Tom Barfield's blog

Personal musings of a young journalist in London

Posts Tagged ‘telegraph

Financial Times bursts out of Apple straitjacket

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Screenshot of FT HTML5 web app announcement

Well, will you look at that. Techdirt and All Things D are reporting that the Financial Times is the first major media organisation (in the UK, at least) to figure out that Apple doesn’t have publishers’ best interests at heart and that apps for individual platforms might not be the best way to get their content out to their readers. They’ve launched an HTML5 web app and are encouraging users to switch to using it in preference to the installable variety – calling it a “new, faster, more complete app which is available from your browser rather than an app store”. The web app even keeps content accessible when the device has no connection.

This does ever so slightly echo the themes of a couple of blog posts I’ve written here and over at the Graduate Times, arguing that Apple is a poor choice of gatekeeper and one which will have an adverse effect on news content, to the detriment of readers’ and viewers’ understanding of and access to the news, and that development time spent on platform-specific apps is a money black hole that news operations would be better off avoiding in favour of HTML5.

Here’s hoping all the other papers and broadcasters who seem to think that the only mobile users who matter are clutching an iPhone or iPad follow suit sooner, rather than later.

And here’s hoping the Almighty Steve will be comforted by the Bond-villain-esque new headquarters he’s asking the city of Cupertino to give him planning permission for.






Written by Tom Barfield

June 8, 2011 at 7:18 am

Journalism’s trouble with technology

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Coverage of BAE systems’ Future Protected Vehicle programme illustrates how writing on new technologies often falls between two stools

Disclaimer: this article isn’t intended as an attack on the Telegraph or Sean Rayment – this kind of problem pops up in every media outlet all the time, and this was one instance that just happened to catch my eye.

As part of the International Journalism course at City University, I’m taking a technology specialism class with Telegraph Head of Technology Shane Richmond. One of the first topics we covered, maybe even in the first class, was the problem that editors face when deploying their journalists specialising in technology: so many stories, from medical to science to defence to motoring to media, can turn on an understanding of a particular piece of technology, but don’t necessarily fall into the tech journalist’s purview. There’s no easy answer about how best to use the editorial resources available to cover these cross-over tech stories properly, as is illustrated by this story from the Telegraph a couple of weeks ago.

On the face of it, it looks like a no-brainer; have the defence correspondent, who has all the right contacts in the military and the armaments industry, cover the story about BAE’s new tanks. The trouble is that this is almost entirely a story about the technology that will make these tanks different from the ones that have come before, and most notably the E-Ink camouflage they’ll hopefully be benefiting from. If you haven’t been keeping up with the latest consumer gadgets that use E-Ink (a lot of e-readers like the Kindle do) then you might have only the fuzziest idea of what it is and what differentiates it from other display technologies.

E-Ink is useful for e-readers (and for tanks) by virtue of its low power consumption; it only draws a significant amount of power when the information displayed changes. That’s why the Kindle battery has such a long life compared with devices like smartphones or tablet computers; unlike them, it isn’t coping with the demands of big, bright, colourful screens with all kinds of activity going on at the same time. Using that technology to adapt tanks to the local flora is a nifty idea, and I’ll be following the story with interest to see how they develop it (as an obvious question, what happens if the tank is hit by bullets or shrapnel?).

The trouble with the Telegraph story is that the defence correspondent in question, Sean Rayment, hasn’t been keenly following the tech blogs (and rightly so) and so was forced to rely on the press release provided by BAE for an explanation of what e-ink actually is – and the press release somehow managed to get it totally wrong. BAE said:

eCamouflage will allow a vehicle to match its camouflage to its surroundings by using electronic ink – rather like a squid.

This is the helpful-looking simile that later turned up in Rayment’s third paragraph, and unfortunately it’s totally misleading. E-Ink camouflage will probably be more chameleon-like than anything – squids don’t use ink to camouflage themselves, but rather as a screen or a decoy to fool predators about their true position. Tanks do have a system that allows them to use similar tactics, but it’s the humble smoke launcher, which has been around for decades and is well-demonstrated in this clip of a French Leclerc battle tank:

Launching smoke allows a tank to obscure its position after it’s been spotted by the enemy and withdraw to a different one while out of sight. The point of BAE’s eCamouflage will presumably be to make sure the tank doesn’t get spotted in the first place.

This story demonstrates a couple of the problems that journalists are facing at the moment. The first is that as technology infiltrates further and further into all other areas of human activity, having a dedicated “technology” correspondent on a newspaper becomes problematic; either he’s twiddling his thumbs and writing the occasional article about iPads while his colleagues struggle to explain technologies they don’t understand themselves, or he’s got a finger in every pie going and is likely to be massively overworked. I’d propose running tech-centric stories across the tech reporter’s desk as part of the editing process, but that would hold them back from doing their own work; maybe dedicated technology sub-editors are needed? That’s unlikely to happen at a time of shrinking budgets.

The other problem is very closely related to this question of editing and checking to make sure the facts are right. At the moment, mainstream media is so desperate to keep up with the web that their regular journalists are often posting content to the website throughout the news cycle – and it often looks like there hasn’t been time for it to go past another pair of eyes before going out. You can notice on a lot of newspaper websites that online stories often have far more typos, or leftover bits of cannibalised paragraphs, than would ever be allowed to appear in the paper. There’s no easy or cheap solution to this one either, but having the subs come in in the afternoon to edit material for the paper seems a bit outdated when much of the unedited content will already have been read by a big portion of the audience.

Hopefully tech coverage will develop to meet these challenges, but until then readers are likely to be left feeling confused by technology stories journalists weren’t fully equipped to understand.

Written by Tom Barfield

January 18, 2011 at 10:11 am