Below is a copy of an email that I have just sent to David Brookes, editor of the Birmingham Mail.
I would like your thoughts on a series of ‘similarities’ between articles posted on a website I edit (paradisecircus.com) and some on birminghammail.co.uk.
Paradise Circus is, as you may know, a site that evolved from Birmingham: It’s Not Shit (birminghamitsnotshit.co.uk) and features artistic responses to the city of Birmingham.
Since it launched it in 2012 it has run a very popular series ’101 Things Birmingham Gave The World’ (you can see the 49 so far here http://paradisecircus.com/101-things-birmingham-gave-the-world/), this was the concept of one of our contributors Craig Hamilton and he and others — myself included — have worked hard on it, there are also plans for a book version. In essence each part of the series takes an either well known, or not so well known, fact about Birmingham and extrapolates circumstances in which the city could be said to be responsible for a larger concept. Some of these would be simple inventions, others are much more conceptual and deliberately tenuous.
We authors of the content have, since starting work on the project, noticed a good number of pieces on the Birmingham Mail website (possibly in the print edition too, I’ve not seen it) that were conceptually similar or which used the same jumping off points. There could be coincidence at play here but, like the old Ordinance Survey map makers who added in extra features to deter copies, some leaps of logic or ideas are too similar for our comfort.
One such is the article ‘Made in Brum: 21 top gadgets that Birmingham gave the world’ by David Bentley (http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/nostalgia/made-brum-21-gadgets-birmingham-6940087): a large proportion of the subjects covered had previously been on Paradise Circus, which could just be a result of similar research but the passage on the invention of the computer is remarkably similar in concept to the PC piece on the Internet (http://paradisecircus.com/2013/07/18/101-things-brum-gave-the-world-no-33-the-internet/ by my colleague Jon Hickman).
The publication of this article on Thursday 26th June 2014: ‘Bizarre Brum: 14 funny facts you probably didn’t know about Birmingham’ again by David Bentley (http://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/midlands-news/bizarre-brum-14-funny-facts-7329822) contains a section on Birmingham’s supposed ‘invention’ of karaoke with concept and execution almost identical to the 101 Brum article I wrote and published on PC on the same subject in November 2012 (http://paradisecircus.com/2012/11/19/no-12-karaoke/).
I would like to know your thoughts on this. I suggest that your journalists would likely be well aware of our work, especially as your sister paper The Sunday Mercury used one of our pieces a week or so ago (which was asked for, paid for and credited). For my part the coincidences seem too great and I believe heavy inspiration is being taken by at least one Birmingham Mail journalist from our work: this damages our reputation and our ability to monetise our content.
I realise that in news terms it is usual for newspapers to use stories worked on or broken by other publications, but as your paper is new to the kind of online creative content around a city that we have been creating for over ten years it may not occur to your staff that their behaviour is unacceptable: as is the Mail’s use of the content in a commercial setting.
I look forward to your response
co-Editor Paradise Circus
CC: Executive Editor, Paul Cole,
I was asked to ‘create’ a Twitterstorm as part of an art project, and I sort of did. While this wonderful Buzzfeed post describes the stages that one goes through, in order to measure the size of a storm and hence the success of my operation we needed a way to describe the extent of a particular one. With Jon Hickman (Degree Leader, Web and New Media at Birmingham City University) I worked up this scale.
It’s an attempt to give a quantitative scale to something that cannot be measured directly in numbers—this is about extent and influence and simple measures are never going to cut it, although as the number of Morans increases so does the number of Tweets and their anger. It’s based roughly on the idea of the news cycle and how the subject of the storm operates within it. We chose the name ‘The Moran Scale’ after Caitlin Moran, whose ability to kick off the storms—and get them featured in the old school media—is unrivalled. As it’s about intensity of storm, a parallel to the Beaufort Scale is entirely intentional.
I’ll write up the xHumed talk asap, Joseph Priestley sending this Tweet:
It is my conclusion that until they can be made safe the bi-cycle must be banned from the streets of Birmingham and other large towns.
— Joseph Priestley (@JPriestley1733) November 5, 2013
Resulted in this reaction (in statistics) up till about 3 hours later:
For a thing, I’ve been investigating some Twitter communities I wouldn’t usually go anywhere near. Most due to lack of interest but one sort due to a distaste of a lot of what it sets out to do. That one was the concept of a timed Twitter chat hour—there are loads of these, they often have a host account that welcomes people, but essentially it’s a free form IM-style chat around a pre-defined hashtag such as #WestMidsHour.
Dont 4get #westmidshour 2nite between 8 – 9pm ur hour of networking in ur area remember to RT others, follow & network plz RT thanks
— #WestMidsHour (@WestMidsHour) October 22, 2013
So far so a lovely community, coming together to make loose connections form weak bonds, boiling up the social glue that will bing them together. But it doesn’t really work like that. Look at the stream of one of these Twitter chats and it broadly goes like this: People looking forward to the #hour
People apologising for not being around for the #hour
People saying hello at the start of the hour.
The host retweeting some of the hellos and welcoming people to the #hour.
People essentially posting one line classified ads for their business.
People re-posting those ads slightly differently as they move off the top of the timeline.
People saying how much they enjoyed the #hour: see you next time.
— Philip TV (@mapheaven) October 15, 2013
Oh, and people who can’t just stay loyal to one #hour…
— Knowing ur Business (@YourBizOnRadio) October 15, 2013
— J Hubbard & Son ltd (@JHubbardandson) October 15, 2013
Or even week.
— Meryl White (@GrandmaAbson) October 15, 2013
But what you don’t see is interaction or conversation. The number of @replies is low, ideas don’t develop and it doesn’t seem like connections are really made. Most are taking rather than listening, you can only assume that people aren’t reading.
The types of people using the hashtags seem very much to be the same sort of people that attend networking functions up and down the country and the conversation seems to be as sharp and about as useful. You might by chance bump into the exact bit of information you need, but it doesn’t harness the power of the network in using connections to search.
Like the Cargo Cults who acted out the bringing down of supply planes in the south seas without any understanding of what they were doing, the Twitter Hour participants have all the ingredients in place to have a community and act out conversaion without any of the knowledge or the benefits. It looks like a networked conversation, acts like a networked conversation, is collected together like a networked conversation: but it just doesn’t quack like one.
The best jokes never make it past the subs, but here's a thing I wrote for the Guardian recently. [link]
There was a piece featuring me and the sale of BiNS on the BBC News site last week. As ever with ‘news’ I felt the interesting stuff didn’t make it to the actual article and in fact I’m sure I didn’t say anything about gaps quite like that. I thought what I said was a bit more like this tweet:
— Jon Bounds (@bounder) October 25, 2012
But that’s the way it goes.
There’s also two writing projects that I’ve contibuted to over the last few days. One is 280 stops—a sort of Internet piece of collaborative fiction. I’ll let Jon Hickman explain:
The other is not fictional at all. An idea by Jez Collins and Craig Hamilton’101 Things Birmingham Gave the World’ is a tumblr that celebrates Birmingham’s impact on World Culture.
At some point over the weekend, I decided to out the low level moving on campaign and put my most famous website up for sale on eBay.
I started the site back in the May of 2002, before there were really such things as blogs in the mainstream and the term ‘hyperlocal’ was not even a glint in an irritating theorist’s eye. Pretty much everything that’s ever been on it, and definitely everything technical was written or created by me, I’ve had a couple of ‘columnists’ for short whiles and a couple of bits of ‘holiday cover’ but that’s all. The site was flat, hand coded HTML until I learned of PHP and wrote a simple news updating section. Later I discovered that there wasn’t only a name for such things but software out there to do it more prettily and better.
And now it, or sites like it, are either the future of the media or a disappointment to those that thought they should be.
But, it didn’t start because the media was dying, it started because the media was crap: crap at explaining why people connected emotionally with a place that—when looked at objectively—was a bit shit. Crap at self awareness, crap at understanding real life. The media has changed a little, but mostly the contents have just shifted in transit.
I have always been proud of it being not only independent, but seen to be, so not taking advertising and clearly marking anything churned from a press release was always part of the plan. It was fun at times, maybe important and influential at others, but always fairly time consuming and costly. I’ve got lots of other stuff on now, and for the first time in years a regularly hour-ed job (that’s also in another city)—so it’s time to give up.
There’s also a way in which the landscape of ‘hyperlocal publishing’ has changed—the Corinthian spirit beaten down by encroachment of money or officialdom: from ad sales bullshitters to quango reports that do nothing but serve the interests of the establishment. I don’t have the energy to fight, but don’t want to lose that battle really. So the idea is to let someone with the energy try something else with the cultural cache that the site’s built up. There is a way forward for local content created by people that can reach an audience without aping what’s gone before, but just right now I don’t know what it is.
And I’d like to recoup some of the costs if possible, so I’m selling.
I’ll no doubt return to the themes, and the location, but for now time’s up.
(Here’s what I said just over two years ago about how it all started, I still think pretty much the same.)