Dateline unknown

3 Jan

Picture 113

Coming up next on global anglophone news: ‘Welfare-to-work programs have failed to reduce unemployment‘.

It was the top article on the business site a few days ago, which was interesting – a slightly wonkish policy analysis doing better than more immediate stories about the collapse of a big parcels firm at Christmas. For readers interested in UK politics, it looked intriguing. The issue has been quiet in Britain of late – it’s been a while since the Labour party’s New Deal or even the coalition’s Work Programme were in the headlines. What’s it about?

Welfare-to-work programs promoted by successive governments have had no impact on unemployment as they fail to take into account the changing labour market, researchers have found.

Well, this looks like bad news for Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary. But why is it coming up now? The headline unemployment rate is falling at the moment.

The Australian National University (ANU) research, reported in the Australian on Friday, shows that the proportion of unemployed men aged between 25 and 54 has not changed in almost 15 years, staying at 9-10%.

Ah. Right. This is about Australia.

The first hint you get that this is an antipodean story is here, in the second paragraph of the body text. Nothing alerts you to its provenance before that. The five-most-read counter is a global one that aggregates all Guardian content blindly. The headline and standfirst lack any regional identifiers, and there is no dateline after the byline. And why would there be? The story was, from an Australian point of view, produced by a home reporter about a national report on a domestic topic. You would no more put a dateline on it than you would on a metro-desk story about the city council. Like many articles in the rapidly coalescing global news industry, its international success – or at least its performance relative to stories on two other continents – has taken it rather by surprise.

With British news organisations expanding abroad in the hope of becoming trusted sources of news inside other countries, there are going to be a lot more stories like these: local pieces written in-country as a way of establishing credentials with a local audience, but available globally (and administered, at least for part of the day, from thousands of miles away).

Websites are becoming electronically editionalised to compensate – so much so that some auto-detect your location and make it quite hard to change. But the news editors themselves move back and forth between the offices, taking their old interests out to the satellites and bringing newly learned agendas back to London. And three-newsroom operations throw off so much material that apparently it can’t help but leak across the boundaries – unknown Australian models starring in Britain’s sidebar of shame, Hollywood weddings with dress sizes incompletely altered for UK consumption, or, as here, some parts of a very large website still blind to the technological segregation in other parts.

Perhaps the really alert British reader would have seen that “program” was spelt without its last two letters and realised something was up. But I’ve read so much mid-Atlantic and up-from-Down-Under news that I’m honestly starting not to notice.

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10 Responses to “Dateline unknown”

  1. Jeff January 9, 2015 at 9:54 pm #

    This *should* be another case of CMS to the rescue – identify when a story was written (tagged) in a different region from the reader, and insert dateline and/or country identifier (e.g., prominent flag) as appropriate. You could even display an alternative standfirst if one had been prepared. Whoever is running the CMS isn’t digging deep enough when it comes to coping with the international expansion.

    • edlatham January 9, 2015 at 11:09 pm #

      Yes, you’re right. Or maybe even a fix as crude as restricting top-five lists to stories published in the jurisdiction of the reader? Although that might be a little parochial for an expanding news organisation.

      • Jeff January 10, 2015 at 9:56 pm #

        An option would be to tag stories as global or local, and allow the former to drift between jurisdictions but not the latter. So for example the Sydney cafe siege was a genuine global story whereas the welfare-to-work one is not.

        (It is worth pointing out here that any of these complexities could introduce a performance penalty on the website, and where the penalty was acceptable might determine which option was ‘best’.)

  2. edlatham January 11, 2015 at 1:34 am #

    You could probably build features like that into the existing tags … hmmm …

  3. Theophylact January 11, 2015 at 10:55 pm #

    “Labour” but “program” could suggest Canada, except that they don’t have a Labour Party.

    • edlatham January 12, 2015 at 11:03 am #

      Yes, we’re going to have to start looking for clues!

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