Swine flu hype

Writing about media coverage of Swine flu in the Guardian, Ben Goldacre says:

...not only have the public lost all faith in the media; not only do so many people assume, now, that they are being misled; but more than that, the media themselves have lost all confidence in their own ability to give us the facts.

Headlines: BBC praised by expert

Usability expert Jakob Nielsen has nominated the BBC news website's headlines as the best in the world. He points out that the BBC's heads are:
  • Short (typically 5 or 6 words)
  • Information rich
  • Have key words first
  • Work without context (in the adjacent XML feed, for example - compare with the NY Times headlines further down)
  • Don't promise more than they can deliver
The Guardian comments that the BBC's style is in contrast with some newspapers who stick to a traditional headline style.

Although Nielsen is evaluating human reponse to the BBC's headlines, they also effective for search engine optimisation.

Downing Street sued for libel

Nadine Dorries, a Conservative MP smeared by Damian McBride in an email, is suing Downing Street for libel.

The News of the World reports that she is suing Downing Street as well as McBride because the emails were sent from a No 10 account on a No 10 computer.

Journalism by moving about

Journalists cannot give a perspective of a multi-lingual and multi-cultural country like India sitting in Delhi or Mumbai, BBC World News Assignment Editor Mark Perrow told The Hindu.

So he hired a train to take a team of journalists on a three-week tour of India to cover its elections.

Speaking to writing

Writing the way we speak is a good start. It tends to make our copy appropriate and chatty.

Most of us wisely take out the ums and the errs. But we do lots of other things when we speak that do not translate well into writing and these should be deleted too. Just like the ums and errs, they mostly happen because we are trying to think of the next thing to say while we are still saying the last thing.

  • Cliche and stock phrases give us plenty of time to think when we speak but they tend to deaden the language when we write. This start: What's in a name? It's all change at... is fine in speech. Two cliches while we work out what we're going to say. It will wash over a listener. But a reader has to process all these words and they really don't mean anything.
  • Waffle does the same job when we speak and has the same problem when we write. Get straight to the point.
  • Strings of verbs lengthen the communication process giving us time to think when we speak but the get the way when we write. So meet rather than hold a meeting, fund rather than put funds in place, protect rather than being able to meet the short term need to protect.
  • Lists of three things that mean more or less the same is another trick speakers unconsciously use. The costs, resources and capacities needed to tackle the problem might be better written as the resources needed to tackle the problem.

SEO for your audience

Aiming a precise readership is the secret of a good website. It is tempting to broaden your message with a view to driving traffic to your site. In fact, the opposite approach works better.

The US Department of Health and Human Services Usability Guidelines rank the following most important:
  • Provide useful content
  • Establish user requirements
  • Understand and meet user expections

Online news only 3.5%

Less than 4% of newspaper reading in the US happens online according the the Nieman Journalism Lab.

The Lab's Martin Langeveld has had to make some assumptions about reading habits to arrive at his conclusions but the result will surprise many who believe that internet has made bigger inroads.

A similar calculation for the The Guardian in the UK would suggest that online represents 20% of reading.

My Sums
Monthly impressions for guardian.co.uk: 228,136,292 (228m)
Daily print readership (3.61 multiplier on circulation): 1,264,000 = 910,080,000 (910m) monthly page impressions (if you assume each reader looks at the equivalent of 24 pages [1.264m x 24pages x 30 days]).
Total web and print = 910m + 228m = 1138m
Web % = 228m/1138m x 100% = 20.04%

See also Inksniffer's take on web metrics

Travel language

It no longer seems polite to simply get off a train or a plane. These days one must detrain or deplane. The language seems stilted because train and plane are nouns and sticking the prefix de- in front doesn't really turn them into verbs.

The people at Eurostar insist that you embark and disembark and the thing you are doing when you think you are getting off is disembarkation. The root of the word -- bark -- actually means boat so maybe it conjures romantic images of ocean liners for some.

South West Trains still use alight to mean get off. This has a lovely 1950's Brief Encounter feel to it so, frankly, I prefer to alight if it means I can avoid detraining. However, it does rather imply that their trains are dark places.

A guard (sorry, customer services manager) on Scotrail invited me to uplift my personal items before leaving the train. So I sang a couple of hymns to my suitcase and left it where it was on the luggage rack before alighting at Perth.