Follow The Digital Immigrant’s lead at your peril

Roy Greenslade (who also blogs at the Guardian, where I work) pierces Rupert Murdoch’s air of invincibility.

Now, amid the recession, Murdoch is facing up to an uncomfortable reality. His company lost £2.13 billion last year, doing much worse than analysts had predicted. Most of those losses were directly attributable to his company’s acquisition of the Wall Street Journal and its clumsy move into digital media.

In my view, Murdoch is a 20th Century figure. He understands the mass media models of the 20th Century, but he never seems to have grasped the internet. In fact, Michael Wolff of Vanity Fair says that Murdoch has declared on the internet.

Murdoch can almost single-handedly take apart and re-assemble a complex printing press, but his digital-technology acumen and interest is practically zero. Murdoch’s abiding love of newspapers has turned into a personal antipathy to the Internet: for him it’s a place for porn, thievery, and hackers.

I’ve never seen him make a smart internet move. (Ok, I’ll cede that Hulu is smart and getting smarter.) He was late to the party in the 1990s, and by the time he took the dive it was on the eve of the crash and he dove headfirst into the dead pool. He pulled back with a vengeance, slashing and burning his digital divisions as he went. Rather than using his significant revenues to build for the future, he retreated into the past. After Google’s rise, The Digital Immigrant took another dive with the purchase of MySpace, but the social network was almost old news the moment he bought it. Now, he’s being portrayed as a paid content pioneer by terrified lemmings in the industry. They say: “Rupert has always been right in the past. He must be right now.”

Blindly follow Murdoch’s lead in digital at your peril. He’s a 20th Century visionary who has yet to display any vision in the 21st.

QsOTD: Journalists shouldn’t confuse important with simply urgent

I’m keeping an eye on the UK Association of Online Publishers conference from afar today by following the #aop3c tag on Twitter. David Gilbertson, CEO of B2B publisher EMAP*, looks to be giving an incredibly insightful presentation, and journalists using Twitter show once again why the service is so useful. Joanna Geary of TimesOnline posted this very cogent comment from Gilbertson:

While news is urgent it may not be important and people pay for important.

Hard copy news businesses (print) will have to adapt to this, Gilbertson added, and he goes on to further refine the distinction he’s highlighting and its implications to the business of journalism. Matt Ball, MSN UK editor-in-chief, quotes Gilbertson as saying:

Intelligence prompts a decision, information doesn’t. You can charge for the former.

Geary fleshes the quote out a bit more: “David Gilbertson: B2B must deliver inteligence to help people do job, not info that people don’t know what to do with”.

UPDATE: David Worsfold clarified that he wasn ‘t quoting Gilbertson in the comments. It’s not clear whether Gilbertson said this or rather if it’s a bit of analysis from David Worsfold with Incisive Media, but I think it’s a makes a point worth highlighting. Worsfold either says or quotes Gilbertson on Twitter that these distinction between importance and urgency, between intelligence and information have “implications for news obssessed editorial teams”.

“Pure news” is not enough but remains critical, Gilbertson says. Pure news must be supplemented with data and analysis. He does draw a distinction between B2B and B2C publishing saying that intelligence is a critical driver in the B2B sector while consumption in the B2C sector is driven by many things that might include intelligence and perspective. However, when Gilbertson says that we can’t provide information that people don’t know what to do with, that is equally relevant to B2C as it is in pure business publishing.

Speaking as a news consumer rather than a journalist, I value information-rich news and context-rich analysis over incremental updates and uninformed commentary. I honestly believe, and my work bears this out, that consumers appreciate when you connect the dots and put information in a larger, more meaningful context. I’m not, and I doubt many average news consumers, are suffering from a lack of information, but I do know that many suffer from a lack of context.

The question for news organisations is how they develop products that deliver value and intelligence that consumers can act upon. These products can be essential new revenue streams for news organisations. As I wrote yesterday, news organisations need to put effort into developing these value-added products in tandem with conversations about charging for them. And yes, this will have implications for editorial teams. We must switch from merely chasing incremental developments to mining stories for meaning. In these tight times, we need to ask questions of how we can turn information that we’re already gathering into intelligence for our readers, and we need to develop unique, compelling products based on that intelligence that our audiences find valuable enough to pay for.

*Disclosure: The Guardian Media Group, parent company of the Guardian and my employer, owns a stake in EMAP.

Innovative journalists and valuing “inquisitiveness”

The Harvard Business Review Editor’s Blog has a post titled How Do Innovators Think?. I was just going to add it to my daily list of links in Delicious, but it’s worth more than a quick link.

Jeff Dyer of Brigham Young University and Hal Gregersen of Insead “conducted a six-year study surveying 3,000 creative executives and conducting an additional 500 individual interviews”. They found five skills distinguished these creative executives from less innovative heads of companies.

Dyer described the first skill they identified:

The first skill is what we call “associating.” It’s a cognitive skill that allows creative people to make connections across seemingly unrelated questions, problems, or ideas.

They call it associating; I call it lateral thinking. I see it in innovative journalists who find tools or technologies created for another purpose but who immediately see the editorial possibilities. They are journalists constantly striving to wrench out efficiencies in how they work and perfect the process. They are constantly looking for new tools and services that can either solve existing problems they have or allow them to do things they hadn’t thought of before. They experiment, and if something doesn’t work, they move on. It’s not something they were trained to do, it’s something they instinctively do.

However, I don’t mean to say that innovative journalists are time-and-motion obsessed  bean counters simply intent on perfecting a process. They are motivated by many of the same things that motivate traditional journalists such as the goal of telling compelling stories. Long before people started questioning the text story as the atomic unit of journalism, they were exploring new storytelling methods. They unpack stories and examine how video, audio and data can be used to tell those stories in more compelling ways. They realise that in 2009 multimedia story telling is more than simply telling stories with multiple media but rather considering what elements of a story are best told with audio, video, images and now data.

Back to the post in the Harvard Business Review.

Gregersen: You might summarize all of the skills we’ve noted in one word: “inquisitiveness.” I spent 20 years studying great global leaders, and that was the big common denominator. It’s the same kind of inquisitiveness you see in small children. … If you look at 4 year olds, they are constantly asking questions and wondering how things work. But by the time they are 6 ½ years old they stop asking questions because they quickly learn that teachers value the right answers more than provocative questions. High school students rarely show inquisitiveness. And by the time they’re grown up and are in corporate settings, they have already had the curiosity drummed out of them. 80% of executives spend less than 20% of their time on discovering new ideas. Unless, of course, they work for a company like Apple or Google.

Again, if there was something that sets apart the most innovative journalists I know it is their curiosity, their inquisitiveness. One might say that journalists should be, by vocation, curious but innovative journalists have a special curiosity about their craft and its processes.

How do news organisations unlock the potential of the innovators in their midst? Mostly, all you have to do is give them space and a little support. Recognise that their needs might be slightly different than the rest of the staff. Help them measure the relative success of their experiments and share their success stories. If there was one mistake that I’ve seen news organisations make over and over again (because it’s based on the 20th Century recipe for creating media stars) it is that they try to make their big name reporters or writers into innovators. That is often a fruitless detour. Most people doing this innovative work weren’t trained to do it but instead pursued it on their own. Fortunately, in the age of social media, innovative journalists aren’t all that difficult to find. They stand out if you’re looking.

Andrew Turner: Beyond Google Maps

Andrew Turner: Beyond Google Maps presentation

Some people might say that I’m geo-obsessed. Since I started geo-tagging my Flickr photos, now about half of my entire Flickr stream is geo-tagged. I use Google’s Latitude, and I’ve written about the opportunities that I see for geo-location and news.

Last week, I met someone even more enthusiastic about geo-data and maps than I am, Andrew Turner. In this more than 200 slide presentation, Andrew presents a treasure trove of mapping concepts and resources. At slide 37, he talks about the near future for mapping and data. Andrew talks even faster than I do after I’ve drunk three cups of coffee, which is saying something so I’m thankful that several of his presentations are on SlideShare. This post is just to highlight a valuable resource.

One of the things I’m thinking about in light of his presentation and my own experience is how to make gathering data – geo-data and other data – easier for journalists. With more demands on our time, the workflow has to be extremely efficient or it won’t get done. I’m also thinking about the stories that benefit from location. One of things implicit in Andrew’s talk is how maps can tell stories, but not every story is best told with a map. The first mash-ups were map-based, and it’s led to an over-reliance on location for data-driven projects. Digital mapping is a powerful tool, but like all tools, digital maps are not appropriate for all tasks. However, the next time I need a map, Andrew’s presentation will definitely point me in the direction of the tools that I need to do the job.

Only 5% of UK readers willing to pay for online news

As I wrote in my post from earlier today, I didn’t know if the statistics from the American Press Institute about paid content held up for the UK market. As if on cue, (owned by the folks who pay my bills at the Guardian) have commissioned a survey in the UK by Harris Interactive that track very closely with the US numbers. According to the figures from API, a 2009 Belden survey in the US found that if content was no longer available for free on a newspaper website that 68% of respondents would turn to “other local Internet sites.” The Harris survey in the UK found even worse figures: 74% would turn to another free website.

Robert Andrews at has a thorough run-down of the numbers and looks at age, demographics and geographical differences in the data. One thing that leapt out at me is that London had the highest figures for those willing to pay if their favourite news site began charging, but even in the media capital of the UK, a scant 17% would be willing to open up their pocketbooks.

Another statistic that I found interesting is that 16-24 year-olds were much more willing to pay than any other age group. It’s still not a high percentage, 13%, but it is much higher than the 1-2% of anyone over 35. Is that because younger age groups value the internet as an information source more or because they are more accustomed to paying for content online or on their mobile phones? The survey doesn’t answer these questions although it might be contained in user interviews that are not discussed in the post.

I am sure that people on both sides of the paid content debate will look at these figures and find in them data that supports their position. However, it is difficult to use these numbers to posit a case where paid content online becomes a major source or revenue that will replace the declining revenue in the traditional print business.

Newspapers: A message from users in 68-foot tall flaming numbers

As the great paid content debate of 2009 has played out, we’ve had a lot of assertions about what users should pay for without much clarity about what they would pay for or much about their habits. My gut feeling is that users will pay for certain types of content but that it will be extremely difficult to simply monetise existing content or attempt to create false scarcity by putting all content behind a paywall and drive readers back to print.

As a journalist who has chosen to make the internet my primary medium, my gut and quite a bit of my experience tells me that while I may be an early adopter, readers are moving more toward my habits than staying with or moving to print habits. However, I’m very careful not to generalise without data. My friends are all part of what I often refer to as the global geek collective. Our habits are our own and we shouldn’t assume that those habits are common to our audiences.

This week, however, new data appeared that made me feel slightly less like an outlier. The American Press Institute released the results of a survey of 2,400 news executives in the US. The event was invitation only, but Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism released the 80-slide presentation. It is a treasure trove of data and journalism bloggers have been slowing dissecting the data and the methodology all week.

Steve Outing highlighted a statistic that should give news executives and journalists pause. As Steve points out:

…the graphic shows that 75% of newspaper execs believe that if their content were no longer available on their website, online users would foremost turn to the print edition of the newspaper. Meanwhile, only 30% of online news users said they would turn to the print edition in such a case; the No. 1 choice (at 68% of respondents to a 2009 Belden survey) was to look to “other local Internet sites.”

Steve comes to the conclusion that “newspaper leaders remain delusional”. I might be a wee bit more generous and say that this is a clear message from users to newspaper owners in the US. However, not to put too fine of a point on it: This is a radical disconnect between the assumptions of publishers and the views of people who might have formerly been their audience.

Would the results be the same in the UK or other markets? I’d love to know. Suw and I often bemoan the lack of basic media research in the UK. In the US, the Pew Centers for the Internet and American Life and for the People and the Press do excellent basic research on internet usage patterns, attitudes towards the press and other media issues. The UK could really benefit from similar research.

Returning to the API-commissioned survey, the bloggers at Harvard’s Nieman Lab did an excellent job pulling out key bits of data from the survey.

Again, there is much food for thought. It’s important to note that the API commissioned the survey in the context of the meeting billed as the “Newsmedia Economic Action Plan Conference”, wherein the US newspaper industry tried to buy a clue as to how to survive the recession and rebuild a viable, sustainable business. Of course, Steve Brill and Co at Journalism Online have offered themselves up as the key to the glorious future of paid content online. They were one of several companies that provided proposals to publishers at the event.

Zach Seward provides this caveat about one of the companies responsible for the API survey, ITZ Publishing:

You’ll also want to apply a helping of salt because ITZ Publishing consults for Steve Brill’s pay-for-news firm Journalism Online, which just touted the results as an “API study” without noting its business interest.

The ‘frequency challenge’

The survey highlighted, yet again, what Steve Yelvington has been pointing to for years: The challenge of frequency for news websites.

In nearly all markets, newspaper websites receive 2.5 visits and 10 pageviews for each unique visitor.

Steve’s frequency challenge is this: High monthly (or even daily running average) unique figures for many websites obscure the fact that most of these visitors come infrequently and look at only a few pages. This is one of the reasons why, despite record numbers of visitors to news websites, it is proving difficult to translate this traffic into revenue. The recession and subsequent collapse in online and offline advertising is a slightly separate, but deadly, issue for news organisations.

As the survey found, the 2.5 visits and 10 pageviews a month figure is a pretty consistent figure across the industry. It’s grim, but it really highlights the amount of drive-by visitors coming to news sites via search engines and the high level of long tail activity on most news sites. The head of the tail is about 25% of readership, what the survey calls “core loyalists”. The survey found:

“Core loyalists,” who visit a newspaper 2-3 times a day for 20 days a month, comprise 25% of unique visitors. Not surprisingly, then, core loyalists account for 86% of pageviews and are “overwhelmingly local.”

Steve Outing’s and Zach Seward’s posts and Bill Densmore’s liveblog of the event are well worth reading for more context.

I’d like to see more demographic information about core loyalists. How old are they? Are they heavily weighted in older age groups? Is there evidence that these core loyalists are being replaced by readers over 30? Assuming that core loyalists are older – and there is evidence to support this – should newspapers focus on older readers? Unfortunately, we have good data that says that older readers aren’t being replaced. Focusing on a declining group of older readers is not a long-term strategy and it begs the question: Can news organisations provide compelling services that re-engage younger readers online or offline? Furthermore, if most of these services are digital, not an unrealistic assumption, can they build a business around these services?

The concept of ‘core audience’ as outlined in this study is difficult to translate to the British market because UK newspapers with national circulation don’t really have a loyal local audience unless one considers their London base as local. However, regardless of whether this data is relevant to the UK market, the pain being felt by newspapers, especially regional newspapers in the UK, is similar if not worse.

I’m still digesting these figures. I would say that they reinforce one of the points made by the Internet Manifesto out of Germany that has been making the rounds and some waves: “12. Tradition is not a business model.” As any journalist who gets out of the media bubble knows, the sense of importance, relevance and audience loyalty often expressed in the boardrooms of many news organisations is such happy talk that you have to wonder what’s in the tea and biscuits.

Reconnecting with audiences

Many of us have known for quite a while the problems that this survey flags up. Paid content advocates like Brill & Co will read into this that their promise to get 10% of online news audiences to pay for some kinds of content is achievable. However, this masks serious long term issues for news organisations. Our audiences are shrinking. They aren’t being replaced and while we have business-threatening short term economic issues we will have to quickly pivot to deal with these long term issues.

The biggest long term problem most news organisations have is declining trust and relevance. I have to agree with Michael Skoler, writing in the autumn edition of Nieman Reports.

Journalists are truth-tellers. But I think most of us have been lying to ourselves. … The news became less local and less relevant, and reporters became less connected to their communities. Surveys show a steep drop in public trust in journalism occurring during the past 25 years. … The truth is the Internet didn’t steal the audience. We lost it. Today fewer people are systematically reading our papers and tuning into our news programs for a simple reason—many people don’t feel we serve them anymore. We are, literally, out of touch.

One important step that we need to take to rebuild our businesses is to rebuild our relationship with our audiences. This is why I embraced blogging as a journalist and have continued to embrace more recent forms of social media. I saw an opportunity to improve my journalism and, by opening up to a conversation with our audiences, I saw an opportunity to reconnect with audiences and build a sense of loyalty. It is why I stress when I speak to journalists and editors that it is a mistake to believe that social media is fundamentally a technical problem for news organisations. I’ve seen excellent technical solutions that still fail because journalists won’t engage with their audiences. More journalists will need to take responsibility for rehabilitating this relationship. It’s not just about building a personal brand. It is more importantly about rebuilding trust. Without that, the economic solutions are meaningless short-term fixes.

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Detailed discussion of NPR re-design process

I’m a big believer in sharing stories about success, failures and even things that are in process. No one has the corner on good ideas, and often opening up the process can help get a wider view. No one has a perfect process, and often, we’re dealing with similar issues. It can feel a bit like the corporate version of group therapy, but it can be very useful, if for no other reason as a means of catharsis. Unfortunately, this happens rarely because most people maintain a relatively narrow view of competitive advantage.

Fortunately, AIGA, a professional design association, has written a detailed overview about the National Public Radio site redesign process. It’s invaluable for anyone looking to redesign and re-architect a news website. It speaks to goals, thinking and process.

They worked with Schematic to “provide the initial visual design and information architecture”. (Disclosure: Suw and I are friends with Dale Herigstad, the chief creative officer of Schematic and Jason Brush, the EVP of User Experience Design with the company. We’ve had the good fortune of swapping ideas with them over dinner, or in Jason’s case, also over blueberry pancakes before I started my US election trip last autumn.)

This post steps you through the entire process from goals to completion. Like many sites, NPR was working with a 6-yeard-old content management system and wanted to update the CMS and the design. My employer, the Guardian, did something similar recently.

One of the things I noticed from the write-up:

(NPR) had two editorial producers embedded in our group for the duration of the project. Their feedback was invaluable in helping us design a system that met the needs of our news teams.

I think this is important, but I would also suggest that journalists are involved in any process to choose or develop a CMS. As an online journalist for more than a decade, the CMS is either the enabler or the roadblock to efficient work. One of the reasons that I’ve been a big advocate of blogging tools is that they are faster and easier not just for the technically proficient but also for the novice. If your CMS trims even just 10 minutes off of every story a journalist writes or produces, that adds up to days over the course of a year. Clumsy tools take time away from creating compelling stories.

NPR also shifted to an Agile development process. That is a major challenge, and we at the Guardian also use Agile. I’m not going to go into the details of Agile here, but Suw and I have long thought that Agile is good for platform level projects like site redesign but not best suited for day-to-day editorial development.

However, in this review, I’d highlight one of the lessons NPR learned that relates not simply to Agile development but to wider issues of major projects like a site redesign:

Each one of us also had to be open-minded and empathetic. When conflicts arose over how best to solve a problem, it was imperative to remember that in the end, we were all working toward the same goal.

The article is well worth reading and digesting. I’m sure that people who have been through this process will see quite a few points they recognise, but this is an invaluable exercise in openness by NPR. It might not prevent you from facing the same or similar challenges, but at least you’ll know you’re not alone. Moreover, when conflicts arise, remember the real competition is down the street rather than down the hall.

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New news business models can’t ignore new economics

Normally, I would just add this to our (almost) daily collection of links, but Vin Crosbie has said something so succinctly and clearly that it deserves a post and a full reading. At ClickZ, Vin says:

…today with newspapers, magazines, and broadcasters who clamor for the “missing” business model that will allow them to stay in business doing what they’ve always done. It will never be found because continuing to do what they’ve done no longer makes sense. There are more quick and efficient ways to produce and disseminate information.

Anyone looking for the silver bullet business model to save their old business needs to read what Vin has to say.

The internet has fundamentally changed the economics of information. Digital distribution has ended information scarcity, and much of the new talk of paywalls isn’t about making money but attempting to recreate scarcity. I seriously doubt this will work, and I seriously doubt that trying to squeeze revenue out of much of the existing information output will work. There is no business model that will allow journalists to simply continue doing what they have done. Journalists, editors and publishers need to accept this and re-make their businesses.

Chris Anderson of Wired points out that the journalism businesses of the 20th Century was built on scarcity and monopoly rents. Newspapers were once the most efficient ways for advertisers to get their messages to the public. This created media empires that could fund huge staffs of journalists. Howeveer, beginning in the 1970s and accelerating with satellite television and the internet, people had more choices for entertainment and information. As I’ve often said, information isn’t the scarce resource now. We’re fighting for attention.

This leads to a host of questions. These are just a few.

  • Accepting that information is no longer scarce, what value can journalists add for our audiences?
  • If we’re not adding value, why are we doing it? What are we going to have to stop doing?
  • What new services can we create that will support journalism?

We really need to be thinking beyond business models to support our existing business and our existing ways of doing journalism. I used to think that the efficiencies of digital production would help existing journalism organisations to jump the chasm. I’m no longer confident that this is possible.

After a very busy summer, I’ve got a backlog of blogging here on Strange Attractor and a backlog of thoughts. In addition to considering the issues of over-supply, I agree with Dan Gillmor, we’ve got a problem with the demand for news. As per usual, Dan is asking some very important questions. I am starting to think of ways that we can stimulate demand by actively working to engage our audiences. I’m excited to be plugging back into the discussion about what we journalists do next, and Suw and I are looking to move this discussion beyond the talking and into doing.

How to spot a web hoax

Every journalist learns (or should learn) how to evaluate sources and, as the web increasingly becomes a source for stories, we need to know whether the things that we stumble across there would make a good source. The internet has been an important part of my job as a journalist almost since I took my first full-time journalism job in 1994. Internet journalists have their own investigative skills, skills that will have to become more widespread as the internet becomes part of every journalist’s job.

I mention this in the wake of a hoax last week by Alex Hilton, aka the British political blogger Recess Monkey. For background, I’ll refer to the Guardian, my day job:

Been following the ding-dong over Tory MP Chris Grayling comparing parts of “Broken Britain” to Baltimore, the crime-ridden city shown in The Wire? What about the riposte from Baltimore mayor Sheila Dixon, who has hit back stating that comparing The Wire to the real Baltimore was “as pointless as boasting that Baltimore has a per capita homicide rate a fraction of that in the popular UK television show Midsomer Murders.” If only.

The British press, and to be fair the hometown Baltimore Sun, reported that the mayor of Baltimore rose to the defence of her fair city. The only problem is that she didn’t. The Guardian was one of the British newspapers that fell for the hoax.

I have to take my hat off to Alex. I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting him, but the hoax was very well executed. Alex created a Twitter account to promote the site. He created a YouTube channel and a video.

To create the site, he simply copied the underlying code from a web page from the official Mayor of Baltimore’s site and changed some of the content. This retained all of the links to the official site and the images were simply pulled from the official server. It’s an immaculate hack. He didn’t have to break into anyone’s server, just copy a web page and add his own content.

It’s a similar trick to phishing scams. It looks like or your bank, but you’ve actually just been sent to some mobsters’ site in Russia or a naked IP address. (I don’t mean to disparage the good people of Russia, but a helluva lot of phishing scams are .ru.) You have to be pay attention to the web address to notice that you’ve suddenly been teleported somewhere else on the web.

Alex explains his motivations and the clues that he left to tip anyone off that it was a joke:

So what else did I do to make sure this wasn’t seen as the true views of the Mayor of Baltimore or an attempt to deceive anyone or to smear Chris Grayling? I registered the domain in my own name. I squirrelled in the English spelling of “dishonoured” as a clue. I put at the bottom of the page, “Copyright R Monkee Esq” and linked it to my currently decrepit Recess Monkey website. I put the following message on Recess Monkey for anyone who cared to follow the link:

Sorry, RecessMonkey is on holiday in Maryland. Right mouse button click view source (but not on this website) R Monkee Esq.

If you had looked at the source on the site, you would have found this:

OK, so I’m just having a bit of fun at Chris Grayling’s expense. Sitting in the office on a hot August afternoon, I was fantasising that I was Mayor of Baltimore and how annoyed I would be. I hope you very quickly picked up that this was a spoof. Didn’t mean to break any laws or ethical mores – please don’t extradite me if I have unwittingly done so. Hope you appreciate the humour, Alex Hilton, – 07985 384 859

Alex expected journalists to spot the humour and the hoax, but it was reported as fact. He rang the Guardian switchboard and was put through to me. He was trying to ratchet down the media furore. The Guardian media desk wrote a brief story about the hoax, and I alerted the news desk so the correction process could begin.

So, what gives a hoax like this away? Here’s your three point guide to spotting when someone’s pulling your leg.

  1. Pay attention to the URL
    When a colleague sent me the website address, I spotted the hoax immediately. I didn’t even need to see the site to know it was a fake. How? The URL was, not .gov or In a UK context, that’s similar to a fake Downing Street site with the address instead of Org addresses are for non-profits not for governmental websites.
  2. Who owns the site?
    Finding out who owns a site is easy. Do a WHOIS lookup, and you’ll find out not only who owns the site, but sometimes even their contact details. Most of the time this is corporate information that won’t give you a person to ring, but as Alex says, he registered the site in his own name.
  3. Hover over the links
    Why? If you hover over the links, you would have seen they went to a different address, not It could save you from a phishing scam and it could have prevented journalists from falling for this hoax.
  4. Be wary of a Twitter account with only one update
    Alex created a fake Twitter account, and the only update linked to his fake press release. That’s a big warning sign to me.

Alex also hid a huge clue in the source code, including his mobile phone number and his e-mail address. To see the underlying code of a web page in Firefox, go to the View menu and scroll down to Source. For Internet Explorer, go to Page on the menu bar and scroll down to Page Source. UPDATE: A commenter on Twitter admitted she probably wouldn’t have thought to look at the source code of the page. I looked at the code because I wanted to see how Alex had cloned the page. When things look fishy, the code can reveal a lot. Alex also made it clear on Recess Monkey that there was an Easter Egg hidden there as well.

Much of what I have described were once specialist skills that only web geeks needed to know, but as the web becomes more of every journalists’ job, having these relatively simple skills might be the thing that prevents you from falling for the next hoax. These are not technical skills anymore. They are skills you need to evaluate a source on the web, conduct an investigation and protect your credibility as a journalist.

Social filters have replaced professional ones

Chris Anderson, of Long Tail and now Free fame, is obviously getting peeved at the questions he’s getting from journalists. He says as much in this interview at Frank Hornig at Probably the most important line in this rather tedious interview is when Anderson says:

I read lots of articles from mainstream media but I don’t go to mainstream media directly to read it. It comes to me, which is really quite common these days. More and more people are choosing social filters for their news rather than professional filters. We’re tuning out television news, we’re tuning out newspapers. And we still hear about the important stuff, it’s just that it’s not like this drumbeat of bad news. It’s news that matters. I figure by the time something gets to me it’s been vetted by those I trust. So the stupid stuff that doesn’t matter is not going to get to me.

[From Who needs newspapers when you have Twitter? | Salon News]

Like Anderson, I have developed filters to tune out much of what is in the media. A few years ago journalists were decrying the loss of the all (self-)important gate-keeping function that they said they performed. I got to a point where I thought that if that is what journalists think is their unique selling point then they’re doomed because they are doing a lousy job of determining what is really important.

I spend a lot of time sifting through, while ignoring, much of the garbage produced by media to find a few, small nuggets of information that are useful. I can afford to do that. It’s my job. Not only can I not imagine most people doing this, I think they stopped quite a while ago. They realised that the signal-to-noise ratio was so low that they were better served by just tuning out.

I can ignore most of the childish nonsense that obsesses the mainstream media. Honestly, if it weren’t my job, I would pay to filter out much of this noise. I don’t need to read the professional trolls aka columnists who try to tell me what I should be outraged about. I can figure that out for myself, thank you very much. I do pay for insightful analysis. Most of what obsesses the media is remarkably juvenile, and as the media’s fortunes have waned, they have becoming annoyingly shrill in trying to reassert their role in society. Watchdogs? Defenders of democracy? I wish. Mostly of the media operate as little more than professional gossips and hypocritical scolds.

For the last several years, I have said that the network is my filter. Through blogs, social bookmarking services like Delicious, Twitter and even simple things like email newsletters, I am passed incredibly relevant and high quality information. It’s not that I think professional journalists are superfluous. I just find that social filters are providing an extremely valuable service in recommending the best, most relevant information available.

We’re coming to an economic point where we as journalists have crossed a Rubicon where we can’t do more with less, we’re simply going to have to do less. We just don’t have the resources to create redundant content that provides little value to our audiences. We need to start looking to ways to filter the best information. We need to do it soon. We’re running out of time. Our audiences ran out of patience long ago.