Friday, April 14, 2006


In the technology supplement of yesterday’s The Guardian newspaper there was an article criticising Wikipedia and Google News:

Away from the hurly-burly of Wikipedia, even current events can seem oddly remote when viewed online. Google News, for example, employs computer algorithms similar to those used in spam filters to identify and present the news. In looking for similarities, the news is homogenised and breaking stories fail to rise to prominence.

For the veteran researcher Daniel Brandt, who taught CIA whistleblower Phillip Agee how to use computers, much of what a human editor provides is lost. “What’s gone is any sense of “a scoop” or “an important development”. Or “new information that puts a new slant on an ongoing story. There’s no authority, no perspective and no sense of historical continuity. It’s a dumbing-down process,” says Texas-based Brandt.

Mm. I’m not so sure about this opinion. I’d say that most of what is published and broadcast through conventional news-organs like newspapers, TV news and radio news is pretty “dumbed down” already. Further, more often than not editors (especially in popular tabloid newspapers) can actually bring prejudice and spin to stories. Although many of the criticisms of Wikipedia and Google News are fair enough – Jimmy Wales himself has said that many mature articles are “horrific crap” – I have to point out that there are plenty of criticisms you can level at more conventional media as well as “new media”.

In an only slightly related topic: I find it immensely annoying when the phrase “so called” is used by newsreaders. It is meant to imply that the nickname the ’reader is about to use was not made up by some other source in the media, and has simply been, you know, ‘around’. So instead of looking like populist buzzword-jockeys, the news organ appears as the objective news-vendors they purport to be.

Even worse is the use of the term “…dubbed by the media…” which again is intended to imply objectivity but could just as well mean “…we’ve all decided to call it something catchy with less than three syllables so the GU can stretch it through their four amp brains…” Call it an over reaction if you will, but I’ve always found it intensely annoying.

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