Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The end of newspapers

Polly Toynbee writes in the UK's Guardian newspaper about a terrific swathe of job losses and closures taking place inside the UK's local newspaper industy.

National newspapers, meanwhile, are also in freefall: The Independent is moving into the offices of the Daily Mail, to save its haemorrhage of cash. The Evening Standard is sold to a Russian billionaire for £1. As TV channels suffer collapsing revenues too, only the BBC and its excellent website seems to be shining through the depressing mass of closures and desperate desire to bottomfeed for the same, tired exclusives as everyone else. And blogging, nor citizen media, is going to replace this.

Bloggers and local citizens with video cameras, or poorly-paid interns, don't have the training, the legal resources, the financial resources, someone helping and directing them, to undertake deep investigations, to work sources, to stand up to libel threats, in order to uncover the real stories out there. You may say that local papers are not doing that anyway -- and I'd agree. But the move downwards, to cut costs, to rely on free, only leads to more churnalism (regurgitating press releases) or interviews with public figures who know they're not going to get a hard time.

Let's see how brave all the bloggers are when they get sued!

I'll just pop the last few lines of David Simon's (The Wire creator) recent Washington Post piece about the decline of local newspapers.

He was explaining that as a former crime reporter, he could get access to judges, police informants etc to discover if the police were inflating the threats they faced or if they were shooting people without reason in Baltimore:

"... There is a lot of talk nowadays about what will replace the dinosaur that is the daily newspaper. So-called citizen journalists and bloggers and media pundits have lined up to tell us that newspapers are dying but that the news business will endure, that this moment is less tragic than it is transformational.

"Well, sorry, but I didn't trip over any blogger trying to find out McKissick's identity [ a police officer who had twice lost their gun and had now shot an OAP in an incident] and performance history. Nor were any citizen journalists at the City Council hearing in January when police officials inflated the nature and severity of the threats against officers. And there wasn't anyone working sources in the police department to counterbalance all of the spin or omission.

"I didn't trip over a herd of hungry [Baltimore] Sun reporters either, but that's the point. In an American city, a police officer with the authority to take human life can now do so in the shadows, while his higher-ups can claim that this is necessary not to avoid public accountability, but to mitigate against a nonexistent wave of threats. And the last remaining daily newspaper in town no longer has the manpower, the expertise or the institutional memory to challenge any of it...."

Hear, hear.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Restrictions eased on 'American Taliban'

News released last week reveals that John Lindh, the so-called 'American Taliban' serving 20 years for violating trade sanctions imposed on the Taliban (and not for being a "terrorist", unlike most Americans think), is having some of his draconian prison restrictions lifted.

Lindh will now be able to see people outside of his immediate family and legal team. Prior to this he's been forbidden to speak Arabic, to communicate in letters and to talk to the media.

Anyone interested in the wider story, and miscarriage of justice, surround John Lindh's case and the fight by his parents for his freedom can read my article John Walker's Blues, in which I met the family, friends and supporters last year.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Elephant in the Room -- Gold Selling in Virtual Worlds

Up to 30% of online gamers could be buying virtual currency and game items inside hugely-popular virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft.

That, at least, is according to one of my sources I interviewed for this series of articles exposing the scale of "gold selling" within the gaming industry, on Eurogamer.net website.

Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMORPGs, or MMOs for short) have expanded to become household names in recent years -- Warhammer Online, EVE Online, World of Warcraft -- all are known by kids and adults alike in today's increasingly popular, and crowded, gaming market.

These are worlds where you immerse yourself in the life of a character, take on heroic roles, quest with friends and join potentially huge raids into complex dungeons. Yet the 'grind' these games create -- you're required to spend hours, and days, carrying out repetitive tasks to earn rewards, and thus game currency and items -- puts off a good many players it seems. So much so that they're willing to part with real-world cash in order to get the edge in these fantasy and sci-fi universes.

Whilst the stereotype of the gold farmer remains that of an overworked, Chinese shift worker, such as The Guardian recently suggested; and the gold sellers they report to as shifty middle men, often linked to organised crime; I've found there is a strong desire for change from the playerbase of these games. And several MMO firms are now responding with their own initiatives as a result.

Read the first article today; each week another piece will be added, telling the story from the farmers' perspective, the sellers, the players and the gaming companies.