Tag Archives: news

How to write totally misleading headlines for social media

Or how to seriously annoy intelligent people by telling deliberate lies.

A story about renewable energy has been doing the rounds within my social media circles,  and especially on FaceBook. It is an article from The Independent newspaper that has been eagerly shared by those with an interest in the subject.  The headline reads “Britain just managed to run entirely on renewable energy for six days”.

This is what it looks like on FaceBook:

britain_entriely_run_renewable_energy_1

My first thought was that, obviously, this was complete nonsense. Had all of the petrol and diesel powered cars in Britain been miraculously converted to electric and hundreds of charging points installed overnight? I think that we would have noticed, or perhaps I am living in a parallel universe where such things have not yet happened.  So I assumed that the writer of the article, or the sub-editor,  had done what some journalists are prone to do, which is to use the terms energy and electricity interchangeably. Even if they meant “electricity”  I still found the claim that all of our electricity had been generated from renewable sources for six days difficult to believe.

Look below the  headline and you will see that the first sentence says “More than half of the UK’s electricity has come from low-carbon sources for the first time, a new study has found.” That is more like it. Rather than “run entirely on renewable energy” we now have “half of the UK’s electricity has come from low-carbon sources” [my emphasis in both quotes]. But why does the title make the claim when straightaway the text tells a different story? And low carbon sources are not necessarily renewable, for example nuclear. As I keep telling people on my workshops, always click through to the original article and read it before you start sharing with your friends.

The title on the source article is very different from the facebook version as is the subtitle.

britain_entriely_run_renewable_energy_2
We now have the title “Half of UK electricity comes from low-carbon sources for first time ever, claims new report”, which is possibly more accurate. Note that “renewable” has gone and we have “low carbon sources” instead. Also, the subtitle muddies the waters further by referring to “coal- free”.

If you read the article in full it tells you that “electricity from low-emission sources had peaked at 50.2 per cent between July and September” and that happened for nearly six days during the quarter.  So we have half of electricity being generated by “low emission sources” but, again, that does not necessarily equate to renewables. The article does go on to say that the low emission sources included UK nuclear (26 per cent) , imported French nuclear,  biomass, hydro, wind and solar.  Nuclear may be low emission or low carbon but it is not a renewable.

Many of the other newspapers are regurgitating almost identical content that has all the hallmarks of a press release. As usual, hardly any of them give a link to the original report but most do say it is a collaboration between Drax and Imperial College London. If you want to see more details or the full report then you have to head off to your favourite search engine to hunt it down.  It can be found on the Drax Electric Insights webpage. Chunks of the report can be read online (click on Read Reports near the bottom of the homepage) or you can download the whole thing as a PDF. There is also an option on the Electric Insights homepage that enables you to explore the data in more detail.

This just leaves the question as to where the FaceBook version of the headline came from.  I suspected that a separate and very different headline had been specifically written for social media. I tested it by copying the URL and headline of the original article using a Chrome extension and pasted it into FaceBook. Sure enough, the headline automatically changed to the misleading title.

To see exactly what is going on and how, you need to look at the source code of the original article:

britain_entriely_run_renewable_energy_3

Buried in the meta data of page and tagged “og:title” is the headline that is displayed on FaceBook. This is the only place where it appears in the code.  The “og:title” is one of the open graph meta tags that tell FaceBook and other social media platforms what to display when someone shares the content. Thus you can have totally different “headlines” for the web and FaceBook that say completely different things.

Compare “Britain just managed to run entirely on renewable energy for six days” with “Half of UK electricity comes from low-carbon sources for first time ever, claims new report” and you have to admit that the former is more likely to get shared. That is how misinformation spreads. Always, always read articles in full before sharing and, if possible, try and find the original data or report. It is not always easy but we should all have learnt by now that we cannot trust politicians, corporates or the media to give us the facts and tell the full story.

Update: The original press release from DRAX “More than 50% of Britain’s electricity now low carbon according to ground-breaking new report

Business information – selected slides from June 2016 workshops

Some of the slides that I used as part of my June 2016 workshops on Business Information are now available on both SlideShare and authorSTREAM. The workshop run in the last week of June inevitably included a session on the EU referendum and the Brexit result. A few of those extra slides are included in this edited version of the presentation.

Business Information - key web resources

Debunking Euromyths

Those of us living in the UK have become accustomed to sensational headlines in the British press warning us that the European Union (EU) is about to ban British cucumbers, sausages, cheese, church bells, street acrobats [insert food or activity of your choice]. Tracking down the relevant EU legislation to find out whether or not there is any truth in the stories is a nightmare, and they are not the easiest of documents to read and understand when you do find them. But help is at hand from an EU blog called “European Commission in the UK – Euromyths and Letters to the Editor” at http://blogs.ec.europa.eu/ECintheUK/.

The blog covers scare stories that have appeared in the UK press, some of which go back to 1992, and explains what the situation really is and the relevant legislation.

Euromyths A-Z

There is a neat A-Z index at   http://blogs.ec.europa.eu/ECintheUK/euromyths-a-z-index/ so you can quickly check, for example, if the EU is about to ban bagpipes:

As for banning bagpipes, Scots can rest assured that their favourite musical instrument is not under threat from EU proposals on noise pollution … they are designed primarily for those who work with loud machinery for a sustained period – more than 87 decibels for eight hours in a row. The law … will apply only to workers rather than audiences.  If, in the highly unlikely event a bagpipe player is hired to play continuously for eight hours, and the noise created averaged more than 87 decibels, the employer would be obliged to carry out a risk assessment to see where changes can be made – tinkering with the acoustics in a hall to reduce echoes, for example. If that fails, personal protection such as earmuffs will need to be considered, but only as a last resort. Banning musical instruments is not an option.

The blog is just one of many on the Europa website. A list can be found at Blogs of the European Commission.

Business information key resources

On one of my recent workshops I was asked if I used Google as my default search tool, especially when conducting business research. The short answer is “It depends”. The long answer is that it depends on the topic and type of information I am looking for. Yes, I do use Google a lot but if I need to make sure that I have covered as many sources as possible I also use Google alternatives such as Bing, Millionshort, Blekko etc. On the other hand and depending on the type of information I require I may ignore Google and its ilk altogether and go straight to one or more of the specialist websites and databases.

Here are just a few of the free and pay-per-view resources that I use.

Information on industry sectors

BL_BIPC_GuidesMy favourite collection of guides on industry sectors is The British Library Business Information and IP Centre’s industry guides. These highlight relevant industry directories, databases, publications and web sites and are excellent starting points if you are new to a sector

Statistics

There are at least a dozen statistics sites that I use on a regular basis but if I’m unsure of where to look or want to make sure I haven’t missed anything I use OFFSTATS – Official Statistics on the Web at  http://www.offstats.auckland.ac.nz. A great starting point for official statistical sources by country, region subject or a combination of categories. All of the content in the database is in the public domain and available through the Internet and has been quality assessed by staff at The University of Auckland Library.

Official company information

If I want to confirm the existence of a company or obtain filings and accounts I usually go direct to the relevant official company registry. I have a list of the registries that can be searched online at http://www.rba.co.uk/sources/registers.htm. As many of my enquiries are for UK companies I am a frequent visitor to Companies House at http://www.companieshouse.gov.uk/. Some information is free but filings and accounts are priced. There are several companies that repackage Companies House data and sometimes make extra data or analysis free of charge for example Company Check at http://www.companycheck.co.uk/, which enables you to search by company or director’s name. Risk reports, information on CCJs, and some official filings are priced if you do not have a subscription to the full service.

Share price information

For free share price information I use Yahoo Finance (http://uk.finance.yahoo.com/) and Google Finance (https://www.google.co.uk/finance). Both of these services provide charts and news on shares on the major stock markets. Google’s graphs are ‘annotated’ with labels that link to news articles listed to the right of the graph, so you can see whether or not a particular event or announcement has affected a share price. Both offer free, daily historical share prices in figures. As well viewing historical graphs for share prices you can download the data as a spreadsheet.

News alerts

For news alerts I use a mixture of bookmarked searches, Google email and RSS alerts, and RSS feeds from a wide range of blogs and news sites. I find that Google alerts are erratic and unreliable but they do sometimes pick up something unique so I still include them in the mix. RSS feeds are my main source of current awareness and when a news feed is rather broad in coverage I use my RSS reader’s search function to identify the articles that are of interest  to me. I use a desktop reader call RSSOwl (http://www.rssowl.org/) but Inoreader (http://inoreader.com/) is a web based service that offers similar features and options.

Who is behind a site?

If I am to use any information from the web for business purposes I need to know who is behind the website. DomainTools http://www.domaintools.com/ is one of many services that will tell who owns a domain name, unless they are hiding behind an agent or privacy protection service. There is also a Whois+ extension for Chrome (my default browser) that can be used to run a quick and easy check on the domain name of a displayed page.

Workshop

If you are interested in finding out more about business information resources I am running a workshop for TFPL in London on March 6th , June 6th 2014. Details are on the TFPL website.

Update: please note change of date for the next business information workshop. It is now being held on June 6th, 2014.

Has Google dumped RSS alerts or not?

Google closed down its RSS Reader on July 1st and shortly afterwards stories that it had also discontinued RSS alerts started to circulate. The first one I saw was by Google Operating System (Google Alerts Drops RSS Feeds  http://googlesystem.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/google-alerts-drops-rss-feeds.html) quickly followed by Search Engine Land (Google Alerts Drops RSS Delivery Option http://searchengineland.com/google-alerts-drops-rss-delivery-option-165709). Both reported that when they went to manage their RSS alerts Google told them that they would have to convert all of their feeds to email alerts. From this it was assumed that Google had decided to abandon RSS altogether, which confused me because I was still receiving RSS feeds for alerts I had set up in News and Blogs. It transpires that Google no longer offers alerts for web searches. That is no great loss to me as I have always found the web alerts to be unreliable. News and blog search alerts are a different matter, though, as I usually have about 70-80 running at any one time. I could set up a separate email account for the alerts but I find it so much easier to organise and view them in an RSS reader.

Two weeks later and my feeds continue to come through. I can still set up new alerts for Blog searches by running the search and then clicking on the RSS link at the bottom of the page.

Blogs_RSS_Google

The eagle-eyed amongst you will have spotted that they have not yet removed the link inviting you to subscribe to the feed in Google Reader!

The procedure for a News RSS alert is more long winded and you need a Google account to set it up. First sign in to your account and go to Google News. In the upper right hand area of the screen there is a cog wheel. Click on the wheel and a set of personalization options should appear underneath it.

Thorium_News_Google_Alerts

In addition to the standard categories that you can add or remove there is a box into which you can type in your own “topic”. Click on the + button to add it to the list and save the personalization. Your search topic should now appear in a list on the left hand side of the screen.

Thorium_News_Google_Alerts_2

Click on your topic and at the bottom of the results page you should see an RSS icon which takes you to the feed for that search.

So the good news is that Google blog and news alerts are still available as RSS feeds. The bad news is that they are complicated to set up in news, and the links and text on the blog search results page have not been updated to reflect the discontinuation of Google Reader. This strongly suggests that RSS is very low on Google’s list of priorities so it really could be axed across the board.

If Google does decide to “retire” RSS and you want to carry on receiving RSS rather than email alerts there are several alternatives. So far, the best of the free services for me is the Netvibes Dashboards (http://www.netvibes.com/), which uses a number of tools including Google. Even if I ignore the Google results, Netvibes generally comes up a comprehensive and relevant set of alerts on my topic. Overall, I would rather not have the hassle of setting up my alerts afresh but Google has a habit of finishing off services with little or no warning. Now is the time to start looking for replacements.

Factiva discontinues pay as you go service

Factiva is discontinuing its pay as you go option for occasional users as part of a “strategic refocus”. Instead of an annual fee of $69 plus a per document charge of $2.95, there will now be a fixed monthly fee of $249/month. This allows you to download up to 100 documents a month with additional articles above this limit being charged at $2.95 each. The new pricing will take effect on 30th April 2013 and, for existing customers, will be payable from their next renewal date.

I have not used Factiva for over a year and, to be honest, I haven’t missed it at all. Much of my research is highly specialised and I find that I am using industry specific sources and scientific papers more and more. Nevertheless, it is a great shame that Factiva has taken this step. Many of the people I work with appreciate the quality of the service but few use it often enough to warrant the $249 monthly fee.

Thanks to everyone who sent me details of the changes.

UK Historical Directories and Newspapers

Someone has just contacted me via Facebook asking how they could track down a company in London. Not a difficult piece of research you might say but the time period was the 1890s!

One resource that immediately sprang to mind was the Historical Directories at http://www.historicaldirectories.org/. This is a digital library, maintained by the University of Leicester, of local and trade directories for England and Wales, from 1750 to 1919. It does not attempt to publish every directory available between 1750 and 1919 but what they do have makes fascinating reading.

I first reviewed it in July 2004 and my initial interest was on the business side as I am sometimes asked how to find information on small, local companies going back 50 to 100 years. I quickly discovered, though, that for my own location (Caversham in Berkshire) the Kelly’s directories for 1914 and 1915 included residential listings. I ended up spending hours researching who had lived in my house, who the neighbours had been and their occupations.

There are several search options including a keywords option that lets you search by any combination of location, decade, key name (directory name e.g. Kelly), your own keywords, and with fuzzy logic on or off (off is the default). For my own searches I found it easier to identify directories in my location and then search them individually, but one of the alternative search options may suit you better. For Berkshire I found Kelly’s, Slater’s and Webster’s directories and there is a “Post Office”  directory for Berkshire, Northamptonshire,  Oxfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Huntingdonshire for 1854!

Historical Directories

For each directory there is a Fact File containing bibliographic information and links to the main chapter headings. When you view the pages that match your search criteria your search terms are highlighted.

The site also supports seriously advanced search options (see http://www.historicaldirectories.org/hd/howto/howto7.asp#detailed for details). For a phrase just type in the words next to one another, for example Star Road. If, on the other hand, you are looking for a person their name may appear as surname, middle name(s), first name. For this type of search there is a “within” operator, for example George w/3 Bloggs will look for George within three words of Bloggs in any order. The wildcard is a question mark (?) and replaces a single character. The asterisk replaces 0 or more characters. Wildcards can be used at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of a word.

For information on who was hitting the headlines in your town in the 1890s you could try the recently launched British Newspapers 1800-1900 at http://newspapers.bl.uk/blcs/. This covers two million pages of 49 local and national 19th century newspapers. There is a basic search option on the home page but the advanced search enable you to search by keyword, publication date(s), place of publication, section (e.g. people, business), publication frequency and language (English or Welsh).

The problems start with the publications that are covered – only 49. Nothing in Berkshire so this is a non-starter for my own local search. Note also that you have to pay to view most of the articles. A 24 hour pass costs £6.99 and allows you to view up to 100 articles. A seven day pass costs £9.99 and gives you 200 article views.

I could not find out what the buzz was in Reading and Caverhsam in the 1800s from the British Library newspaper archive  (perhaps there wasn’t any!),  but what do the directories have to say? According to the 1854 Post Office directory:

“BERKSHIRE, sometimes called Barkshire, and for shortness Berks or Barks, is a southern inland shire, on the south or left bank of the navigable Thames, which forms its northern boundmark, and in the valley of which it lies, approaching within twenty miles of London, and in the middle between the mouth of the Thames at the North Sea and the Bristol Channel. The shire is of very irregular shape…”

And who did live in my house in 1914/1915? Number 88 Star Road, or number 6 Webb’s Cottages as it then was, was home to Charles Herbert and his wife Mary who was a shopkeeper. Neighbours included a wheelwright, carpenter, window cleaner, builder, two pub landlords and an insurance agent. Apart from the wheelwright, not very different from today’s residents!

Chipwrapper introduces time-slices

One of my favourite news sites, Chipwrapper (http://www.chipwrapper.co.uk/), now offers an option to search for articles within a specified time period. Chipwrapper is a Google custom search engine that covers UK news sources on the Internet. Until now, a drawback  of the service has been the absence of an option to limit  your search by date. You can include a year and/or month in your search but now there are built in options to search for articles published within the past 24 hours, week, month or year.

My earlier review of this excellent service can be found at http://www.rba.co.uk/wordpress/2007/12/29/chipwrapper-search-uk-newspapers/

Live.com updates news interface – but only for the US

Following Live.com’s announcement about its revamped news results, I waited with bated breath to see the new improved service in operation. Alas, nothing happened and after several days of monitoring and hearing from other bloggers how wonderful it is I was still getting the same boring old results. Then I twigged that it was probably because Live.com automatically kicks me into the UK version of its services rather than the US one. Those of us in the UK see a straight forward linear listing of text articles.

Live News – UK version

Live News UK version

It was only when I changed my Language settings from English (United Kingdom) to English (United States) that I saw what all the fuss was about. The results page, as many have commented, is more ‘Google-like’. The appearance is similar, stories are clustered together and photos included in the listings. One up on Google, though, is the inclusion of news videos. Roll your cursor over the thumbnails and you see a preview.

Live News – US Version

Live News US Version

Google News

Google News

Overall, I prefer Live’s presentation of the results to Google’s but Live still does not offer RSS feeds for alerts but claims that this will be appearing soon. Also planned is the incorporation of blogs into the search process.

As an aside, Google News has started pulling out quotes from the articles and displaying at them at the top of the page. Thanks to Phil Bradley for the alert.