Why some tragedies get a lot of coverage and others don’t

Globe superimposed over newsprint

Picture by Geralt

More than 350 people died in a truck bomb in Somalia on October 14. Earlier in October almost 60 people died in a mass shooting in Las Vegas.
Media coverage of the two events followed a long-established and regrettable pattern in journalism: wall-to-wall coverage of the Las Vegas shootings, patchy and incomplete reports from Mogadishu.
Al-Jazeera noticed what its headline called “double standards”:

Commentator and law professor Khaled Beydoun noted that a bomb attack in Manchester, a northern British city, was covered more widely. “The # of people killed in Somalia yesterday was 10x more than the # killed in Manchester in May (230 to 22). But it got 100x less coverage,” he tweeted.

In simple terms: Western city, big response. African city: small response.
I (and many other journalists) have pondered the reasons for these imbalances for many years. Continue reading

Why people (even journalists) don’t pay for news – and what to do about it

A newsstand in London

A newsstand in London. Picture by Duncan Harris, Wikimedia Commons

It’s no secret that journalism is going through cataclysmic change.

It’s as if we are trying to sell horse-and-cart combos at the same time that Henry Ford is rolling the Model-T off the production line. As pointed out here by Eric Beecher, the “unconventional business model” which saw public interest, independent journalism being subsidised by the sale of cars, jobs and furniture (classifieds – remember them?) is deader than the dodo.

In the place of classifieds are a variety of “business models” where news organisations try to figure out how to make money when people won’t actually pay for the pure product (journalism) and have gone elsewhere for the cars, jobs and furniture.

I have sat around over many a glass of wine with journalist friends, bemoaning this state of affairs. But I don’t think any of us have ever spent much time on really thinking through WHY it is that people won’t pay for news (assuming they were ever willing to pay, of course – many saw the news as a wrapper to the real stuff: horse racing results, crosswords, horoscopes and classifieds). And here’s another question to ponder: Do journalists themselves pay for news? Do I pay for news? Continue reading

What I learned at the MMX17 Conference

Iman Rappetti

Iman Rappetti was MC at the conference

In mid-August I spent two days at the Menell Media Exchange Conference in Johannesburg. The meeting, organised by Duke University, aims “to create and support a sustainable and robust media community in South Africa and beyond, through programs, fellowships and conferences”.

This year’s event was around the theme of Truth & Trust and is well-documented in stories, videos and podcasts by student journalists covering the event (Friday and Saturday), and I am not going to attempt to duplicate their excellent coverage. Rather – and somewhat belatedly – here is a set of my impressions, thoughts and observations. Continue reading

A must-read about what it means to be a journalist

Person looking through documents with computer

Picture: Strelka Institute, flickr

When I was a full-time journalist, I kept an eye on news and views about my industry – and did more of that as the years wore on and it became apparent that my industry was in Big Trouble.

Now that I am a freelancer and am able have a bit more of a flexible approach to how I use my working hours, I have a bunch of feeds I use to keep an eye on things, with a particular eye to any bright ideas about how to get journalism out of its Big Trouble.

After a while, there’s a sameness to much of what I find: journalists in the States doing Trump-gazing, techy types proposing new data-driven models, lots of hand-wringing about fake news and lots and lots about how Facebook and Google have eaten our lunch (and breakfast and supper too).
Continue reading

Thoughts on web design: it begins with an article

Web design

Picture: bykst/Pixabay

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that an editor in possession of a new website (or a newspaper) must be in want of a redesign.
The Jane Austen phrasing was irresistible, but this is one of the true certainties of journalism: when a publication gets a new editor, he or she will want it to look different.
When I was a print journalist I live through three different redesigns. And in my time in online journalism, I think there were four. Of course, I may have repressed the memory of some, so there may have been more. And we’re not talking changing a masthead here, we’re talking making everything new from the ground up.
These occasional fits of rebranding entail a lot of work for production staff. And they usually make readers very cross, until everyone gets used to it all and life continues as normal. Continue reading

How to curate content (aka be an editor)

Trash Icon

File photo: Ivo Ruijters

The recent furore surrounding the publication of a hoax blog post at Huffington Post SA has had me thinking – about hate speech (which I wrote about here), and about the process by which decisions are made about publication or non-publication of a particular piece of writing.
In years of experience at IOL, I had more unsolicited pieces of writing cross my email inbox than I care to think about now. Over time, I learned how to make fast choices about whether I wanted to use the content or not.
I thought it might be useful to write down that mental process, for the benefit of younger people wondering how this is done. I’ll take you through my own personal checklist (note – this was never a formalised policy at IOL, and I no longer work there and can’t comment on how things might now be done at that website).
The steps below relate to online publishing, rather than print. And there are factors in the process that would probably shock print journalists of the old school (especially the focus on “hits”). But I want to paint the picture as it happens in the real world.

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When is speech hateful – and when is it hate speech?

South African journalists (and perhaps some bemused bystanders) have been consumed for the last week or so by a chain of events centred on the country’s instance of the Huffington Post.

In brief, this is what happened: Huff Post SA published a piece saying white men should be disenfranchised. This duly went viral. Then things got sticky. It transpired the piece had been written as a hoax by a white man trying to make a point about the way in which journalists publish things that confirm their own biases (at least that is my understanding). In the fall-out, that man has lost his job, the editor of the Huffington Post has resigned and many, many opinion pieces have been written.

More importantly, the country’s Press Ombudsman has pronounced on the issue, declaring that the original article was, among other things, hate speech.

I don’t intend to add to the many opinions about all this. Rather, I want to look at the issue of hate speech – from the point of view of a journalism trainer.

Continue reading