An Experiment

Tim has been talking about the Daily Mail’s comment moderation policy recently. It seems that any comment which fails to endorse the Mail’s editorial policy is very unlikely to be published on their site.

So here’s an experiment.

On their web site today (I assume it’s in the paper too, but I haven’t looked), they are running a story with the headline “My, hasn’t she grown! Dakota Fanning passes the awkward phase with flying colours“. You’ll probably remember Dakota Fanning from things like Taken and Charlotte’s Web. Well, Dakota was a young girl when she starred in those productions and, as young girls have a habit of doing, she has grown into a teenager. And that’s what the Daily Mail story is all about. Dakota Fanning now is 14. One quote will suffice to demonstrate the tone that the paper has taken:

At the premiere for her controversial new film Hounddog, the 14-year-old unveiled a mature new look showing she’s well on her way to being all grown up.

The story is illustrated with pictures of her looking “all grown up”.

The Daily Mail is, as I’m sure I don’t have to remind you, one of the UK newspapers which is most likely to run stories about the growing dangers of paedophilia in our society. Of course I don’t condone paedophilia in any form. But I do find it somewhat ironic that a paper like the Mail finds it acceptable to print a story like this which exists purely to draw attention to the physical changes that a teenage girl is going through.

So, eventually, here’s the experiment.

I’ve just submitted the comment below to the Mail site. Let’s see if it gets published.

It’s hard to believe that a story this is being run in a newspaper that frequently runs stories on the horrors of paedophilia. Do you not see a potential issue here?

I’m betting that it won’t ever see the light of day. But I’d love to be proved wrong on this.

Daily Mail on Chrome

It’s very unlikely that you haven’t heard of Chrome, the browser that Google launched last week. If you’re running Windows then you may have even tried it out.

Those of you (and I assume it’s most of you) who follow tech news will also know that there was some confusion over Chrome’s licence agreement during the week. On Wednesday it was noticed that the agreement (which everyone is bound by when using the software) claimed that Google had full rights to do whatever it wanted with any data that you submitted through the browser. Uproar ensued for a few hours until Google realised its mistake, apologised and removed the offending clause. By Thursday lunchtime everything was fine again.

But not in the world of the Daily Mail. For some reason they decided to run the story about Chrome’s licence today. Why they didn’t run it on Thursday or Friday when the story was still fresh, I don’t know, but it’s there on their web site today. Of course as the confusion over the licence has all been resolved, they mention that in the fourth and fifth paragraphs.

Google’s ‘End User License Agreement’ (EULA) attracted so many complaints in a 24-hour period that it was forced to edit the offending clause.

It now states that users ‘retain copyright and any other rights’ that they hold on material posted or submitted online.

But it seems that isn’t clear enough for Mail readers, some of whom have left comments on the story demonstrating that they obviously haven’t managed to get that far into the story. Maybe they only read the headline before becoming so insensed that they had to post a comment. Here are some examples:

Sounds like an excellent reason to steer well clear of it – Fred James, Worcester, UK

Thank you Daily Mail.You have just stopped me from downloading this new Browser. – william

I’m uninstalling… – Phillie L Hall, Abu Dhabi

All in all it seems that these particular Mail readers fail at basic comprehension.

Update: I’ve just noticed that at the top of their story, the Mail describe this problematic clause as a “hidden” clause. In what way was it hidden? It was just part of the licence agreement. It was only hidden in the same way that all clauses of all licences are hidden – because no-one ever reads them.

The Press on Dawkins

Richard Dawkins‘ new documentary series, The Genius of Charles Darwin, begins on Channel 4 this evening. He has therefore been doing a round of publicity interviews and the results have been appearing in the press over the weekend. It’s interesting to see how different papers treat it.

The Times ran a pretty straight article about Dawkins and his work (actually they ran another piece a couple of weeks ago).

The Guardian gave the article to Charlie Brooker. Brooker has no time for religion in any form so his piece is as funny and unapologetic as you would hope.

The Mirror’s piece is quite strange. The writer takes the approach that actually, the evidence for evolution isn’t quite as strong as Dawkins claims and that an intelligent person wouldn’t take a firm position in the discussion. The Mirror writer is, it would appear, a fool.

But the strangest approach comes from the Daily Mail and the Telegraph. Both of these papers have found a way to spin the story so that it backs up their xenophobic agenda. They do this by picking up on a remark from Dawkins where he says that many muslims have creationist beliefs and that it is therefore muslim families who are largely responsible for the increase of creationism that we are seeing in the UK. Now, no-one will deny that there are a large number of creationist muslims. Or that their children are being indoctrinated into believing that evolution by natural selection is “just a theory”. But I strongly suspect that this is rather missing the point of the documentary which, from what I understand having not seen it yet, is to explain the power of Darwin’s theory.

But if we’re going to get into the discussion of who is behind the current growth in creationism, it looks to me like the Mail and the Telegraph are ignoring some convenient facts. There are also a growing number of christians who are telling their children that evolution is unproven and Genesis is literally true. Of course that doesn’t sit well with the papers’ agenda. They want to promote the idea that it’s the evil foreigners who are destroying our society. Their argument is as weak as it ever is, but it seems that an argument doesn’t need to be particularly logically coherent in order to convince the readers of either paper.

Oh, and I don’t recommend reading the comments on either of those stories. Discussions of creationism and evolution always seem to attract the hard of understanding and it seems that the Mail and Telegraph readership has more than its fair share of people like that.

Sun RSS Fixed

It finally looks like The Sun have finally fixed their RSS feeds. It’s only three months since I first noticed the problem. In that time I’ve emailed them a number of times on the subject. They haven’t bothered to reply to my mail, so I don’t know if they even read them, or if someone in their web department finally noticed the basic error that they’d made.

I say that they’ve fixed the error. All I know for sure is that they’ve corrected the URLs in the feed so you now get absolute URLs that work outside of the Sun’s web site. As Martin has pointed out, they’ve still done this in a spectacularly half-hearted manner and they have probably lost most of the RSS traffic that they had built up over the previous years.

And whilst the most pressing problems in their feeds seem to be fixed, it’s worth noting that the feeds they’re publishing now are far from perfect. Running their latest news feed through a feed validator (something that any sensible feed publisher will do) shows that there are still quite a few interesting errors. At the current rate, I expect them all to be fixed sometime around the middle of 2012.

RSS in Firefox

Firefox (and, I assume, most other modern browsers) does some clever magic when viewing RSS feeds. It doesn’t show the raw XML, but instead shows a neatly formatted version of the page along with a button allowing you to subscribe to the feed in your favourite feed reader.

That, at least, is how it’s supposed to work. It doesn’t always work quite like that.

I’ve received an email about my newsfeeds page which points out that the feeds for The Times don’t seem to work correctly. If you go to a Times RSS feed (here’s their top stories feed as an example) you get the raw RSS XML instead of the standard Firefox RSS viewer.

So there’s something about the Times RSS feeds that means that Firefox doesn’t recognise it as an RSS feed. I’ve had a quick look, comparing the HTTP header that is returned to the header returned by a Guardian feed but I can’t see anything obvious. But there must be something that is controlling this behaviour.

Does anyone know how Firefox recognises an RSS feed? Or is there anyone from The Times reading who would like to investigate why their feeds aren’t working as expected?

Update: As pointed out in the comments, the problem is (rather obviously) that the Times feeds are being served with the incorrect Content-Type. There’s a whole can of worms about what the correct Content-Type should be, but changing it to text/xml should tell Firefox to do the right thing. I’ve emailed the Times pointing out the issue. Let’s hope they’re more on the ball than the Sun’s web team.

Update: Here we go again. The Times top stories RSS feed contains the following information:

But the mail I sent to that address bounced back as undeliverable.

: does not like recipient.
Remote host said: 550 Mailbox unavailable or access denied –
Giving up on

What’s the point of advertising an undeliverable address?

Newspaper RSS Feeds Updated

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve made some fixes to my UK newspaper RSS feeds page. The fixes include

  • Adding Daily Star links
  • Fixing the Sun links (tho’ as I said yesterday, the Sun RSS feeds are still completely broken)
  • Some tweaks to the Times and GU parsers

The Independent section is currently broken. They have re-organised their RSS links page into a hierarchy and I need to put a bit more work into parsing it. Hopefully I’ll do that tomorrow.

I also need to revisit all of the other papers’ sections to ensure that all of the feeds are being extracted.

When I started this project a couple of years ago, each paper published a handful of RSS feeds. And only the broadsheets even bothered. Now the tabloids are in on the act too and with typical tabloid fervour they have gone completely over the top and are publishing huge numbers of feeds. It’s clear to me that my single page format is only barely manageable at this point and I need to rethink how this site is going to work.

But anyway, today’s version is an improvement on yesterdays. Hope you find it useful.

New Look Guardian Web Site

The Guardian has released a new version of the front page of its web site. Apparently it’s the first indication of things to come. My initial impression is that I like it, but I’ll almost certainly have more to say once I’ve lived with it for a few days.

Emily Bell goes into more detail about the reasons for the change, Mark Porter writes about design decisions and Nik Silver has more technical information.

Petronella Wyatt on Wikipedia

You have to laugh at the way that many newspapers are still struggling to make sense of the internet. In many cases it’s largely because their writers have no idea what they are talking about when they are covering the subject. Here’s a great example from the Daily Mail.

On Sunday, Daily Mail columnist Petronella Wyatt (daughter of the extremely unpleasant Mail writer Woodrow Wyatt) turned her attention to Wikipedia. As an experiment she created an article about herself – thereby ignoring the fundamental Wikipedia rule that only other people can decide that you are notable enough to justify an entry. She then sat back for a few days to see what people made of it.

And she was appalled. People said terrible things about her. Or, at least, that’s how she tells it:

I decided to look at the entry again. As I did so, I leapt out of my chair howling. Beneath my original paragraph were five new ones, depicting me as a monster of depravity.

To internet users, the British journalist Petronella Wyatt was a combination of Messalina (the Roman Empire’s most famous prostitute) and Lady Godiva with a bad case of bipolar hypomania. Among the more startling was the allegation that I frequently rode to hounds “bare-breasted”.

Apparently, I had done this many times while visiting in Virginia in the U.S., causing “huntsmen to blow their horns in panic”, horses to bolt and children to “utter petrified cries”.

Allegedly, so many men decided to attend the hunt in order to see my exposed poitrine that an unprecedented number of divorce actions followed.

What Ms. Wyatt fails to realise is that all Wikipedia entries have a history. And no matter what deletions and corrections are made to the entry, the history remains. So her claims can be checked. Having nothing better to do last night I looked through the (rather short) history of the article. The closest I can find to what Wyatt describes are these three paragraphs that were apparently removed by Wyatt herself on April 12th

It was alleged that she had had an affair with Boris Johnson, fellow journalist on Spectator and politician, and that she got pregnant and underwent an abortion when Johnson refused to leave his wife for her. Her father’s diaries, published after his death, mentioned that Archbishop of Canterbury once stared at his daughter Petronella’s bosom for a long moment. Woodrow Wyatt’s critics targeted her father’s attempt to get her entry into an Oxford College as a misuse of political influence.

For six months commencing in 2003, Petsy lived with American Charles Bruce Berry at his home in Charlottesville, Virgina, where she participated in his horse-and-hound centered lifestyle. Many of her columns in late 2003 focus on her experiences in the US foxhunting and observing American holidays such as Thanksgiving. She foxhunted with Farmington Hunt in Virginia, where members called her “Petrified Petronella,” when they were not staring at her breasts, whose cleavage was remarkably exposed, despite her hunting attire.

According to Berry’s ex-wife, Charlotte von Lilienfeld (her father was West Germany’s Ambassador to the United States from 1961 to 1968, to Iran from 1968 to 1974 and to Spain from 1974 to 1980), Petsy happily left the States just before Christmas of 2003 “screaming” because Berry had been so emotionaly and verbally abusive to her. Little did he know that he was serving as her “beard” as she flew from the charms of Boris Johnson. Many people she interacted with in Charlottesville thought she seemed “drowsy,” “drugged up,” or “on tranquilizers.”

Now, that’s perhaps not the kind of thing that you want people saying about you. But to my mind it falls far short of the insults that Wyatt claims to have seen in the article.

It seems likely that Ms. Wyatt genuinely didn’t realise that Wikipedia articles have a history, so she didn’t know that her claims could be checked out quite so easily. But given that she has so obviously used “journalistic licence” exaggerate this event, how much can you trust anything else that she writes?