Tips of the Trainer: Pitfalls on the net

Are you trained for the demands that the internet places on journalists?

1. Style

Does your publication call the internet the Web, the web, the Net, or the Internet? Does it refer to emails, e-mails and e mails – in the same issue? And does it still end sentences with a full stop, even when the sentence ends with an e-mail address? This can mislead the reader and can cause e-mails to get lost.

2. E-mail bylines

Does your publication give reporters’ e-mail addresses alongside articles? They are useful for encouraging interaction and providing new story leads.

3. Search engines

Many older reporters do not know how to use internet search engines. A reporter who cannot trawl the net effectively has a serious gap in his ability and needs training. That 16-year-old kid on work experience will tell you how to do it.

4. Copyright

Reporters regularly download pictures, graphics, logos, quotes and facts from the net to use with their stories without giving any thought to copyright. As a general rule, there is no copyright on news, facts or information (though we need to make sure it’s correct). And we can use Fair Dealing under the Copyright Act 1988 to use “substantial” parts of copyright work in news stories and reviews, provided we credit the copyright owner and don’t misrepresent their work. But lifting photos, logos and graphics can be more difficult.

4. Libel

The Court of Appeal ruled that an article that contains libellous allegations is republished every time it is called up, so in effect the one-year time limit that readers have to start libel actions never expires. We should remove potentially libellous articles from online archives. And archives should contain a warning that some articles, normally protected by qualified privilege, may contain untrue allegations. This helps to “remove the sting” from defamatory words. Also, the High Court in Australia recently ruled that an article published on the internet could be sued over in any country where there is internet access – not just the country where it was published. Food for thought for some publishers. And never send unsubbed copy for use on a website. This practice is bristling with legal dangers.

5. Newspapers’ websites

Research has shown that successful websites must be able to answer two questions: “Who is it for?” and “What is it for?” If we can’t answer these questions, then our websites are probably failing. Every website component should only be there because it serves the site’s identified purpose. If it doesn’t, it should be removed. Websites can be valuable editorial and commercial tools. But unless they have a precise purpose and a specific target audience, then they are a waste of cyberspace.

Cleland Thom runs journalism training services Website: www.ctjts.com

Email: cleland.thom@tesco.net

by Cleland Thom

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