Saturday, November 26, 2011

Churnalism: DEFRA churn - the Guardian is in the lead!

(UPDATE: 27/11/11 - raw churnalism data available HERE - JSON format, zipped, 448kb)

After the churn analysis of the Environment Agency press releases (please read that article for more details and important caveats if you haven't read one of my churn posts before), I followed up with DEFRA.I will be making the raw data publicly available tomorrow for both the Environment Agency and DEFRA churn analyses.

This time I was able to construct the spiders and process the data faster - I also avoided (most of) the unicode problems that plagued me with the EA data, so this analysis can be considered slightly more accurate and slightly less forgiving of the media organisations (though it still strictly follows the rules I set down previously, such as no editing of the press release to remove extraneous information). Along with inevitable issues with some difficult characters slipping through and no editing of the press releases, it still means the data will naturally favour the media organisations. As I said on previous posts, when I make the raw data publicly available, churn analysis by other people will very likely improve upon my methods and yield results more detrimental for the media.

In any case - onto the results. The summary is presented below (click for full size image):

"Quality" press churn results






Summary of results:

- A total of 386 press releases were analysed, from 13th May 2010 to 24th November 2011. These generated 1959 detectable cases of churn. Again, there is probably a lot of interesting data within the "detectable" category that deserves analysis at a later date. For now it is discarded.

- Out of those, 173 were classified as "significant" and 18 as "major".

- The Guardian was the leader in both categories by a long way - accounting for 19.65% of significant churn and 27.78% of major churn.

- The BBC followed close behind in terms of significant churn with 16.18%, though for major churn was beaten into third place by both the Independent and the Daily Mail with a joint 16.67%.

- The Independent came third in the signifcant churn classification.

- A common factor in the most highly churned articles both in this analysis and the previous two appears to be lack of a named author in most cases (though see one of the exceptions detailed below). This suggests the media organisations are aware that what they are doing is not kosher.

- Continuing a theme from the last two churn analyses, the tabloids consistently embarrass the so called "quality press". This time I pulled out the statistics for the UK's major tabloids for comparison (click for full size image):

Tabloid press churn results
When I first started these analyses I fully expected to see a much higher showing of churn by the tabloids. It is interesting to see the contrast. Also out of the churn analyses done so far, it is consistently the Mirror out of the tabloids that has the highest percentage of churn.

As usual I select a few of the more egregarious cases of churn for your entertainment (and importantly - provide a manual submission to the churnalism database so they can be seen visually):

'Gloucestershire Old Spots pork protected by Europe'
An absolutely cracking BBC 79% cut and paste job on - er - crackling.

'Bonfire of the Quangos'
Remember that list of Quangos that were to go? Completely cut and pasted from a press release. This one is particularly fascinating because in the two worst cases the cut and paste was the list provided in the press release. It actually included several paragraphs laying out a context that was not cut and pasted across. If it had just been the list in the original both would have scored close to 100% pastes.....
The pastes are so large in any case that the churnalism engine falls over when the 'view' button is clicked to see the visualised version. Be warned if you click it, your browser may hang.

'New service for householders to stop unwanted advertising mail'
Absolute carnage on the churning front here with the majority of the main media outlets represented. The Guardian appeared to like this story so much they cut and pasted it twice - and this time each article has a named author. Where the hell was the editor?


Friday, November 25, 2011

It's mob rule at the Guardian....

(This blogpost should perhaps also be titled - 'What I did/didn't/did say at the Guardian today....')

There's nothing quite like rank hypocrisy to boil my piss. However, to ensure it is fully evaporated in anger, combine rank hypocrisy with crass stupidity, naked opportunism, complete resistance to facts or reason and censorship.

For that was the bread and butter of Leo "bless 'im" Hickman's disgraceful piece of yellow bellied journalism at the Guardian today.

Hickman decided it was time to form a posse comitatus to try tracking down the source of the climategate emails, laughably using the README textfile included in the latest tranche of releases as the primary source of evidence.

This was one of those pieces - especially as it was in the comment is free if you agree section - that really reveals the Guardian's true colours. Numerous commentators including me (prior to the first round of censorship - sorry - 'comment adjustment') attempted to point out the Guardian's and Hickman's rank hypocrisy on this issue. The most striking and obvious example having been the paper's massive support for Wikileaks, however there were many other examples, including the anonymous Enron whistleblower, as another commenter pointed out. As was repeated again and again, it appeared that all leakers were equal but some were more equal than others in the Guardian's eyes.

This was of course brushed off by Hickman and his part-time principle party of followers in the comments section.

Next I pointed out (prior to 'comment adjustment') that claiming it was the work of a hacker was still just an assumption. Hickman replied to me directly on that and similarly brushed it off. He claimed it was irrelevant. The poor dear didn't seem to realise that if he assumed it was the work of a hacker and in fact it was a leaker then his "investigation" would lead him down to all sorts of blind alleys, not least because the MO and levels of access would be completely different (not to mention the trail of evidence left behind).

There were a plethora of delightfully dense comments in support of Hickman et al and stunning leaps of reasoning. These people were also apparently immune to criticism because they "knew" what they were claiming was true, especially regarding the "hacker" claim. Many pronounced completely ill-informed statements about this showing that i) they knew nothing about IT security and ii) that they couldn't even be bothered to use google to check details. After all, The difference between an internal security breach and a carefully coordinated external breach is vast. Pointman gave an excellent overview after the first climategate - here. Moreover they absolutely did not care about their ignorance. What a familiar pattern, eh? No wonder they were immediately supportive of the "scientists" at the heart of the climategate storm - they're just like them!

There were some absolute crackers amongst the received wisdom of this bunch of easily led zealots and I highly recommend you read through the comments - well those that are left - as it is a laugh a minute.

Komment Macht Frei

Speaking of the comments - when the piece first appeared this morning, it was absolute devastation from the moderator. ALL of my comments bar the first one were censored, as were numerous other comments by others. I had no clue why they'd been removed beyond the fact that we all seemed to disagree intensely with Hickman.

Now I should point out something important here for Guardian watchers - they have two types of post moderation. There is the one we're all familiar with - where the boilerplate 'this comment was moderated because it breached our community (puke) standards' but there's also a much more insidious type and I only noticed it because I've been paying a lot of attention to their censorship pattern over the last couple of years - its what I call "nuking". In this case they remove all evidence that the comment was ever there. It's particularly chilling for freedom of speech because aside from the fact that by looking at the comments one can't actually assess the general level of censorship, if it's *your* comment that disappears in this way it's only your word that it was ever there in the first place....

Now bizaarely, after the comments spilled over onto two pages I happened to click back to the first page to see what else had been censored and was surprised to see that most of my previously "moderated" comments had reappeared (except for the "nuked" ones). I don't know if this is a bug in their software or a disagreement between moderators but it adds even more to the general sense of confusion and latent fear of arbitrary censorship that completely fucks any meaningful contribution over there.

Another important point to be aware of is this: One way to guarantee being censored on the Guardian is if you make a reference to your, or someone else's having been censored you will immediately be censored and they often use the "nuke" option too.

The Guardian is  - as a media institution - utterly reprehensible. Most other media outlets are of course too, across the political spectrum. But none outside the BBC attempt to present themselves so often as the default "good guys", nor do their followers similarly regard it as received wisdom...

The climategate 'gait' or the 'out of context paradox'

There's a regular pattern that occurs in any discussion of climategate (1 or 2). It is inconsistent but also entirely consistent with the unthinking nature of many of those who promulgate it:
i) They assert that the emails were "taken out of context"
ii) Responder says that they are not.
iii) A request is then made for evidence.
iv) Responder invites them to read the emails - there are numerous complete email chains, supporting claims against the "scientists" that ONLY MAKE SENSE IN CONTEXT. But the trick is you have to actually read the emails....

A modern day climate "scientist"
Now given how unambiguous some of the exchanges are (in particular those that involve purposefully frustrating FOI inquiries and deleting emails....) one is then prompted to ask exactly what standard of evidence is required. For the evidence before us, if for example we stick with complete email chains rather than individual comments, is a magnitude higher than the typical standard accepted in the vast majority of journalism that we ever read or see. It means that - to be consistent - if one were to completely reject these email chains as sufficient evidence, one would have to throw out almost every received opinion on any quoted person in the press one has ever encountered. Will the zealots do that...no of course they won't. But of course consistency is in the same disused box in their basement as a regard for truth....

One final delicious irony of this of course is that 'The Team' will surely be scratching their heads now, trying to remember what on earth what was said to who. But because they very likely deleted these emails after they had been copied from the mailserver then they have only one place to go to check.....

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday, November 11, 2011

They Shall Not Grow Old


Those of us in generations 'jones','x' and 'millennial' will be the last to have known veterans from either of the World Wars. Something about that fact makes me profoundly sad, although I'm not entirely sure why. I think part of it may be to do with the fact that it only took 10 years for the upcoming generations that will follow us to forget who Osama Bin Laden was.....

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
– Lt.-Col. John McCrae