As the media world struggles to retain its editorial integrity against fake news, two developments in the regional press have got me gnashing my teeth.
First up was the €398,000 grant that Newsquest won from Google’s Digital News Initiative for a scheme designed to help people submit content “ready-for-publication” in its local titles.
Newsquest said its ‘Loquial’ service will provide “a set of user-friendly publishing tools” to enable the public to share their news.
Hold on a minute: there’s nothing wrong with listings, letters and opinions, and we’re all up for building decent news stories from readers’ tips, but what’s all this about what folk send in being ‘ready-for-publication’?
That surely requires balance, legal checks and a dose of plain English, something that trained journalists should be there to provide.
But from what Newsquest implies, they will be devising some sort of bot rather than a human hack to filter content through a flow-chart of whether it can be used or not.
Newsquest said: “It will also provide efficiency for newsrooms – time saved repurposing and repackaging hyperlocal community content will be reallocated to more in-depth reporting from professional journalists.”
Do they not understand that even what they condescendingly term ‘hyperlocal community content’ also needs checking for originality, half-decent news lines, readable syntax and potential libel?
What’s worse are comments that this tool will enable the public to “harness the trusted environment and wide reach of their local news brand”.
The US-owned publisher added: “It’s a service that will … free up our valuable journalists’ time to focus on the sort of high impact, in-depth reporting that remains central to the strength and trust of our brands.”
We all want the latter, but if standards are lowered by automating news feeds, publishers will dilute their overall content to the level of unrestrained social media.
Allowing technology to desk and publish content unfiltered by trained human eyes will at best damage the trust of local news brands, and at worst destroy them beyond repair.
Meanwhile commercial executives at Reach – formerly Trinity Mirror – are also busy kicking editorial standards into touch, according to an email leaked to me by an old contact. Here’s the full text:
Good afteroon xxxx.
Thank you for your email.
Your press release has been forwarded to me and I wondered when you were free for a quick chat?
I work on the Brand Partnership Team at Reach PLC and we have put together some commercial content options where we can place your press release, write a content campaign that will engage our audience or even come up with a completely bespoke creative content strategy (content written by Commercial Editor) then amplify your content strategy on our brand websites (brands list link below – access our huge audience 37 million unique monthly visitors) and then distribute the content out through channels such as social media and display networks.
Within these options we will guarantee a go live date, proof articles to you, guarantee page views and provide a campaign report once the content has ran giving you visible results.
Please let me know when you are free to discuss how we can work together moving forward.
Brand Partnership Manager
Or, in short… Thanks for your press release. If you pay us, we’ll pretend that it’s editorial, and will work as hard on it as we would any real story.
Sorry Reach executives, but someone’s got to call out the harm you could be doing to the industry.
Yes, we’ve always had press releases, and on the business desk the weaker ones would regularly be passed on to commercial colleagues to chase for possible advertising.
But they should never be dressed up as editorial unless they are received, analysed, checked, developed and eventually deemed good enough to escape the spike by journalists who know what makes news.
Even suggesting that paying a sum of money could see a press release guaranteed as editorial, with final content approved by the payer, is tempting the end of journalistic independence.
How often do publishers need to be told that editorial means real journalism, and advertising means paid content.
Anything in between is an advertising feature and should be billed as such. End of. Grrrr!