GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – I’m going to do something unusual here, recommend that you read a government paper, the Swiss foreign minister’s paper on his country’s appproach to foreign policy. You don’t have to be a member of his party (you probably can’t even name him, much less his party, right?) to appreciate that there is a coherent plan here that’s well thought out, practical and practicable.
Switzerland mostly baffles people outside the country, and that includes politicians from elsewhere. If you believe all the clichés, the place should not really be working as well as it obviously does. Unemployment, GDP, crime, even bilateral relations when you examine them closely, are in pretty good shape. And while everyone loves to say other governments are about to stomp on the Swiss for banking secrecy, for the most part other governments and Switzerland get on remarkably well.
It’s also worth noting that Didier Burkhalter, Swiss foreign minister, is at ease speaking English.
He gave this paper at the opening session of the International Security Forum in Geneva.
French military unsuccessful in pressuring web site – page suddenly hugely popular
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Wikepedia’s page on French military radio installations at Pierre-sur-Haute did not escape the attention of France’s military powers, although there might have been limited public interest in the page. Authorities demanded that the page be removed. The story of the demand, agreement and then re-posting of the page made for gripping reading in France and, with Wikipedia adding the story of the military pressure to the page, by the weekend of 6-7 April the page had become the most-read page on the French language version of Wikipedia, with 120,000 views.
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the incident, in case the page disappears again:
In April 2013, the radio station attracted attention after the French interior intelligence agency Direction centrale du renseignement intérieur (DCRI) attempted to have an article about the facility removed from the French language Wikipedia. The Wikimedia Foundation asked the intelligence agency what precise part(s) of the article were a problem in the eyes of the intelligence agency, noting that the article closely reflected information in a freely available television broadcast. The DCRI refused to give these details, and repeated its demand for deletion of the article. The Wikimedia Foundation refused to delete the article, and the DCRI pressured Rémi Mathis, a volunteer administrator of the French language Wikipedia and resident of France, into removing the article. The administrator, an employee of the state-owned Bibliothèque nationale de France and president of Wikimédia France, obeyed. According to a statement issued by Wikimédia France on 6 April 2013:
‘The DCRI summoned a Wikipedia volunteer in their offices on April 4th . This volunteer, which was one of those having access to the tools that allow the deletion of pages, was forced to delete the article while in the DCRI offices, on the understanding that he would have been held in custody and prosecuted if he did not comply. Under pressure, he had no other choice than to delete the article, despite explaining to the DCRI this is not how Wikipedia works. He warned the other sysops that trying to undelete the article would engage their responsibility before the law. This volunteer had no link with that article, having never edited it and not even knowing of its existence before entering the DCRI offices. He was chosen and summoned because he was easily identifiable, given his regular promotional actions of Wikipedia and Wikimedia projects in France.’
“Later, the article was restored by another Wikipedia contributor. The French ministry of the interior told the Agence France-Presse that for the moment it did not wish to comment on the incident. As a result of the controversy, the article became the most-read page on the French Wikipedia, with over 120,000 page views during the weekend of 6/7 April 2013. It was translated into multiple other languages. The French newspaper 20 minutes, Ars Technica, and a posting on Slashdot, noted it as an example of the Streisand effect in action.”
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The human urge to complain tends to lead to exaggeration and crime figures for Switzerland seem to be a current victim of that. I’m hearing and seeing claims about the rapidly climbing rate of crime that simply aren’t backed by numbers. Let’s take just one example, theft. First, let’s compare figures for 2009 to 2013, Swiss-wide, theft but no break-in and not including car theft, reported to the police:
The numbers jumped in 2011 and again in 2012 as the number of cantons included in the nationwide figures rose. Police harmonized their reporting systems starting in 2009, but some cantons asked for a longer deadline. The project to harmonize the reporting systems was part of a larger European project to do the same, so that Eurostat crime statistics can be compared more easily since 2008.
Thefts that involve break-ins, which account for about 30 percent of all theft:
|Vol par effraction (Art. 139)|
If you want to compare these to the rest of the world, it’s important to note that attempted robbery is included in Swiss statistics but it is not for all countries in Europe, according to Eurostat figures.
Two of the OECD’s most recent tables for comparing crime rates, from January 2012, are shown at left (click on the images to view larger). The term “robbery” used for the first one, includes violence, whether threatened or real.
Switzerland rises in the ranks when it comes to burglary, but it is well behind leader Denmark and has roughly 75 percent of the burglaries that Austria has.
One explanation for the impression that break-ins are on the rise could be that they are in some areas, notably Vaud, where the figure climbed from 7,265 to 10,644 between 2009 and 2012, and Geneva, where the rise is less spectacular, from 6,463 to 7,322 in four years.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – This link might be more techy-babble than non-tech readers like, but it’s the first sensible analysis I’ve read of Yahoo’s purchase of Summly. This matters, because we’re about to see the media world turn on a dime again, thanks to developments in the mobile world, and most journalists are still crying about the losses of the past decade (salaires, perks, power, etc.).
Whether Yahoo gets its money’s worth from Summly or not, we’ll all feel the heat from efforts to summarize and shrink news content. All = IT people, news content makers aka journalissts, news consumers.
Here’s the link to Emin Gün Sirer’s post; he’s a hacker and Cornell professor.
Fellow journalists, here is the paragraph that caught my eye because he’s hit on one of my biggest gripes as an editor. The nuts and bolts of a news story go at the top, in the first sentence! If no one is reading your stuff, consider his comment:
“For 95% of the news I read, that can be done with a regexp that slices out the first sentence. Very rarely, the first paragraph contains what journalists call a ‘hook,’ and the infamous 5-W’s are embedded in the second paragraph. So if it worked perfectly, Summly would eliminate one extra sentence 5% of the time.”
Advice I would like to share, from Jordan Bonfante, my Time magazine news bureau chief in Paris several years ago: always assume 90% of readers will never bother to go past the first 10% of your new story. Get the stuff that matters there, then allow yourself time to expand on it, for that 10% of readers we love.
GENEVA, SWITZRELAND – Hot, hot, hot is the word for Summly, the app that just fell out of the Apple Store because Yahoo! bought it for several million pounds from its 17-year-old founder. But looking beyond that startling pricetag and the unseemly age of the lucky new multimillionaire, the Summly shift is hugely significant for the news business.
Tweets were too short and articles were too long, but 400-character summaries are just right, is the verdict. News media will learn to produce All the News That Fits, a change from All the News That’s Fit to Print, in order to be summed up and included.
Summly is interested only in popular news media, a label that is based on traffic, so news sites that essentially sell something and add news to make their sites sticky – candy news services – will be part of Summly, and smaller, local news outlets that provide original content will not.
There is a risk that instead of getting smarter, as Summly is supposed to help us become, because we can browse more stuff more quickly, we’ll actually get dumber because we’ll be clueless about the background to the news headlines.
There is also a risk, or maybe it’s an opportunity, that a lot of people will love mobile, which is what Summly is all about, but they’ll also still love 600 or 1,000 or even 10,000 character stories, and they’ll pay for that kind of content. E-magazines or e-books or membership reading clubs for thinking people could see a renaissance.
Seemly, I’d call that.
ZURICH, SWITZERLAND – Journalism and money simply don’t go hand in hand anymore: online advertising is not working, ad sales and online revenue as well as circulation are doing poorly, with very very rare exceptions.
So the Guardian has a new idea, to join forces with Zurich insurance for a “campaign”:
“to raise awareness of the biggest financial considerations people face at key life stages. The partnership, which brings together the expertise of Zurich and the Guardian’s editorial Money team, features a range of cross-media platform activity and the launch of a new app. Life Navigator presents Guardian readers with tools, advice and relevant Guardian Money editorial content that can help them make the right financial decisions now and in the future.”
There’s nothing new here except an app and the notion of cross media: otherwise, this concept and the way it works are the same as all those advertorials and paid supplements we’ve seen over the years in print, and the success rate of those has been tiny, unless you count the amount of money gullible advertisers have spent. Editorial is affected by the knowledge that one big client is footing the bill, despite all claims to the contrary (I base this mainly on my own experience, having written a few for reputable news organizations).
It would have been better to let Zurich announce that it has a new app, which might well interest people, and to mention that the Guardian’s editorial staff have done the writing, which would say something positive about the readability.
The home for the “campaign” will be the Guardian’s money pages; it remains to be seen if it will be clearly earmarked “advertising”.
Instead, we get this bit of corporate bio at the end: “Guardian News & Media (GNM) publishes guardian.co.uk, one of the world’s leading news websites, as well as guardiannews.com and the Guardian and Observer newspapers. GNM is the core business of Guardian Media Group (GMG), whose sole shareholder is The Scott Trust Ltd. The core purpose of The Scott Trust Ltd is to secure the financial and editorial independence of the Guardian in perpetuity.”
RIP, credible journalism.
ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - Ed. note: William Olenick has been active in Republicans Abroad in Switzerland, where he is a longtime resident. He sent the following email letter to friends 28 January; we reprint it in full as part of our coverage of the ongoing problems for US citizens in Switzerland.
Read the article below my comments and you will see why I also have my problems with the banks and I am tax compliant.
For the last 25 years I have been busting open niche markets for American products, contributing to lowering the trade deficit, developing new markets for US producers, creating employment for my brethren back home, increasing the tax base where they live.
The only way to do this is to be on the ground in the countries you are selling.
In my case, my markets were Europe, North Africa and the Middle East so it made sense to set up a base of operations in Switzerland, as it was close to the markets, was a well run country, my wife happened to be Swiss, from a large, close-knit family, so it was a no brainer.
Two months ago my bank informed me that I could no longer make wire transfers to the states.
That being the case how will I pay my suppliers?
These absolute black boot fools in DC are shooting themselves in the foot and biting the hand that feeds them.
Sure there were those evading taxes and there were many greedy bankers stumbling over themselves to help those evaders, but the numb nuts in Washington are ruining the lives of hundreds of thousands of innocent American citizens, and just spitting in the face of our allies, by strong arming them (Remember the Nazis?) to enforce US tax law, when they have nothing to do with the US tax system.
It is the job of the IRS to prevent untaxed dollars from leaving the country but they are unable to do that, as they surely are not up to the job, so they blackmail our allies.
The complete lack of justified foresight, coming out of Washington today, is appalling.
This is forcing me to shut down my 100% legal and tax compliant operation abroad, building new long term nitch markets for US products, and to relocate back to Vermont, where I intend to farm.
What ever happened to the pursuit of life,freedom and happiness, as laid out by the constitution?
I refuse to give up my citizenship, as I am 100% American, to my bone marrow.
I could have been Swiss, through my marriage to my wife, but I am not Swiss, I was born American and will die American.
Pass these comments on as you wish and feel free to publish in what ever publication you wish.
We need to do away with the two-party system, as it serves its citizens poorly, we need to set term limits on all elected officials, coming to Washington, and should pass a law that the newly elected must bring their staffers from their home states.
These professional staffers, on the hill, are a large percentage of the problem and they are not even elected!
Don’t get me going…
William Olenick, Zermatt,Switzerland
If you don’t like it you know where to find me.”
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – It seems no matter how often the police say it or the CFF rail company cautions travelers, foreigns are anxious to hold onto the image of clean, tidy, crime-free Switzerland, a place that exists mainly in the imagination.
The latest dire warning to travelers comes from a writer in the UK’s Daily Mail, who recounts the tale of his nephews’ stolen luggage, then a friend’s backpack, on Swiss trains, noting that “the impeccably clean Swiss carriages are sadly no longer free of crime.”
The trains haven’t been free of crime for years. Yes, the problem has worsened over the past 10 years, as has crime in general throughout Europe. There are plenty of people who will argue that Schengen is responsible, with fewer police border checks, but there are plenty of other possible reasons, starting with the rich-poor divide. Switzerland, with one of the smallest wealth gaps in the world, is a comfortable society that makes a good target.
Whatever the reason and whatever the relative seriousness of the Swiss crime problem (European crime figures still show Switzerland’s crime level as remarkably low, including theft and muggings), we can’t say it too often: don’t invite crime by leaving your valuables surveyance-free!
The Daily Mail author says “Apparently the chancers quickly scan luggage for tags indicating foreign travellers. In the case of Geneva, it is easy pickings, as they can get off with your luggage at the city stop, before the train moves off to the airport station.”
It’s too easy to get into the “we’re foreigners, so we’re easy targets” mentality: the Swiss are also ready targets, and I can recount tales of travelers I know whose computers were stolen while they snoozed. But the Swiss don’t think of their country as a Heidi paradise, so they watch their belongings.
Men, keep your computer bags and packbacks attached to you. Women, do not set your bags on the floor in restaurants or in trains.
The problem with being a foreigner is that you’re easily distracted. The views are great, you’re on holiday, and you’re looking for something nicer than the daily grind of worries at home.
If you’re traveling in Switzerland, behave like the Swiss. Use common sense and stay focused. It’s not foolproof against theft, but it helps.
As for the luggage racks at the end of carriages, you are required to use them, if you have a large bag. Take a seat nearby and check that it remains in view at every stop. If you go to the restaurant car, take your bag with you or leave someone you know in charge.
Look around and you’ll see the Swiss doing the same.
The newspaper is dead – um, not quite – um, maybe a little bit alive? Look hard
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – When you write an article arguing that there is still some life and whoopeee, even some money in those dear old newspapers, but you then list six newspapers showing that yes! yes! three of them are profitable! but three are not, to rest your case, I’d say your case is pretty feeble. Ad Age: your case is desperately feeble. But no one in the newspaper industry will say so because who will buy ads from dying media? And no one in the ad industry will say so because what will you do with those newspaper ads?
The three that are not making it, profit-wise, are the Guardian, the NY Post and The Times. The latter is famously trying to make its case for paywall news.
This small publisher is not convinced.
The New York Times case is almost convincing: they actually have a slim profit now, after years in the red, which requires a publisher who really loves his or her paper. The Wall St Journal: come on, everybody knows the newspaper soldiers along neatly because of all the other things the company does to turn a profit. It’s a happy but slightly incestuous marriage between business reporting and other business stuff. That one works.
And then there is the Omaha World-Herald, aka Omaha.com online. Guess which famous man from Omaha has sunk money into his hometown newspaper? It’s surviving yes, but profitable? Have you visited Omaha? Have you read the paper? Have you looked at the online version, which is like every other failing newspaper + online version out there?
Please, let us distinguish between profitable and surviving because someone is pumping money into it, at a (presumably affordable) loss. That’s today’s newspaper industry. A little more honesty in reporting is in order.
The death of the newspaper industry has arrived
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The United States has lost nearly one-third of its major city newspapers in the past 72 years, and another has just buckled and gone under, the Times-Picayune in New Orleans. The loss of the newspaper, in a city where one-third of adults have no Internet access, triggered a lengthy article in the CS Monitor, “Is the death of newspapers the end of good citizenship?”, with 23 lengthy comments when I last looked.
Sure, there are newspapers out there and they will survive, albeit maybe without print versions and usually with an owner who can absorb continual losses, for few are making money.
The NY Times, despite years of red ink, is unlikely to fold tomorrow and now functions as a kind of national US daily, as does the Huffington Post, both of which rely heavily on news agencies.
None of the agencies report on the local level: stories by AP or UPI from Geneva are picked up sparingly in Switzerland, but will be carried by US news outlets as the gospel truth from Geneva; where is the other, local voice that brings balance and local angles to their stories?
The same goes for Seattle and San Francisco and now New Orleans.
It matters because of news deserts
It wouldn’t matter more than any company or industry going under, except that the Internet doesn’t really replace newspapers, despite the massive increase in the volume of news, broadly defined.
The Monitor, citing a number of studies, worries that the death of newspapers is creating news deserts. Citizens may know what’s happening in Washington, London and Damascus, but research seems to show they are often clueless when it comes to their own towns, once a newspaper dies.
Let’s just say it: it’s time to bury our local newspapers
For 10-plus years I’ve been hearing, and occasionally writing, about dying newspapers. Let’s just cut the life support; the time has come.
What do we make of this, though, when we live in a country where we’re foreigners, so our sense of civic duty is diluted or non-existent? As newspapers disappear, what are we doing to replace them, not for our world or home country news, but for our knowledge of what goes on in the place where we live? And if civic duty isn’t driving us to get local news, what is?
Making sense of our smaller worlds
When I moved to Paris several years ago I was desperate to try to make sense of the French, and reading Le Monde didn’t do it. I read a scrappy, lively weekly newspaper in English. It’s gone under and while there are lots of “hi, welcome to Paris” web sites, I wouldn’t want to count on them to help me build, over time, a sense of who the French are and why France ticks as it does.
Ditto in Switzerland, which is part of why I founded GenevaLunch.com.
The sad truth is that despite many small-scale efforts to keep local, community newspapers alive and healthy, overall, there are no visibly successful new models, and that includes the web.
Everyone lives in a community, everyone needs to feel they belong. Local social media have tried to fill that gap, and while they’ve been good for the emotional side, helping us avoid a sense of isolation, they’ve created the opposite of a news desert, a kind of news jacuzzi, with hundreds of bubbles of information, few of them with solid underpinnings. For every forum question with a correct answer there is at least one and often several with mis-information that bubbles away, taking on a digital life of its own. It’s a postulate of the Internet that bad postings never die.
Social media and the sticky art of candy news
One solution, but it hasn’t really worked, is for social media and other web sites that sell services or products to add news. I’m not talking about Facebook fans reposting, I’m talking about such sites trying to be the source of news in the first place.
Social media sites that add news are mostly just stirring it, picking up a bit here and a bit there, soup-chef style, rewording it to avoid copyright issues, but not actually checking facts and talking to sources, which is what real journalists do. They are not creating news, or when they try to create it, they create candy news: sweeteners to make their sites sticky (visitors return) because transient populations of foreigners come and go and have little loyalty, and you can’t sell ads with that.
Candy news tends to be mainly celebrity stories, robberies and drug busts, the emotional pullers about the cost of housing and job world surveys (bosses paid too much, foreigners treated poorly). There’s nothing wrong with that kind of news, and I don’t want to diss the candy industry either, but as a steady diet, it’s pretty poor.
The solution is to have more, not fewer journalists, but if there aren’t any newspapers, where are they going to work? Radio and TV are part of the picture, but they’ll never be the whole show and without transcripts they don’t provide useful, easily searchable archives for a community’s news.
How will journalists be trained? And how do we know who is a journalist and who is a wannabe?
The newspaper is dead: long live the journalist
Here’s my suggestion: newspapers are dead, or if they aren’t, they are really, really on the way out, and what should replace them is simply journalists, sometimes working in groups, often working alone. Before the Internet made rapid individual research possible, this wasn’t a viable option. Today it is.
But it means journalism professional organizations, public relations people as well as media counters who compile stats for the advertising industry will need to acknowledge that the game has changed radically. Forget the press conferences, the long and rambling press releases, accreditation based on a decades-old media title’s reputation, and numbers of readers/visitors/viewers that are inflated by technology tricks.
A few examples exist, notably TomDispatch in the US, which has a strong political bent. It’s survived for 11 years in part thanks to grant money. The Knight Community News Network in the US now has a database of 1,000 community web sites, many of them created by single journalists.
Seasoned reporters, value for money
The Monitor’s article offers a useful reminder that US newspapers traditionally inform readers but also encourage civic engagement, using “seasoned reporters” to make sense of local happenings. Reporters who know the ropes, who have editors with long experience in one place and who are good at ferreting out correct information. Journalists of that calibre need time to do their work and to help train others.
The journalists will need subscribers or donors to have some income, but without all the overhead of today’s mainstream media, supporting them would be very good value for money.
Here’s how we will know them: a high percentage of original material, acknowledgement by other reputable journalists, professional behaviour and ultimately, a public that keeps following them because they have credibility. The tricky part is measuring the fans.
Public relations people, advertisers: you’ll need a new approach, too, please
PR teams and advertisers will need to be more creative to find ways to work with journalists, who can’t spend their time selling ad space or attending parties if they are going to create good news streams.
The CS Monitor story also points to the ages-old need to have a check on the dodgy dealings of politicians, but the scaling down of newspapers and their ultimate disappearance also bares another need. Truth is a wobbly creature that needs more than one arm to hold it up and help it walk.
Investigative journalism is one of the romantic myths in the media world, and solo journalists will be tempted by it. While it is necessary, you also need boring old local journalism to keep adrenalin- and power-loving investigative reporters honest. The temptation to save the world through journalism and bend the facts to suit can be as great as the temptation to use a political job for personal gain.
It’s all about competition, folks
As we move to a ratty new world of single operators, aka journalists, we’ll need to find a way to make sure we can trust them.
In short, we need competition and several voices, experienced journalists who know how to keep each other honest.