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Showing posts with label talkbacks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label talkbacks. Show all posts

Saturday, June 12, 2010

How I won and lost a global scoop

The Internet editing work at the Jerusalem Post is shift work and once a week, most weeks, I have to do a night shift.
I volunteered for the Friday night shift which struck me as the least disruptive to my life though I am now having second thoughts about it.  
On Friday I drove to Jerusalem and when I arrived was told that a ship called the 'Rachel Corrie' was due to try and break the blockade on Gaza the following morning.   We were still in the midst of the international crisis brought on by the unfortunate effort to seize a Turkish ship by lowering commandos on ropes which had first led to commandos being captured by the Turks and then to nine Turks being killed as other commandos rushed to rescue them.  At least that's what I think happened. 
Apart from a security guard, I was the only person in the Jerusalem Post building and keeping the site going alone.
Part of the internet editing job is checking the "talkbacks", the comments readers leave on articles and one side effect of the raid on the Turkish ship was a huge rise in the number of talkbacks.  When I arrived there were over a thousand which needed to be checked to see if they contained racism, slander, libel, rude words or any of a list of reasons for disallowing them.
Most of the comments on the Jerusalem Post's website are not of a very high calibre. Some of the authors you learn to recognize as 'regulars'.  There is one man who routinely calls Israelis Nazis and who I delete on sight, there is another who writes very long comments which are usually just acceptable: the problem being that you have to read all the way through her long and irritating comments to establish if she is indeed making acceptable remarks.  Others get into arguments which sometimes include trading insults (I delete these).
Other than that not much happens in Israel on Friday night so there is little news. 

The main items I put up were that the 'Rachel Corrie' had changed course and was trying to reach Gaza by sailing along the coast from Egypt.
The ship was flying an Irish flag so the Irish government tried to negotiate a deal, and agreed with Israel that they could unload their equipment at Ashdod, and then have it shipped into Gaza by Israel, with observers monitoring everything along the way.  The people on the ship rejected the deal but made a counter offer at about 4 am: a Malaysian NGO announced they were prepared to allow the UN to check the cargo. 
I checked the Malaysian website.  It emerged that a Malaysian NGO was co-sponsoring the ship and the ship was also flying a Malaysian flag and carrying Malaysians on board. The Malaysian site had a "twitter feed" from the ship so I started monitoring it.

Twitter is a website that allows people to send SMS messages from mobile phones which are then displayed on the Internet.  You can, of course, also get them sent to your mobile phone. Twitter achieved fame during the massive terror attack in Mumbai when people who were trapped in their hotel rooms, with terrorists outside, found they could communicate with the outside world via Twitter, so it was possible to follow the terror attack "live" by reading their 'Twitter feeds'.

At 5 am I checked the Malaysian site and found the Twitter feed from the ship was saying their radar was jammed and Israeli ships were trailing them.  I put it on the website as a news item.

At 5:30 am the twitter feed announced that the Israelis had boarded and that everybody was safe and unharmed.

At this point the twitter feed suddenly disappeared from the Malaysian site. So I checked the twitter website where I found the feed.  I posted the news on the Jerusalem Post's website as a huge breaking news item.  Feeling pleased I high-fived myself and then went to the toilet.

When I returned Twitter had exploded with items saying "Jerusalem Post says Rachel Corrie taken!".  I could no longer find anything on Twitter related to the Rachel Corrie which wasn't reporting what I had written.   Meanwhile the Malaysians were saying that the twitter information was unconfirmed and had removed it from their site.

I hastily added that my report was unconfirmed. Across the globe news agencies were saying that "there are unconfirmed reports that the Rachel Corrie has been boarded, but this is not the case, the ship is being trailed by three Israeli warships".    On the other hand the "Free Gaza" website who were issuing press releases on behalf of the blockade-breakers also announced "Rachel Corrie taken".   By that time it was 7 am and my shift was over.

I told my replacement what was going on.  He nodded grimly and made a comment about beginner's errors and I Ieft the building to drive home.

As far as I can tell the Rachel Corrie was in fact surrounded by three Israeli warships which sailed alongside it for several hours and eventually, Israeli soldiers climbed on board, after reaching an agreement with the people on the ship to do so peacefully.

My main lesson from all this was not to trust Twitter as a news source and not to trust NGOs as a news source: especially the anti-Israeli ones.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Tel-Aviv Post: Breaking news editor at the Jerusalem Post

I have got a job as a "breaking news editor" at the Jerusalem Post.  Twenty years ago this would have been my dream job and it still goes quite a long way. Basically you spend all day listening to, and watching the news and then post it on the website.  Some of the material is just feeds from Associated Press, and others are articles by Jerusalem Post staff which you post to the website, but a certain amount needs to be written by the editors and a lot of the AP stuff needs adjusting to reflect Israeli interests. also the editors decide what goes where and how important things are.  Oh and you get to approve the talkbacks.

At the moment the Post offices are in Jerusalem, and boy are they filthy. They've had the same offices since 1932 (when they were called the Palestine Post).  Outside there are loading bays which I assume were where once the paper would have gone onto lorries (trucks) every day for delivery round Israel.  But times have changed and the post is no longer printed there and its readership have mostly moved to HaAretz.  However I am told the website gets 200,000 clicks a day.  According to this site, they get 500,000 unique visitors per month (that is different individuals accessing the site).  The paper version sells 12,000 a day and 40,000 at weekends (See my source). It used to sell 70,000 a day. Apparently the site is popular with evangelical christians in the USA. 

The Post is supposed to be moving to Tel-Aviv next month, but for the moment I have to drive out to Jerusalem on my motorbike which is now getting a bit old for this kind of journey. Basically the time has come and possibly gone when I should get a new one.

Fortunately the Post's offices are near the entrance to Jerusalem, so there are no traffic issues once I get there. Over the years the neighbourhood where the offices are located has become haredi.  My guess is they can sell the offices to make way for apartment blocks and make a bit of money on the move.  Anyway the general location (and the poor wages) means that I am finding it hard to find somewhere to eat lunch and yesterday I wandered into a mall where everyone was haredi.  That is to say everyone but me and the Arab security guard at the entrance was wearing side curls, black silk jackets etc.  The women were all pushing prams followed by chains of children. It wasn't like a stetl, it was like an alternative universe, imagine going into your local shopping centre and finding everyone dressed in almost identical black 17th century outfits  - and unshaven. It is a little threatening at times, though you quickly realize there is no reason to be afraid. 

For some reason British-English is a common language round there and I even saw someone driving a car with UK number plates.   You also hear a certain amount of Yiddish and see children playing and talking Yiddish, though I would say that Hebrew and English are the dominant tongues.  Maybe the time will come when all haredis speak English, or they will create a Jewish version of English (Yiddlish?) rather like Ebonics.  Over time it seems to me that nearly all the world's Jews are moving to either live in Israel or the English speaking world.  At present 80% live in Israel and the USA.

The Jerusalem Post is like a UN of the English speaking world. You find yourself sitting next to an Australian, an American and a Canadian.  There is an Englishman but he's leaving as he doesn't want to move out of Jerusalem.  

One good thing about going to Jerusalem is that the city is so bizarre its liking going to another country.   So several times a week  I get to feel like I've been abroad.

P.S.  If you want to read more about my time at the Post see How I won and lost a global scoop