Journalists, especially the ink-stained variety, often get a bad rap for not being terribly good with technology. That perception might change, however, with the revelation that the reporters from the News of the World, one of Rupert Murdoch's trashier publications, have for years been hacking the voice-mail boxes of the bold names they cover. Sure, some folks -- though, hopefully not the office cat -- may be going to jail, but that's a small price to pay for a scoop that Prince William injured his knee.The New York Times Magazine has the (very, very, very long) investigative story:
Around the newsroom, some reporters were getting stories by surreptitiously accessing phone messages, according to former editors and reporters. Often, all it took was a standard four-digit security code, like 1111 or 4444, which many users did not bother to change after buying their mobile phones. If they did, the paper's private investigators found ways to trick phone companies into revealing personal codes. Reporters called one method of hacking "double screwing" because it required two simultaneous calls to the same number. The first would engage the phone line, forcing the second call into voice mail. A reporter then punched in the code to hear messages, often deleting them to prevent access by rival papers. A dozen former reporters said in interviews that hacking was pervasive at News of the World. "Everyone knew," one longtime reporter said. "The office cat knew."
Perhaps if New York-based hacks were as shrewd as their counterparts across the pond, there'd be no need for this rather excellent elegy for the Gotham newspaper gossip written by the Village Voice's Foster Kamer and Joe Coscarelli:
To quantify and map the reach of New York's gossip and how it's changed, you need only look at declining print circulation, shrinking revenues, and shifting Web traffic. The trajectory seems clear. But that's only part of the story, because gossip seems to be more ubiquitous than ever. At the same time, gossipmongering has clearly been democratized and decentralized by the Internet. That's a problem for this city's once golden reputation for the great names of great dirt. "I don't think anyone in New York City has gossip cornered at the moment," [Ben] Widdicombe says.
Scott Rosenberg, probably best known as Salon's technology writer, has a great three-post series in defense of the humble link. And if you didn't know the link was under attack, it is. Its most vocal enemy is Nicholas Carr, who, as part of his interrogation of how digital culture is making us stupid, has argued that the practice of linking has lead us to be more distracted and ADD-addled. Rosenberg fires back, with a look at both good linking practices and poor ones:
If you're on a web page that's weighted down with cross-promotional hand-waving, revenue-squeezing ad overload and interstitial interruptions, odds are you're on a newspaper or magazine site. For an egregiously awful example of how business linking can ruin the experience of reading on the Web, take a look at the current version of Time.com.
For some people perhaps Time really is, as editor Richard Stengel told [the Washington Post's Howard] Kurtz, "the nirvana that people are looking for." I find it more like purgatory. Some time ago, the website of the venerable news weekly began peppering its articles with red-colored links inserted into the crevices between paragraphs.
Alexis Madrigal, who's making his second appearance in this column, has an interesting piece on The Atlantic about the experience of creating a magazine called Longshot with his friends in just 48 hours and at little cost. Here he explains how Twitter figures in:
The thing about Twitter is that it's interest-based, but the cost of following someone is low, so you tend to branch out beyond your tight work circle and your friend network. The end result is that these sparse networks grow and mature. One thing they lack is a focal point. I think Longshot (and other meatspace and/or short term events) distill these diffuse groups. Perhaps a better metaphor is that it allows us to conduct some of the electric serendipity of Twitter into a specific vessel. In the early days of batteries, they were called, "accumulators." Maybe Longshot is an accumulator for Twitter.
From the departments of the random and the far-flung, here's a funny little post from an anonymous moderator for one of the blogs run by the Australia Broadcasting Corp. Its point is to persuade the site's commenters to obey some simple rules of decorum, but I liked the moderator's nice summary of the topics that rile up commenters:
The last eight weeks have been a struggle as I've tried to figure out how to be fair and balanced, maintain ABC editorial policy and give a voice to the countless Australian men and women who want to have their say on our various political candidates' sexuality, Marxist-Leninist past (Manchurian Candidate conspiracy theory anyone?), Fascist Nazi (sorry, please don't invokeGodwin's Law yet!) dictator tendencies, and the way they've treated past lovers, past leaders, past policy, their ability to tell the truth, ability to lie, ability to lead, lack of ability to follow, their fertility, lack of it, belief or otherwise in Climate Change, understanding of technology, as well as Mark Latham, the Afghan War (both 19th century version and current), gender, God, Godlessness, education, healthcare, aged care, and who cares, loyalty, disloyalty, Greenies, Queensland, Bob Ellis, John Hewson, Ben Pobjie, debt, the GFC, the BER, economic stimulus, and the ubiquitous obsession with a pair of red Speedos...
As you might suspect, the comments are worth reading.
~ ~ ~
Matthew Creamer is a former Ad Age editor and reporter. Follow him on Twitter.