s moment in the battle for Egypt and news

Every network has its time. For CNN, it was the first Gulf War. Now, it’s Al Jazeera’s big moment in the spotlight as the Egyptian crisis continues to unfold. (You can watch its coverage live here.)

The network’s coverage is top notch, bar none.

In a time of massive budget cuts, U.S. networks like CNN haven’t been able to keep their foreign bureaus running. The crisis in Egypt exposes a chronic problem among U.S. networks — their inability to quickly move away from “cheap” news in times of global crisis. Spend five minutes on CNN and FOX and you’ll see what I mean. Anchors are constantly using adjectives like “extraordinary” to describe the images, while the same video is replayed repeatedly. And that’s exactly the advantage that Al Jazeera is exploiting. For them, it’s not about the anchors or reporters — it’s about the live images on the ground.

The network is helping to create a “common struggle” across the Arab world, according to Marc Lynch, a professor of Middle East Studies at George Washington University. “They did not cause these events, but it’s almost impossible to imagine all this happening without Al Jazeera,” he told the New York Times.

But it isn’t just about the minute-to-minute coverage. Al Jazeera has unprecedented distribution thanks to the Internet. If you haven’t already downloaded the iPhone/iPad app, do it. Content may be king, but distribution is definitely queen in a crisis.

There’s clearly demand from North America, where the network is suffocated by cable companies who don’t want to be associated with the Arab channel. Mohamed Nanabhay, who runs the online operations for Al Jazeera English, noted on his Twitter feed that 55 percent of web traffic to the site is from the U.S. and Canada.

John R. Stanton probably said it best on Twitter: “So is everyone going to FINALLY get off of Al-Jazeera’s back and recognize them as not only legit but pretty goddamn good?”

Well said. Now back to watching the coverage live on AJE.


Filed under: News, Television,

How will the news syndication model evolve?

In his piece for Nieman Journalism Lab’s predictions for 2011, Clay Shirky makes a big deal of the disruption of the syndication model in a social news environment. His prediction works like this: bloggers are ripping off and building on reporting done by news agencies like Reuters and AP, so why will newspapers even need to buy wire subscriptions anymore when they can, in turn, just get it off the blogs?

He writes:

“This kind of linking, traffic driving, and credit are natively web-like ideas, but they are also inimical to the older logic of syndication. Put simply, syndication makes little sense in a world with URLs. When news outlets were segmented by geography, having live human beings sitting around in ten thousand separate markets deciding which stories to pull off the wire was a service. Now it’s just a cost.”

Sure, journalism is not an efficient value system. As Ken Doctor described it, “journalism is essentially a manufacturing process, with as much or as little value added as we want.”

In the case of newspapers, no one called the end to wire reporting just because columnists were building opinion pieces on top of the work done by their colleagues in the field. This is the same of the blogosphere — you will always need the raw materials on which you build an opinion. In television news (where I’ve spent most of my career), much of what makes it on air comes from wire services — videos, photos, articles. The spit and polish comes from talking heads — an evolving industry trend (now largely the norm) in the past 15 years.

News agencies, in my view, will continue to evolve and in my prediction, this will be no different from any other industry that works directly with raw materials. Reuters, AP and AFP won’t go the way of the dinosaurs. Instead, their business model and more importantly, the product, needs to change. The goal is can no longer be a final piece that ends up published in a newspaper. The mandate instead, needs to be to provide columnists, editors and bloggers the raw facts — data, photos, analytics — in which they then build their own versions of the story.

Now that’s the value-add for 2011.

Filed under: Newspapers, Publishing, Social Media, Television,

Who’s responsible for the Terry Jones madness?

The media bares some responsibility over the Terry Jones and his Koran burning affair. Actually, correction — it bears full responsibility.

How does the leader of a church that gets no more than 50 people at his sermons suddenly have the power to stir anger and protest around the world? In the 24-hour news cycle, almost anyone it seems with a YouTube account and a crazy idea gets to make it on prime-time news.

The international news media should have looked away. This was clearly a publicity stunt aimed at drawing attention to his church. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was right to tell the media not to cover the planned Koran burning.

In the end, it was FOX News and the Associated Press that decided their audiences deserved better than to let a mad man play them for fools. Kudos.

“We do not cover every flag burning that happens in this country. We don’t run every hostage tape… If we tried to cover everyone who wants us to stick a camera in front of them, we’d run out of cameras pretty fast each day. But this is really about just using some judgment.”

— FOX News SVP Michael Clemente in an interview with the Baltimore Sun

This will make a great case study in journalism classes. We’re back to asking the question: What is news?

If there’s anything good that came out of this, it’s the fact that we’re reminded that there are good, sensible people all around the world; people who respect religions and faiths without judgement. Just look at the outpouring of comments online in support of Muslims around the world.

Now that’s a story worth telling.

Filed under: News, Television

GMA Network releases new guidelines on crisis coverage

GMA Network of the Philippines has revised its guidelines on safety and ethics in crisis coverage.

As part of the changes, the new guidelines call on employees to ““assume that police may not be able to handle media or a crowd. Thus we must know when and how to restrain ourselves.”

The guidelines also stipulate a “renewed commitment” to avoid interviewing or talking to hostage takers.

The changes reflect the soul-searching underway in the country’s media industry over its role in the botched rescue of tourists held by a sole gunman on August 23. Media — broadcast in particular — have been heavily criticized for its minute-by-minute coverage of the fiasco and are now the subject of a Senate inquiry.

Investigations show that the hostage taker Rolando Mendoza was watching live coverage of events inside the hijacked bus. Mendoza was also interviewed on radio during the crisis, which police say prevented negotiators from reaching him. In one report, an ABS-CBN journo gave details of the police positions ahead of the failed assault.

GMA should be applauded for taking the high road on this. No life should ever be sacrificed the pursuit of any story. I’d like to see the measures adopted by other major news organizations.

Ultimately, it comes down to cooperation among media agencies. I hope this incident will force an open channel of communication among news executives during times of crisis. We may be competing to get the story out, but ultimately, we’re all in this together and that’s how our audience will remember it.

Filed under: News, Television

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