Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Obscuring the News

107 Responses

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  • Juha Saarinen,

    "the cheese, as his photographs clearly showed, had a best-before date of November 2016."

    Should've been OK then... :)

    Since Nov 2006 • 529 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    Tim has really put his finger on something with the stories that turn out to be news of the weird from elsewhere once you click through. Stories that would be mildly interesting if they were from here, but lose all relevance when they're not. My theory is that the front page needs to be regularly updated, so people will keep refreshing, and there just isn't enough news generated locally to meet the need, so fillers are found from wherever.

    Anyway, welcome to the slow death of news sites as they decay into a soup of undifferentiated "content".

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3119 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    One theory I've seen aired is that this is a defensive measure on the part of NZME in ancipation of the merger: they've decided they can't afford to look less clickworthy than Stuff when the axe is wielded, and damn the broader consequences.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22537 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    Another thought (which doesn't just apply to the Herald site). When you live and die by analytics, the resulting feedback loops can be bad. In seeking to maximise the highest number of reads by the most coveted demographic, you eliminate the possibility of serendipitous successes. Things are positioned prominently because they're popular, and they're popular because they're positioned prominently... it's a recipe for long term sameness and boredom.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3119 posts Report Reply

  • simon g,

    Is "hoverbait" a thing yet? Because that's what it's become for me.

    After frequent disappointment, eventually you learn that a headline like "Woman eats fish who ate her husband" (invented, but all too indicative) is not likely to originate in Whakatane. So before clicking you hover over the headline, and "world" or "life/style" alerts you. Somebody in Russia or El Salvador did something strange, apparently. On Stuff it's easier, the headline is there too, sometimes under "oddstuff", another disincentive to read further. Tip: always hover on "Outrage". It usually isn't.

    Anyway, the point is - gradually I learn not to be fooled, and so now there are fewer clicks from me. I agree that there is still solid journalism in the Herald, and I've found myself reading a story in the print edition (in a cafe, say) and then going back to look for it online, once I know it's there. But most days I'm not in the cafe. So - no clicks.

    (Actually I'd quite like to read the fish story now ...)

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1254 posts Report Reply

  • Thomas Lumley,

    I think I've noticed a change, too -- though I have to confess it could easily just have been recall bias.

    I read a lot of medical/health/nutrition science stories for StatsChat purposes. There have always been stories that are overstated or just wrong, especially via the UK press. What I think I'm seeing more is cases of rare things happening to cute children overseas, and completely oversold nutrition stories.

    I won't link, but an example of the former is a kid in South Carolina who got an amoebic brain infection. An example of the latter is the story claiming that Australians are less healthy now than at any time in their history ,and blaming omega-6 polyunsaturated oils such as canola.

    Auckland • Since Feb 2013 • 43 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    it seemed impossible to get the "kids" in digital to act on social media tips that were genuinely newsworthy. They're not even stealing the good stuff.

    When you know enough of the context it is really obvious when media selectors do not. Often. Firing experienced folk costs. Let's monetize that.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19518 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    Attachment

    It has been pointed out to me that nzherald.co.nz is banned from /r/nottheonion.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22537 posts Report Reply

  • Michael Meyers,

    I've definitely notice this getting worse in the past couple of months.

    The nuber of times recently when I'll open a "geographically anonymous" story with an interesting headline, only to close it moments later because it's either from somewhere I don't care about, like Hicksville, Arkansas, or it's from the Daily Mail.

    This strategy might be getting them clicks in the short term but if it leaves readers disappointed it won't work in the long term. It is already putting me off, and I can't be the only one.

    Wellington • Since May 2014 • 55 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    The rerun Daily Mail stories make me angry. The Daily Mail have been documented again and again to be conscience-free liars, and yet because their web site is very successful, they are admired by other online news sites. The fact that the Herald see nothing wrong with the Daily Mail as a source speaks very poorly of them. Not to mention that if I wanted to read Daily Mail online, I could go straight to the source easily enough.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3119 posts Report Reply

  • Nik Dirga,

    Here's a fun trick of late - go to news.com.au and count how many stories are repeated directly, headlines, standfirsts intact, on the NZ Herald website. There've been many days where the websites appear to be clones of each other.

    And it's not as if News or the Daily Mail are some tiny isolated websites. They're some of the most read sites on the globe, whether or not you like them, and the Herald's so blatant attempts to emulate them makes them look cheap and also, as Russell rightly points out, completely devalues and insults the many good hardworking journalists left over there whose work is constantly shoved down the pack in favour of "YOU WONT BELIEVE WHAT BROKE THE INTERNET TODAY" garbage. Is "Dr Parti reveals his glimpse of the afterlife" type trash really more important than issues that actually affect New Zealanders, IN New Zealand?

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 24 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Lyall,

    The things is that the Daily Mail is a lot better at these sort of stories than the Herald or Stuff. They usually have lots of great pictures attached to the stories and nice summaries that don't get picked up by the NZ sites:

    eg compare this Herald story to the Daily Mail original.

    Even something like this piece of gossip and Paparazzi photos ("sourced" from another publication) has lots of photos and videos that completely blow the NZ clones out of the water.

    Aside from the odd local "star" the overseas publications are always going to get the gossip stories first and do a better job presenting them.

    Auckland • Since Feb 2007 • 53 posts Report Reply

  • izogi, in reply to Michael Meyers,

    I'm not deeply familiar with the Herald but Stuff certainly does this gratuitously, and has for a considerable time, especially through the middle of the day. Geographically anonymous stories irritate me to no end, but I've noticed there's often no shortage of people willing to comment on them., and I guess the attention they can attract is worth gold in their advertising model.

    Post a random wire (or Reddit) story about an obscure celebrity nobody's heard of who YouTubes a video of a baby screaming on a US domestic flight, and it'll easily attract 150+ comments of kiwis arguing and screaming with each other about appropriate parenting on an aircraft. Plenty go as far as making specific judgemental statements about people and a situation of no relevance to them whatsoever. And that's not even counting the Facebook comments.

    There also seems to be a gradual shift towards dumping local Australian news on us as if it's relevant. I guess it's cheap or free given the ownership model.

    Wellington • Since Jan 2007 • 1133 posts Report Reply

  • Shaun Lott,

    I have already abandoned the Herald. A digital subscription to the NYT, a daily look at the BBC and the Guardian... and I used to look at the Herald for local content, but everything outlined in this article is correct, and I'm over it. The RNZ website actually contains some information, and that is where my clicks are now happening.

    Waitakere • Since Aug 2009 • 105 posts Report Reply

  • Kurt Mastrovich,

    Having just moved back to NZ after 8 years living overseas, none of this helps with the culture shock of moving back home. I'm trying not to let the feeling that NZ hasn't progressed in the intervening that I left but it really feels like it. I'm an admittedly harsh critic though.

    NZ Herald even in the short time I've been back have continued to circle the drain of diminishing quality - their rare investigative features not withstanding.

    When we were in France I regularly began streaming Checkpoint on the Chromecast in the mornings. I've now become a regular listener of RNZ and will supplant my usual perusal of the now abysmal NZHerald.co.nz with the RNZ.co.nz.

    If the merger between Fairfax and NZME does go ahead maybe it will be a good thing. All we can hope now is that their ultimate demise will lead to a phoenix type scenario and continued improvement of RNZ and other newer ventures.

    Auckland • Since Aug 2010 • 13 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Simon Lyall,

    The things is that the Daily Mail is a lot better at these sort of stories than the Herald or Stuff.

    Very much so.

    The strange thing is, I know there's real thought going into what they need to do with the printed paper, both in an editorial and management sense. And then there's this website that increasingly doesn't seem to meet any kind of standard.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22537 posts Report Reply

  • Pete Sime,

    I think RNZ should be applauded for its website overhaul. It’s very clean looking and no-nonsense. The ODT has also overhauled its site and so far they haven’t put up the paywall that they had promised for April.

    Of course I still go to Stuff and the Herald as well, but there’s still some non-clickbaity journalism out there.

    Dunedin • Since Apr 2008 • 165 posts Report Reply

  • Robyn Gallagher, in reply to Simon Lyall,

    The things is that the Daily Mail is a lot better at these sort of stories than the Herald or Stuff. They usually have lots of great pictures attached to the stories and nice summaries that don't get picked up by the NZ sites:

    Yes! I have a friend who writes for the Mail Online and I have learned so many fascinating tricks about how to create good, fun, sticky articles. The Mail knows how to make their trashy entertainment news coverage very enjoyable.

    My absolute favourite type of empty Herald web story is "The internet is scratching its head over this latest optical illusion", describing a meme that your auntie shared on Facebook three days ago.

    And the kind where Lorde makes a Tweet and the Herald publishes 300 words on it.

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1946 posts Report Reply

  • Pete Sime, in reply to Robyn Gallagher,

    My absolute favourite type of empty Herald web story is “The internet is scratching its head over this latest optical illusion”, describing a meme that your auntie shared on Facebook three days ago.

    And on Reddit as much as a month before.

    In fact I did a search and the Herald has been posting stories based on Reddit almost daily since May last year - increased from maybe once a week from May 2013. Stories from before then were pretty much all confined to Ana Samway's Sideswipe column.

    Dunedin • Since Apr 2008 • 165 posts Report Reply

  • simon g,

    And then there's the misleading (or just stupid) generic photograph. Story about bad weather in Auckland ("it's been windy!") illustrated by file photo of hurricane in Florida, that kind of thing. "Women's pay lags behind", says ... er, a sexy model in a suit?

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1254 posts Report Reply

  • Tze Ming Mok,

    I've been overseas for nearly ten years and there has definitely been a recent change to the Herald online. I can't put my finger on when exactly, but within the last 2-4 months perhaps? I went from being able to see what the main NZ news stories were by going to the homepage (and the homepage/web version in general being to a great extent more 'serious' and less tabloidy than the paper version when I visited New Zealand in person), to what seems to be a complete reversal of this policy. I've changed my bookmarks to bypass the homepage altogether and just go to the 'National' section to find out what is actually happening, because expats don't go to the NZ Herald website for a bunch of tabloid non-news from non-New Zealand countries. I don't know who does, to be honest.

    SarfBank, Lunnin' • Since Nov 2006 • 154 posts Report Reply

  • Tze Ming Mok,

    I'd actually even be happy to read the story about the cheese, because at least it's a local non-news story, rather than a non-news story from Canada or Australia or some random town in the US.

    SarfBank, Lunnin' • Since Nov 2006 • 154 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel,

    Life in the fridge exists...
    The Herald's new daily dairy diary is a timely innovation, keeping us whey ahead of curds and other acts of Fonterrorism...
    Perhaps they could add their best readers' 'cheese puff' recipe?
    More mousetrap than click bait?

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 7704 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Telfar Barnard, in reply to Stephen Judd,

    there just isn't enough news generated locally to meet the need

    By "news generated", do you mean "newsworthy things happening", or "newsworthy things written up into stories"?
    If you mean the latter, then yes, definitely. If you mean the former, I suspect that it's more that our too few paid journalists are expected to produce too many items per day to have time to look for things that are actually newsworthy, or investigate them properly when they find them.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 580 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Lucy Telfar Barnard,

    If you mean the latter, then yes, definitely. If you mean the former, I suspect that it’s more that our too few paid journalists are expected to produce too many items per day to have time to look for things that are actually newsworthy, or investigate them properly when they find them.

    Mark Jennings was strong on this point at IRL. The commodity journalists are losing is time. When you're expected to file multiple stories every day, there is a cost to that.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22537 posts Report Reply

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