Daily Mirror’s online woes reveal an industry issue

Daily Mirror

It’s not the first time the Daily Mirror website has crashed recently. In the chaos that reigned just after the presidential election in Sri Lanka in January this year, the website was almost completely inaccessible. As I noted on Groundviews in February in a post looking back at the coverage of the post-election madness,

In the course of publishing these updates, we mirrored key news items from the Daily Mirror website whenever we got access to it, because an unsurprisingly high volume of traffic rendered this well read traditional media website inaccessible for most of the 26th.

To my knowledge, this was the first time a citizen journalism venture backstopped the content on a mainstream media site. Lessons from this incident may have been identified, but certainly not learnt. On 17 September, news of a massive explosion that rocked Karadiyanaru in Batticaloa resulted in over two dozen casualties. The Daily Mirror site was also a victim.

The site appears to be hosted locally, on Sri Lanka Telecom servers. Why on earth a site that possibly generates, on an average news day, page views numbering in the tens of thousands is hosted in Sri Lanka is a pertinent question. It’s proven time and again that these servers don’t have the capacity to deal with traffic spikes, which also raises questions about reliability, scaleability and expansion of news operations, if current server demands are already close to breaking point.

Bizarrely, the Daily Mirror’s OWN reportage of these crashes are self-censored!

A tweet from @DMBreakingnews on 17 September linked to an article by a staff writer which noted,

“Just hours after news spread on the Karadiyanaru blast, Friday, the Daily Mirror online website crashed owing to what the Daily Mirror online technical team said was an issue at the Daily Mirror online server hosted by Sri Lanka Telecom. The technical issue was believed to be the result of the high number of users attempting to access the website to obtain information on the blast. A similar issue had occurred on past instances as well when there was major breaking news.”

Clearly, the blame was placed on Sri Lanka Telecom. However, good luck finding this article on the Daily Mirror site. It was pulled down almost as soon as it was published. A Google Cache version of it can be read here, and I’ve captured a screen shot of the story here.

This is all very strange. The management at Daily Mirror clearly don’t understand the basics of web news management and content curation. Staff who do understand better what’s going on, and go on to write about it, are then almost immediately censored by the newspaper itself. That the Daily Mirror behaves in this mercurial manner reveals how ignorant those responsible for these bizarre decisions are about the dynamics of new and web media.

It all comes back to a point I make during my new media lectures at the Sri Lanka College of Journalism. It is one thing to know about web and new media, quite another to strategically leverage it to strengthen brand identity, content consumption and forge new models of participatory, independent and indeed, investigative journalism. Though newspapers in Sri Lanka have embraced the likes of Twitter, Facebook and web media, there is no real understanding of any of the platforms, the manner in which content needs to be tailored for each of them, the varying consumption and delivery patterns or through them, how consumers can be made to engage with the news in more engaging ways.

It is an archaic, and worse, obdurate old media mindset projected to the digital domain and by extension, an approach bound to fail as the Daily Mirror site demonstrates, ad nauseum, ad infinitum.

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