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26.05.17

Overflowing emotions and wild opinions

Posted 26th May 2017

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Last week, The New York Times published this interview with Ev Williams, one of the people behind Blogger and Twitter. The interview has been endlessly dissected elsewhere, and I don’t have anything particular to add to that debate.

I simply want to focus on the opening paragraph of David Streitfeld’s article:

“Evan Williams is the guy who opened up Pandora’s box. Until he came along, people had few places to go with their overflowing emotions and wild opinions, other than writing a letter to the newspaper or haranguing the neighbors.”

Now, here’s the thing. This isn’t actually true, is it?

I mean, I don’t even need to give counter-examples tracing back through the years – online forums, Usenet, fanzines, etc. What I’m thinking of is something rather more basic, and rather more popular. It’s called talking to people. My living room often features “overflowing emotions”, and my local pub echoes with the sound of “wild opinions”. And I can’t believe an article in The New York Times has made it necessary for me to state this rather obvious fact.

Now, is there a point to be made about Ev’s work making it easier to reach a worldwide audience? Yes, of course there is, and the article brings this up in the very next paragraph. But that doesn’t stop the initial opening being a massive load of crap. There is no such qualifier in the section I quote above.

I must admit, I couldn’t figure out why anybody would actually write this. Luckily, the article answers this for us:

“The trouble with the internet, Mr. Williams says, is that it rewards extremes.”

Why write an article with a sensible opening, when you can write something attention-grabbing which blatantly isn’t true?

The internet rewards extremes indeed.

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25.04.17

Wikitribune: The Real Revolution

Posted 25th April 2017

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So, today sees the announcement of Wikitribune, a brand new news site:

Jimmy Wales, the co-founder of Wikipedia, is launching a new online publication which will aim to fight fake news by pairing professional journalists with an army of volunteer community contributors.

Wikitribune plans to pay for the reporters by raising money from a crowdfunding campaign.

Wales intends to cover general issues, such as US and UK politics, through to specialist science and technology.

Those who donate will become supporters, who in turn will have a say in which subjects and story threads the site focuses on. And Wales intends that the community of readers will fact-check and subedit published articles.

Describing Wikitribune as ‘news by the people and for the people,’ Wales said: ‘This will be the first time that professional journalists and citizen journalists will work side-by-side as equals writing stories as they happen, editing them live as they develop, and at all times backed by a community checking and rechecking all facts.'”

I shall leave it to others to ponder whether this style of journalism is a good thing, or even if it will actually work in any way whatsoever. (I find the launch video ridiculously simplistic – there was some bad journalism in the old days, and some great journalism now – but maybe a more nuanced take is impossible when you’re launching something like this.) As ever, I want to concentrate on something else.

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22.03.17

Nico Hines Redux

Posted 22nd March 2017

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Congratulations, apologising in a red alert situation, a new record time: 220 days, 14 hours, and 33 minutes.

Yes, seven months after this unpleasantness, Nico Hines has finally said sorry. Though to be honest, I don’t really want to dwell on his apology too much. Seven months is far too late, and I really don’t feel anything behind his words.1

But Nico himself always bothered me less than The Daily Beast as a whole in this story. And the worst thing about that article is the “Editor’s Note” attached to it. Here is the most pertinent section:

“We’ve said it before: as a newsroom we succeed together and we fail together. Our belief in this has not changed. After months of internal review and discussion – made more poignant by our current national climate – we as a newsroom are as mindful and committed as ever to the responsibility we have as independent journalists to not only tell the truth but further the public good. We will continue to stand up to bullies and bigots, value an inclusive culture and be a proud and supportive voice for the LGBTQ community.”

Here’s the thing. It’s all very well saying you’ve had a lengthy “internal review”. But without reporting the results of that review, any repeated apologies are pointless. The really important thing about this story isn’t Nico Hines’s behaviour, however pathetic it’s been. The important thing is the complete and utter failure of The Daily Beast’s editorial processes. And after seven months, The Daily Beast STILL doesn’t seem to get this.

I don’t mind them saying they succeed or fail as a newsroom together. I have no problem with that. But they still haven’t managed to explain how the bloody hell they failed.

This is not an impossible thing to do properly. I point everyone yet again to how Grantland dealt with a similar controversy. I’m not going to quote any of that again here – it’s worth reading the whole thing in full. And after reading it, you have a full understanding of exactly what their editorial process were, how they failed, and exactly what they did to improve them – and not in generalities, but how they applied to their specific error in judgement. In excruciating and excoriating detail.

All we’ve had from The Daily Beast are vague apologies, and promises to do better. For some mistakes, that’s enough. Not this. The potential consequences of this one were just too dire to hand-wave away. As it is, they’ve had seven months to tell us what really happened, and they’ve failed. At this point, they clearly have no intention of actually doing what they really need to do.

Nico Hines may well have gone on a leisurely seven month journey to enlightenment, but The Daily Beast as a whole clearly haven’t. I will waste precisely zero further time on them.


  1. Incidentally, isn’t it weird that Nico Hines hasn’t tweeted a link to his apology? And yet he’s updated his bio to remove the reference to Rio. Hmmmmmm. 

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19.03.17

The Cook Report: Colin Stagg

Posted 19th March 2017

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The Cook Report, 26th November 1996, ITV, 8:30pm:

ROGER COOK: Colin Stagg was the the prime suspect in the Rachel Nickell murder case. He was charged after an undercover policewoman enticed him to talk about his fantasies of sex and violence. A judge threw the case out before a jury was even sworn in, and condemned the murder squad’s tactics. Although innocent in the eyes of the law, many people still see him as guilty.

Stagg was found not guilty. Robert Napper pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Rachel Nickell in 2008.

COLIN STAGG: There’s nothing there to tie me in with any crime whatsoever.
ROGER COOK: There’s no forensic evidence.
COLIN STAGG: No forensic, no.
ROGER COOK: Which there wouldn’t be, one would think, after two months. If there had been, it would have gone, wouldn’t it?

Stagg was found not guilty. Robert Napper pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Rachel Nickell in 2008.

COLIN STAGG: Nobody can remember what they were watching on TV two months ago, at a certain time, but it was around about that time quiz programmes were coming on.
ROGER COOK: So it fitted what you needed to say, some people might say?

Stagg was found not guilty. Robert Napper pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Rachel Nickell in 2008.

ROGER COOK: Question 28 on the lie detector test said “Are you a violent man?” – and you said…
COLIN STAGG: I said no.
ROGER COOK: Right. Did you stab your brother?

Stagg was found not guilty. Robert Napper pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Rachel Nickell in 2008.

ROGER COOK: There are two good examples of violence there.
COLIN STAGG: I was reacting like any normal human being would.
ROGER COOK: Well, that’s for others to judge, I guess. Some people though would say that this is another example of your continuing inconsistencies, and that there have been so many untruths, so many lies told, perhaps you don’t know the difference between the truth and a lie.

Stagg was found not guilty. Robert Napper pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Rachel Nickell in 2008.

ROGER COOK: In all, Lizzie James was sent dozens of letters, each more revolting and sexually depraved than the last, some disturbingly similar to the attack on Rachel.

Stagg was found not guilty. Robert Napper pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Rachel Nickell in 2008.1

ROGER COOK: But the lie detector was only one of three tests we asked Colin Stagg to take. We also took him to a hypnotist used by many doctors, who told us he’d resisted all attempts to induce hypnosis. And after a psychiatrist explained that the truth drug – though completely safe – was also difficult to defeat, he finally refused to take it.

Stagg was found not guilty. Robert Napper pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Rachel Nickell in 2008.

ROGER COOK: Yet all these other questions, Colin Stagg, remain unanswered.
COLIN STAGG: I’ve answered them as best as I could, and I did my best.
ROGER COOK: Then it’s up to the viewers to decide who to believe.
COLIN STAGG: Fair enough.

Stagg was found not guilty. Robert Napper pleaded guilty to the manslaughter of Rachel Nickell in 2008.

*   *   *

One final thing, in case anyone thinks that all this is very easy to point out with the benefit of hindsight. When Colin Stagg was acquitted in 1994, Justice Ognall said the honeytrap set by the Met police was “not merely an excess of zeal, but a blatant attempt to incriminate a suspect by positive and deceptive conduct of the grossest kind”.

That was 1994. This episode of The Cook Report was 1996. And yet it constantly relies on clip after clip after clip of Stagg’s police interview, along with Cook stating the police’s point of view over and over again.

To call this programme reprehensible doesn’t need hindsight. It’s the fact the programme entirely missed the actual story which was plainly in front of them which is hard to believe.


  1. Thank fuck Roger Cook doesn’t have access to my browser history. He’d have me down as Jack the Ripper within minutes. 

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16.03.17

Silent but Deadly

Posted 16th March 2017

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Daring Fireball, 15th March 2017:

Jon Rubinstein Named Co-CEO of World’s Biggest Hedge Fund, Fired 10 Months Later

Mary Childs, reporting for The Financial Times 10 months ago:

Bridgewater has chosen former Apple executive Jon Rubinstein as the new co-chief executive of the world’s biggest hedge fund, replacing Greg Jensen as part of a 10-year handover from founder Ray Dalio.

Mr Rubinstein, who also sits on the boards of Amazon.com and Qualcomm, is expected to join Bridgewater in May and to share the co-CEO role with Eileen Murray.

Now:

Bridgewater Associates co-CEO Jon Rubinstein is stepping down and transitioning to an external advisory role in April after 10 months on the job, the firm told clients in a note Wednesday.

“While over the last ten months Jon has helped build a plan to re-design our core technology platform and has brought in a group of extremely talented executives to build out our technology leadership, we mutually agree that he is not a cultural fit for Bridgewater,” Bridgewater founder, chairman, and co-CIO Ray Dalio wrote in the note.

Except that this isn’t how this piece was written when it was first published. It originally went as follows:

Jon Rubinstein Named Co-CEO of World’s Biggest Hedge Fund

Mary Childs, reporting for The Financial Times:

Bridgewater has chosen former Apple executive Jon Rubinstein as the new co-chief executive of the world’s biggest hedge fund, replacing Greg Jensen as part of a 10-year handover from founder Ray Dalio.

Mr Rubinstein, who also sits on the boards of Amazon.com and Qualcomm, is expected to join Bridgewater in May and to share the co-CEO role with Eileen Murray.

Not where I expected Rubinstein to wind up.

Screengrab here, taken from Google’s cache.1

What’s happened is pretty clear. John Gruber originally saw the FT article about Jon Rubinstein, didn’t clock that it was from ten months ago, and published in haste. Once he saw that the news was out of date, and Rubinstein was actually stepping down, he edited the article to correct the error… but didn’t mention his correction anywhere.

Not exactly fake news of the century, of course. Still, I thought it was worth pointing out, if only because Gruber is one of the good guys. And as the good guys, we should all be as transparent as possible about what we write. If we fuck up, even on a small piece such as this, we need to admit it. Otherwise, who knows what other mysterious edits happen with Daring Fireball after the fact? The issue is one of trust, and it only takes a small breach of that trust to make you doubt an entire site.

I could happily go back through Dirty Feed’s archives and do some nifty editing to ensure I’ve always been right about everything first time. But it’d be a pretty dishonest way to write.


  1. No idea why the spacing is incorrect on the navigation bar there, but I thought editing to make it correct wouldn’t be in the spirit of this article. 

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21.01.17

Our Little Genius

Posted 21st January 2017

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Our Little Genius publicity photo

In late 2009, a project was announced with a great deal of excitement.

“Fox announced on Wednesday that it is seeking participants for a new game show that will allow parents of young geniuses – age 6 to 12 – to put their kids’ knowledge to use winning “life-changing money.”

The series, to be called Our Little Genius, will feature the children competing to answer “increasingly difficult questions as they work their way up to win their family hundreds of thousands of dollars.” The new series is being created by Mark Burnett, the producer behind Survivor and Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader.”

– The New York Times, 11th November 2009

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11.11.16

On Nico Hines and The Daily Beast

Posted 11th November 2016

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Today marks three months since Nico Hines last tweeted. You remember Nico Hines, don’t you?

“An American news website has taken down, after sustained criticism, a “deplorable” piece that allegedly outed gay Olympic athletes.

The Daily Beast, an American news and entertainment website, published an “exposé” on Thursday about the ease with which dates with Olympic athletes could be arranged on Grindr, the gay hook-up app, in Rio de Janeiro.

The piece, originally titled “I Got Three Grindr Dates in an Hour in the Olympic Village”, quickly drew criticism of reporter Nico Hines for voyeurism and potentially putting closeted athletes at risk.

In one case, Hines gave the height, weight, nationality and language of an athlete from a country where discrimination and violence against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community is widespread.

That Hines – who identifies himself as The Daily Beast’s London correspondent and a former writer for The Times on Twitter – is a heterosexual and married father of one, was seen to compound the tastelessness of the article.”

The Guardian, 12th August 2016

Actually, I don’t wish to bang on about Nico Hines’ Twitter account. His lack of apology speaks for itself. I would, however, like to point out that he has clearly snuck into his account since this debacle, as he liked this tweet about an article posted in October. The fact he didn’t take this opportunity to even post an apology tweet deserves a thorough pointing at and laughing.

Still, what I really want to talk about is The Daily Beast‘s apology for the article. Yes, they did actually apologise, despite what some people would tell you. The problem is, the apology isn’t actually a very good one. And it’s not like the perfect guide for writing apologies online hasn’t been written. Derek Powazek’s “How To Apologize Online” would have told them everything they needed to know. I highly recommend you read that piece. I’ll wait.

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06.11.16

How Not To Close A News Organisation

Posted 6th November 2016

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“We are open for business.”

— David Hencke, Exaro ‘Head of News’, 18th July 2016

“We are absolutely devastated. We were going ahead with plans and had only just put up a story the previous day, with a lot more in the pipeline, and suddenly we are told it’s closed just like that.”

— David Hencke, Exaro ‘Head of News’, 21st July 2016

This article is not the story of Exaro – the investigative news site set up in 2011 to, in their own words, “hold power to account”. That story heavily involves Exaro’s investigations of paedophilia and child abuse, and that’s a topic on which I have precisely no insight on whatsoever – either the investigations themselves, Exaro’s conduct during them, or the official police investigations. There are many people who are far more qualified to discuss those matters. I mean literally qualified, with actual qualifications. There is nothing I could ever add to those discussions.

Still, what I want to talk about is something which does impact on the aftermath of those investigations. Whether you think Exaro’s conduct was exemplary, reprehensible, or some complex line between the two, the fact now remains: aside from the usual rescue from the Wayback Machine, there is no primary evidence of those investigations left online. It has all disappeared.

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23.10.16

Digital Spy, there

Posted 23rd October 2016

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Yeah, yeah, putting the boot into Digital Spy is a fairly pointless thing to do, really. But it’s 3am, I’m bored, and they’ve mildly annoyed me, so what are you going to do?

Over on Ganymede & Titan – the Red Dwarf fan site I contribute to when I’m not sulking because I hate Red Dwarfa quite extraordinary thread has popped up. Short version: there are lyrics to the opening theme, nobody fucking knew about it until now, you can hear them most clearly 14 seconds into this video, we’re all gibbering wrecks because of this, and Darrell is our new lord and saviour.

Long version: read the thread. It’s worth it. Seriously.

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03.07.16

The New Journalism

Posted 3rd July 2016

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Boing Boing’s entire article:

“This inquisitive fellow was unable to keep his hands off a delicate museum piece hanging from the wall at the National Watch & Clock Museum. After breaking it, he lost interest and walked away, leaving his companion to clean up the mess.”

Description on the video, posted directly by the museum itself:

“This is why we beg and plead with our visitors to please refrain from touching objects in museums. The couple did notify Museum staff immediately.”

A few points:

Still, aside from that, excellent work Boing Boing.

Oh, and did I mention that the writer of the piece works as a Research Director?

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