When I started Brownhills Blog, I had a respectful, fairly noble, rose-tinted view of the local printed media. I love reading local newspapers – if I’m out and about, away from home in an alien town with time on my hands, I always go to the trouble of buying and reading the local paper for the town I’m in. I like to think that one can tell a lot about a place from the state of the local Fourth Estate, and so it is with our area. Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a bit of a state, if not exactly lying in it. My rose tinted spectacles are now removed, and I feel less than generous to our professional news-mongers.
It came to my attention this evening that Mark, the creator and all round clever bloke behind local news aggregator the YamYam, has been roughed over in a couple of blog posts by none less than the political editor of the Birmingham Post and Mail, Jonathan Walker. It all started on the 4th June 2009, with a sniffy, slightly condescending article detailing what the YamYam was all about, with a little grudging appreciation thrown in. That didn’t really garner much attention that I can see, so on the 4th August, Mr. Walker decided to go for an all-out mauling. Jonathan has generously given Mark the right of reply, but it’s a bit hollow after such an excoriation. All because Mark has the audacity to scan articles that aren’t available in online versions, and post them publicly for all to read. Apparently, this constitutes ‘…theft, in the same way as downloading a pirated copy of a film or CD is theft.’ I’ve got one thing to say to the gentleman: that’s bollocks, and you know it.
I have scanned articles from the Express & Star in support of posts on this blog more than a few times. Why? Well, I can’t expect everyone reading this raggedy rant-fest to be au fait with the entire content of a newspaper that they may or may not buy. Often, I take a story or local issue to a wider audience. Sometimes, I draw links between pieces others may have forgotten about. Other times, I flag up little things that generally pass as filler. Like the YamYam, where an online version is available, I’ll always link to it, but the Express & Star in particular rarely gets any Walsall focused stories online, which leaves a bit of a hole when you want to discuss the front-page article about, say, Brownhills. Since printed news is a perishable commodity, I actually believe that any blogger or aggregator – like Mark or myself – who takes up precious bandwidth holding copies of such attributed articles is doing both the community, and the paper in question, a favour. I also question if it can be called theft when most scanned articles don’t go up until we have time to process them – usually after the copy of the paper they were in has expired!
Take, for example, the recent instance where the YamYam archived an Express & Star piece recording a slightly intemperate grumble from a local councillor; with his views unexpectedly on wider availability, and archived for posterity, he was suddenly moved to qualify his original position. It’s somewhat noticeable that the member in question didn’t see fit to answer the point in the offline media instead, and certainly wouldn’t have qualified his position at all were it not for the YamYam’s actions. There are stories I’d like to write about on a local level, where I’ve read past articles that raised issues, only to find them unarchived online and effectively lost to anyone without the time to search backissues, even if I could remember when the article was published. Is that really what the editor wants – news dead after the day of issue? I so don’t enjoy rooting through the recycling bin just to get original articles online in a way that can be referenced…
It’s not as if the lack of probity Jonathan whinges about are even upheld by the august organ he magnanimously defends; they’re not above raiding local blogs, YouTube, wikipedia and twitter for sources of cheap stories, in my case to quite irritating effect. Most of the protagonists of the West Midlands hyperlocal web scene have some tale of woe to tell about the behaviour of their local inkies, so for a leading light within one of the major players to be so horrendously outraged smacks of double standards.
This brings me to my final point – the owners of the Birmingham Post and Mail find themselves and their market to be almost moribund, to the extent that they’re closing a number of longstanding titles – including The Walsall Observer. Whilst there is still a market for the traditional printed media, one of the things that is making their current commercial life so terribly challenging is that most of them – especially the locals like the ones Mr. Walker edits – fail to grasp what the web is all about, and how punters find news content online. Consequently, they’re getting their online backside kicked by the likes of the BBC. Without exception, the websites of all the local papers are bloated, turgid and over-wrought browser blasters, with such jarring, jumbled visual content that they look like angry fruit salads. Without RSS, the Express & Star’s electronic edifice in particular would be unusable. Commentator and all-round wit Dinkey summed it all up beautifully in his comment on this Birmingham Post article about their malaise. The YamYam, this blog and others like it do your sites a service in that we pre-filter your content, enabling viewers to find what interests them without having to work through a migraine inducing fug of lurid adverts and irrelevant content. I’d hazard that we’re probably even generating traffic for you.
The now infamous attack on Dennis Healey by Sir Geoffrey Howe was described by Dennis himself as being akin to being savaged by a dead sheep; the YamYam has just been savaged by a dead duck in the form of old media. Instead of railing against the darkness, Mr. Walker, why not switch the light on and embrace the social media?
Newspapers are the first to bleat about theft of their content, but whistle into the sky when they do it themselves.
As always you provide a precise and fair analysis of a complex situation. Like you I can see the irony of a media industry that still doesn’t quite know what to do with new media technolgies. They want (need) to be part of it but it doesn’t fit with their outdated business models so they take what they want and then the likes of Mr Walker makes a complete fool of himself attacking the YamYam, on the behalf of another newspaper! Did they ask him to do it? My Twitter account is regularly watched/raided by the local press and original items taken (plagiarised) as source for an easy low cost article for their business and the ‘borrow’ is never acknowledged.
Mr Walker makes the YamYam’s response available in his blog behind a poorly constructed ‘here’ link but he clearly hasn’t bothered to read it or if he has, failed to understand the response.
Mr Walker get your act together and start to provide a proper service to the community. You should either “p*ss or get off the pot” and stop trying to have it all without any responsibility. Remember when you point your finger three remain still pointing at you!
So wake up, shut up, back off and apologise.
Thanks for this, Brownhills Bob. When it comes to giving people a mauling in a blog post, I guess I still have a few things to learn:)
WalsallGuy, Mark’s post wasn’t hidden in any way – it’s currently at the top of the front page on my site, http://www.walkerjon.com/, it went out on the RSS feed and I also twittered it (and so did he). In other words, it got exactly the same treatment as any other blog post on my site, including my post criticising his website.
This is what I was referring to…
Written by Jonathan Walker | 04 August 2009
Posted in Journalism
Edit: Mark Blackstock, editor of TheYamYam, has replied to this post, and you can find his comments here.
So if you go to the original blog that is all you see….
But as it was the response from the person who is target of this unwarranted attack IMHO to have included ‘in line’ would have been more appropriate in this instance.
If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck and farts like a duck, it is very probably a duck.
If it’s a dead duck, it won’t be doing any farting, but the smell will be much the same.
This particular duck ain’t no rose garden…
– The Edditer
Thanks for stepping in so swiftly to defend the YamYam with another one of your eloquently reasoned, well linked and very funny posts.
In fairness to Jonathan, I believe he was expressing a personal view since his comments did not appear on any of his official Post and Mail blog pages.
There seems to be a lot of pissing and farting going on from WalsallGuy and the Edditor. Might I suggest they lay off eating the ‘angry fruit salads’ . Thanks chaps
But, Stuart, rather than being a duck I am a person expressing their opinion on a personal blog, just as you do.
I may disagree with you on occasion, but I hope I’ll manage to do so without saying “you smell” . . .
Whilst I understand that what you wrote was pure opinion, and on your own behalf, you’re a professional journalist and clearly understand the power of words. The theft statement left a very sour taste with me personally, and having been turned over quite blatantly myself, I feel that Mark’s activities required a robust defence from the people he supports so diligently.
I will continue to defend my peers in this manner, and if one uses such emotive language it only seems correct to employ an equally strident linguistic defence. We may be the poor relations of journalism, but I suspect we’re probably a bit more engaged.
In conclusion, I’d tenure that we’re better allies than foes…
Those chaps in Walsall, particularly in the northern wastes, are used to broken reservoirs, noxious fumes and industrial effluent – it’s called heritage. You just have to get into the swim. Besides, I think the farting duck references were not about you but about your esteemed smelly organ, or at least the people who own it!
Jonathan, I was simply trying to inject a bit of levity into what is of course a serious subject.
Of course newspapers on the whole take themselves too seriously at times, as do journalists.
No doubt you personally bear no resemblance to a duck, dead, farting or otherwise.
– The Edditer
Yes, I overreacted to that comment, sorry.
And I won’t spam up the comments section any more!
I have never said bloggers are poor relations to journalism, and I am a blogger myself. I don’t claim to be a great blogger, but I am.
And I haven’t attacked your post Bob. It is clear that you also understand the power of words – I don’t know what you do for a living, but I am basing that simply on what you wrote. You gave me a good kicking, but I’m not complaining about it. Your words are just as powerful as mine.
What I did complain about was being compared, not by you, to a farting duck:) Well okay, perhaps I should take a joke.
I did know that ducks could fart. Perhaps I should look more closely for bubbles.
Your statement “I don`t claim to be a great blogger, but I am” could be translated as “I smell, but I don`t.”
I think the words of Bob are more powerful than yours – his are grammatically correct. You are the paid journalist and we receive no salaries for doing this. Time, I think, for you to update the C.V.
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