Plagiarism at British newspaper, the Independent

UPDATE Sept 16, 2011: Finally, plagiarist Johann Hari gets sent for journalism training.

UPDATE June 29, 2011: Media Guardian reports more allegations of plagiarism by Hari.

Johann Hari of the Independent in Britain has been caught plagiarizing.

Except he says it’s not plagiarism because a) none of his interviewees has complained, and b) he thinks it makes for better reading.

Uh, right.

Improved comScore still missing part of the picture

Web metrics provider comScore has announced an extension to its methodology that it says willl “account for 100 per cent of a website’s audience.”

The new Media Metrix 360 may well do that, and should mollify some comScore clients who feel they’ve been under-rated by the current system.

But there’s still a significant problem: the enhancement will only apply to sites that are comScore clients, meaning the rest of the web will be under-counted by comparison, and the results will continue to be confusing or misleading.

Starting with July 2009 data in Canada and the United States, comScore will augment its current panel-based surveys with server metrics provided by participating websites. This “panel-centric hybrid” system will be extended to the United Kingdom in August. Other countries will follow, although the timeline hasn’t been announced.

The panel-based system, although good for correlating demographic and geographic factors with web traffic, has been limited by the fact that panel members must install tracking software on their computers. As a result, home computers are over-represented, compared to work and public computers. For sites such as news providers, which typically draw most of their traffic during the workday, the gap between comScore numbers and those generated internally, by server logs or software such as Omniture, can be huge.

comScore says websites participating in the new system will need to embed beacon calls on their content. This certainly has the advantage (compared with a purely panel-based system) of enabling comScore to track usage not just in the home, but anywhere that content is delivered, including internet cafes, HTML emails and even mobile devices. And comScore says its clients will get a more granular view of their traffic. That’s a real step forward for sites that don’t already have good analytics tools.

But to present a more accurate picture of market share, a third type of metric needs to be integrated into the mix: ISP-based tracking of all sites accessed (the approach used by Hitwise). This would enable website operators to better understand the entire online market, including the impact of sites that are not comScore clients.

Given that comScore reports are the de facto method for judging Canadian websites’ market share, a comprehensive solution would bring much-needed clarity and no doubt increase advertiser confidence.

Perils of context-based advertising

I’ll never forget the day several years ago when Google AdSense first appeared on nzherald.co.nz.

One of our news stories that day was about a near-fatal shark attack in Australia. As soon as we switched on AdSense, pages carrying the shark attack story sprouted ads for cage-diving operators offering “swim with the sharks” experiences. If memory serves, we asked Google to bar those ads for a few days, and hoped we hadn’t offended too many readers.

You’ve probably seen or heard about other examples of bizarre and inappropriate context-based advertising.

One recent case involves the British website GoneTooSoon.co.uk, where people post condolence messages. Everything was going fine, until the webmaster decided he needed to earn some money and installed AdSense.

The tribute page for someone killed in a motorcycle accident began carrying ads for motorcycles. Even more offensive was an ad spotted by a user of the site, who wrote:

“Can you really trust a site which posts an advert of [the murderer] Ian Huntley’s biography – not only on my beautiful friend Ian’s site, but on a website that also has a memorial for [Huntley’s victims] Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman?”

Outraged, visitors to the site began removing their tributes and vowing never to return.

Following the uproar, the ads were removed. The site is soliciting donations to keep it free to access.

Overseas visitors outnumber locals on UK media sites

Unique visitors to UK media groups, April 2007. Source: comScore World Metrix

Many major UK media websites draw more than half of their unique visitors from offshore, according to web ratings service comScore, which reports:

…in April 2007 many of the UK’s largest traditional media sites attracted more visitors from overseas than from within the UK. comScore data revealed that online visitors from outside the UK outnumbered the domestic audience in the case of the BBC, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Times, the Independent, the Daily Mail, the Mirror and the Financial Times.

This isn’t too surprising to me, especially when those UK brands are so well-known. When I was at nzherald.co.nz, we also drew well over half our visitors from outside New Zealand. But it’s important to remember that we’re talking about unique visitors — many of whom came to our site via search engines or news aggregators such as the Drudge Report or Slashdot. Such readers tended to look at very few pages. Most page impressions, however, were delivered to local readers — people with a deeper and broader interest in the news we published.

There are a couple of challenges for websites that draw a substantial portion of their traffic from offshore:

  • providing international bandwidth [which in New Zealand was far more expensive than domestic]
  • selling and geo-targeting ads to be seen by offshore readers [unless domestic advertisers are happy to pay for international impressions, and this certainly happens]

Design an Olympics logo

Olympics 2012 logo

Unimpressed by the logo [above] for the 2012 London Olympics unveiled this week? You’re not alone.

The BBC website has a number of alternatives, submitted by its readers, including some very nice work.

If you’d like to try your hand, you might ponder this advice from Seth Godin:

If you’re given the task of finding a logo for an organization, your first task should be to try to get someone else to do it. If you fail at that, find an abstract image that is clean and simple and carries very little meaning–until your brand adds that meaning. It’s not a popularity contest. Or a job for a committee. It’s not something where you should run it by a focus group. It’s just a placeholder, a label waiting to earn some meaning.

No word on whether the existing London 2012 design could be replaced if enough people don’t like it.

Guardian silent on plagiarism question

It’s amazing how unresponsive some media organizations can become when they are called to account.

A case in point is a British website, guardian.co.uk, the online edition of the Guardian newspaper.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that a column by one of its media commentators, Rory O’Connor, sounded familiar. So I checked into it.

Sure enough, two passages in O’Connor’s column — one of them a very long paragraph of a hundred words — were virtually identical to a news release put out by Unesco a month earlier. If you’re curious, compare the extracts at the end of this post.

I raised the matter in the comments section of O’Connor’s blog, giving my name, as I always do, and my email address. My comment was duly published but there was never a response to my request for an explanation.

I then emailed the editor of the Guardian’s “Comment is Free” section, in which O’Connor’s column had appeared. Again, no response.

Finally I emailed the Guardian’s “readers’ editor” on May 3, almost three weeks ago. I think that’s plenty of time for a response, and I’ve received none.

As a long-time journalist and editor, I find it astounding that a) the Guardian seems unconcerned about what looks like plagiarism, something most journalists regard as a cardinal sin, and b) that it doesn’t even respond to a reader’s legitimate question in a timely manner.

I’d like to close with two points:

  1. If a writer wants to use passages from a news release or anywhere else, they should always quote and acknowledge the source.
  2. Anyone who writes a “column” or “opinion piece” ought to be able to come up with original words to express original thoughts — that’s really the whole idea of being a columnist, or a blogger for that matter.

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Online ad spending tops 10pc in Britain

UK advertising expenditure by medium - 2006 

British broadcasters saw their share of the advertising market fall last year to the lowest level in five years, while internet advertising for the first time accounted for more than 10 per cent of all advertising expenditure.

Figures from the Advertising Association show that TV ad spending was down 4.7 per cent and radio fell 7.7 per cent from 2005 levels. Print advertising overall was down 2.7 per cent, although newspapers held steady.

But the story was very different online, where advertising expenditure grew by 47 per cent.

Here’s how the £19 billion spent on advertising in Britain was divvied up:

  • Print 43.7%
  • TV 24.1%
  • Direct mail 12.2%
  • Internet 10.6%
  • Outdoor 5.7%
  • Radio 2.8%
  • Cinema 1.0%

Note: the figures reflect expenditure by advertisers, not revenues to the media channels. They include production and agency costs.