Tag: News

Why Does the British Media Cover News Better than American Media?

Over the past year, I’ve found myself paying attention to British media and have just about completely tuned out the American media.  The only news show I watch is BBC World News America.  I read the Economist, look at BBC.com, the Daily Telegraph, the Financial Times and The Guardian.  I probably watch BBC America 2-3 times per week and check the other papers daily.

I can’t remember that last time I watched any American tv news program or read an American newspaper (for anything other than a sports story) on my own.  The only times I’ve read the American press is when someone sends me a link to a story.  Most of the time, the stories in the American press are simplistic, boring and cliche.  There is little analysis and the writer doesn’t seem to understand the story himself.  The only interesting stories are the investigative reports.

TV news is arguably worse.  Network news is ok, but generally focuses on celebrity or partisan bickering, rather than actual issues.  Cable “news” is an affront to the word news and most of the time local news isn’t all that interesting.

It seems to me that the British press is better at covering just about everything than the American media.  From American politics to climate change, from sport to finance and international affairs, all of the mainstream British media seems to do a better job the their American counterparts.  BBC World News America recently featured a 10 minute segment on the US military strategy in Afghanistan, including a 5 minute segment with a journalist going out on patrol with an American unit.  I learned more in 10 minutes than in the previous three months listening to politicians and commentators yammer on or reading American news articles.

I read an article in the Telegraph today about the economy and the potential for a further deterioration in 2010.  I actually learned something from it.  I rarely get anything out of the NY Times or Wall St. Journal when I read it.  Both publications slant one way or the other and have a specific viewpoint they want to get across.  They rarely focus on stories that do not fit the narrative.  I’ve found the British press to be less beholden to their narrative than the American press.

This problem extends all the way to NPR programming, too.  Although NPR stories are more in depth, they do not present nearly as much information as a BBC radio story.  I think the British media believes that its readers actually are intelligent, whereas the American media believes that it has to tell a narrative and present to the lowest common denominator.

This phenomenon extends past the media and manifests itself for anyone to see in TV programming.  British soccer commentators talk 50% as much as their American counterparts in any sport.  British versions of Ramasy’s Kitchen Nightmares, Life on Mars, Dragon’s Den (Shark Tank in the US) and American Idol give the viewer the ability to think for themselves.  In the American version, there are always sounds and music playing in the background, trying to hit the viewers over the head with the point the producers want to get across.  If you get a chance, check out any show on BBC America and listen to how little background noise/music there is.

Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares is the best example.  The original British version shows Gordon Ramsay helping turn a struggling restaurant around.  He dines, talks with the chef, owner and waitstaff and then revamps the menu, teaches the chef some business skills and relaunches the restaurant.  It is interesting because he focuses on the business side of running a restaurant.  From buying cheap ingredients to when to be open to how to hire waitstaff, Ramsay teaches you how to run a successful restaurant.

In the American version, the kitchen is usually incredibly dirty, the restaurant owner does not want to listen to any advice and Ramsay’s team ends up completely redesigning the restaurant from scratch.  They probably spent 20k making it happen.  There is music in the background and always personality conflicts.  It’s nowhere as interesting as the British version.

It seems like producers have decided that Americans have no attention span and cannot figure anything out for themselves, whereas the British are allowed to think for themselves and can pay attention for a full 10 minutes.  I’m thankful for cable and the Internet so that I have a choice to watch foreign programming and read international news.  I’m not sure what I would do otherwise.

What do you think?  Do you pay attention to the American media?  Do you pay attention to British media or none at all?  Have you watched any British TV and noticed a similar phenomenon?

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How NFL Coaches are like Midlevel Workers in Corporate America

Bill Belichick is widely thought of as the smartest coach in the NFL.  He has been hugely successful, coaching the New England Patriots to the Super Bowl four times in his 9 years of coaching, winning three.  Like many successful people, Belichick rubs many NFL fans the wrong way, leading many to revel in his failures.  Part of the schadenfreude can be explained by his somewhat abrasive personality and win at all costs mentality.  He was caught up in the NFL cheating scandal a few years ago where he was accused of ordering Patriots employees to tape opponents practices before important games.

It was no wonder that Belichick was universally slammed by pretty much everyone after his decision to go for it from his own 30 yard line in the 4th quarter last night’s Sunday night game against the Indianapolis Colts.  Here’s the situation.  The Patriots were winning by six points with a little over two minutes to go.  The Patriots faced 3rd and 2 from their own 28.  A first down in this situation wins the game.  The Colts defense stopped the Patriots on 3rd down, forcing a 4th and 2.  Instead of punting, Belichick ordered his offense back out onto the field to go for it.  They didn’t get it and Peyton Manning drove the Colts 28 yards for the game winning touchdown.

It’s obvious that the Patriots should have punted and forced the Colts to go 70 yards to try to win the game, right?  To steal a line from Lee Corso, not so fast my friend.  Belichick is way ahead of the curve.  According to research by David Romer at UC-Berkely, NFL teams punt way too often.

The Patriots convert first down from 2 yards out 76% of the time (ESPN’s stat from Sportscenter).  This stat means that by going for it, the Patriots had a 76% chance of winning the game.  Belichick only had to think that his defense would give up a touchdown to Peyton Manning and the Colts offense at a lower rate for it to be a good decision.  Manning had already driven the Colts to three 75+ yard touchdown drives in under two minutes in the game.  Belichick made the decision to go for it and this time it did not pay off, which brings me to why I love watching him coach a game.

Coaches in all sports, but especially football, almost always play it safe and go with conventional wisdom.  I’ve written about the lack of innovation in football before, mostly relating to play calling.  Last season I came up with a hypothesis:

I think it is because coaches fear being fired for not just doing poorly, but doing poorly a different way.  If coaches go with the conventional wisdom and fail, they will not be criticized as harshly as if they experiment and find new ways to fail.  If they succeed, like Mike Martz’s high-flying pass offense for the Rams called “The Greatest Show on Turf,” they are given some credit, but when the same coach experiences a minimal decline, he is criticized more harshly than a conventional coach.  For example, when Martz decided to pass in a late game situation, just like he had during other times in the game and failed, he was roundly criticized.  If he had run and failed, the players would have been criticized for not executing.   There is no upside for innovation here.

Today, I found out that this hypothesis has a name, via the Freakonomics blog:

If his team had gotten the first down and the Patriots won, he would have gotten far less credit than he got blame for failing. This introduces what economists call a “principal-agent problem.” Even though going for it increases his team’s chance of winning, a coach who cares about his reputation will want to do the wrong thing. He will punt, just because he doesn’t want to be the goat. (I’ve seen the same thing in my research on penalty kicks in soccer; it looks like kicking it right down the middle is the best strategy, but it is so embarrassing when it fails that players don’t do it often enough.) What Belichick proved by going for it last night is that 1) he understands the data, and 2) he cares more about winning than anything else.

It takes a leader to be willing to go against the grain, even when he knows that he will be excoriated by his peers.  He could have taken the easy way out.  If he did, today’s headlines would most likely read “Patriots defense no match for Peyton Manning and the Colts.”  Instead, we have “Colts make Pats pay for Bill’s unusually dumb decision.”

I think that this problem helps explain why big companies are slow to innovate.  They face the same problem.  Mid-level employees face the same problem as NFL coaches.  If they simply keep their heads down and do what 99% of the other workers would do, they will get credit if they succeed, but face much less criticism if they fail.  Most corporate cultures punish failing in a new way much more than failing the same old way.  If a mid-level employees actually do something innovative and it works, many times they are given less credit than they deserve.

I think this problem helps explain why startups are able to innovate much faster than big companies.  If big companies want to innovate faster, they need to empower their employees to go against the grain and make tough decision.  They need to actually mean it.  Companies need to view a failure for what it is, a failure, rather than get caught up in how the person failed.  This is not to say that someone who decides to pull the corporate equivalent of going for it on 4th and 20 from their own 5 yard line shouldn’t be criticized.  As long as the decision has a reasonable chance of success, they should be applauded for their innovation, rather than criticized for thinking outside the box.

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The Curious Case of Internet Anonymity

Marcus Fitzgerald, the younger brother of NFL star WR Larry Fitzgerald apologized for writing disparaging remarks about QB Kurt Warner on his Twitter account.  LB Nick Barnett, LB Robert Henson and C Kevin Love have their own Twitter snafus.  Two Wisconsin Deputy Sheriffs burn a dummy wearing a co-worker’s uniform and post the video on Facebook, leading to their dismissal.  Employees at the National Science Foundation were fired for looking at porn at work for 331 days.  What do these incidents have in common?  They are all examples from the last week of people doing something stupid on the Internet and being SHOCKED when they are caught.

It seems like I hear about another story like this every day and I can’t seem to figure out why.  When the Internet first starting becoming popular in the late 90s, it was not uncommon to hear about people being fired for looking at porn at the office, buying illegal items over the Internet or trying to meet up with underage children.  I chalked that up to stupid people bringing their shady offline behavior to the Internet and not understanding that the Internet is basically public.   I figured that people did not realize that pretty much anyone could find out about what they were doing since the Internet was new.

Fast forward to 2009.  It’s been a decade since people started to become familiar with the Internet.  Everyone in the United States should have heard hundreds of these stories in the last ten years.  It wouldn’t surprise me if most Americans know at least one person personally who has done something stupid online that has led to adverse consequences.  Why does it continue to happen and why are people who slap videos up on YouTube shocked when they are discovered?  Why do people have a sense of anonymity and privacy with the Internet, when in reality, the Internet is probably the least private place in the world?

Why do underage drinkers post pictures of themselves on Facebook for the police or school officials to find when they would not post those pictures on their lockers?  Why do teens send nude pictures of themselves to their classmates over their cellphones or on Facebook when they would never give pass around a hard copy?  Why do grown men go to chat rooms and try to proposition children and go to meet them, even after the popularity of Chris Hansen’s To Catch A Predator, when they would never approach a child on the street (or even on the phone) with the same advances?  Why do people post rants on their Facebook or Twitter pages when they would never put the same information into a newspaper or say it to the person’s face?  Why do people do illegal things and post them on Youtube or Facebook video when they would never send them to their local news station?  Why do people post all sorts of things online that they would be mortified to do in real life?  Why are they shocked when they are caught?

I truly don’t understand it.  They have to know better.  They have to have seen examples of people getting into trouble for posting things online.  I cannot figure out why people have a sense of anonymity online when in reality it is the exact opposite.

I think about 20% of the people who do these types of things are just stupid.  They are equivalent to the guy who walks into the grocery store and waits for an employee to walk by, then shoves a frozen turkey under his coat.  They just don’t get it.  There is another 5-10% of people who just want to be “YouTube famous” and will post just about anything to be popular.  There is no helping these people.

My hypothesis for the rest of the population is that people who are posting these types of things online are generally alone, in their office or their home, and are lulled into a false sense of security.  They think that they are alone at home, so how can anyone else see what they are doing?  I don’t think that they are crying out for help or trying to get caught.  I think there is something about the isolation that is caused by computers and the internet that gives people the idea that they being private and careful, when in fact, it is the exact opposite.  They view the Internet as their own personal world, without regard to the rest of the people who happen to inhabit their virtual world as well.

I wonder if this is the height of the problem and history will look back at 2003-2009 as the crazy years when people were naive about the Internet, posting whatever they wanted and doing whatever they wanted, without regard to the consequences.  It could also go the other way, where everyone becomes desensitized to the stupid things people do online, but I do not think so.

Help me understand.  What’s your hypothesis as to why people slap pictures on Facebook and videos on YouTube that can get them in trouble? Why do so many people have a sense of anonymity online?  Will it continue?

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Gmail’s Down…Now What?

I’m sure most people who depend on google for their email have noticed that gmail has been down for the past hour or so.  Its not that big of a deal for me today, since I can do most of my work offline today, but it has to be quite the inconvenience for lots of people.

I’ve seen seven Facebook statuses in the last 10 minutes bemoaning the fact that gmail is down.  It just reminds me how much we are all dependent on Google and of one of my favorite South Park Episodes, Over Logging.  Since you can’t work without access to email, you might as well go outside and enjoy the beautiful weather, or check out the South Park episode.

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