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  • We’ve changed our commenting platform on irishtimes.com

    May 2, 2012 @ 10:56 am | by Hugh Linehan

    Today we  switched over to a new, unified comment platform to replace the two separate systems which existed up until now. Existing users will need to re-register for the new system, but we hope the benefits will outweigh the inconvenience.

    You’ll see that users now need a social media account – Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn – to authenticate their login to comment. This reflects The Irish Times’s view that social media now forms a central part of our engagement with our audience. In effect, we’re aiming to move on from the rather antiquated concept of linear comments on articles towards facilitating a more dynamic set of real-time conversations around the many subjects covered every day on our website.

    As part of this, the other big change you’ll notice is that, when you post a comment on the site now, it will appear immediately. Previously, we pre-moderated comments, which often led to frustrating delays. It also made it impossible for people to engage in the real-time online conversations they’re used to having these days. Now, with immediate posting and with comment threading, we hope you’ll find these discussions much easier.

    As part of our move away from pre-moderation, we’ve drawn up new Community Standards for users posting on the site. These standards are intended to make irishtimes.com a safe and welcoming place for people with a wide range of opinions and perspectives to share their views in a mutually respectful manner. In order for the new service to work as well as we hope it will, users should carefully read the Community Standards and check that their comments don’t breach them.

    Registered users can use the system to flag posts which they believe breach the standards. These will then be considered by Irish Times moderators.. Any reader can also submit a more detailed complaint about inappropriate material by clicking on the link provided.

    I hope you find this system an improvement on the previous one. We plan to roll it out over a larger number of articles in the days and weeks ahead. As we do so, feedback from you, our readers, will be invaluable and you can be guaranteed it will be taken on board.

  • Guest post: attempts to professionalise tweeting are misguided

    March 16, 2012 @ 3:34 pm | by Hugh Linehan

    My newsroom colleague John Fleming has written a bracingly contrarian view on Twitter and the professional media. Here it is:

    The tweeting world is a bubbling, talking soup. Hear it simmering away. Dip in your ladle to immense delight but also at great peril. Tweeting is a medium of social communication fruitful for all sorts of activity: marketers gauging tastes, protesters sparking revolution and journalists “reporting”. But the semantics of “social media” are uneasy – the term has been applied to map emergent areas of communication that mutate as soon as we attempt their topology. To attempt to professionalise such social media may be foolhardy.

    RTE’s Frontline programme on the presidential candidates appears to have given us the tweet that will be heard throughout history. The use of this mass-addressed instant texting mechanism as a media informant has reached an apotheosis. Effectively anonymous, a single tweet helped shape opinion, magnified through its use in the second medium of television. Double whammy. Pop, we have known for a long time, will eat itself.

    The Frontline debate debacle has resulted in calls for an inquiry into the use of tweets and much focus on the need for their real-time, live-on-air authentication. Implicitly, the chapter illustrates the need for guidelines for the use of tweets by journalists of all media.

    Analogies have their use. Here is one: people talk in bars and cafes, on street corners and on the telephone. Much of what they say is true, much is false. It is profane, factual, scandalous, offensive and entertaining. It is locked into its context, even – and perhaps especially – by the most skilled communicators. Imagine a roving device, a Jules Verne electronic ear, could eavesdrop on all this talk. It would be amused, wonderstruck, interested or perhaps insulted. If that roving ear belonged to a broadcast researcher or print journalist, it is unlikely the eavesdropped result would be transmitted or written up without clarification.

    For, at best, tweeting is rich, vibrant gossip. It drives as lead vehicle in the parade of social media. It is an infinite megaphone, a chariot for opinionated ego. It is no surprise journalists have been among the communicative hordes to embrace tweeting – for work and for pleasure. Like talk, email and telephone calls, it unavoidably serves as a vent for opinion and as a barometer of reaction: “What’s up? I’ll bloody tell you what’s up.”

    Tweeting can be a fine media for quick-fire reaction and for instant provocation. It is also an arena of stultifyingly banal and witless statements. And it can be deadly boring, its stock in trade including much by way of “I am going to make another omelette” and “I am still listening to the Velvet Underground”.

    The one thing tweeting definitely is not is a professional medium – its nature is chaos not order. It is one of the social media, remember? That means human beings communicating badly. Attempts to professionalise tweeting are misguided. They lead inexorably to a second debate over how employees identified with a firm (a carpet showroom, a website, a PR agency, a newspaper) use tweets. When do your opinions cease to be safely allied to those of your employer? If you use the f-word in a tweet, are you damaging a corporate image or merely speaking socially to your mates as you see fit? As a professional communicator, do you accept your employer having a say in how you communicate in the evenings or at the weekends? Does your employer agree with your stance on omelettes or the Velvet Underground? When a schoolboy sprays graffiti on a wall outside of school hours, how much does the issue depend on whether he was wearing his school uniform or not?

    As RTE is discovering, tweeting is a communication device for which the user manual is still evolving.

    @MrJohnFleming

  • New media vs old media… a phoney war

    February 9, 2012 @ 4:33 pm | by Hugh Linehan

    I spent most of Monday at the ‘Media Diversity; Why does it matter?’ conference in Dublin. (more…)

  • What are the implications of a new broadcast charge?

    @ 4:11 pm | by Hugh Linehan

    This is a version of the an article I wrote for the January 21st edition of The Irish Times, with the headline ‘Broadcast charge plan will have huge implications’. (more…)

  • Thoughts on 50 years of Irish TV

    @ 4:04 pm | by Hugh Linehan

    This is a republished version of an article I wrote for the newspaper on January 7th, 2012, on the subject of RTE TV’s 50th anniversary, titled ‘A window on the nation or a mirror of our society?’ (more…)

  • The irishtimes.com archive and Kate Fitzgerald

    December 20, 2011 @ 4:10 pm | by Hugh Linehan

    Journalism is a messy, imperfect trade. In the course of producing a daily newspaper or operating a news website, hundreds of decisions and judgment calls must be made every week. (more…)

  • Do journalists understand what’s happening to newspapers?

    September 19, 2011 @ 2:47 pm | by Hugh Linehan

    I’ve long been an admirer of Declan Lynch, whose mordant observations on life, death, sport, telly, drink and the whole damn thing are an excellent excuse to keep buying the Sunday Independent.

    However, his column yesterday depressed me, because it revealed again how even the smartest, wittiest, no-bullshit journalists are failing to get to grips with the challenges which now face newspapers.

    The column takes a strong position (nothing wrong with that) on paying for content, arguing that newspapers need to agree among themselves that they will cease publishing their content free online:

    The newspaper industry agonises endlessly about the challenges of the internet, and flagellates itself for failing to develop a “business model” for the online age. But then there has never been a business model, and there will never be a business model, which is based on giving it away for free.

    Which would all be very true, if it were not completely false. In fact, free newspapers have been the single largest growth sector in the business over the past 10 years. And, more broadly, lots of thriving media businesses are based on ‘giving it away for free’. When Declan sings the praises of Newstalk’s sport programmes, he’s describing a product which is ‘free’.

    That’s not to say that we shouldn’t charge if we can and where we can. When it comes to the whole paywall/free debate, this writer is an agnostic. The challenge facing those of us in the traditional media is to find new ways to sustain credible journalism against a backdrop of declining revenues – whatever it takes. If charging for content forms part of a successful strategy, then I’m all in favour. But the jury is still out on that. And focussing on paywalls to the exclusion of other issues (such as, for example, the fact that the biggest problem facing newspapers isn’t declining circulation; it’s declining ad revenues) doesn’t particularly help.

    It may well be true that the decision which newspapers, including this one, made in the mid-1990s to put all our content online for free was the Great Original Sin which has led to all our travails since. Certainly, if we’d known then what we know now, we would have done things differently. But here we are.  And, looking at the music industry, which took a diametrically opposed position on copyright, free online distribution, etc, one could argue that it might not have made much difference anyway.

    For the music industry, the newspaper industry and (coming soon) the TV and movie industry, the same disruptive technology is having the same effects. To confront that challenge, we need to be smart and flexible and quick. And not be spouting nonsense like this:

    Compared to Wikipedia, for example, the lowliest provincial paper in the most remote part of the English-speaking world is virtually a work of art, composed by magnificent writers and laid out by geniuses who are not just profoundly devoted to The Truth, they are decent, law-abiding, and they actually write under their own names.

    Sigh… Wikipedia, for all its faults, is a magnificent, admirable, fascinating resource. Sure, you shouldn’t use it to cure your cancer, but to fail to recognise its extraordinary value is to be sadly out of touch with the real, actual modern world.

    From there on, Declan’s column descends into familiar territory:  if it wasn’t linking to proper journalism, Twitter would just be about what people had for their breakfast. And bloggers are ‘just self-regarding bores without the writing talent or the commitment to the task that would get them a proper job in a newspaper’.

    This is the sort of ill-informed rent-a-rant guff one expects from the Sunday Indo, but not from Declan Lynch.

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    Declan should really take himself along to the Irish Film Institute this weekend. Andrew Rossi’s fly-on-the-wall documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times is showing there from Friday. Not only does it lay out the real issues faced by newspapers with admirable clarity: it also, in media correspondent David Carr, has a real journalist who does the legwork and understands what’s going on.

  • You say Gaddafi, we say Gadafy, let’s call the whole thing off…

    February 22, 2011 @ 11:11 am | by Hugh Linehan

    With bloody violence continuing in Libya today, it may seem trite to discuss the correct spelling of the name of that country’s dictator. But online readers of The Irish Times have become highly exercised by what they see as our ‘incorrect’ spelling of Muammar Gadafy’s name.

    ‘Gadafy appears on Libyan TV in show of control’ read the headline of our later editions this morning, following the Libyan leader’s brief and Jacques Tati-esque address to his nation last night.

    ‘Please advise those writing headlines about Libya that the correct spelling of the Dictators name is Gadaffi not Gadafy as shown on the front page of your website. Pathetic,’ wrote one correspondent.

    ‘In all my life, and for all the years I have been reading about this guy, I have NEVER seen his name spelled GADAFY. Did you do that so that the dumb Irish people could read it phonetically, or is this the way it should have been printed for all those years? I am dying to know…’ wrote another.

    Our spelling has also prompted a debate thread on Boards.ie, while the good folk at Broadsheet.ie helpfully point out that a Google search reveals that we’re the only news organisation to use this version. ‘It’s a solo run, dude,’ they comment.

    Perhaps so. But, as our Foreign Correspondent Mary Fitzgerald points out in a recent tweet, “transliteration from the Arabic throws up several possible phonetic spellings…so New York Times uses el-Qaddafi, BBC uses Gaddafi, LA Times use Kadafi”

    And, according to this 2009 post from ABC News, there are 112 different English-language spellings of Gadafy’s name on record.

    Having discussed the matter with our Foreign Editor, it appears the Irish Times version is the same as that used by the Guardian up until a couple of years ago (it now prefers Gaddafi). To my eyes, our version looks slightly archaic, perhaps even contrarian, but to describe it as ‘wrong’ would be, er, wrong.

    The Irish Times Stylebook contains several such unusual rulings, some of which cause unease among the editorial staff (acronyms are a particularly thorny issue). But from the point of a view of an organisation like ours which publishes more than 100,000 words a day, the most important thing is consistency and adherence to a clear set of agreed rules. How well we achieve that is a story for another day…

    *Update from our Foreign Policy Editor, Paddy Smyth:

    ‘The paper’s  and the online edition’s house style on his name, used first in 1971  and then from 1981 consistently with some lapses, is Col Muammar Gadafy. This version, one of many acceptable uses, is based on a direct transliteration from the Arabic.’

  • Getting audiovisual content into irishtimes.com’s election coverage

    February 15, 2011 @ 10:33 am | by Hugh Linehan

    You may have noticed that we’re using the election campaign as a testing ground for some new developments on irishtimes.com. As many of our users have pointed out, the site has been behind the curve when it comes to producing audiovisual content, along with exploring the full potential of social media tools such as Twitter and Audioboo. To that end, we’ve been producing daily podcasts and other audio since the start of the campaign, and we’ve been shooting some video, using smartphones and small, low-cost video cameras.

    ‘Where’s the spellcheck?’ Irish Times reporters get to grips with video.

     As we expected, it’s been a learning process for everyone involved, and we have a long way to go. But, as this report by Eanna Ó Caollaí shows, we are getting there… at least, I think so. What do you think?

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  • Who would play our political leaders in #GE11 – The Movie?

    February 8, 2011 @ 5:09 pm | by Hugh Linehan

    We’re all big Meryl Streep fans here in Tara St, so great excitement greeted today’s release of the first official portrait of Meryl as Margaret Thatcher in the upcoming adventure rom-com (it says here) The Iron Lady.

    An uncanny likeness, we’re sure you’ll agree. but it caused us to wonder: who might be the best casting choices for our own current crop of leaders?  Here’s our first suggestion, for Best Actor in a Supporting Role:

    We nominate:

    What are your suggestions?

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