Sunday Times in Sri Lanka – Another groundbreaking first in online journalism

Unhappy with “hosting” Twitter, the Sunday Times has now converted its own Twitter feed to, get this, a protected account. Not that the Twitter feed of the Sunday Times worked in the first place.

ST Tweet

This is to my knowledge the only Twitter feed in the world today belonging to a traditional media owner that has protected its feeds. And for comparison, against the 21 followers the ST has, Groundviews has 253 and individual bloggers like Indi Samarajiva have over 300 followers.

I guess merely having a Twitter account must count as progress for the ST’s Editor, who is by far one of Sri Lanka’s most technologically challenged journalists. It’s yet another example of how far behind MSM in Sri Lanka is in using new media to strengthen and complement their journalism.

Sunday Times in Sri Lanka “hosts” Twitter!

Not satisfied with such pathbreaking initiatives in the “professional” print media industry in Sri Lanka such as using Wikipedia to defame and plagiarising content from Flickr, the Sunday Times in Sri Lanka proudly announces today that it has “linked up” with Twitter and will be “hosting” the service to boot!

Journalist Surekha, understandably a little light headed at her epiphanic discovery of Twitter notes that, “by simply following the right people and publication on Twitter, users can find the finest information available on the Internet catered to their tastes all in one place.” After such a gushy verdict, one shudders to contemplate what Surekha might write after she discovers RSS aggregation. But not stopping at the banal, the article ventures into nonsense, noting that “as more people join Twitter, its ability to measure what issues garner the most attention will increase in accuracy”.

Tellingly though, anyone keen to follow Twitter “hosted” by the Sunday Times were greeted with this message.

ST on Twitter - Small

Unsurprising under an Editor who cannot even begin to comprehend proper online sourcing or citizen journalism (see responses by bloggers here and here), its fascinating to watch these bungling attempts of traditional print media in Sri Lanka to leverage social networking, mobiles and the web.

Groundviews, progressive youth initiatives like Beyond Borders along with others on Facebook and a range of independent, compelling voices on the web have used new media for years to publish and disseminate critical content and engage local and international audiences, even at the height of war.

One hopes that wiser counsel prevails and the Sunday Times only asks journalists of a higher calibre like Smriti Daniel to cover their forays into new media in the future.

Quick take: BBC’s Nik Gowing on new media

The BBC’s Nik Gowing writes an excellent piece in the Guardian on how new media is subverting traditional media’s vice grip on news and information. As Nik notes in Real-time media is changing our world,

Institutional assumptions of commanding the information high ground in a crisis are from a different era. The instant scrutiny created by the new digital media landscape subverts their effectiveness and leaves reputations more vulnerable than ever in a crisis. It usually does so with breathtaking speed.

A good example of this in Sri Lanka was the atrocious use of wikipedia by the Sunday Times recently, and the Editor’s inane responses to my article that flagged it.

Noting that the primary difference between new and traditional media is the ability to add value to news, I note in a recent column that,

A bastion of ageing, and worse, pompous journalists commanding what Nik Gowing calls news regimes from a different era pose a challenge to media freedom equal to the government’s censorship and repression. Conversely, voters unable or unwilling to realise and leverage the potential of mobiles, PCs, the web and Internet to strengthen democracy will get the media and government they deserve.

Wikipedia journalism in Sri Lanka

I found the reference in the Sunday Times of 14 June 2009 to Canadian Liberal MP Bob Rae’s alleged links to the LTTE, by way of a wikipedia entry, particularly disgusting. This is more than just bad journalism and technical incompetence, it is deliberately misleading the public in Sri Lanka.

It’s also a great case for revisiting MSM journalism ethics in a context where so much disinformation and misinformation colour web sources.

See my article published on Groundviews here.

As Asanga Welikala commenting on the story notes,

…if any serious newspaper anywhere else in the world used wikipedia as a basis of evidence… for the principal argument of its main political column, provided it passed muster of the sub-editors, then both the columnist and the editor would be facing the sack overnight. It is useless nowadays to talk about such things as ‘credibility’, and ‘professionalism’, so perhaps the shame of the charge of utter incompetence might be the thing that persuades The Sunday Times to issue a retraction?

Sri Lanka’s first mainstream media article on Facebook activism

Facebook - Courtest Sunday Times
Image from Sunday Times

Smriti Daniel’s article last Sunday in the Sunday Times is to my knowledge the first article that appears in the print media in Sri Lanka dealing with growing web based activism via the social networking platform Facebook. It’s a well written and researched piece that deals with a phenomenon I most recently touched upon in my post on Pissu Poona (Pissu is Crazy in Sinhala, and Poona is cat in Tamil).

There may be sociological limits for activism in and through Facebook, and it is debatable whether Facebook actually engenders meaningful relationships anchored to a common purpose, ideal, process or event over the long term – especially under repressive regimes.  An example of FB supporting a real world event can be found here, set up by the Peoples Movement for Democracy. However, in Sri Lanka, Facebook engineered real world action on the lines of Egypt leading to real world swarms is non-existent today and won’t I believe emerge for a while in SL – though dissent and critical communications within and between local and diaspora groups may blossom.

In this light, the article usefully ends on a particularly sobering note,

At times, it must seem a little like setting up shop in the market and shouting as loudly as you can, cheek by jowl with the other vendors…and it can get frustrating. “On the internet it’s very easy to start things, it’s much harder to sustain them,” says Indi frankly. Both he and Sanjaya agree that while it has the potential to be a powerful democratic tool, Facebook simply needs many more Sri Lankans online and engaged before it can be used as such.

Read Smriti’s article in full here.