GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Every journalist is faced with embargoes so I read, out of curiosity, this NPR article about the nonsense that occurred around a health story because of an embargo, a story about mumps.
Embargoes used to be common because print journalists needed time to prepare stories that were longer and more serious than most we see today, but also because evening and morning newspapers could be put on an even footing that way: everyone had advance warning and the same deadline.
That world seems a century away, although it goes back less than 20 years, to pre-Internet days. Most embargoes today are nothing more than transparent and poor public relations ploys to grab the attention of over-worked journalists. They are still, thankfully, used by organizations that publish lengthy and complex material such as science journals and by international financial bodies such as the Financial Stability Board, whose lengthy and daunting subject matter can’t be condensed quickly to short news stories.
But mostly, embargoes are a sign that the world of public relations is still stuck with a working model that no longer works in these days of instant news, instantly rehashed news, and too few journalists who have time to delve into stories and get them right, embargo or no embargo.
The challenge is not so much about how dying newspapers will survive in a digital world (they won’t, and it’s time to start saying that), as about how people who believe they have news content can connect with those who can broadcast it, in a responsible and credible way. In other words, digesting and putting the news into perspective, not just repeating press releases.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Newsweek will print its final edition 31 December 2012, after 80 years as one of the main national media outlets in the US. The spin is of course all positive, that it will become a stronger, more dynamic digital-only operation. But down several paragraphs into its announcement is the more sobering real story:
“We are transitioning Newsweek, not saying goodbye to it. We remain committed to Newsweek and to the journalism that it represents. This decision is not about the quality of the brand or the journalism—that is as powerful as ever. It is about the challenging economics of print publishing and distribution.”
The digital numbers sound impressive, “The [Newsweek] Daily Beast now attracts more than 15 million unique visitors a month, a 70 percent increase in the past year alone—a healthy portion of this traffic generated each week by Newsweek’s strong original journalism.” But as is routinely the case with media companies that are going digital to save their skins, they don’t mention revenues, black ink versus red and all the other things that make the economics of digital publishing equally challenging.
We wish them well and we’re crossing our fingers for them. Now to see if the skinny, skinny Time Magazine of the past few months follows suit.
PRESS RELEASE FROM GENEVALUNCH.COM
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Swiss wine expert, international wine judge and GenevaLunch.com editor Ellen Wallace will be offering a 70-minute introduction to Swiss Wines and guided tour of the Vinea Swiss wines fair in English Saturday 1 September, in cooperation with Vinea. This is a first for Switzerland’s largest outdoor wine event.
The mini-course and visit to six winemakers’ stands under the white tents that line the main street of Sierre, canton Valais will cover the following:
- Swiss grape varieties
- how to read Swiss wine labels
- why Switzerland is one of the most environmentally-minded wine-producing countries
- how to learn more from Switzerland’s hundreds of mainly small and often artisanal but highly professional wine producers
- a sampling, with background on where they fit into the bigger Swiss wines picture, of wines from different regions: a white varietal (single grape) wine, a white blend, red, red blend, sweet, sparkling and to end, a stop at special guest of honour Geneva wines.
Fee: CHF60, which includes the CHF40 entry fee to Vinea (valid until the fair closes at 19:30 Saturday).
Registration via GL donations page (note: fee must be paid in advance): payable in advance to the News in English Association, online via Paypal (which accepts credit cards and other currencies). Or you can pay directly in Swiss francs to our postal account using e-banking, or fill in a blank pink bulletin de versement, available at all post offices
Deadline: Wednesday 29 August, midnight
Number of places limited to 15 persons
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – A sad story arrived in the mailbox from canton Valais police this morning: a 90-year-old man who was hit while crossing the road Monday died of his injuries during the night. The accident took place in the village of Ollon. The man was in the yellow crosswalk area and the 24-year-old Russian woman who hit him was driving from Ban in the direction of Granges-gare, say police.
The pedestrian was thrown 15 metres by the impact.
Police have seized the car for the investigation.
I’m writing about this here, instead of on the news page, because it made me recall a conversation recently with a woman who has been in Switzerland for four years. “I didn’t know, when I came here, that you have to stop for people who are in one of those yellow crosswalks!” she told me. “I couldn’t figure out why all these people seemed to be mad at me!”
The speed limit in most towns is 50kph and the area covered by that often extends well beyond what appears to be the built-up area. Go 20kph over the limit and you risk having your license confiscated.
When in Switzerland, slow down to stay within the speed limit and please, remember the pedestrians: they have the right of way at crosswalks throughout the country.
That said, don’t be a foolish pedestrian: cross at crosswalks, but don’t assume the driver will stop for you!
BASEL, SWITZERLAND – It’s hard to decide which bit of this story from Professional Jeweler is the most enjoyable, as long as your name isn’t James Thompson. Thompson last week was sentenced to 18 months in prison for his bungled attempt at stealing a costly, special diamond during the BaselWorld watch and jewelry show earlier this year.
There’s the reason: £100,000 in gambling debts, which forced him to flee Scotland for Switzerland, where he hoped to “steal something of value” to pay off his debts; the diamond, worth £160,000, fit the bill neatly. Loan sharks were reportedly after him, and if worse came to worse, he’d be safe from them in a Swiss prison, although he didn’t say that to the court.
There’s the champagne touch: the Scotsman reports that he drank champagne from his hotel minibar before the theft, to give him courage. So much for the whisky industry, champagne is a diamond’s best friend.
There’s the great escape, which more or less fizzled out. The Scotsman writes that “Thompson did not cover his tracks, police said. He had registered at a Basel hotel under his own name and it did not take police long to go through the registration cards in the city on a police computer.”
And then there’s the mindset. According to Professional Jeweler, “He was appointed a Swiss lawyer, who said his client ‘realised the gravity of his offence but wasn’t in the best frame of mind when it was carried out’.”
Blame the bubbles, I say.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – In fact, I, the editor was too cautious! For the past six years I have been insisting, with everyone I meet, that GenevaLunch exists because of a strong need for news in English in the Lake Geneva region and the rest of Switzerland because there are at least half a million people who speak English regularly in this country, a large number of them in western Switzerland.
It turns out there are some 739,000 of us.
The census bureau has measured this for the first time, and today the Federal Statistical Office published the 2010 figures that show 4.1 percent of the resident population calling itself fluent in English: we think in the language and consider that we have mastered it. But a much larger group, 16.5 percent of the working population, speaks English regularly at work.
A crucial point is who these people are: some are of course expatriates from English-speaking countries, but this is a minority. Look at the numbers:
- 513,775 Swiss use English at school or on the job
- 166,000 foreigners come from the European Union (Ireland and England are the only 2 English as main language countries)
- 14,000 from elsewhere in Europe
- 44,000 from outside Europe (US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, etc.).
GenevaLunch was created to provide news for the international population in Switzerland, broadly defined as anyone who uses English regularly, as well as for Swiss English-speakers. Many of the latter are Swiss who have traveled widely, or who work in international companies or attend Swiss universities, and they want to maintain a certain level of English. A demonstration of the real need for quality news in English is that we now have 105,000 pages viewed monthly, all this by word of mouth since, as a small non-profit community service organization we spend almost nothing on marketing.
A word in support of WRS here, which provides news and other programming in English for Switzerland: the public radio station is being threatened with closure by its parent, Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, which must make cutbacks. The station has support from what is generally considered the expat population, but the Swiss would do well to reflect for a moment on how many Swiss people also need to hear English regularly, given its importance to the economy.
The international population includes people who have lived in Switzerland for years, many of whom are fluent in German, French or Italian. We provide news with a different slant from Swiss media; we don’t replace newspapers or radio or TV in French, but we supplement it and help people who are still trying to improve their Swiss languages skills by making it easier to follow the story in another language.
The 2010 census survey covering language and religion covers permanent residents of Switzerland:
• foreigners with a residence or work permit for at least 12 months: B, C or Foreign Affairs pass (international organization workers, diplomats and their families)
• foreigners with short-term stay permits with a cumulative time of more than 12 months
• registered asylum seekers (F or N) who have been resident in Switzerland for at least 12 months.
BERN, SWITZERLAND – Have a look around the newly redone Federal Tax Office web site, which houses a lot of good information. There is a small section in English for foreigners, but it’s pretty limited – it does, however, make it easy to find a variety of forms needed by foreigners. Note that the information for US citizens is limited to documents produced last November in connection with the investigation of Credit Suisse by the US Justice Department.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – Eat forms! Stay thin! Whittle down those calories through worry! Americans abroad may have some sage advice for fellow citizens. A survey headline that is being picked up by media because it is catchy and touches a subject near and dear to Americans, food, states that “Americans Find Doing Their Own Taxes Simpler Than Improving Diet and Health”.
US citizens abroad struggle to convince fellow Americans that the tax-filing burden is onerous for those living outside the US, but getting the folks back home to digest that information looks unlikely, if the new survey is right. Taxes aren’t as sweet as food, and sadly, the survey report lacks any meat on tax filing problems to back up the story.
Here’s what it does show, providing food for thought for Americans abroad:
The US-based International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation’s 2012 Food & Health Survey shows that “Six out of 10 Americans have given a lot of thought to the foods and beverages they consume (58 percent) and the amount of physical activity they get (61 percent). Yet, only 20 percent say their diet is very healthful and 23 percent describe their diet as extremely or very unhealthful; less than 20 percent meet the national Physical Activity Guidelines.”
A worrisome detail is that “Fewer than one in 10 Americans correctly estimate the number of calories they need to maintain their weight and only three in 10 believe that all sources of calories play an equal role in weight gain. Calories from sugar, carbohydrates and fats are believed more likely to cause weight gain.”
Marianne Smith Edge, senior vice president for nutrition and food safety at the foundation, says “Clearly, there is a disconnect for many Americans.” The survey shows that “76 percent agree that ever-changing nutritional guidance makes it hard to know what to believe.”
That point eerily echoes one often made by US citizens living overseas, that the ever-changing IRS guidelines and rules make it hard to know how to file.
The tax part of the survey is thin, to say the least. The catchy headline is not backed up in either the press release or the executive summary with even a hint of what questions people were asked about filing taxes. A comparitive survey with Americans abroad could be interesting.
LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND – Compromise is the only way forward, former US President Bill Clinton told business leaders and students in Lausanne Sunday night, in a speech at IMD, and that includes resolving the eurozone crisis. “What works in people’s lives are creative networks of cooperation,” he told the crowd of several hundred. He pointed to areas, including some of the world’s poorest, where progress is being made because of cooperation. “Always, there are creative networks of cooperation committed to sustainable economics, good business practice and vibrant civil society.”
Europe’s crisis today with Greece and sovereign debt needs a strong dose of cooperation, and that involves compromise, Clinton argues. “Those principles have to inform what you ultimately do in trying to reach a compromise growth pact in the short run with appropriate levels of semi-restraint and structural reform in the long run, in Europe. That’s what works. Everywhere. And that’s what gets you moving forward.
“There are no perfect solutions in a murky life. What you want to do is bend the arc so you’re going forward every day so when people get up in the morning they have something to look forward to instead of looking in the mirror and feeling despair.”
Clinton in 2005 founded the William J Clinton Foundation.
GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – News just in from Utah: the 25,000 security breaches of US social security numbers at the state health department’s Medicaid servers turns out to be 280,000, reports Computerworld/CNN.
A month ago I wrote the sentence below, then didn’t get around to finishing the story. Now I wish I had.
You don’t have to be conspiracy theorist to be more than a little concerned about stories cropping up that people are asking for information you don’t need to give them, notably social networking log-ins and US social security numbers.
Worse are illegitimate requests for American social security numbers because many of the requests are borderline legitimate. Employers need them in the US, and some government offices need them – the case in Utah, where hackers managed to get in through a back door and steal the numbers.
So, any point in protecting them? If you believe there is some point in trying to protect your identity, then yes, definitely. If you’re throwing in the towel over privacy protection, read no further and start posting your bank pin codes on lamp posts and the Internet.
For the rest of us: a US social security number doesn’t need to be given out until a contract is signed. Credit companies and insurance companies don’t always need them although some employees are convinced, wrongly, that they do. But the numbers are printed on some health insurance cards, for example, making them less than private. The US Coalition for Sensible Public Records Access, in a 2008 paper on public documents, points out that you can’t have it both ways: data cannot be both public and private. The group has some helpful reflections on the bigger picture and what states in the US, for example, should be doing.
Here’s what the US Social Security Administration says, the official poop on the SS numbers and your rights:
“You should treat your Social Security number as confidential information and avoid giving it out unnecessarily. You should keep your Social Security card in a safe place with your other important papers. Do not carry it with you unless you need to show it to an employer or service provider.
“We do several things to protect your number from misuse. For example, we require and carefully inspect proof of identity from people who apply to replace lost or stolen Social Security cards, or for corrected cards. One reason we do this is to prevent people from fraudulently obtaining Social Security numbers to establish false identities. We maintain the privacy of Social Security records unless:
- The law requires us to disclose information to another government agency; or
- Your information is needed to conduct Social Security or other government health or welfare program business.
“You should be very careful about sharing your number and card to protect against misuse of your number. Giving your number is voluntary even when you are asked for the number directly. If requested, you should ask:
- Why your number is needed;
- How your number will be used;
- What happens if you refuse; and
- What law requires you to give your number.
“The answers to these questions can help you decide if you want to give your Social Security number. The decision is yours.”