More convergence at the BBC. Yesterday, its TV and radio departments shut up shop. And were then born again. Following Director-General Mark Thompson’s restructuring plans, the Beeb is regrouping into Vision, Audio & Music, Journalism and Future Media & Technology.
BBC Vision launches with a promise to audiences

The BBC needs to be ready for “360 degree multi-platform content creation”, according to Thompson.
BBC reorganises for an on-demand Creative Future

Or as one BBC radio, sorry, Audio and Music presenter put it:

You can’t say radio any more in case people are listening on a mobile phone or a toenail, or a haddock, or something.

via Ben Hoyle, London Times

Yes, Google’s newly launched News Archive Search is a great boon to those lacking subscriptions to super expensive public record/newspaper/academic databases – all the news going back decades that’s unclassified and fit to print – such as LexisNexis and JSTOR.

For a few dollars a shot, bloggers can now sample what journalists have become totally hooked on.

Click over to one place and search. Cut and paste from a clutch of database cuttings. Leaving no citations to indicate that your great thoughts aren’t your great thoughts alone, damn, you sound authoritative.

Due respect to old skool Google, but you won’t want to go back. It’s like coca leaves v. crack cocaine.

And you won’t talk about it. In the last month, no journalist at any British quality newspaper, not the Guardian nor the Times nor the Telegraph, has mentioned, casually, in passing, that he or she uses LexisNexis. No mention in any US newspaper either. But everyone’s doing it. Quick and easy access to vast databases of information must be one of the most significant changes to journalistic practice in recent years.

Once the Google News Archive Search becomes more compelling – the timeline becomes more intuitive and there’s more content and more of it is free – and once bloggers, the end users that turned, start mining archives in the same way they mine their RSS aggregators, the standard news story format, in blogs and then in newspapers, is bound to change.

The prosumer news blogger, brought up to link and link again, is likely to introduce links to old newspaper stories. Iraq is the new Vietnam? Or the new Suez? Why not compare and contrast in great detail?

Great. The mainstream media shudders as the bloggers at the gate get fourth dimensional. Breadth is easy to provide thanks to broadband and Google. Now, users can expect depth as well, the historical context for any breaking news story.

But there is a fl4w. You’re unlikely to ever touch bottom, get the fully searchable depth, not the full 200 years (LexisNexis in comparison goes back only about 25 years) that Google claims it can deliver.

Before getting out the tinfoil over Google Earth and the emergence of a Google cosmology or worrying about the recent airbrushing of a New York Times’ entry in LexisNexis, concerned citizens should be concerned about the technological limitations of news databases.

A search for “Internet” finds 15 news stories for 1819 and earlier:

He had heard a great deal about lhe .hipping internet…
The Times, 6 October 1812

Sadly, this isn’t evidence of any early success with steam-driven computers, the spawn of some Charles Babbage abandonware. It’s due to the limitations of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology.

For your average machine, Times Roman on yellowing newsprint is difficult to read. “Internet” and “interest” look pretty much the same.

According to Nicholson Baker, searchable OCR text is often “intolerably corrupt”. A typical JSTOR article has a new typo every 2,000 characters – every page or two.
Nicholson Baker, Double Fold, p71

Enough to throw any serious research.

Maybe the OCR technology will get better. Google is on the case. It recently released Tesseract OCR, an open-source version of an old OCR engine.

But, as Baker laments, the scanning of newspapers is mostly done. The cost of rescanning would be prohibitive. And, in any case, scanned newspapers tend to pass out of the archival system. They tend to get pulped or turned into decor for Dad’s den wall.

Video marketeers beware. As Paris Hilton and Tony Blair both get down with the new brand-driven YouTube – yay! the Official Paris Hilton YouTube Channel as well as Tony’s Transformational Government & Leadership Challenge, angry, bored, plain delinquent consumers citizens are sharpening their keyboards:

For a long time Governments have been looking around for way to get their ‘messages’ out to the public without the bothersome annoyance of journalists asking difficult questions. They may see YouTube as the fix for this.What they may not have taken account of is the video replies or text comments that people can leave in response.
Simon Perry, Digital-Lifestyles

Millions of websites will aggregate what we do, syndicate it, link it, comment on it, sneer at it, mash it, trash it, monetise it, praise it and attempt to discredit it – in some cases all at once. But no-one will actually go to the risk and the expense of setting up a global network of people whose only aim in their professional lives is to find things out, establish if they’re true, and write about them quickly, accurately and comprehensibly. The blogosphere, which is frequently parasitical on the mainstream media it so remorselessly critiques, can’t ever hope to replicate that.

Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian

From the department of kicking the US mainstream media while it’s already down: it’s not unusual for US TV stations to run corporate product pitches as straight news items, according to a new report by a media watchdog.

Over a ten-month period, the Center for Media and Democracy found 77 TV stations guilty of airing video news releases (VNRs) created by PR companies for corporate clients.
Fake TV News: Widespread and Undisclosed

What happens is that the news anchor stops talking about murder and mayhem on Main Street and cuts to a colleague who talks about a great new product by Acme Corp. The viewer has no reason to think that what’s on show is an advert.

The report finds that while videos were routinely altered to look as though they originated in-house, most stations failed to disclose their promotional nature.

Television newscasts—the most popular news source in the United States—frequently air VNRs without disclosure to viewers, without conducting their own reporting, and even without fact checking the claims made in the VNRs.

Diane Farsetta and Daniel Price, Center for Media and Democracy

But Barbara Cochran, president of the Radio-Television News Directors Association, warns against government legislation against undisclosed TV promotions: “Where does it stop? It is up to the individual stations to look at their practices and tighten up.”
NY Times

The problem with this is that business self-regulation generally doesn’t work without sticks and carrots, whether from government or the wider community. The bottom line will win out.

Here, US TV viewers are being bamboozled; they don’t have enough information to make an informed choice. The government has to intervene or at least look as though it’s going to intervene in order to nudge media companies into behaving in the public interest.

Where government regulation stops is a matter for discussion. But media freedom, as Cochran seems to acknowledge, doesn’t include the right to run snake oil shows – not yet.

The placing of uncredited news stories by the US military in Iraqi newspapers led to a government inquiry. Surely US corporations and media doing the same at home should be held to a similar or even higher standard of accountability?

More corporate copyright capers. The Royal Courts of Justice in London swung to the sounds of the latest popular beat combos on the opening day of Apple vs. Apple, in which the Beatles’ record label is demanding damages from the computer giant for the alleged scrumping of its apple logo. QC Geoffrey “Loudmouth” Vos, resplendent in what excited journalists took to be an Adidas hoodie, chopped from the classic disco of Chic’s Le Freak to the big street hot riddims of Coldplay’s Speed of Sound while waving Hunter S Thompson’s pump-action wordage in the air –

the music business is a cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs. There’s also a negative side. – Hunter S Thompson, Daily Variety (Sub Req)

This gave way to the tired realisation yesterday that iPods were now ordinary, that this was just another squabble between big corporations over copyright lucre. Mr Justice “Notda” Mann cut short an explanation from the lawyers of how Apple’s iLife suite works – “I’ve got it and I use it” – and thereby opportunities for any further zeitgeist-defining and/or legalistic sitcom moments.

Yeah, the Kool-Aid does taste funny. Molly Ivins tears into the assumption that the newspaper business is dying because it isn’t delivering profits. Sure, there’s a steady decline in the industry over the long term. But profits are still happening. What’s killing newspapers is a mania for profits at any cost. Cut reporters and the space devoted to news. Profits will certainly go up. But then newspapers will certainly die. Which wouldn’t matter if newspapers weren’t fundamental to the creation of a well-informed citizenry.

Yeah, but – isn’t the growth of the blogosphere making up for this? And acting as an offshore balance to the power of the mainstream media? Please, don’t pass the Kool-Aid. Ivins is dismissive of bloggers – they don’t have the size, interest and skills needed to go out and gather news; they remain “opinion-mongers”:

No one should be allowed to write opinion without spending years as a reporter — nothing like interviewing all four eyewitnesses to an automobile accident and then trying to write an accurate account of what happened.

Molly Ivins, Alternet

Give some of them time, Molly. Otherwise, good stuff. Particularly if you think that Rupert Murdoch assigning you a friend when you sign up for MySpace is mildly creepy, indicative of what lies ahead.

“All that is newspaper melts…” – Scott Rosenberg on the end of print newspapers:

… the same process that ate their classified income is going to affect [newspaper owners’] other revenue streams. Just as classifieds went from costly to free, the display advertising will begin to dry up, as youth-seeking national advertisers follow their targets to the online world. And the very core of the newspaper product, the professional news report, is under siege, thanks to a myriad of missteps in the newsrooms and the rise of amateur (in the best sense), free alternatives.

… the only kinds of reporting and writing that will survive are those that individual entrepreneurs can find sponsors for, or those done by people who are financially independent or who work for nothing in their spare time.

Scott Rosenberg

It’s the beginning of the end of the big media monopoly, argues Robert X Cringely. The big media corporations may have succeeded in making copying illegal. But even Microsoft is starting to acknowledge that there’s been a total failure in stopping the growth of a culture of copying.

Big media’s next step will be to employ hacking techniques against peer-to-peer file sharing systems. Then, as consumer PR hits rock bottom, the corporates will introduce their own pretty peer-to-peer systems.

With corporate peer-to-peer – two incompatible ideas – likely to fail, big media will increasingly concentrate on media projects, like blockbuster films, requiring large amounts of cash. Text and music will come from individual writers and artists operating outside the old media loop.

If the corporates don’t accommodate this new media, they may find their game is over.
– Cringely’s Pulpit