A weekly newspaper website which offers readers the chance to buy photos of murder victims and crashed cars via automated links has been criticised by a digital publishing expert.
David Higgerson, digital publishing director for Trinity Mirror’s regional titles, wrote on his personal blog about the consequences of overusing automation citing examples from the Leamington Observer website.
The site contains an automatic ‘Buy photo’ link under every picture – including those used in stories about sex offences, car crashes and a man who died after being stabbed on Mother’s Day, pictured below.
While acknowledging that the Bullivant Media-owned Observer was only seeking to drive picture sales revenue, David said it showed automation was not always a good thing.
He wrote: “Digitally, it’s easy to automate things. These images perhaps prove that automation isn’t always a good thing, and it’s essential that journalists have the ability to manage every aspect of their stories online to ensure that things don’t look odd, and more importantly, offence isn’t inadvertently caused.
“Just because we can pull in tweets automatically based on a search term doesn’t mean we should – where’s the value in that to the user? And in a world where programmatic advertising is so often contextual to a story, we need to make sure we have the ability to remove things which inadvertently cause offence.
“Those stories about funeral director adverts appearing alongside print coverage of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997? It’s exactly the same now. Same problem, different platform – and with the lure of automation thrown in for good measure.
“In a world where anyone can be a publisher, the presentation of content to a certain standard has never been so important. The idea of automation appeals to anyone who is pressed for time, but the very real danger is that it alienates readers.
“We might know why Google ads for self esteem classes appear next to a story about a man threatening to commit suicide the reader, rightly, doesn’t expect it, and won’t understand it.
“The argument ‘It’s automatic’ doesn’t cut much ice with readers, I suspect.”
The Observer has yet to respond to HTFP’s request for a comment.