Advertising Age has a great example of the complete and utter incompetence many newspaper executives still have when it comes to the web.
Then in January, Martin Nisenholtz, New York Times Co. senior VP-digital operations, got up at the annual Online Publishers Association summit in Florida, an event closed to the press, to blast both the algorithm and the results presentation on the screen.
He’d just run a search for Gaza, which had been at war with Israel since Dec. 27. Google returned links to outdated BBC stories, Wikipedia entries and even an anti-Semitic YouTube video well before coverage by the Times, which had an experienced reporter covering the war from inside Gaza itself.
Search results for “Gaza” on March 20 began with two Wikipedia links, a March 19 BBC report, two video clips of unclear origin, the CIA World Factbook, a Guardian report and, most strikingly, a link to Gaza-related messages on Twitter.
The last paragraph isn’t quite accurate. What shows up is not a report from the Guardian on Gaza, but rather a portal-style page where The Guardian has *gasp* actually assembled a page listing all of its recent news stories on Gaza along with links to videos, photographs, commentary and assorted other resources on Gaza.
Now, there’s nothing stopping the New York Times from creating a similar aggregation page, except that it is too busy whining at publisher meetings and tinkering with nonsense like ACAP to think about what its readers (and, in turn, Google) might find valuable.
The reason the NYT didn’t show up on on the first page of a Google search on Gaza is quite simply that it didn’t deserve to. Maybe it can borrow more money Carlos Slim Helú to buy a clue. It might start by finding a VP of digital operations who knows what he’s doing.
The New York Times ran an article a couple weeks ago about people who use Photoshop — or more likely pay others to manipulate their photos in Photoshop — to remove unpleasant aspects of the photos, such as ex-husbands,
Removing her ex-husband from more than a decade of memories may take a lifetime for Laura Horn, a police emergency dispatcher in Rochester. But removing him from a dozen years of vacation photographs took only hours, with some deft mouse work from a willing friend who was proficient in Photoshop, the popular digital-image editing program.
. . .
As image-editing software grows in sophistication and ubiquity, alterations go far beyond removing red-eye and whitening teeth. They include substituting head shots to achieve the best combination of smiles, deleting problematic personalities or adding family members who were unable to attend important events, performing virtual liposuction or hair restoration, even reanimating the dead. Revisionist history, it seems, can be practiced by just about anyone.
As people fiddle with the photos in their scrapbooks, the tug of emotion and vanity can win out over the objective truth. And in some cases, it can even alter memories — Cousin Andy was at the wedding, right?
In an age of digital manipulation, many people believe that snapshots and family photos need no longer stand as a definitive record of what was, but instead, of what they wish it was.
I can’t imagine doing that. Obviously, there are people who enjoy pretending that some things simply didn’t happen, but once you start preferring what you wish had been to reality, where does it stop? I’ve had personal experience with people who choose to concoct elaborate fantasies around past events to the point where they no longer realize they’ve come to believe the comforting lies they tell themselves, and it comes off as more pathetic than anything else.
The NYT concludes its story with a quote from clinical psychologist Alan Entin which nicely summarizes the desire to alter our past in this way,
“They’re [photographs] a record,” he said. “They have existed over time and space. They are important documents.”
To alter them is to invite self-deception, he said. “The value to accepting a photograph of yourself as you are is that you’re accepting the reality of who you are, and how you look, and accepting yourself that way, warts and all. I think the pictures you hate say as much about you as pictures you love.”
Tim O’Reilly has an interesting essay on something that is starting to happen more and more on the web — when media companies include links in a story, the links tend to go to internal rather than external content.
The example O’Reilly cites is of journalism professor Jay Rosen complaining about New York Times stories that had links in them, but the links just took him to New York Times searches rather than to external content. So, for example, if a story is about KPMG and the word KPMG is hyper-linked, I would expect it to go to KPMG’s site. Increasingly, however, the link goes to some internal “portal” page or search about KPMG.
There are a number of sites that I used to read all the time that I simply stopped doing so because they actively used this sort of linking to keep you at their site.
Now I don’t mind internal topics pages — in fact they can be very useful. But this is just like the difference between ads and editorial content. Companies need to clearly separate the two, or risk losing the user’s trust.
It’s just a gaming site, but WoWInsider.Com’s practice of doing this led me to simply stop reading the site. Every time I’d click on a link that appeared from the context that it would take me to an external site with additional information, it turned out it simply redirected me to an internal portal page which I had zero interest in reading. Moreover, I then had to actively hunt through the article to figure out where the links were that did actively go to any external sites. This was especially annoying since each story at WoWInsider had an area where the author linked to specific internal portal pages that he or she deemed relevant to the story itself.
After the 20th or so time that happened, I concluded that WoWInsider had little respect for its readers with such bizarre behavior and moved on. It’s not like it is the only provider of WoW-related news on the web.
O’Reilly outlines some ideas on how this system could be made helpful to users, but I’m skeptical,
When this trend spreads (and I say “when”, not “if”), this will be a tax on the utility of the web that must be counterbalanced by the utility of the intervening pages. If they are really good, with lots of useful, curated data that you wouldn’t easily find elsewhere, this may be an acceptable tax. In fact, they may even be beneficial, and a real way to increase the value of the site to its readers. If they are purely designed to capture additional clicks, they will be a degradation of the web’s fundamental currency, much like the black hat search engine pages that construct link farms out of search engine results.
I’d like to put out two guidelines for anyone adopting this “link to myself” strategy:
- Ensure that no more than 50% of the links on any page are to yourself. (Even this number may be too high.)
- Ensure that the pages you create at those destinations are truly more valuable to your readers than any other external link you might provide.
On June 18, The New York Times ran a profile, U.S. Muslim Clerics Seek a Modern Middle Ground, that profiled Sheik Hamza Usuf and Imam Zaid Shakir who, according to The Times are “leading intellectual lights for a new generation of American Muslims who can help them learn how to live their faith without succumbing to American materialism or Islamic extremism.”
Reporter Laurie Goodstein goes out of her way to portray the men as people who previously had made extremist anti-American statements which they have since renounced on their way to moderation.
Fair enough, but just how moderate have the two become. For example, it is not until the second-to-last paragraph of the almost-3,000 word article that we come upon this nugget,
He [Shakir] said he still hoped that one day the United States would be a Muslim country ruled by Islamic law, “not by violent means, but by persuasion.”
This is what The Times views as a moderate view?
There is a very small movement in the United States called the Christian Reconstructionists who broadly want to do the same thing with Christianity — essentially create a Christian-based theocracy with the Old and New Testament as the fundamental basis for the legal system. Like Shakir, they don’t necessarily advocate violence, but I can’t imagine that The Times would agree that their views are “moderate” simply because they don’t advocate blowing shit up to get their way.
Similarly, in the context of American politics, Shakir is a religious extremist who seeks to overturn the American experiment with secular government for a religious theocracy not all that different from the Christian Reconstructionist vision. Shame on the New York Times for giving such extremism as pass as “moderation.”
U.S. Muslim Clerics Seek a Modern Middle Ground. Laurie Goodstein, The New York Times, June 18, 2006.
An April 28, 2006 article about a planned revamp of the game by Hasbro repeats the nonsensical Hasbro (originally Parker Brothers) PR claim that,
When Monopoly was devised in the 1930’s, Atlantic City was chose because it epitomized the kind of glittering tourist destination that many Depression-era Americans could only fantasize about visiting.
Charles B. Darrow, an unemployed salesman, sketched the prototype game on a tablecloth in the Germantown of Philadelphia, using 21 street names from Atlantic City. . .
In fact Monopoly is clearly derived from a game called The Landlord’s Game patented in 1910 by Elizabeth Maggie Phillips. The Landlord’s Game and variations of the game were played by Quakers, with rules changing as the game spread, under the name “Auction Monopoly” or “Monopoly.”
Darrow learned a version of Monopoly from Quakers in Atlantic City who took to printing and selling copies of the game, and the rest is history. Darrow claimed he had invented the game, and Parker Brothers helped perpetuate that lie in its marketing materials. The company also bought up the rights to the The Landlord’s Game and similar games.
In the 1970s, this history came back to haunt them when Parker Brothers sued Ralph Anspach to stop distribution of Anspach’s Anti-Monopoly game. Parker Brothers ultimately lost that lawsuit and the floodgates opened for literally hundreds of impersonators and Monopoly variants.
Anspach went on to write a book about his lawsuit and Parker Brothers fraud, The Billion Dollar Monopoly Swindle.